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Vegetable Gardening in the Mountains

Quick Facts...

If using a well, check your permit for possible outdoor water restrictions.

Cool-season vegetables are the most successful.

Protect your vegetables from animal intrusion with hardware cloth under beds and use floating row covers.

Growing vegetables in Colorado presents challenges, but growing vegetables in the mountains is harder still. This is due to the much shorter growing season, cool nights, wind, critters, and possible watering restrictions. For the purposes of this fact sheet, ‘high elevation’ or ‘mountains’ means anything over 7,500 feet in elevation in Colorado.

The first factor to consider is the short growing season. For every 1000 feet gain in elevation, the temperature drops by an average of 3.5° F. This means that the temperatures will be below freezing later in the spring and earlier in the fall. As an example, the Extension office in Gilpin County (9,300’) has a last average frost date of June 10 and the average first frost is September 15, but in many other places there can be less than 90 frost-free days in the mountains. Gardeners at the lower end of the elevation range will have a longer growing season and be able to grow a wider variety of vegetables. An exception to this general rule is that valleys are often cooler than surrounding hillsides, due to the sinking of cool air at night. Even though the elevation may be lower, valleys may actually have cooler growing conditions than surrounding hillsides.

Cool Season Vegetables are Easiest and Most Productive

Mountain gardens excel (and perhaps do even better than lower elevation gardens) with cool season vegetables. Below are vegetables recommended for the mountains:

Leafy greens: lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, mâche, collards, cabbage, endive, radicchio, turnip greens, beet greens, garden cress;

Root vegetables: carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga, potatoes, leeks;

Other vegetables: peas, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts;

Herbs: reliably hardy perennial herbs include French tarragon, horseradish, some mints, and chives. Perennial herbs that are not reliably hardy (such as sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary, bay laurel) can be grown in pots and brought in for the winter. Annual herbs that can be direct-seeded in beds include parsley, dill, calendula, and borage. Basil and cilantro are annual herbs that are heat lovers and need a lot of GDUs to develop. Consider growing them in a pot in a warm, sunny location and putting them inside at night or covering them.

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