Plain as Dirt: When to plant in Eagle County is sticky business |

Plain as Dirt: When to plant in Eagle County is sticky business

Tom Glass
Eagle County CO, Colorado
Tom Glass

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado “Within the next 30 days it will be officially springtime, a particularly useless concept for gardeners here as it relates to the conventional changing of the seasons. To state the obvious, at an altitude of 8000 feet, for all intents and purposes, it’s still winter.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be laying out a plan for your landscape, now. (That’s the most conventional lead-in I have written in quite some time, and probably hasn’t exactly grabbed your attention.)

But allow me to divert you away from selecting a wax appropriate to spring snow conditions, to another reality. If you own a home here that has native evergreens in the landscape, it’s likely you’ll be replacing one or more within the next year.

We have at least two prevalent insect problems: scale and pine beetles. Both kill evergreens.

Adding additional freight to this issue is that we also have homeowners’ associations and town ordinances mandating the replacement of dead trees.

You might want to be thinking in terms of budget as to what to do in the event that the rigors of winter, coupled with the tax of the largest insect infestation in the recorded history of North America, has gifted local landscapers with a project in your backyard.

You may have had exposure to the slogan “Fall is for planting.” That’s been a particularly sticky message, based on my experience, with the general public.

The term sticky is freighted with connotations, which is why I chose to use it in this particular instance. “Sticky” in marketing terms refers to how memorable a message is in the minds of the public. If a sales slogan sticks in your mind, it is sticky. If not, it is Teflon, although not nearly so useful in marketing.

For some reason that seasonal sales pitch, “Fall is for planting”, was sticky in the minds of the public. Unfortunately, it’s also sticky – as in a prickly or problematic, (i.e.: sticky wicket) – because it’s open to debate as to whether fall is a great time for planting conifers – evergreens like pines and spruces.

Planting conifers soon before winter can tax them because they remain active in winter, unlike deciduous trees (trees bearing leaves only in temperate months) which become fully dormant. Conifers utilize moisture during winter. Without an established root system, they lack the conduit for moving water up into the trunk and into the foliage.

Consequently, a conifer sentenced to winter with a poorly developed root system often is condemned to defoliation and death come spring.

Springtime, in my opinion, and in the opinion of some researchers at Colorado State University, is the best time to plant conifers. Since spring at this altitude defies convention, one question becomes when is the optimum time to plant a conifer?

This much is known about conifer root generation, they grow most rapidly and actively at soil temperatures measured 6 inches below the surface at between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

This typically establishes mid to late May as being the beginning of a great time to plant conifers. This window of opportunity is short here. The arid conditions of summer arrive soon after late May. July is a mere 6 weeks away.

To maximize root growth and the resultant increased chances for survival of a newly transplanted conifer through our dry summers, make plans now for planting of any conifers in mid to late May. The establishment of roots in that brief time period is essential for them to survive and then flourish.

Tom Glass writes a weekly gardening column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments about this column to

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