Spring Gardening Do’s And Don’ts For A Bountiful Growing Season
Though Mother’s Day or after is the accepted time to plant annuals and perennials in most of Colorado, March and April are ideal months to start ornamental and vegetable plants from seeds. You can buy seed packets any time and store them in a cool, dry place until it’s time to plant.
“Starting seeds in your home when the soil in your yard is too saturated or too cold is a great way to produce plants for your garden, beds and containers, and it’s more affordable,” says Briana Bosch, a dancer turned marketing pro turned flower farmer and proprietor of Blossom and Branch Farm in Lakewood.
Not only is it more economical, Bosch warns that plants bought at garden centers often are treated with neonicotinoids (aka neonics), a class of synthetic insecticides—banned in Europe and parts of Canada — that not only kill bees, butterflies and other pollinators but are harmful to humans, too, according to the European Union’s Standing Commission of Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.
Pollinators are then exposed to insecticides through pollen and nectar feeding which can leach into the soil, remaining for years, and cannot be washed off (think of your precious pets!). Just like you select organic produce for your table, you should look for neonic-free plants for your garden. Walmart, Costco, Home Depot and Lowes began phasing out neonic-treated plants a few years ago and offer natural insecticide alternatives, so make sure to read the labels.
From conventional to organic
A fifth-generation conventional farmer from southern Minnesota, nature has always been a place of peace for Bosch. After experiencing the sudden loss of a close friend, Bosch, a dancer at the time, “needed space to have my hands in the dirt.”
She and her physician husband stumbled upon a 1.7-acre piece of property in Lakewood destined for townhouse development. They took a leap of faith and bought it in 2017 and started Blossom and Branch, an organic and regenerative flower farm, specializing in cut flowers and bridal bouquets. All the work is done by hand, without heavy equipment. Half the land is devoted to growing flowers, and the other half is a forest that provides habitat for native wildlife and pollinators.
Planting for beneficial insects
As Bosch started her farm, she learned about growing practices that are detrimental to plants, the land and humans. For example, the neglected property was overrun with invasive plants. When she replaced them with native plants (with her own two hands) she increased the population of native pollinators, which in turn reduced the infestation of pests and bird decline.
Bosch is keen on sharing what she’s learned.
“Most home gardeners don’t understand why we have pest issues,” she notes. “It’s because they are not growing plants that attract beneficial native insects.” Ladybugs are great for controlling aphids—but the ones you can buy in bulk are harvested in the hibernation stage by the billions in California and bring diseases to our native populations. “We should plant what attracts local ladybugs and other beneficial insects like parasitic wasps,” Bosch says. Among the plants she grows are echinacea, yarrow, medicinal herbs, lisianthus, dahlias, cosmos, snapdragons, zinnias, phlox, roses, peonies, clematis, sunflowers and celosia.
If you’ve never had your soil tested, Bosch says spring is a good time to do it. CSU does soil testing (planttalk.colostate.edu), or check rxsoil.com. After you get the test results, follow the recommendations for amending your soil. She warns against buying potting soil containing peat moss, which is not ecologically harvested. The harvesting of peat moss used to improve drainage and retain water in soil contributes to climate change, according to CSU Extension. It is harvested from bogs and fens around the world, but primarily in Canada and Russia. These water-logged bogs have taken carbon from the atmosphere and sequestered it for 10,000 to 12,000 years, according to CSU Extension which is why England has banned it starting next year.
Before planting, Bosch says to test your soil temperature with a simple kitchen thermometer. You want it to be around 65 degrees for most plants. Insert the thermometer 4 inches into the dirt; early morning is best.
“Don’t skip hardening off” your plants, cautions Bosch, who recommends starting the process at least two weeks before planting. Take the plants outside for a few hours a day and slowly increase outside time. Plant them four to six weeks before the last frost, usually in middle or late May.
Bosch teaches in-person and online classes, including one on how to grow a regenerative garden without pesticides or fertilizers and shows what to do in every season. She has tips for just about anything to do with gardening and is more than happy to share her passion for growing native plants that help our local and global environment.
BRIANA’S DIY SEEDLING FERTILIZER
1.25 gallons boiling water
2 cups dried stinging nettle
1 cup dried chamomile flowers
2-3 cinnamon sticks
(Optional if your seedlings are heavy feeders: add a scoop of manure, like sheep or bunny)
Steep overnight, strain, and dilute at a rate of 1 part fertilizer to 10 parts water. Apply weekly to seedlings. As seedlings mature, the dilution rate can be decreased with less water.
Have you ever wondered why roses you buy as buds never seem to open up in your vase? That’s because 90 percent of roses and other cut flowers are exported from Columbia, Ecuador, the Netherlands and Kenya, according to usaid.org. Growers coat them in pesticides to make the long journey. This all started in the 1970s when the U.S. government encouraged farmers in those countries to quit growing coca leaves in an effort to curb cocaine and grow flowers instead.
An example of harmful practices in the flower industry is floral foam, a block of spongy material used in cut-flower arranging that is made with toxic chemicals and contains the same amount of plastic as 10 shopping bags, according to the Sustainable Floristry Network. It never breaks down and can’t be recycled. The Royal Horticulture Society banned its use at all of its shows in 2021 going forward.
Blossom and Branch Farm
Denver native Claudia Carbone is an award-winning journalist, author and longtime contributor to Colorado Expression. She has also written for the London Sunday Telegraph, GoWorldTravel.com, RealFoodTraveler.com, MTNTown Magazine, The Denver Post and other publications. Visit her travel blog Sleepin’ Around on GoWorldTravel.