Steamboat’s master gardeners share expert tips with aspiring green thumbs |

Steamboat’s master gardeners share expert tips with aspiring green thumbs

Routt County Master Gardener Tracy Zuschlag shows visitors at the Steamboat library how to plant and grow a salad bowl inside your apartment, condo or house. She recommends visiting blog sites like Skippy’s Vegetable Garden to learn more about easy indoor gardens.
Frances Hohl
Master gardener tips on soil, gardening Soil • In Routt County most soils are decomposed granite or clay • Eighty percent of all plant problems are related to soil • Have your soil tested through the CSU Extension soil testing service • Add amendments (ex. compost) as the soil test indicates Site selection • Gardens in full sun (southern exposures) will have a longer, warmer growing season • Valley floors may be over 10 degrees cooler than the gardens on surrounding hillsides • Raised beds can provide good soil and drainage and they warm faster in the spring Microclimates • Next to rock formations and walls are areas where the thermal mass can raise winter temperatures • A blanket of snow over winter insulates plants and can help them over winter • If the site is protected in winter, it can be a place to experiment with less hardy plants Wildlife • Deer, bear, rabbits, voles and ground squirrels can be attracted to your garden • Most wildlife will avoid plants that are very aromatic, have prickles or spines, tough leathery leaves, milky leaves, milky sap, or toxic plants

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Master gardeners were out in full force last week, taking on questions and helping gardeners at the group’s annual hands-on demonstration at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs.

Hayden resident and gardening guru Festus Hagins fielded questions all night on soils, including one big faux pas he’s run into.

“Don’t put sand and clay together or you’ll get concrete,” laughed Hagins, explaining one gardener’s problem with trying to improve his clay-like soil.

Hagins said he’s been working on his soil for 25 years and prefers working compost and manure into his soils.

“I don’t do fertilizers. I grow vegetables, and my wife handles the flowers,” he said.

Hagins told curious gardeners that 80 percent of all plant problems are related to soil, and picking up a soil test from a CSU Extension office — like the one in the Historic Routt County Courthouse annex building — is a great way to see what’s going on in your own yard or garden.

CSU ag extension agents agree.

“In less than a week, they can get the results back, and it’ll tell them the texture of the soil — whether it’s loamy, clay, how much organic matter they have and how much nitrogen they’ll need to add in order to grow,” said Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County agricultural extension agent.

While Hagins deals with Hayden’s relatively short growing season, Steamboat Springs proper and other areas’ growing seasons are even shorter. When and what to plant is always a big question at any gardening show in the Rocky Mountains.

Britni Johnson manages Cloverdale Farm for Steamboat’s newest farm-to-table restaurant The Cloverdale.

She said beginning gardeners interested in growing vegetables should start with cold season crops.

“Try quick-growing greens,” said Johnson.

She offered a list of suggested vegetables for gardeners who wanted to use seeds in the ground, warning her audience that anything that needs more than 80 days from seed to harvest would be hard-pressed to grow successfully in the ground. The list of vegetables that could grow here includes Rosalita red romaine, Astro arugula (green), Space (F1) hybrid spinach, smooth leaf and Raven hybrid zucchini (summer squash).

If an outdoor garden is too intimidating, Tracy Zuschlag suggests growing a “salad bowl” indoors.

The long-time master gardener showed off two small indoor pots with fresh lettuces that were ready to cut and eat.

“I may not have a lot of land, but I can grow my own food,” Zuschlag encouraged visitors stopping at her table.

“You’re literally sprinkling seeds in here and covering lightly with soil — just mimicking nature,” she said.

After seeding a pot full of organic soil, Zuschlag suggests covering it with plastic and turning on a grow light or putting it by a sunny window until it begins sprouting. She showed visitors her fresh-grown romaine and mesclun and where to cut it, so it keeps growing in the pot.

“I just cut some lettuce for dinner, and I’m done,” she said.

Zuschlag also maintains an outdoor garden in Stagecoach in southern Routt County.

Many of the master gardeners said starting seeds inside is a safe way to make sure plants will survive Routt County’s short growing season. But the plants need to be gradually “hardened” to nature before they’re transferred into the ground, said the gardeners. Hardening can include taking out the plants a little more each day to get sun and feel the wind.

Cloverdale’s Johnson said she even waves her hands over tiny plants that are indoors to mimic the wind.

To find almost any answer to your gardening questions go to the CSU Extension site at, and for specific Routt County information, visit

The Steamboat Today will feature more expert advice from Routt County master gardeners in a special section coming out in early May in conjunction with the newspaper’s annual Steamboat Home & Garden Expo, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 12 at the Depot Arts Center, 1001 13th St. The event is free and open to the public.

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