FULL CIRCLE: Fall Is The Beginning of Colorado Gardening, Not the End

Your gardening doesn’t stop with summer, as autumn is a perfect time to plan for spring.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the fall is the best time to purchase and plant spring bulbs. Fall, it turns out, is when you should be planning and preparing for the spring and an ideal time for planting so that trees and perennials are not stressed in the heat of summer. 

“In September, the selection is the best, but by the end of the month, the selection is diminished,” says Jake Wolf, a manager at Nick’s Garden Center, of spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths gardeners should be purchasing in the fall in anticipation for spring.

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September and October is the best time to start thinking about next spring, including gathering hyacinth bulbs. Photo by Maureen Didde

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Next year’s new tulips start in autumn when it’s the right time to find the right bulbs. Photo by Maureen Didde

And once you purchase your spring bulbs, store them in a cool place and plant them in the middle of October. According to experts at the Denver Cooperative Extension, mid-October is average killing frost date for the Front Range, so you want to beat that timeline.

Wolf adds that early September is also the time for fertilizing trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns.

And while you plan for your spring perennials, you’re going to need to clean up your summer vegetable garden, Wolf says. He says that’s especially true if your vegetables have accrued any kind of mold or fungus over the hot summer months.

“It’s commonly found on zucchinis, squash and cantaloupe,” he says. “You want to clean all debris off your vegetable plants because the fungus could winter on dead plants.”

Wolf also recommends adding organic matter via a rototill to a vegetable garden patch after cleaning the debris. “I recommend a cow or sheep manure spread at a rate of about an inch thick,” he says. 

He adds that some pruning can be also done in preparation for winter snowfall. “Trees that grow out more and are more rounded shape are more susceptible to snow damage than trees that are upright,” he says. “You can do a little bit of fall pruning to prevent snow breakage on trees and shrubs later on.”

Roses require more special care than other flowers and will need to be mulched in the fall. Wolf recommends making your own mulch with a combination of grass clippings and leaves that have been cut up by the lawn mower. The benefit of mulching the roses is to retain moisture in their root systems. Rose pruning should be saved for spring and leave the deadheading of the old blooms, too. Deciduous trees are also better when planted in the fall, say master gardeners with the Colorado State University Cooperative. That’s because fall planting avoids transplant shock from summer heat. Plant before mid-October to allow roots time to re-establish before cold weather.

When planting deciduous trees, dig a hole wide enough to allow the roots to spread out without bending back into the hole. Test to make sure the hole has good drainage. Soil in the bottom of the hole should be firmed to avoid excessive settling before easing the plant in. The final planting depth should be 2 to 4 inches above the grade in irrigated landscapes and at grade in non-irrigated situations.

CSU’s Extension Cooperative does not recommend planting evergreens in the fall, as they lose moisture from the leaves and needles they hold through winter. Instead, they suggest planting these trees in the spring.

Although it’s time to put the garden to bed for the winter, fall is an excellent time to plant greens because they are cold-weather crops. Those include but are not limited to spinach, radishes, lettuce, kale, chard, and sugar snap peas.

For fresh color, pop some chrysanthemums, ornamental kale, pansies and asters in pots or garden beds.

According to The Urban Farm Company of Colorado—which crafts custom vegetable gardens and teaches people how to grow their own nutrient-dense food right in their backyard — the fall is also a time to take on more exotic, non-grocery vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, tatsoi, mache, sorrel, and Hon Tsai Tai — greens that thrive in cooler temperatures.

If you have raised beds, Urban Farm recommends installing a cold frame, which  is a transparent cover that goes over a  garden bed during the coldest months to protect your plants from adverse weather.

DON’T HAVE A YARD? GO MICRO

Microgreens (Photo by Jason Sandeman)
Microgreens. Photo by Jason Sandeman

There are tiny desk concerts and tiny houses, so why not tiny gardens? Enter the micro-green: perfect for the apartment-dweller’s windowsill.

Microgreens, which are generally less than two weeks old when harvested, are ready for harvest when they reach the first true leaf stage, which is usually about two inches tall.

Though tiny, they pack quite the nutritional punch. Researchers found microgreens like red cabbage, cilantro, and radish contain up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than their mature  counterparts.

Cabbage, beet, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, radish, Swiss chard, and amaranth are among some of the crops that

are said to germinate and grow easily. The leaves’ tiny size makes them great for garnishes on a salad, and can add elegance and color to any meal.

To grow a crop, all you need is a shallow plastic container and a sunny windowsill — some foodies even just recycle their store-bought mushroom containers, or any container that has some sort of drainage. From there, you just purchase seeds and potting, and mix.

Experts recommend covering the bottom of the container with an inch or two of moistened potting soil or mix, scattering seeds evenly on top of the soil, and covering the seeds with a thin layer of soil.

With a little patience and attention to misting the seeds once or twice a day, you’ll be a micro-chef in no time. Well, about two weeks to be exact.

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