Monday, June 24

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Garden Guru: Springtime in the Rockies

By Matie Belle Lakish.

Spring has sprung! It’s the most exciting time of year for many gardeners, including me. Freezing times should be behind us and flowers are beginning to bloom. It is probably safe to plant out all those little plants that have been hovering in the greenhouse or on shelves in garden stores. The earliest spring flowers are blooming, including the bleeding hearts, daffodils and tulips. Anticipation is high. Will we have a good fruit crop? Will the bulbs planted in the fall come up and bloom this year? Will the early-planted seeds give us the flowers and veggies we are hoping for? And what will it all look like?

Our community is blessed with lots of opportunities to learn from others’ gardening experiences. Have you enjoyed the seed exchanges and Garden Fest this spring? Gardening at 8,000 feet is an interesting challenge, and sharing what we’ve learned can help us all and make it more fun. If you are new to gardening in the Crestone area, check out the Crestone Community Gardens Facebook page.  

It’s been a very unusual spring. Why? Because most of us in the Crestone/Baca area did not have a killing frost for the whole month of May. That is a first for my 30 years of gardening in the area. It was also a warmer than usual winter, with the lowest temperatures in the minus teens rather than the minus 30s. 

My fruit trees are so happy! I started a small orchard on my Baca Chalet lot when I moved here a little over a decade ago. Since I am fond of apricots and I enjoy a gardening challenge, I planted several small trees of this delectable, but very frost sensitive fruit. This is their year! All eight of my young apricot trees have small fruits and with good weather luck, they will all give me at least a taste of each tree’s flavor. It’s not too late for a killing frost, but it is unlikely now, as I write this on May 18, with warm weather in the forecast. There are a few old apricot and plum trees in town. It may be worth collecting and planting seeds from some of these successful old-timers and saving the genetic stock for future generations. 

It should be a good year for apples, as well. Some of the many town trees put on a bumper crop last year and may take a break this year, but most should bear well. Watch out for bears, as they have a great fondness for these fruits. My goal this year is to get a good electric fence around my lot, as bruins have taken down my wire fence several times in the past. 

Smaller fruits are also looking good. A Juliet bush cherry I planted three years ago is loaded, along with the older but smaller, Hansen’s bush cherries. I have not yet found a sweet cherry that likes our climate, but as winters warm, that may change. 

A hardy native is the serviceberry. These natives grow well along all the creeks, even up to 10,000 feet. Bears and birds love the purple berries that resemble blueberries, and so do my grandchildren. The domesticated varieties, sometimes called Juneberries, make a great ornamental shrub as well as a source of nutritious purple fruit. I also have a golden currant that is loaded with yellow flowers this year. The fruits are a bit tart, but still good for fresh eating, and very attractive to birds. Watch out for suckers, though. This plant will try to take over with many little ones coming up from wandering roots. This can be great if you want to share with other gardeners, but a nuisance when they invade your kale. 

Speaking of kale, have you planted your early spring greens? It’s not too late to get your garden beds ready, with irrigation set up, and spring greens and roots planted out. Experienced Crestone gardeners will probably have onions, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, lettuce, spinach, kale, and chard in the ground, but it’s not too late to plant those frost-tolerant veggies. Although our spring has been exceptionally warm, I have waited to plant the tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, squash, and pumpkins. I’ll be trying to get those outdoors during the first week or two of June. While it has been a warm spring, it is still possible to get a late cold spell, so keep some covers ready, just in case. 

Enjoy the spring, and the company of gardening friends. 

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