Savor Indian summer now: frosts can begin in earnest soon. Meanwhile,
some plan-ahead chores need doing. The main job for gardeners in
high-elevation and cold-winter parts of the West is preparint the soil
for spring planting. Columbine from seed: easy care, lots of choices
If you sow seeds of columbine (Aquilegia) in the garden this month,
in two years you can expect to enjoy tall-stemmed flowers with trailing
spurs from May through August. These graceful but tough perennials will
bloom for at least three summers.
Western native species to try include A. caerulea, which grows
1-1/2 to 3 feet high with blue-and-white flowers 2 inches across; A
chrysantha, reaching 3 to 4 feet with 1-1/2-to 3-inch yellow flowers;
and A. formosa, 1-1/2 to o feet high with 1-1/2 to 2-inch red-and-yellow
MCKana hybrids (to 2-1/2 feet high) come with sepals and petals in
combinations of yellow, lavender, white, and red. Dwarf species and
varieties range from 6 to 18 inches high.
If you live above 8,000 feet, choose a sunny location for your
columbines. At lower elevations, partial shade is best. Work organic
matter a foot deep into the soil. Scatter seed, and cover it thinly (it
needs some light for germination) so it won’t blow away or get
eaten by birds. A thin mulch of pine needles also helps. Don’t
water; melting winter snows will provide moisture later.
Columbine seeds germinate during the first warm spring days. Wait
until plants are up and growing to fertilize. Clay soils need work now
If your soil is slippery when wet, nighthard hwen dry, it’s
clay. It will be more workable and better aerated next spring if you dig
in lots of organic matter now. In fact, this should be an annual
Collect organic leftovers such as fallen leaves, compost, manure,
moldy hay, pine needles, and sawdust until you have enough to spread at
least 3 inches deep over beds. Or buy sphagnum peat most.
It’s good idea to dig soon after you pull a summer crop out of
the ground; soil will be loosened and still somewhat moist from summer
watering. If you are starting a new plot, try pushing a spading fork into the soil. If that’s very difficult to do, irrigate the plot
with sprinklers. Wait a week, then gather a handful of soil from 6
inches below the surface and press it into a hall. Does the hall break
easily when dropped? Then the soil is ready for digging. If it
doesn’t break, wait a few days and test again.
Rotary-till or roughly turn soil and amendment to a depth of 6
inches to a foot. For hand digging, use a spading fork, spade, or
A rough surface holds rain and snow, so don’t break up clods
or attempt to mix the organic matter thoroughly with the soil. Freezing
and thawing help level and soften clods. Another tilling in spring will
blend the soil and amendment. Add fertilizer at this time. Getting
your potatoes out of the ground
Don’t worry if potato vines start looking forlorn later this
month. At this point, the tubers are as big as they are going to get.
A couple of hard frosts will kill vines to the ground. Wait two weeks
to allow tuber skins to thicken (so the potatoes will last longer in
storage), then dig.
Using a shvel or four-tined spading fork, start a couple of feet
away from the plant. Potatoes develop on stolons that extend in every
direction, some 6 inches deep, some just at soil surface.
Potato skin exposed to sunlight turns green and tastes extremely
bitter. Discard such potatoes or pare off the green part.
Lay tubers on the ground just long enough to dry. Rub off loose
dirt, then store in a cool, dark place. If you’ve cut into any
while digging, eat them at once. Newsletters for mountain gardeners
These two publications can help you meet the challenges of low
humidity, limited rainfall, winter snows, and alkaline soil. Both
recommend hardy plants and give good intermountain garden advice.
Rocky Mountain Gardening. George Kelly, long-time back-yard grower
and author, emphasizes Colorado in this newsletter of about 12 pages.
For a one-year (six-issue) subscription, send $12 to him at 15126 County
Rd. G, Cortez, Colo. 81321.
Westscape Gardening Newsletter. Rick Hassett of Salt Lake City
edits and publishes this six-page quarterly. It costs $10 per year, $1
for a sample; write to 369 East 900 South, Salt Lake City 84111.