Colorado Gardeners Need Colorado Garden Advice

  Photograph by Michael David Hill.
Photograph by Michael David Hill.

The ad promised that this new gardening book would show me how to “chase those darned moles out from under my prize tomatoes … make … azaleas bloom like crazy … and [use] eggshells [to] barricade slugs from the hostas, cabbage, and lettuce.”

Sounds wonderful, right? The problem is, while those “garden cheats” (as the ad called them) may work in much of the country, particularly in the east, not one of those will work here in Colorado.

pocket-gopher-hole_colospgs-co_lah_2261For one thing, there are no moles along the Front Range. (This is why I had to get the photo from Wikipedia.) If you see holes in your garden, the most likely culprit is one of the four species of pocket gopher found in our state. (The holes look like this.) Colorado State University has a helpful fact sheet explaining your control options, if you have a problem with these pesky rodents. Sticking a hose down their burrow won’t chase them out. It just wastes precious water.

How about making our azaleas bloom like crazy? Well, if you’re growing azaleas in our arid climate and lifeless, alkaline soil, kudos to you. Azaleas have very shallow mat-like roots that die if they dry out. They need a loamy soil high in organic matter. And they prefer a pH of around 5 to 6.5. (The soil in my garden has a pH of 8.)

Then, what about using eggshells to stop slugs? I suppose it might work—if I had slugs in my garden. After years to fighting them in California, I don’t miss them here at all. Adding eggshells to our soil isn’t a great idea either. Again, it’s that high pH. Eggshells are mostly calcium, also known as lime. Gardeners in high rainfall areas use lime to sweeten the soil—to raise the pH. That’s the last thing we need to do. Our soils already have so much calcium in them that you can add a few drops of vinegar to a sample of dirt and watch the foaming reaction that results when acid meets base. In fact, on a practical level, all that calcium makes it impossible to lower the pH in our gardens. We just have to live with what we have.

I’m not saying this book is useless. Perhaps the author’s hints are great where he lives. But gardening advice is often regional. What works in Vermont might spell disaster in Florida. What works in Washington fails in Arizona. Colorado’s growing conditions are unlike anywhere else in the country. You need garden advice specifically suited for our special situation.


Happily, there is a place we can go to learn the ins and outs of Colorado gardening. Colorado State University has an excellent website full of information for the home gardener, based on their years of horticultural research. Check out Plantalk for quick answers or click on “Online Publications” for detailed fact sheets on a variety of gardening topics. If you’re still stumped, you can even ask a professor for help. The university also supervises a network of county extension offices, with trained Master Gardeners who give advice specifically tailored to your area.

While El Paso county’s Master Gardener’s program had been suspended due to lack of funding, a new horticultural agent has been hired, beginning September 1. Stay tuned for news about our grand re-opening.

Mole photograph by Michael David Hill, Wikipedia Commons.

10 thoughts on “Colorado Gardeners Need Colorado Garden Advice

  1. Hello webmaster can I use some of the information from this post if I provide a link back to your site? If you would rather not, that’s okay, but this was a good post.

    1. You are welcome to quote anything in the article as long as you reference the source with a link to my article. Glad you liked the post. Where are you intending to use it?


  2. Interesting to read your post. I agree, as I have purchased too many Gardening Encyclopedia type books which, for the most part, were just as you described. However, I went to the CSU Extension Website, found the Master Gardening Publication that they released and thought, how wonderful, this is just what I need. Sorry, but $100 is way too much for my limited pocketbook. I will continue to check out different blogs. Seriously, $100 for a gardening book. Please!

    1. Anne, I’m not clear which book they are selling for $100. I couldn’t find anything like that on the site. Could you send me the link? The only publication I was aware of sells for more like $15!

      1. Hello LAH, Thank you for your response regarding my comment about A CSU-Ext. Publication. The link is: “The Colorado Master Gardner Program.” As I am now writing, I realize that I did not check the date of this link, and if it is up to date. Anyway, see what you find.

        The Order form is a PDF format.
        Textbook: “The Science of Gardening Colorado Master Gardener Manual”

        The Colorado Master Gardener manual has been reformatted into a full color textbook, by David Whiting, Kendall Hunt Publishing Co. (ISBN 978-0-7575-9659-9). The book focuses on research-based gardening information in 636 pages with over 600 color photographs and line drawings. Units include the following:

        Benefits of Gardening
        How Plants Grow
        Soils, Fertilizers and Soil Amendments
        Diagnostics and Pest Management
        Trees and Shrubs: Identification, Selection, and Planting
        Herbaceous Plants (Flowers)
        Water Wise Landscape Design
        Irrigation Management

        To order
        By mail (mail check) from state CMG Office
        The book is also available from Kendall Hunt Publishing (print or Electronic Delivery EBook formats).

      2. Ohhhh. Thanks for responding! I was wondering… I didn’t see anything like what you had described in the CSU Extension on-line store. We used this book as a Master Gardener “textbook” during our training, and at the help desk for reference. It’s extremely extensive, fairly technical, and worth the price if you want that level of information. College textbooks typically cost that much and more. I didn’t know they had made it available to the public.
        You really don’t need it. Fact sheets are available for free as individual .pdf files in the resources section of the website. Just download or read online the ones you are interested in.

      3. I would imagine I would be drowning while reading and trying to wrap my brain around all the science that this text has to offer. Still, would love to have it. Have thought about taking on the Master Gardner program through our local CSU-Ext. in Pueblo, but feel a bit intimidated, as I love the gardening process, but there is so much to learn. Thanks for the feedback.

      4. I strongly encourage you to sign up for the Master Gardener program! I went through the training here in El Paso County in 2001 and have never regretted it. I volunteered for the next 11 years; it was fun, educational, and I met the nicest people! The material is somewhat technical, but you’ll have excellent instructors to clarify confusing points and help you through the classes.

      5. Thank you so much for the encouragement. I am sure you are right and it would be worth the time and the information would be fabulous. I am definitely going to go for it and learn the things that I always have questions about.

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