Monday, June 6, 2016

Gardening Challenges in Colorado – Climate By Jim Rohling

Photo courtesy Jim Rohling
One of our biggest challenges in gardening in Front Range Colorado is climate. We can have rain on Monday, snow on Tuesday, sunshine on Wednesday, and hail on Thursday. Challenging seems like an understatement!

Some of the elements of climate important to gardeners include sunshine and temperature, precipitation, wind, and hail.

Sunshine and Temperature
Without sunshine our plants would not have the energy for photosynthesis and growth. But, like all things in life, too much of a good thing is not always good. At our “altitudes,” sunshine is very intense. Gardens struggle during the late afternoon heat.  Planting gardens so they get morning and early afternoon sun and shade late in the day helps, but that is not always possible with many landscapes.  Shade cloth can help in lowering the temperature and blocking the intense sun of the late afternoon. A simple shade cloth frame can be made from hoops of PVC pipe or can be as permanent as a metal framework.

Shade cloth frame, photo courtesy Jim Rohling

Precipitation can come as a light rain for a day or two or a heavy downpour for a few minutes.  A heavy downpour can be devastating to a garden. It can take out plants, cause erosion, and compact the soil. Keeping covers nearby for individual plants can help; shade cloth pulled tight over a frame works well to filter the heavy rain in larger areas. 

Wind can do its share of damage to our gardens.  Very strong winds can blow away mulch and dry out or even blow over our plants. Staking or caging taller plants for support will protect them in high winds. Planting next to a windbreak, such as a fence or trees or even putting up a temporary windbreak provides cover. Oh, did I mention shade cloth?  It also works well as a windbreak. 

I saved the worst for last. Most hail that falls in the US is 1/8th to 3/8ths  inches in diameter. Just a few minutes of ¼ inch hail can damage or completely destroy a garden. One thing to do for insurance in case of a hail storm: start seeds of your favorite plants later in case you need to replant.  Evaluate the damaged plants before you pull them though. Many times they can recoup faster than replanting. This is especially true for tomatoes and peppers. Keep 5-gallon buckets near the plants for a quick cover up. And again, shade cloth! No, I don’t sell shade cloth for a living. I’m retired. Shade cloth stretched tightly over a frame has stopped ½ inch hail more than once in my garden. Hail can and does make grown people drop to their knees in tears. It is not a pretty sight.

Shade cloth stretched tight to help with wind and hail damage, photo courtesy Jim Rohling

Happy Gardening!

To download a copy of Climate Resources for Master Gardeners, go to