UPDATED and REPUBLISHED on May 30, 2015
I have a love/hate relationship with monthly Colorado gardening chores. There are days when I’m out there sweating and grunting and thinking, “Why do I do this?” Then other days I love the hard work. I always love planting seeds and pruning and harvesting. But I don’t always love hauling dirt, mowing or turning over hard clay soil. But, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
This is a new page for Colorado Backyard Gardener. Over the next year I will add to it, making suggestions and adding the ones you give me to this month-to-month chore guide. It will be particular to Colorado, what chores us Front Range gardeners typically do in any given month.
As I add to this page, I will work to keep it arranged and organized in a manner that is accessible to my readers. For now, scroll down to the month you need.
October/November Colorado Gardening Chores
It’s an odd feeling when it is time to engage in October/November backyard gardener chores. Part of me is really ready to do it all. I kind of (just kind of) want to put it all away and let the first (or next) snowfall come. After all the spring and summer digging, planting, watering and tending it feels like it is time to rest. After all the responding to things like nasty leaf eating beatles and moldy leaf spots, I’m feeling the need to cease fire.
It’s fall. I can hear my own advice, “Be done now Laura. Instead of going outside to play, now is the time of year when you can go inside to play.” Rest.
I do not know how I really feel. But I do know it is time to do this THING called “Monthly Colorado Gardening Chores”. So, here is a list of what the Flanders’ will be doing in the next couple weeks. Please comment below, adding what you are doing this time of year and I will update this page, giving you credit of course.
- Raking leaves. We live in an older established neighborhood. Our neighbors own cottonwood trees that hang, not into their yard, but into ours. I’ll say no more about THAT. Our first order of business is to put a bag on our mower and mow over the leaves, catching as many in the bag as we are able. We pile these mulched leaves into various mounds in my vegetable garden. Over the winter I turn these piles 7-8 times and watch them turn to gold. Since we use only organic fertilizer on our lawn, we also add some of the grass clippings caught in our final mowing, turning this into the pile of leaves.
- Unless I want seeds to drop from dead annuals/flowers, I pull from the ground the annuals that have died back. Otherwise I harvest and store seeds that I want to share or use the coming season.
- Cut back (to the ground) most all my herbaceous (leafy) perennials. I do, however, allow some of the herbaceous perennials to remain for a few months for two reasons: (1) I might like the way a particular plant catches the snow, and (2) a particular plant may have a dried flower that drops some of its seeds. I have learned that some of our winters are mild enough that seeds from an annual plant may germinate the following spring. This, however, is rare.
- I leave my grasses to be pruned in mid-March. Why? They like it that way and they are pretty in the snow.
- I leave my small woody perennials to be pruned in either early spring, mid spring or early summer. Now is not the time to prune small woody perennials because there is not enough warm weather ahead that will allow the plant to produce a callus over the wound left by the cut.
- Late fall and early winter is often a great time to prune some of your larger woody perennials such as trees and certain bushes. Planttalk Colorado at the Colorado State University is a great reference site for many things, including what trees and shrubs to prune and when. Click here for that site.
- I do not prune subshrubs in the fall. Subshrubs like lavender and sage do not like being pruned to the ground. Unfortunately, for many years I did not know this, killing many lavender and sage plants in my garden. Click here to learn more about pruning subshrubs.
- In most all my beds I lay down a thin layer of aged manure in most of my flower beds. While fresh manure can be used and allowed to age over the winter, I have decided to only use aged manure primarily because it is easier for me to obtain and it is cheap, only $1.75 a bag at Home Depot
- Our CBG friend Shelley reminded me to get those fall bulbs in if I haven’t done so already (this would include tulips, crocus, hyacinth, daffodils, allium, garlic). Some sites say to plant them late September. But I’ve planted flower bulbs as late as November and they come up in the spring. Do wait until late October to plant garlic. Go here for more info on planting fall bulbs.
- If you have fruit trees and have allowed fruit to drop and begin rotting on the ground below, be sure to pick up all the rotting fruit — apples especially. Why? If any of your fruit was infested with worms/maggots, picking them up, bagging them and throwing them out will keep the larvae from sitting in the ground, overwintering there and then waking up to infest your tree next year. This simple cleanup can help you grow more robust healthy fruit (organically) the following year your tree produces.
- At the end of November, wait for a warmer 40 degree day. Go out and turn and churn the compost piles you made in late October/early November. By now there has probably been some snow and that moisture should be put to good use, turning it into the leaf piles you made.
December/January Colorado Gardening Chores
- Turn compost piles.
- Order your seed catalogs. Even if you don’t grow by seed or buy your seed in a local independent garden center, seed catalogs will help ease winter blues! Here is my list of great seed companies that provide free hard copy catalogs.
- In January, begin to peruse your current seed supply. Be familiar with what you already have. Go here for great information on seed viability.
- Sketch your garden site. Identify where you will plant what. Keep it simple. Don’t over think it. Be willing to change your mind once you begin planning. Why plan? It helps you know what seeds you might need to add to your collection. This will probably help you from overbuying too many seeds. Hahah. Yeah right.
- Familiarize yourself with when you can plant seeds (indoors and outdoors). Use this list I made to help you learn about timing of planting seeds here.
- Now make a chart of the plants you will plant. In differing columns identify when you will start the seed (either indoors or outdoors).
- Turn your compost piles.
- Turn your compost piles.
- Maybe you don’t do compost. Be ok with that decision.
- If you don’t have time to turn your compost piles. Who cares. Life can be hard. Compost can wait.
- On a warm day (we have those) when it is dry (we have that too often) go out to your garden and do some clean up. Cleanup does help reduce pests and spiders.
- If it is overly dry, it might be good to connect your hose and water some of your trees and bushes. I’ve been know to even water my grass in January.
February Colorado Gardening Chores
- It can sometimes get unseasonably warm in February. In 2015 we had many warm days in a row. So many that my tulips starting peeking out too soon. I mounded those green tulip leaves with mulch. I also did that with a few other plant that were peeking out a tad too soon.
- Turn your compost pile.
- More clean up.
- If you use a lawn mower, take it in for a tune-up now. Or do the tune-up yourself if you have the know how. We will have enough warm days to get that done before it is too cold in your garage.
- Remember, more snow is coming. March is our snowiest month here in Colorado. Oh joy! Be glad for the snow. We ALWAYS need it here in Colorado. Snow now makes for a lovelier garden later.
March Colorado Gardening Chores
- It may be a frozen tundra or it may be warm. It might snow one foot one day and two days later it is all gone. Be flexible this month and thus flexible with these chores.
- Mulching is very important here in Colorado. It cuts down on the need to water. It also diminishes weeds and encourages you the gardener, to stop using chemicals to kill those weeds. Start to think about your mulching strategy. Check around your area for mulch options. I buy my mulch each year in bulk. I drive my husbands old chevy truck over to a mulch yard and buy 2-3 yards each spring. Then I haul it all back (sometimes with help) using a wheel barrel. It’s hard work. BUT it is worth it. I do this every year because mulch is that important to me.
- Avoid bark mulch. It takes way too long to break down. Buy the smaller mulch. I buy the kind that isn’t chemically treated with color. I like it natural.
- If you have birdhouses or bird feeders, now would be a good time to empty, scrub them out and let them air dry. You might want to consider disinfecting them with an organic cleaner.
- In mid-March I sometimes direct sow my peas. It depends on the weather report. I don’t want it to be TOO cold. So often I wait until April 1.
- If you didn’t amend your soil in the fall, as soon as the ground can be worked, begin to amend your soil. Wait until the soil is not overly wet. I amend my garden beds every year by adding fresh compost. I turn up all the soil by hand with a shovel (and sometimes I get help from a friend). Once I turn the existing soil, breaking up all the soil clumps, I add and turn in the compost.
- I sometimes test my soil before adding any amendments, but for the most part, I keep it simple and don’t test. I probably make the more master gardeners reading this cringe a bit by admitting this. If I make things too complicated (too complicated for me that is) I get paralyzed.
- If you start seeds indoors, begin to start SOME of them but don’t do it too early. Consider investing in a grow light. It makes a big difference. I do start some seeds indoors, but I don’t have room to go BIG with this. Again, go to this place on my site to help you learn.
- Do you have a lawn? I do. I’m not ashamed by this. We host a lot of parties in our yard. We need some lawn. If you do have a lawn, you might want to consider power raking it and aerating it. And, if it needs to be overseeded, March or April is the month to do that (if there isn’t a ton of snow on your lawn that is). Often if you wait until April, it might be too late to power rake. Only do that when the grass is still dormant. And the grass and ground must be dry, not soggy.
- In mid-March, if the green on your spring bulbs are peeking out, feed them lightly with an appropriate fertilizer. I use an organic one, sometimes fish emulsion.
- I love begonias. If you love them too, it is much cheaper to buy tubers and start them indoors in late March. You can place each tuber in a small little pot (I use cheap ones for seed starting from a garden center). You can use potting soil, but I tend to use a combo of potting soil and soil-less mix. They do well just placed near a window. You don’t need grow lights if you don’t have them but do choose a sunny window. Transfer them to your larger pots later on. Begonias like shade/filtered light and cooler weather. Click here to read more about starting begonia bulbs.
- If you want to add a raised bed to your garden, now is the time to do that. Why now? Because if you want to plant cool season veggies in it (which is done in April) you want this bed to be finished. And if you plan to use it for warm season veggies, building the bed now gives you time to fill it with a good soil mix in April, getting it all ready for May planting of warm season veggies.
- If you have ornamental grasses in your perennial flower bed, now is the time to cut those back. I leave about 10 inches of the dry brown grass, cutting off all the rest. Soon the new green growth will appear.
- And, if you have any sub-shrubs (lavender, sage, etc), you can cut 1/3 off the top of those now. Or you can wait to do it once you see green growth appear. Don’t cut sub-shrubs to the ground.
April Colorado Gardening Chores
- You may begin to direct sow and plant out some cool season vegetables in this month. I actually make a chart of when I will plant what. Each cool season vegetable has a different planting/timing throughout the month. Click here for more information and help. Still want to order seeds? Click here for free seed catalogues. I will certainly plant peas in this month. Have you seen my pea planting gardening guide? If not, click here. In April/May 2015 my peas, that had emerged from the ground survived two significant snow storms. They are very resilient.
- But, before you begin to plant, you may need to clean out some of your beds first, maybe even adding a bit of compost to the soil if you haven’t already done this.
- Pay attention to clean up as much as you can this month. We can have some very nice days that allow for that. I try to get all my clean up done in April. I focus first on removing any debris (matted leaves, etc) from the places where my early spring perennials are planted. I want to be sure they can easily see the light of day. Some will start showing themselves soon and I may even find some sprouts smashed under the weight of soggy leaves.
- If you want to put a little color near your back door, you can plant a pot of pansies right now. They are frost hardy and won’t be bothered by our spring snows.
- There may be areas of your yard/garden that are still frozen or wet. Just wait that out and don’t worry about dealing with it now.
- Take a look at the March chores above. Is anything there still in need of being done?
- I take the time in April to put some bulb fertilizer on my spring flowering bulbs. They will begin to peek out, if they haven’t already. I use Espoma Bulb Tone. I have no advantage from Espoma in telling you this.
May Colorado Gardening Chores
- This is an exciting month and yet it takes so much patience to wait to plant warm season veggies. A general rule of thumb: wait until mother’s day to plant. But in May 2015 I had 10 inches of snow blow into my backyard garden on mothers day. The same thing happened on mothers day in 2014. Wow. Just wow. Click here for seed starting resources.
- Wait until June 1 to put out peppers. Click here for my growing guide on peppers in Colorado.
- If you have grown your own vegetables indoors by seed, be sure you harden them off. You can google that as I have yet to make my own post. I just want to point out how very important it is that you do this. I’d hate for you to lose those seedlings you worked so hard to nurture.
- Watch the weather very closely before you put out tomatoes. Click here for my growing guide on tomatoes in Colorado. And if you grow so many that at the end of the season you aren’t sure what to do with them all, check this out! Click here. Avoid blossom end rot by clicking here.
- You may want to plant nasturtium seeds. They help repel pests. Click here for a post on that.
- As your spring bulb blooms fade, be sure to remove the stem. Doing so removes the seed that is at the top. If you leave it on, all the energy from the sun goes into that seed rather than into strengthening the bulb. Don’t cut out the leaves. You have to let them wither and dry out so that the energy from the sun gets to the bulb as long as possible.
- Edge gardening beds. I don’t use any metal, rock or synthetic borders on many of my beds. Thus, to edge, I use this tool. Best thing ever. I don’t make money by sharing this link with you. I don’t even own this exact one. But this is a must have tool for me. I like clean edges. I’ll re-edge my beds once a month in the summer/fall as well. I think I might be a little obsessive with edging.
- Power wash decks and concrete patios.
- Pull weeds. I realize this is your favorite chore. NOT! To avoid weeding too much…..
- Add new mulch where needed. I don’t use landscape fabric. I hate that stuff. So I put my mulch in thick so I don’t have to weed again too much.
- If you have a little cheap homemade fountain like this one, now is the time to set it up. Or you can make one now! Google it to find lots of instructions. Basically, mine is just a little pump from Home Depot set inside a large pot with some rocks to hold it steady inside and rocks for decoration. Simple.
- This month is a good time to divide some of your perennials, moving the division into a bare spot in your garden. You can also make another gardeners day by giving away some of your divisions. Certain perennials need to be divided every so often. My yard is filled with Hosta from plants I bought (and then began to divide) over 16 years ago. I’ve also shared my Hosta with a lot of friends.
- If you started some sensitive bulbs indoors (ones that can’t stand our frosts) like the instructions I give here with tuberous begonia, you can begin to plant them out after our last frost (it is typically safe after mother’s day).
What needs to be added to this list and for which month? Please share below and I will add it. Let’s learn from each other.