In your enthusiastic rush to plant flower and vegetable plants, don’t forget to harden them off. That simply means leaving them in a protected outdoor environment for several days before you stick …
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In your enthusiastic rush to plant flower and vegetable plants, don’t forget to harden them off. That simply means leaving them in a protected outdoor environment for several days before you stick them in the soil to fend for themselves against chilly rain, brutal sun and desiccating winds. Covering newly-planted seedlings with inexpensive floating row cover also protects them from weather extremes and from hungry insects. Another tidbit: I know you want instant colorful landscapes, but they take time. Pinching flowers off new seedlings and mums now will reward you with fuller growth later. Let plants develop strong roots; the blooms will follow. Q. What is the last frost date for Denver and why do I hear so many different dates? A. There are two reasons for the variations. One is the well-publicized climate change and the other is that Denver has many micro-climates and significant differences in altitude throughout the city, even from neighborhood to neighborhood. I use May 10 as my guide, but arbitrary dates for gardening can doom you to failure. Just a few years ago, heavy snow fell on Mother’s Day weekend and I also remember snow on Memorial Day, even though the previous weeks had been downright hot. Q. We’re a young couple who just moved into the Washington Park area where there are many older homes, several of which have beautiful peony plants. How difficult is it to grow peonies and what do they need? A. Peonies love it here and they are surprisingly easy to grow if you plant them in the right location. That is crucial because they don’t like to be moved. I suspect that some of those neighborhood peonies you so admire have been in the same location for over 30 years, and 50 years would not be a real surprise.
You can buy potted peonies at nurseries now, but try to become friendly with the homeowners where you see splendid plants. If you can get cuttings from these mature plants, you would plant them in September. That gives you several months to develop friendships.
As for site location – peonies like east sun and do really well if there are some mature deciduous trees nearby to provide some protection from our intense summer sunlight.
Prepare a hole that is 10-12 inches deep and about 18 inches in diameter. Add lots of sphagnum moss and bone meal. Plant the peony and return old soil plus some of your new mixture to fill in around the plant. Water thoroughly and let nature take over.
One painful word of caution. Remove all flower buds the first year. You want the plant to devote its energy to its root system, not to flower production.
Q. We would like to start our children, ages 6 and 8, with gardening this year. Is this too early and, if not, do you have any suggestions?
A. No, it’s not too soon, especially if they’ve seen you doing it. Because my parents and extended family all gardened, I can’t remember NOT being involved. However, my very own first plant was a string bean grown in a glass jar in kindergarten.
Remember always that children have a short attention span and they want to see results. Give them something that is their very own – a container or a small plot of earth. Help them with soil preparation and explain briefly why you are doing things. Give them a few large vegetable seeds such as zucchini squash or string beans that grow quickly. They also might like a tomato plant and some seedlings of colorful annual flowers.
They may not weed and water to your satisfaction, so help them but don’t do for them. Always encourage.
Q. Because of limited space, light and a nuisance dog, I mostly garden in containers, but mine are never as striking as others I see. What’s the secret?
A. Use a high quality potting soil, mixed with some top soil and a bit of compost. Add osmocot for water retention since containers dry out so quickly. Then be certain that you’ve selected the right plants for your light situation.
Combine both color and texture for maximum visual impact. For example, early spring lettuce or red Swiss chard are both edible and will complement your flowers.
In larger containers you can plant such perennials as daylilies or mums and surround their foliage with bright annuals.
John Steinbeck said, “There is nothing pleasanter than spading when the ground is soft.” So ... Spade and seed to your heart’s desire and saturate yourselves in May’s seductive spirit.
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