GARDENING IN THE PIKES PEAK REGION
Gardening here in Colorado’s high mountain desert is quite a horticultural adventure—and not for the faint-hearted! Our growing conditions, shaped by high altitude, semi-arid environment, wildly fluctuating temperatures, poor soil and intense light are different than the rest of the country, distinct from the rest of Colorado, and even varying from one end of Colorado Springs to the other—which certainly creates challenges.
But all these obstacles just make the rewards that much sweeter! And for the undaunted gardener we do have several distinct advantages. Our warm, sunny summer days and cool nights are a boon to many plants, especially perennials which are an absolute glory here. Also, the great amount of light we receive at 6000’ helps many kinds of plants to flourish. And, we have far fewer diseases and insects to contend with because of our low humidity - with the important exception of the army of beetles marching across the state, devastating pine and spruce populations.
More good news, though, is that we all have microclimates in our gardens if we are attentive to understanding a plant’s needs, such as sun vs. shade, protection from the winter elements, water requirements, etc. Many plants that would never withstand a southwest exposure will thrive if placed in a north-east facing location.
There will always be challenges. Frost can linger until mid May and return in early October. Our average annual precipitation is a scant 14”. Municipal watering restrictions have become commonplace as the Rocky Mountain West contends with almost continual drought, dwindling water supplies, and soaring utility bills. But committed gardeners have learned to use drought-tolerant natives and other Mediterranean plants, like lavender, which adapt well to our dry climate and alkaline soil
Deer are ubiquitous even in the urban areas, but again, savvy gardeners can have both the fun of living with wildlife AND a beautiful garden by careful selection of plants that are distasteful to deer. We have found that many ornamental grasses just aren't as appealing to them.
Wind is a year-round issue with staking of new trees essential. They can be terribly drying, particularly in the winter when the ground is frozen and roots cannot obtain moisture to compensate for what is lost through the leaves. This is the main reason so few broad-leaf evergreens survive here, and it’s vitally important to water deeply on warm winter days.
Wildfire has become an ever-present danger in Colorado, especially for those homeowners living in the Wildland/Urban interface. One of the best ways of protecting home and property is to select fire-resistant plant material for landscaping. This can have a significant impact in defending home and property by slowing down a fire or, conversely, if chosen unwisely, adding to the intensity, duration, and heat of a wildfire.
So take heart, fellow gardener. There’s help to be had, and gorgeous gardens to visit—such as Denver Botanic Gardens and the Demonstration gardens of Carnegie Public Library, Horticultural Art Society and Colorado Springs Utilities Xeriscape garden. If they can do it, you can too! See USEFUL RESOURCES for web links.
And lastly, there is very good, extensive information on all aspects of Colorado gardening on two specific websites:
Colorado State University Extension
Denver Botanic Gardens
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