Winter Landscaping in Colorado

In this article, Dave White discusses specific landscaping techniques appropriate for the Niwot, Colorado area gardener, as well as for all those along the Front Range including guidelines for planning and budgeting for your landscape projects. He also addresses the “ins and outs” of water features. Contact Dave now to have him help you with your budget and winter planning ideas to get your landscape going early in the season.

Preparing For The Spring Color Burst

The holidays are over. Guests have gone home. Family is back to work and school. It’s 12 degrees outside. Now is not the time most people consider their landscapes. But avid gardeners are searching seed catalogues and dreaming of that first nice day in spring when their gardens can be tilled. And then, as it happens every year, catching those off guard who love to work in their yards…that initial warm up when you realize you could be wearing just a tee shirt and working in your yard. But, you’re still inside doing spring cleaning. You’ll know it when you smell it. The smell of the thawing ground.

Along the Front Range here in Colorado, our weather can be fickle at best. Very strong Arctic cold snaps can linger through February and even into March. But our altitude and the increasing sun angle will quickly melt even the heaviest of snows in March and April here. Don’t be caught this year unprepared. If yard maintenance is your only outdoor chore this year, then a few things can be done in late February or early March. Cut back ornamental grasses to 6 inches using pruning shears, scissors, or if you have a lot of grasses you can use a string trimmer. The string trimmer leaves a bigger mess to clean up though. I burn mine, but you’ll have to do that at your own risk and in accordance with local laws. Prune back any perennials you didn’t cut back in the fall, and take Russian Sage and Butterfly bushes down to about 12”-18” if you didn’t do that in the fall. You can prune out any evident winter-kill after they begin to leaf out. You’ll want all perennials cut back before they begin to leaf out so you don’t have to prune around delicate new growth in March and April.

If you have larger landscape projects in mind for the year, January and February are the times to start planning. The absolute best thing you can do NOW is to get a plan on paper and a loose budget in place. If you are having a landscape contractor do some or all of the work, talk to them now to solicit ideas and get a bid in place before they get too busy in the spring. Before you know it, their time frame for installation will be August. Have a budget range to work with. There is no sense in designing a 1000 sq. ft. flagstone patio and walkways if your budget is only $5,000. Talk to your landscape designer to get an idea of what things cost and to get your ideas into a drawing. They can give you a ball-park idea of what various projects cost so you can plan accordingly.

That “water feature” that everyone dreams of….? Let’s just say that they are not inexpensive to install correctly. You certainly do NOT want one that leaks. I’ve seen so many that were out of place, empty after three years, the wrong scale for the landscape, or just plain ugly. Remember—water features should blend into the landscape in most situations. Sure, there are those next to pools and spas that have that modern, angular feel, and those should be a focal point. But most water features should be designed to provide a quiet and tranquil oasis in the landscape. And, if you are ready to start, hardscape features such as retaining walls, patios, walkways and water features can be installed in the winter months as long as the ground isn’t frozen solid. Along the Front Range plains, the ground is workable for all but a few weeks of the year depending on exposure. In fact, some areas never freeze at all. So, for your hardscape projects, call your landscaper anytime. If they start and it snows too much, they’ll simply be that much more ahead of the game when the snow melts. We can even shovel off the landscape so it is workable much sooner than if left to thaw naturally.

Finally, the last things you can do in winter is talk to your local nursery to find out what new plant cultivars (hybrids, or new sub species of plants) have been introduced this year, what they are going to carry, and about any deals you may be able to get on last years over-stock. Plant material that didn’t sell last year will be more acclimatized and have a stronger root structure than plant material fresh in from other states. Walking into local nurseries in winter will allow you to get to know their personnel better than during the spring mad-house rush. And last, but not least, please DO NOT FORGET to water trees and shrubs in the winter months. If we go 3 weeks without snow on the ground, give everything a soak on any day when the air temperature is above 45 degrees. Do this once a month at most, and your plants will thrive in the spring. Getting an early start will let your landscape burst alive with color, even through the March and April snows!

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