Vail Landscape Logic column: Soil, seeds, sun and water, planting season begins
Experienced gardeners know that the quality of veggies you get out of the ground is directly related to what you put into the ground, having the right amount of sun and, of course, proper watering.
Everything that happens down in that dirt is what makes plants grow — or not! So it’s critical to begin the gardening season from the ground up.
Check your dirt
Soil conditions are the starting point for any garden. Down in the dirt is where seeds germinate, where roots develop and where plants get their nourishing life support. Adequate organic matter is key for healthy plants.
Having low organic matter in the range of less than 1 percent is typical in Colorado. To get soil up to the desired range of 3 percent to 5 percent organic matter, you will most likely need to amend the soil.
To get your ground off to the best start, have the soil tested periodically to learn what it really needs to nurture the plants. A soil test (available from Colorado State University for less than $50) gives important information about the pH of the soil, salt content, amount of organic matter and the content of several minerals such as nitrogen.
The CSU soil test kit provides instructions on how to collect and submit your soil sample. Results arrive in a few weeks, and fortunately, you don’t have to be a scientist to understand them. Once you know what your soil needs, you can add the missing ingredients.
Sort out the seeds
Once the soil is in order, it will be time to plant. With Colorado’s short growing season, which is especially short in the high country, planting old seeds that don’t germinate can cost you two to three weeks of outdoor growing time before you know the seeds have failed.
Be sure to check the expiration date on seed packets if you have some from years past. Overall, you will have best results with seeds that are still current.
Also, be aware that seeds from last year’s garden may not produce a harvest that looks like the one you got last year. The next generation of seeds from hybridized plants is generally less reliable than the fresh seeds you can buy.
When plants cross-pollinate with other garden plants, the mixed-up results land in the seeds — and the next generation of produce. If you plant some of last year’s seeds, be prepared for unexpected results. For those varieties, have a backup plan by planting news seeds, too.
Plant seeds for early-season crop of cool season veggies — like spinach, lettuce, carrots — before the end of April.
Sun and water
Your plants will have the sunniest exposure when lined out in rows that run east to west. The east-west orientation provides more sun for your crop and, usually, more even plant growth.
Water is the final key ingredient for a successful garden. To preserve soil moisture — and also to deter weeds — mulch the garden after seedlings become established using wood mulch, grass clippings or even newspaper. Mulch helps maintain a more consistent moisture level and will mean you can water less.
Water wisely with drip irrigation that puts the water directly in the root zone of the plants. Watering with overhead sprays will have some water lost to evaporation and wind, making drip irrigation a much more water-efficient option.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.