The four Ws of vegetable planting in Pagosa


By Jane Weitzel | PREVIEW Columnist

Growing vegetables in Colorado presents challenges, but growing vegetables in the mountains is harder still. This is due to the much shorter growing season (an average of 77 days in Pagosa Springs), cool nights, wind, critters and possible watering restrictions. 

As we near spring/summer, the urge to plant starts to grow. What can we do? Let’s start with the four Ws: 

1. What to plant. 

2. When to plant. 

3. How to plant. 

4. Where to plant.

What to plant: Decide what level of gardener you are and what you like to eat. If you’re new to gardening in the mountains, try to stick with easy plants that will grow in our area: zucchini, lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, kale, green beans, potatoes. Want to try something more challenging? Tomatoes and bell peppers are warm-weather lovers. 

Ask yourself if you have the room, proper location, water availability, good soil and, most importantly, the time to do it right. Other things to consider include container planting or raised beds or in-ground depending on your space. Plant in moderation (three or four of a plant) and for best results, succession plant (plant then plant again two or so weeks later) so you have a steady supply of produce.

When to plant: In Pagosa, the average last spring frost occurs around June 21. To be conservative either wait another week or use cover cloth, walls of water products and mulch to protect your plants. Soil temperature is a good way to judge planting times. Optimum grow temperatures range from 60-85 degrees. Put a thermometer 2 inches deep in the soil at 8 a.m. 

Read your seed label to see if your hard work will produce before a chance of frost. You can direct-seed frost-tolerant plants into the garden two to four weeks before the last frost date (broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, turnips, chard, mustard, beets, carrots, endive, peas and radish). If you’re starting seeds indoors, count back from June 21. 

Plants that take longer to mature — such as broccoli, cauliflower, leeks and Brussels sprouts — can be sown indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost and planted out two weeks before the last frost date for earlier yields. Warm-season crops include beans, corn, cucumber, squash, tomatoes and pumpkins. These are frost-intolerant crops and need a minimum of 60 degree daytime temperatures.

How to plant: Think of your goals and work back from there. Remember to take into account soil preparation, starting transplants, hardening off seedlings and planting. Use the proper soil. For starting seeds, use a seed-starting mix or vermiculite. A seed-starting mix should be very light and fine-textured. Avoid bagged soil that contains pine chips, wood fiber or other chunky material that can prevent seeds from breaking through the soil blend. Also, never use garden soil — it doesn’t drain well, is too heavy and can contain pests, diseases and weed seeds.

Most garden seeds germinate between 68 and 86 degrees. A seedling-starter heat mat provides a good way to keep consistently warm temperatures.

Prepare the soil. Place moist soil in containers, anything from small pots to egg cartons, plastic cups (make sure there are holes for drainage). A misting bottle for watering works great to avoid dislodging the seeds. 

Check what the seed packet says for planting depth and germination time. After seeding, cover with additional soil if needed and cover with plastic (not touching the soil) to promote moisture. When the seed germinates, remove the plastic.

Providing light is critical to growing strong and healthy plants. If using a grow light, you need to be able to raise the light fixture or the plant platform so that as the plants grow the light is within 4 inches of the plant tops. This will avoid ending up with leggy plants. For windowsills, rotate seedlings as they will grow towards the light. About 14-16 hours of light per day is ideal. Air circulation is also useful to help prevent disease and promote strong plants. Position a fan so that air flows over the seedlings. This keeps the air flowing without blowing the seedlings down.

While your inside seeds are growing and the soil is workable, get your garden ready. Compost your soil, plan your irrigation and have row covers ready.

Where to plant: Consider each plant. Is it a full-sun vegetable (tomatoes) or can it do well in shade/partial shady areas? Is your area protected from wind? Does it have easy access to water? In general, pick an area that gets six to eight hours of full sun per day. Leafy greens can handle four to six hours. Areas can be adjusted to using protective covers for both sun and warmth. Walls of water, milk jugs cut and placed around plants as well as mulch help provide frost protection and warm the soil. 

The Archuleta CSU Extension office is an invaluable resource for all your gardening questions. By having the correct tools and knowledge, you too can have a successful garden this year. We will be having educational and fun activities starting in April to aid in your planting success.

For more information, visit:




Jane Weitzel is an Archuleta County Master Gardener.

Upcoming events

April 1, 8 and 15 — The Archuleta County Master Gardeners will be at Terry’s Ace for the 4 Ws of gardening in Pagosa Springs.

April 22 — Earth Day Events. Look for details in The SUN.

April 24 — An evening discussion on the diverse perspectives of wolves in Colorado. Details to be determined. 

April 28 — An evening discussion on climate and weather at 6 p.m. at the Extension office.

April 29 — Viticulture Workshop Details to be determined. 

May 6 — Weed Warrior Program presentations from 9 a.m. to noon at the Extension building. The Weed Warrior Program will cover an introduction to noxious weeds, their control and how to be a steward in your community. Please RSVP with Ethan Proud at

May 10 and 11 — Certified seed potato sale.

May 19 — Archuleta County Fair Board Dance from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Extension Exhibit Hall.

Local Noxious Weed
Advisory Board

The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) is seeking to fill open positions on the Local Noxious Weed Advisory Board.

According to the Colorado Noxious Weed Act title 35 article 5.5, the local advisory board is appointed by the BoCC. Members will help update the Integrated Pest Management Plan at least every three years and voice suggestions to county staff for ultimate approval by the BoCC. 

If you are interested in a position, please see for eligibility and responsibilities. If you believe someone would be suited for the role, please nominate them for a position on the board using the form at

Applications and nominations will be accepted from March 6 to April 15.