Sat May 10, 2014
Garden Report

The Challenges And Rewards Of Mountain Gardening

Cold frames are miniature greenhouses that allow for a longer growing season at higher altitudes.
Credit Vilseskogen / Flickr - Creative Commons

Mud season has arrived in Colorado’s high country, which lasts from the first spring melt until the snow is gone. With the record snowfall this season, it could take until early June to melt. Short season gardening in the mountains is challenging but does have some advantages if you know what to grow and how to grow it.

Tom Throgmorton explains how to make the most of the short growing season at high altitudes.

  • Frosts can happen throughout the summer making tender vegetables too difficult to grow. On the other hand, vibrant perennials and hardy annuals can withstand these unpredictable frosts. These plants are still vulnerable in the early stages. If your garden is above 7,000 feet, it’s generally best to wait to plant until late May.
  • High elevation gardeners can take advantage of the intense sun by using raised beds which warm up faster than in-the-ground beds. Use rocks or wood to build the structure of the bed and then fill it with compost and soil. A raised bed will get annual flowers and vegetables through a light mid-summer frost.
  • Cold frames give mountain gardeners an edge in the spring and fall. They can be as simple as milk jugs with the bottom cut out or elaborate small greenhouses made of wood and clear plastic windows.
  • Warm season veggies like peppers and tomatoes can be grown in containers which can be moved inside if threatening weather is in the forecast. New containers are decorative and can fit into any design scheme.
  • Once the season is over the real challenge is preventing gardens from becoming a salad bar for deer or elk. Chili pepper sprays make a good deterrent but need to be reapplied after every rain.

Mountain gardeners may face more challenges, but a bountiful garden in the high country is so much brighter and fresher then a dry plains garden

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