Now is perfect time to prep for summer gardening

Diane MacKenzie prepares a small garden at Meadowlark Gardens by gently clearing away dead leaves to expose the new growth of hyacinths and sedums.

In springtime, a gardener’s thoughts turn to tomatoes and cucumbers. Mmm… And crisp peas, tangy bell peppers and rows of green chiles. Plus, a rainbow of blossoms bursting from every flower bed.

But before rushing outside to poke a million watermelon seeds into the ground, remember that this is Colorado, and it’s still March. We’re not past the chance of a late freeze. But just because it’s too early to plant your eggplant doesn’t mean there’s not work to be done in the garden.

In fact, right now is the perfect time to get ready for summer gardening, said Diane MacKenzie, who owns a Grand Junction garden maintenance and design business.

“First, people should be watering their trees and their bushes right now, because we’ve had so little moisture all winter,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult for them in summer, so give them a good soaking. I also recommend fertilizing trees and bushes now.”

This also is a good time to cut back perennials if you didn’t do it in the fall, said Susan Rose, a horticulture educator with the Colorado State University Tri-River Extension.

“In fact, it can be better to do it in spring, if you can stand looking at dead stalks all winter,” Rose said. “The existing plant helps protect and insulate the crown of the plant over winter. But right now is the time to cut it all back.

“You want to be really careful, though, and only cut back as far as what’s green.”

Rose also said now is a good time to prune woody plants, fruit trees and other plants that bloom later. Avoid pruning early bloomers such as forsythia and lilac, because they’re already budding, and plants that might not bounce back from a late freeze, such as roses.

Once you’ve cleared and tidied, now is a good time to prepare the soil, MacKenzie said. She recommended tilling in fertilizer and, depending on the soil’s needs, compost.

“Most of us have clay soil,” Rose said, “so you might want to work in something fairly coarse, such as wood chips.”

And, while it’s still too early to put some plants in the ground, “lettuce and cabbage should have been in a month ago,” Rose said.

Plants such as broccoli, onions, peas, radishes, carrots and celery are cold-hardy and could survive a late frost, but corn, tomatoes, squash, melons and other cold-tender crops shouldn’t be planted until late spring or early summer, according to the CSU Extension.

It’s a matter of being patient, MacKenzie said, and preparing now for a rewarding summer bounty.

For information about cold-hardy and cold-tender plants, or for local gardening tips, call 244-1836 or go to


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