Too soon to plant perennials?
March 24th, 2022
It's all too easy to go into a warehouse or hardware store right now, see a bare root perennial display and find yourself walking out with Echinacea, daisies and others in anticipation of spring. These kind of perennials do grow well in Colorado, but is it too early to plant them now?
Unfortunately for all of us who want to get outdoors and start planting, it’s really too soon to plant perennials and to expect them to survive the recent snows and possible hard freezes ahead. The first clue that it’s too early to plant them is that you'll see any in your garden are still dormant (especially after our recent snow). In many places along the Front Range and at higher altitudes, especially, the soil can’t be worked yet either.
So what do you do if you already bought these plants?
Here’s what you need to know:
- Because these perennials have been in cold storage all winter, they have been kept dormant. But bringing them inside the store where it’s warm has forced them to break dormancy – and they will start to bud. If planted outside now, these buds will likely freeze – and depending on the temps, the roots may freeze as well. Protecting them with coverings like a wall of water or other material won’t work in a hard freeze.
- The best plan is to get these plants into pots so that the roots can begin developing and you can water them to keep the roots moist. Keep plants in a cool place indoors.
- On warm days, start setting the plants outdoors so they can begin to harden off – but move them indoors at night to prevent frost/freeze damage. When night-time temps are consistently above 28 degrees and the soil is workable, they can be planted.
- After planting outdoors, protect them just like you would protect annuals from frost or freeze damage whenever the forecast predicts frost/freezing temps. Normal low temps by the end of March are around 30 degrees along the Front Range, but bear in mind that we had a record-low temp day this March. At higher elevations, hitting 30 degrees will be later, of course, based on the location. Monitor the weather and get plants in the garden when the conditions are comfortable for them.
In the meantime, it you want to satisfy that urge to plant something, plant cool season veggie seeds such as carrots, lettuce, spinach and radishes. These seeds will sit quietly under the soil until it gets warm enough for seeds to germinate. Watch the soil between times of precipitation, and if it gets dry, apply water to keep your plants moist.
Be patient--growing days will be here soon!