It's springtime in the Rockies, and newcomers to the Queen City of the Plains may be learning some hard lessons about high-altitude gardening.
Our high elevation results in strong sunlight and low humidity, and the clay soil doesn't help either, with its lack of aeration and tendency to retain salt due to a high alkaline content. Stealthy late frosts and plant-shredding hailstorms are common, yet the short growing season demands plants get an early start.
Cold winters also play a part, and I was surprised to learn that Denver has not one, but two possible "hardiness zones." These are standards (based on the average annual minimum winter temperature) by which gardeners determine which plants are most likely to survive and thrive at a given location. You can find your zip code's hardiness zone with this interactive map.
Luckily, the Denver Public Library has a cornucopia of resources to troubleshoot these challenges and inspire rookie and seasoned gardeners alike.
There's also the Gardening, Landscape and Horticulture database (available at home with your DPL card) that contains more than 4 million articles on subjects ranging from building retaining walls to xeriscape groundcovers to herbal-themed weddings.
Gardening books for our region include The Colorado Gardener's Companion: An Insider's Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State, by Jody Torpey, who also maintains the lively westerngardeners.com website.
Xeriscape Colorado: The Complete Guide, by landscape designer Connie Lockhart Ellefson and Denver Water's David Winger takes you through the seven principles of water-wise gardening for a drought-tolerant yard. In addition, Denver Water's website has some great articles about xeriscape, a term the agency created in 1981, which combines "landscape" and the Greek word "xeros", meaning dry.
Armchair gardeners can visit Denver's Botanic Gardens (here's a list of free days) or Hudson Gardens, which has a honey bee apiary, songbird gardens, wetlands and programs for the whole family. There are also numerous public xeriscape gardens in the Denver area, most of them free. Or, take a road trip to Fort Collins to view Colorado State University's Flower Trial Garden, a three-acre garden with a purpose: every year different varieties of bedding flowers are planted in order to discover which varieties are the hardiest and yield the best blossoms.
Got questions? Ask Us or call Reference at 720.865.1363.