Spring Tips

Growing pumpkins

GiantPumpkins2012Pumpkins, with their edible flesh and long storage life are a warm season crop. They require a long growing season of nearly 85 days, so it’s best to start them indoors from seed. About a week after the last frost (on average May 15 along the northern Colorado front range), pumpkins can be planted outdoors. But be careful, pumpkins do not like their roots disturbed. We recommend starting them in a natural peat-pot (offered in the garden shop) that can be planted directly in the soil.

Choose an area in your garden or yard that receives plenty of sunlight, and has at least 8 ft. x 8 ft. for pumpkin vines to spread. Soil should be rich with organic matter, but not over-fertilized, which can stunt fruit growth.

Pumpkins will start to develop after blossoms are pollinated, so encourage pollinators to visit your garden with other flowering plants. Also avoid using pesticides in and around your garden, since also harm  beneficial insects as well as pests.

To increase the size of giant pumpkins, pick a few nice-sized fruits and cut back the vine just beyond them. This will help all the resources of the plant to be devoted to the growth of those remaining pumpkins.

Interested in entering our annual Giant Pumpkin Contest? See our Calendar of Events and check the month of October for the exact date. Get growing!

Helpful Links:
PlantTalk Colorado – Growing Great Pumpkins
Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers
Big Pumpkins
Old Farmer’s Almanac: Pumpkins
You Tube:  Larry Checkon, the world record holder for the largest pumpkin



Tomatoes: A taste of summer

One of the most popular additions to any vegetable garden is homegrown tomatoes. Nothing beats the taste of a juicy, sweet tomato that has ripened on the vine.

At Fort Collins Nursery, we offer a huge variety of tomato plants and seeds to satisfy your hankering. Our varieties include: Beefsteak, Cherry, Roma, Brandywine, Lemon Boy, and more! Call us at 970-482-1984 for availability.

Tomatoes are tender plants. We recommend using a Season Extender or Hot Kap to protect against cold temperatures. We also offer frost cloth.

Don’t forget to keep tomatoes off the ground with a sturdy tomato cage, garden stake, tomato tower, or even try a Topsy Turvy, and hang them upside down! Whiskey barrels also make excellent containers for indeterminate tomato plants ­– they’ll just grow and grow!

Did you know tomato plants like salty soils?

Growing sunflowers

GiantSunflower2012Sunflowers are not only an attractive flower, they also have rich history providing edible seed crops. Sunflowers do best when planted directly in the soil, after night temperatures warm to above 50 degrees. As their name suggests, need plenty of sunlight (minimum of 6 hours per day). They will also turn their flower heads to follow the sun from east to west.

For giant sunflowers, make sure to chose an area in the yard near a fence or support structure. Sunflowers tend to become very top-heavy as seeds develop, sometimes pulling themselves over. Watering sunflowers deeply but infrequently encourages deep root development (which will also help them stand upright). Sunflowers can also be utilized for shade and structure for other vegetables in the garden.

In order to keep birds and squirrels from helping themselves to sunflower seeds, paper bags, nylon mesh or nets can be placed over the flower heads. The best bet is to plant a few extra for wildlife to enjoy, and you to enjoy watching them.

Sunflowers tend to attract aphids, which will feed on the plant and cause some stunting. Instead of using a pesticide, which can harm beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, try spraying aphids off with a jet of water.

Test soil before amending

Soil tests are one of the most essential keys to a successful landscape. Many people add an all-in-one fertilizer every spring, thinking one application and forget about it. This can actually build up nutrients to levels that lead to plants’ decline.

Besides basic at-home test kits available at the nursery, we have the added benefit of Colorado State University’s soil testing lab kits. For a small fee, CSU will run a complete diagnostic for the exact breakdown of your soil’s nutrients and deficiencies.

A complete report is issued, detailing pH, salts, lime, texture, organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus and other minerals. They also recommend specific steps to take to balance soil.

Bring in your report to Fort Collins Nursery, and we can help fill your soil’s needs!

Cool season vegetable gardens

Late March is a great time to start planting cool season vegetables. Many of the hardy types can be transplanted into the garden 2-4 weeks before the last frost (average of May 15). Cool season crops prefer cool daytime temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees, and down to 40 degrees at night.

The most hardy, such as broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, onions, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach and turnips, can withstand a frost.

Semi-Hardy vegetables such as beets, carrots, cauliflower, parsley, parsnips, potatoes and Swiss chard  are less tolerant of a frost, and may need some protection.

A good rule of thumb is you can plant pea seeds, potatoes and onions (all available in our Garden Shop) directly in the garden after St. Patrick’s Day. Using mulch, Season Extenders and covering with row covers will also help protect veggies from low temperatures.

Cool-season crops will stop producing when temperatures are high in the summertime, but keep in mind you can plant them again for another round of crops for a fall harvest!

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension offers a great vegetable planting guide and vegetable garden hints.

Native shrubs for low maintenance

Our Colorado environment is home to some amazing native shrubs. Not only are these shrubs disease resistant and perfect for our native soil, they attract birds, butterflies and provide year-round interest.

Try adding to your landscape a sumac, Apache plume, serviceberry, rabbitbrush, fernbush, mountain mahogany or buffaloberry.

These shrubs have some very unique features, such as the curly, furry fruit of the mountain mahogony, reddish-orange berries of the buffaloberry or the white clusters of flowers of the serviceberry. After proper placement and establishment, these shrubs require little care.

You won’t find these shrubs outside the southwest region. Adding them to your landscape helps keep the area diversified and encourages the local ecosystem. They can be blended seamlessly with non-native plants, depending on the shrubs water and sun needs.

Ask for a tree and shrub representative to help find these native shrubs to match your landscape needs. We also offer many native trees and perennials, come out and see!

Don’t mow lawns too short

285184-33811-57The recommended height for blue grass lawns is 2 ½”-3″. Mow frequently so that no more than 1/3 of the grass height is removed during a single mowing. With this program, you will be mowing every 4-5 days in the Spring and every 7-10 days in the Summer.

Keep ryegrass, fescue and wheatgrass to a height of 2 to 3 inches. Buffalo-grass and blue grama do best if grown longer, or not mowed at all.

Remember to keep lawn mower blades clean and sharp for the best cut. Dirty, dull blades cause rough edges, which will turn grass blade tops brown, and damage the overall  health of the lawn. Lawns bounce back better from mowing if irrigated afterward.

It is also recommended to use a mulching mower, that is one that leaves grass clippings on the lawn. This adds nutrients back to the soil, and helps the lawn retain moisture.

Give your lawn a breath of fresh air

Photo credit: Minnesota Lawn Care Pro

As soon as the soils warms in Spring, it’s a good time to have your lawn aerated. Aeration, which is better for your lawn then thatch raking, will reduce soil compaction and to improve nutrient and moisture delivery.

Lawns will also benefit from more oxygen to the grasses’ root system.

If thatch in your lawn is thicker than ½ inch, core aerate with a mechanical aerator. This will improve the health and vitality of the lawn.

Leave plugs on top and break them up with a mower.

Speaking of weeds….

Did something new pop up in your garden? Did you hope it was a volunteer? Keep a close eye on your garden for noxious weeds. Invasive, aggressively-spread weeds can take over after very little time.

Some of the worst Colorado noxious weeds are:  leafy spurge, spotted knapweed, diffuse knapweed, Russian knapweed, Canada thistle, musk thistle, Dalmatian toadflax, yellow toadflax, field bindweed and purple loosestrife.

For a list and photos of Colorado noxious weeds, visit: http://weeds.hotmeal.net.

Help attract beneficial bees and butterflies

Make your garden more hospitable to bees and butterflies!

  • Reduce the use of pesticides
  • Plant nectar-rich food that blooms through the summer
  • Provide a shallow water source and a flat rock
  • Leave a small patch of bare ground for bees to establish underground nests

Bees are most attracted to white, yellow, blue, pink and purple flowers. Try planting wild lilac, western and eastern redbud, flowering quince, cranesbill, lavender, catmint, rhododendron, rose and salvia.

Butterflies need a food source all summer long, so try: yarrow, hyssop, anemone, aster, bluebeard, tickseed, foxglove, coneflower, potentilla, bee balm, Russian sage, blackeyed Susan, pincushion flower, stonecrop, spirea, verbena, milkweed and butterfly bush.