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Growing a Colorado garden

Wind, altitude, not-so-friendly soils, dry climate, water restrictions: The challenges of gardening in Colorado.Members of the Falcon Garden Club and a local landscaping specialist know how to deal with all of those challenges, especially akin to the eastern plains.”You cannot expect to throw a plant in the ground out here and hope that it lives,” said Cathy Angell, president of the Falcon Garden Club.Start with a plan, Angell said. Plan your ‘hardscape’ first and then it’s easier to go back in and add more plants later,” she said. A landscape contractor could be a plus during this initial stage.Falcon resident Brandon Stegman of Top of the Peak Landscaping said different walls, such as moss rock walls, Keystone walls, Siloam walls and Broadmoor boulder walls can be constructed.Irrigation systems are placed inside the walls, Stegman said. “We have to put irrigation inside the walls so we have water to the plants, and we put down soil amendment inside of it,” he said. They install sprinkler heads, spray nozzles and drip systems. “We do a concentrated drip to each plant base so there is less wasted water,” Stegman said.”You want to have a good idea, work with the contractor to make sure that you know what is allowed and what isn’t,” he said. “Go through the proper channels with your HOA (home owners association), then submit your plan, and go with it. Watch the water restrictions and sod restrictions to make sure you are in compliance.”For those who relocate from the friendly soils of the Midwest or elsewhere, garden club member Betty Medford said be aware of the “bad soil” in the area. “You have to amend, amend, amend,” she said. That includes compost. Medford’s husband Jerry said he uses leaves, grass and kitchen scraps for compost.”In Florida, it heats up and decomposes quickly but here we let it set for two years,” he said. The Medfords also make compost tea. “We get the rich part, usually from the center … and put it into pantyhose and … put it into a 5 gallon container of water and let it soak,” Jerry Medford said. “Betty puts it on the plants and the leaves and pours some down and around the roots.””Compost is all that I use on my roses – compost and compost tea,” Betty Medford said.Mulch is vital to maintaining moisture in the beds. Jerry Medford said he uses “Gorilla Hair,” which is a mulch brand. It clings so it doesn’t blow away, but he said it must be replaced every three to four years.Cow and horse manure and llama droppings work well, too. “I go down to this stable … for $10 bucks, I got a pickup truck loaded,” he said.Establish plant zones. Group plants together with common characteristics, based on water and sunlight needs, Angell said. Raise beds for flower and vegetable gardens. “A lot of people have great success with raised beds … actually building them up with some sort of structure,” Angell said. Ten or 12 inches is good for a vegetable garden, she said. If necessary, build a wall to hold it but don’t use pressure treated lumber because of the chemicals, Angell added.Soils on the prairie tend to be alkaline. Jerry Medford uses a ground probe metered to test the soil’s pH balance and to measure the moisture content.”What we’ve got is hardpan clay under a surface of basalt,” Medford said. “Clay is very rich. It’s richer than sand or almost anything, but you’ve got to break it up, and we do that with compost. I’ve got a big digger that I can get into the ground when it’s a little moist. If it’s dry, it’s hard as cement.”Angell said soils in the area differ but the solution is the same, whether it’s clay or sand. Use compost. Go native and save water“If we can plant more native plants and more adaptive shrubs that are built to be hardy and rough out here, we’re going to do better,” Angell said. “(Don’t) plant Kentucky blue grass and grow a lush green lawn where it doesn’t belong. Try to work with our environment instead of fighting it.”Plants that line the gardens of the Midwest or Southeast “would take more water than it would be personally responsible for us to use,” Angell said. “It’s just not rational to water that much out here. We lose so much due to evaporation because of the wind.”Stegman said it’s best to use native trees. Besides spruces and aspen, he said some “fan favorites” are ash and maple trees.”Xeriscaping is a big part of what we do,” Stegman said. He said people often xeriscape the front yard and side areas of their home and sod the backyard. “You have to have a good balance,” he said. “The front has to have curb appeal so you have to use a lot of colors and contour changes in xeriscaping.”Mother’s Day is the cutoff for planting, Angell said. However, one can add to the ambiance of the garden all season long. “Go to your nursery once a month and buy something in bloom,” she said. “If you do that for a season or two, you will have color or interest all the time in your garden.”Gardeners suggestions:Vegetables: bush beans, sweet peas, cucumbers, radishes, carrots and sweet corn (Silver Queen)Flowers: agastache, allium, artemisia, coreopsis, iris, lavendars, salvia, thymes, yarrows and zinniasFor more information about the Falcon Garden Club, visit

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