If you prefer to eat organic produce but the prices pinch your wallet, consider growing your own this year. Any size plot of land will serve for a few choice plants. Even containers on a sunny patio will provide a substantial amount of fresh food.
Urban soils along the Front Range are often compacted and contain a high percentage of heavy clay. To ease compaction and increase nutrient levels, add approximately one inch of compost each year and mix it thoroughly with the original soil. To increase fertility in future years, plant a cover crop in the fall (white Dutch clover, hairy vetch, buckwheat or blends) and till it in after it greens up in the spring. Dairy, poultry, rabbit, or llama manures may also be used (check salt content before using), but must be thoroughly composted before application. Never add fresh manure to a growing vegetable garden as the risk of deadly E.coli poisoning is possible and serious illness or death could result. Remember that the nutrient content of most organic materials is quite variable and depends upon the specific source and how the material has been handled and stored.
Weeds can be controlled the old-fashioned way - with a hoe or pulled by hand. After the plot is free of weeds, use an organic mulch to retain moisture and help keep weeds from returning. Cover crops (listed above) can be planted among vegetables as a living mulch. Straw or dried grass clippings (not treated with herbicide or insecticide) are good choices. Shredded newspaper works well in walkways but use only newspapers printed with soy-based ink (all local papers) and avoid colored sheets. Water well and press the newspaper into the soil to hold it in place.
Observe planting dates given on seeds and plants. Planting too early or too late can stunt growth and produce weak seedlings prone to disease or insect infestation. Space plants as directed on the package to increase strength and vitality.
Set up a bottom-watering system as overhead watering often splashes onto leaves and can spread common fungal diseases. A drip set-up or soaker hoses help avoid this problem.
Remove diseased plants or leaves routinely to prevent the spread to others. The use of crop rotation (where feasible) can also minimize both disease and over wintering pests since these tend to be specific to plant families.
Many beneficial insects are attracted to certain crops including most herbs and small-flowered decorative species. Some examples are clover, sunflowers, marigolds, calendula, dill, carrot, chamomile, nasturtium and cilantro. The populations of harmful insects can often be kept at a manageable level by drawing their natural predators to the garden. These naturally occurring predatory insects, i.e. ladybugs, lacewings, etc can also be purchased for release into the garden, but success rates vary widely and insects often leave the desired location.
Insects can sometimes be controlled through hand removal. This requires daily observation especially in late summer and fall. If chemical controls are needed, insecticidal soaps can be effective against some insects and certain species of the bacteria, Bacillus thurengiensis, are effective in controlling most caterpillars.
Growing your own organic produce doesn’t need to be difficult and could help stretch your grocery budget. Try it this season.
For further information on organic vegetable production, refer to Fact Sheets #7.217 - Fertilizing the Organic Garden and #9.369 - Preventing E-coli From Garden to Plate.
Q: My tulips and daffodils have finished blooming. When can I cut back the yellowing leaves?
A: Don't be tempted to cut back the leaves so long as they are still green and will not pull easily from the soil. Do cut off flower heads after blooming, but leave the stem until it dries. The plants are storing energy for next year's flowers so the longer the leaves are in place the better.
Q: I have a boggy area in my yard that is always wet. What flowers could I plant there?
A: Some suggestions are marsh marigolds (Caltha palustis), blue flag iris (Iris verscicolor) and marsh mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). This is not a common situation here in Colorado, so the plants may not be available locally.
Q: When should I prune my clematis?
A: If it is a spring-flowering type, it should be pruned right after flowering. If you prune it now you'll lose the blooms for this year. If it is a later flowering kind (summer or fall), it should be pruned in the spring to encourage flower formation.
When planting flower gardens this spring, consider planting several “container gardens” in a variety of large pots. Use unusual combinations of ornamental grasses, trailing vines, roses and combinations of annual and perennial plants–anything that strikes your fancy. Stuff containers full placing plants close together for lots of color. Fertilize regularly and place them on patios, decks, steps, empty spots in perennial or shrub areas or move them around for instant color.
Approximately 50- 55% of the water used by homeowners in the Front Range goes to irrigate lawns. The condition of the grass and soil rather than the number of days between waterings can determine lawn-watering needs. Insert a screwdriver or stiff wire into the lawn and soil to a depth of about 3"-4". If it goes in easily and comes out moist, the lawn probably doesn’t need watering
Achieving all-season color in the perennial garden can often be a challenge. There are several reliable plants that provide color from spring into fall. Pink and rose colors can be had from yarrow (Achillea), winecups (Callirhroe), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and 'Red Rocks' and 'elfin pink' penstemon (Penstemon). Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp), Heliopsis 'Lorraine sunshine' and 'summer sun' can be counted on for yellows while 'blue waterfall' campanula (Campanula), veronicas (Veronica spp) and salvias (Salvia spp) supply excellent blues. For variety consider adding some miniature and small shrub roses as well as some of the short spireas (Spirea bumalda).
The authors have received training through Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.
Gardening and Insect Fact Sheets are available on-line by clicking HERE.
Return to Master Gardener Articles