Now that it’s officially spring, the sunny weekends have us itching to dig holes and start planting. Not so fast, warns Trela Phelps, general manager of longtime Denver favorite City Floral Gardening Center (near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Monaco Parkway). Given Colorado’s famously unpredictable spring weather, it’s important to be smart about early spring gardening projects. Some get the green light, but others must wait until Mother’s Day, the traditional start of Denver’s gardening season. “Don’t be fooled,” says Phelps. “We might have warm sunny days, but it’s still too cold at night for most plants.”
We asked Phelps, a 27-year City Floral veteran, for five things we can do to get our garden gloves dirty right now:
1. Mulch. This time of year, tiny little weed seeds are straining for sunlight in order to germinate. Laying down a proper layer of mulch now will help prevent those garden-chokers from taking over later.
2. Do prep work. Vegetable gardeners can ready their plots for future bounty with a little TLC. Inspect the area, prep your soil, and spread compost. While you’re at it, cut back any long grasses left from the winter.
3. Inspect. It’s possible some of your favorite plants were damaged during the dry freeze we endured last November. In particular, evergreens and shade-loving shrubs such as boxwoods—and even rosebushes—might not have survived. Phelps suggests inspecting these plants carefully, looking for signs of new green growth. Evergreens turning brown from the tips down and rosebushes with brown, dead canes are in dire shape. Record your observations, cross your fingers, and revisit your plants in two weeks to check for improvement.
4. Clean house. Although Phelps recommends giving your gardening gear a good cleaning in the fall, now’s the time to revisit the tool shed. Wooden handles tend to dry out over the winter months; apply linseed oil to handles to prevent splinters. Also examine pots for cracks that may have formed over the colder months and refill your containers with dirt where necessary.
5. Plant. If you’ve crossed off all the chores above and must get to digging, Phelps suggests a few plants that can go into the ground now. Root vegetables and shade-loving lettuces are safe to plant after St. Patrick’s Day. Pansies are also sturdy enough to recover from a spring snow; fill pots now and they’ll last until late spring, when they can be replaced with petunias. Didn’t get a chance to plant bulbs last fall? “Forced” bulbs (i.e., bulbs forced into growing indoors during the winter) are the answer. Phelps says to ask for tulips and daffodils specifically grown for outdoor planting, which can generally be found in larger pots. Count on these blooming for many years to come.