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.
For 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.