Which Varieties are Best for Colorado?

seed-catalogs_lah_2733Seed catalogs are beginning to arrive in our mailboxes. With all the brightly colored photos of perfect vegetables and flowers, it’s tempting to order one (or more!) of each. Most of us, however, have limited garden space. We need to make some hard decisions.

Which varieties should we order? What will thrive in Colorado? Which ones really taste the best?

Most catalogs have some sort of icon indicating which variety does best across the country. The problem is that we don’t live in the rest of the country. We live in Colorado. Our soils, weather, water, even the quality of light here are all different from most of the United States. When a company recommends a product that grows well in Pennsylvania, or California, or Arizona, there is no assurance that it will do as well here.

Short of testing every variety to see what grows well in our gardens, there has to be another way to find the best seeds to order. That’s where networking comes in. There is no lack of enthusiastic Colorado gardeners. We just need to compare notes.

I’m writing a series of posts that should help us learn from one another.  Every month, I’ll share my favorite varieties—and I hope you’ll share yours. What grew well in your garden? And don’t forget to warn us, too. Which crop was an utter failure? (Thank you, Carey, for sharing about your potatoes!) Maybe someone else has a solution. Or, maybe that variety (or crop) just doesn’t do well in Colorado.

As I’ve mention in the past, I garden at 7,060 feet, just north of Colorado Springs. The map says we’re in USDA zone 5. My average last frost date is May 21, but we’ve had hard freezes as late as mid-June. My average first frost comes on October 1, and the earliest freeze we’ve had in our 18 years of living here was September 8. July and August highs run in the mid-to-high 80s, but rarely do summer nights get much over 60 degrees. These cool nights greatly extend our days to maturity.

It might also help to know that I have a sandy soil (with random lumps of clay scattered through it), around 6% organic matter, plenty of phosphorus and potassium, and a yearly need to add nitrogen. Our veggie garden spot is on a gentle south-facing slope with a windbreak to the north and some pine trees off to the west. It’s windy, but it could be worse. Most of it receives full sun (an old Siberian elm provides light shade along one edge). If your conditions are markedly different, be sure to take that into account.

sunflower-moulin-rouge_hudsongardens-co_lah_6170nefNow, to whet your appetite, here’s my first “favorite”: Moulin Rouge Sunflowers. I know that sunflowers aren’t usually considered a veggie garden crop, but I love them and always make room in my garden for their huge flower heads. While we like sunflower seeds, I leave these for the birds.

Moulin Rouge produces full-sized heads on medium-tall plants. The petals are a russet red, very unexpected and rather striking. Besides the unusual color, I grow these because they are remarkably early for a sunflower. Most varieties take over 100 days to bloom from seed, but Moulin Rouge needs only 64. In my garden, that often means the difference between flowers or no flowers. I buy my seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds, but they are widely available.

Which sunflowers do you grow? What do you like about them? Have any varieties failed to perform in your garden?

2 thoughts on “Which Varieties are Best for Colorado?

  1. This is going to be fun! The sunflowers I grew this year were called Sunspot. It is a dwarf variety that I grew in my window boxes so the squirrels could not behead them before they bloomed. They ended up being bigger than advertised though, so I need something smaller next year. I had no sunflowers in my veggie garden this year, but the cosmos volunteer there enthusiastically every year.

  2. I have tons of Cosmos in my garden too, but it’s the native weed version that makes those aggravatingly poky seed heads. I’ve been waging war for several years. I think I might be winning.

    I’ll check out Sunspot. A dwarf would be fun!

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