MOUNTAIN GARDENING ADVISORIES
Teller County Master Gardeners
The secret of successful gardening is knowing the conditions that prevail in your area and how to use or change them to your advantage. These guidelines are intended to help you make a success of your garden in Teller County by outlining the basic growing conditions found here.
The High elevations found in Teller County and Ute Pass greatly influence gardening. The length of our growing season varies from 150 days at 6,000 feet to 70 days at 10,000 feet. A good estimate of the length of the growing season at your elevation can be made as follows: At 6,000 feet the frost-free season extends from May 15th to October 10th. For every 100 feet of elevation above 6,000 feet, shorten the growing season by one day in the spring and one day in the fall, a total of two days.
Although this calculation will give the average frost-free period, it doesn't tell the whole story. At high elevations the nights during the summer are cool, so plants grow more slowly here than they do at sea level. In choosing plants for your garden, especially annuals, you will have the best success with varieties which require a few weeks shorter growing season than you actually calculate at your elevation.
The harsh, intense sunlight, gusty winds and low relative humidity in our area can cause plants to dry out rapidly. This is especially true during the winter months when there is less water readily available to the root system. Shade and wind protection should be provided for sensitive plants to prevent desiccation.
Extreme temperature variations within short time periods are also common here. During the winter, unseasonable warming can cause premature budding, resulting in severe damage to trees and bushes. This can be prevented by heavily mulching these plants after the ground freezes. Mulch will keep the root zone cold during unseasonable warm weather and should be removed after Easter. Wrapping the trunks of young, soft-barked trees to prevent sunscald injuries is also advisable during the same time period.
Soils in Teller County are generally poor in nutrients, very low in organic materials, and have an unusually high pH. The best treatment for these conditions is to add organic material slowly and consistently over many years. Any type of organic material added to the soil will improve its texture and its ability to absorb and retain water and nutrients. No more than 1 1/2 to 2 inches should be mixed into the soil yearly to avoid salt buildup.
Improving pH is a more difficult problem and is not actually possible in the short term. Additives such as lime, sulfur and gypsum are ineffective due to the high calcium content of our soils. The best solution to this problem is to use plants which need a more alkaline soil, especially native species. If acid loving plants are desired, they should be planted in containers in potting soil and not in local soil.
Iron deficiencies may occur in plants in our area. This can be alleviated by using iron chelates as soil additives. Do not add iron sulfate to the soil as it is not accessible to plants in calcium rich soils.
Rainfall in Teller County is low, averaging about 15 inches per year. As a result, watering is an important part of gardening in our area. Regular, deep watering more important than daily light watering. Drip irrigation systems are especially useful in preventing wasteful water loss by run-off and evaporation, both caused by too rapid watering. During the winter months, it is important to water during extended dry periods (four to six weeks without snow cover). Apply water early in the day and only when air and soil temperatures are above freezing.