Extension Viewpoints: Protecting your plants from wild weather this spring

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    By Robin Young
    PREVIEW Columnist

    Spring weather in Colorado can be temperamental; it can sometimes feel like we experience all of the seasons in a single day. This week alone we saw temperatures in the low 30s to highs of 75 degrees, with rain and snow forecasted. 

    These erratic fluctuations provide challenges for our gardens, but Colorado State University (CSU) Extension has put together some techniques which can help gardeners to extend the growing season and to protect plants against some these drastic weather patterns.

    One of the most important factors to consider in vegetable gardening is when to plant your garden and the length of your garden’s growing season. If planted too early, some vegetables can encounter challenges with frosts which can kill tender plants. But, if planted too late, crops may not mature by the time fall comes around. By planting the right plants at the right time you can help to cultivate a successful crop.

    Hardy cool-season crops can often tolerate minor frosts and thrive in cooler weather conditions which dip as low as 40 degrees F. Some examples are broccoli, spinach and onions. 

    Warm-season crops are much more sensitive to frost and should not be planted until all danger of frost has past. These plants do better in temperatures ranging from 70-95 degrees. Some examples are tomatoes, peppers and watermelon. A longer list for these plants and more details on this topic can be found in CSU Extension’s vegetable planting guide: https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/720.pdf. 

    There are a range of techniques which can be used to extend our growing season. These include things such as planting gardens on south-facing slopes, providing windbreaks, mulching and even covering plants when frosts are suspected. Sheets and blankets can be used to trap heat from the soil around young vegetables at night; these coverings should be placed low to the ground and secured. In the morning after using sheets, if this fabric has become damp, it should be dried before being used for this purpose again. 

    More techniques and helpful tricks to extend the growing season can be found on a fact sheet on this topic: https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/722.pdf.

    Frosts and cold snaps are one challenge, but hail can be one of the greatest risks to our gardens. Hoop houses or high tunnels can both extend the growing season and offer protection from hail. Hoops can also provide structures to which tightly woven “hail cloth” can be fastened for added protection; hail cloth can also be placed over tomato cages or other structures available in your garden.

    Walls of water and gallon milk cartons (with the bottoms cut off) can be used to protect new seedlings. If you leave the cap off of these cartons, they can even be left over seedlings until the plant outgrows this structure. Your imagination is the limit. Before a hailstorm, cardboard boxes, plastic buckets and even sheets can help prevent some of the most extreme damage from occurring; however, you should never risk personal safety to protect your garden and should only implement these methods if you are able to get out far enough ahead of a storm for it to be safe. 

    A seven-minute video on hail mitigation and clean-up can be found by following this link to more information provided by CSU Extension staff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ9G6S4ODtA. 

    A fact sheet on this topic can be found at: https://elpaso.extension.colostate.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/2017/05/May-27-2017-Hail-mitigation.pdf. 

    Sometimes it isn’t possible to protect our gardens from a rapidly developing hailstorm. If you don’t find yourself with enough notice that a potential storm is coming or perhaps find yourself away from your garden when this weather occurs, you should know that our plants can recover. They want to grow. 

    For perennials with foliage intact but stripped, remove flower stalks and cut them back leaving as many intact leaves as possible. Lightly cultivate the soil and apply a light dressing of low-nitrogen fertilizer.

    Flowering annuals with no remaining foliage probably won’t recover after a hailstorm. Petunias usually survive if there is at least some foliage still on the plant. Clean the plants of ruined foliage and apply a light application of fertilizer to help them recover. 

    Early vegetable root crops with no remaining foliage will not recover. They need the green leafy foliage to produce energy for the roots to grow. Leafy vegetable crops may recover; replant if you see no signs of new growth after a week or so. 

    The reality is that Colorado’s climate and weather patterns are challenging for gardens. But, CSU Extension is here with specialized knowledge to help you grow successful gardens of abundance. 

    To get started, check out the Colorado Vegetable Guide: https://growgive.extension.colostate.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/63/2021/01/Colorado-Vegetable-Guide-2.1.pdf. 

    For a wealth of information on gardening, I would also highly encourage you to check out our “Growing” resources at: http://growandgivecolorado.org/.

    Upcoming event

    May 4, 4-6 p.m., downtown TBK parking lot: Paper-shredding event. All proceeds go toward the Archuleta County 4-H Program. There is a three-box limit. There is a $5/box suggested donation.

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    The Grow and Give Program, https://growgive.extension.colostate.edu/, lets you learn to grow food and share the harvest locally. When you join, you have access to many resources on how to grow. Help our local food resources.

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    CPR and first aid certification classes are offered monthly by the CSU Extension office, generally on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. The cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. Call the Extension office at 246-5931 to register.