Our Sunshine neighbor, Dr. Tracy (PhD) and I found ourselves on the topic of mountain gardening last summer. Just after she and her husband, Tim, moved into their new home, I had offered her a Columbine (Aquilegia ) for her garden as a house warming gift. That gift has sparked many a great conversation. Tracy is originally from Virginia and is use to having plants galore. I have 5 years of horticulture training; I taught a class in home landscaping and authored a publication on gardening in the high altitudes of Wyoming. Between us, we could talk for hours.
Sunshine has a very short growing season. Our last frost is usually around the 1st of June and the 1st frost is around the middle of September. We are in the USDA hardiness zone 3. Besides having a very short growing season, we have other things that make gardening in Sunshine a challenge. Critters! The deer, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits love our flowers and vegetables. These challenges have brought the mountain gardeners together. Tracy thought it would be a good idea for all of us frustrated gardeners to join together and form a garden club. We are still in the talking stage and I'm sure it won't be long until we are organized.
Gardening tip from our friend Deb. Do you know that if you sprinkle blood meal around the plants the deer won't eat it
My youngest son, Michael, has asked me to write a book about gardening and home landscaping for him. He wants something he will be able to pass on the his children.
Before I take on that task, I wanted to put together a few thoughts for our mountain gardener friends in Sunshine. If you are outside the Sunshine area, please remember that these thoughts and ideas are designed for our particular area. It may seem strange to most flat landers that we do not plant our annuals until late May or early June. Gosh, we had 3" of snow on the 24th of April this year.
Gardening tip: I like to watch the weather forecast in the spring. I have found the perfect time to put down fertilizer is just before a spring snow storm hits. When the snow melts, it gently soaks the fertilizer into the ground. I have always liked to add 20-10-5 (NPK) to the soil in our climate. NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. In this case the fertilizer would be 20% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 5% Potassium. The nitrogen promotes shoot growth, the phosphorus promotes root growth and the potassium helps keep the plant healthy.
I have spent the last two months dreaming and drooling as I pondered over seed catalogs. I have drawn out plans on how I want to lay out my vegetables. I have made a list of the annuals I would like to see growing in my few flower beds. I can tell when the ground is no longer frozen by watching the rhubarb (genus Rheum). This subterranean prelude always gives me hope that the snow will soon be ending and spring is near. When the little red nubs start showing, the ground is no longer frozen and it's time to start preparing the soil.
Our soil is basic in nature. I like to add peat moss. Even though it is generally very damp in the spring, July and August can be very dry. The peat moss, although lacking in nutrients, helps the growth of the plant by holding the much needed moisture. For nutrients, I pay a visit to my girlfriend,Chili. If you live in Sunshine or have followed my journal, you know Chili is my neighbor Holly's horse. Years and years of mucking out the corral have left a rather large pile of aged horse manure. Although not as good as cow manure, it is an excellent source of nutrients. My BIL Mike, does not use it in his vegetables, fearing any nasty germs it might carry. I found the flower beds love it!
Pruning, why do we do it? There are three basic reasons we prune:
1) To cleanout dead, dying,diseased and broken wood.
2) To eliminate over crowding.
3) To thin out, shape and train the plants growth pattern.
The broad leaf trees and shrubs have not yet leafed out. Now is the perfect time to prune all but the flowering trees and shrubs. The flowering trees and shrubs get pruned while they are still dormant.
To fully understand the process of pruning, I must first jump into a little botany. I promise to keep it simple. There is no need to cover the botanical term for Red algae in this forum. (In case you are wondering, it is Rhodophycophyta.)
The stem growth takes place at the apical meristem. This is is located at the buds and the nodes. The nodes do not usually become active unless the bud is destroyed. In the diagram above, if you want the branch to grow up, you would prune just above the node on the lateral stem pointing up. In this case, the stem would continue to grow, causing the new branch to grow in an upwardly direction.
This is an example of a 3 year growth pattern showing the proper place to prune a small, flowering tree.
If I waited to purchase my favorite annuals at the proper time to put them into the ground, I wouldn't haven't many choices left. The folks in Boulder can plant a full two weeks before I can. The early shoppers pretty well pick over the choice plants before I am ready to plant. I have built a cold frame. This allows me to purchase the plants and keep the healthy until it is time to plant them. A heat tape keeps the plants warm on those early spring nights when the temperature drops below freezing. During theday, I open the top doors, allowing the plants to acclimate to the outdoor temperatures.
Tulips and St. Francis in my Sunshine garden.