By, Marne Norquist
It’s official. Spring arrives this month – March 20 at 7:02 a.m. For the past ten or so years, spring has seemed to kick-in a lot earlier than that. It is becoming more and more evident that our climate is changing. So far, along the Front Range, it has been a very dry and mild winter, with few snow showers. Winter watering has been practiced like never before (hopefully!). The weather is shifting and our gardens are responding accordingly. And, so must we. Rather than being resentful of our “new normal”, we must embrace it and work with it, not against it. The fact is we live in a semiarid climate: wind; cold, crisp days; and the coveted sparse days of precipitation.
Some may be surprised to learn that Denver is, indeed, a semiarid climate. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Semiarid climates are similar to arid climates, but are more moderate, experiencing less of the extreme high or low temperatures. These areas typically surround the desert areas, separating them from the more humid climates beyond.”
To gracefully accept the reality that Denver is dry, prairie land, be mindful of your plant material choices. Follow Denver Water’s irrigation schedule. And, perhaps the most important tool for a happy Park Hill garden: amend your soil with organic compost. This is a low-cost – albeit, dirty – endeavor, but your gardens will thrive. The simple act of a soil amendment will assist in drainage and increase nutritional absorption.
Take an inventory of the wealth of plant material that flourishes in Park Hill. Ornamental grasses, sedums, yuccas – they all have a spectacular show at least three seasons of the year. They also thrive in our climate, offering structure, color and texture in the winter and spring months. Though, ideally, by the end of March, the plants that offer winter interest are weighted down by the heavy spring snow storms.
Most obvious, however, are the early blooming bulbs that share their beauty with us. Crocus, hyacinths, daffodils and even tulips will be evident as the month proceeds. Look for the buds of trees and shrubs, as they slowly swell with new growth inside. At the end of this spring month, we may even witness some fruit blossoms – apples, cherries and pears. Redbuds, typically an April bloomer, might even grace us with its bright magenta blooms. Take note of the bulbs that peek through the snow covered ground. And, delight in the lovely image of a semiarid, Denver spring!
Welcome the semiarid beauty that we are graced with. Work with our conditions, expanding your knowledge of how to properly grow plants that will thrive and flourish and bloom and offer us simple beauty – if even that means a single tulip peeping out of a heavy, wet March snow.
MARCH GARDENING TIPS
• Soil Amendment – Add a 2″ layer of compost over the soil and shovel turn the soil about 6″ deep. Soil is ready to be worked if it is thawed, not soggy. Soil amendments are a continual process. Annual amendments are ideal.
• Plant pansies in containers or beds. Monitor regularly to make sure they are getting enough water.
• Continue to mindfully prune your trees and shrubs, one branch at a time.
• Resist the temptation of the balmy days to plant anything that may be damaged by frost. Blizzards and freezing temperatures can still occur.
• Learn the “Seven Principles of Xeriscape” (see Denver Water’s website). This will assist you in understanding how to have a beautiful, efficient and sustainable landscape.
Marne Norquist is a professional horticulturalist with 12 years of experience designing and installing gardens. A native of Park Hill, she now cultivates a plot on Dexter street, where gardens – edible and ornamental – and two kids grow. She can be reached at email@example.com.