April Showers (and Snow) Bring May Flowers

Hanging baskets are a great way to incorporate color—and low maintenance annual flowers—in the landscape. Image, Mary Menz.

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[San Juan Silver Stage |April 2021 | By Mary Menz]

Spring on the Western Slope is anticipated with what we hope is an abundance of rain mixed with snow. While it dampens the potential for early-season wildfires, that much-needed precipitation ignites an excitement for growth and greening of the landscape around us. In the yard or on the trail, we look forward to the beauty of the earth reawakening around us.

Plant for a Full Season of Blooms

While spring-blooming irises, tulips, and daffodils are planted in the fall, April through May is the perfect time to get summer-blooming bulbs in the ground. Talk to the staff at your local garden center to determine the correct planting time for your zone.

  • Plant in “thirds.” Place masses of tall-growing gladiolus, lilies, and elephant ears in the back of the garden. Place dahlia bulbs in front for late summer color. In the middle, place perennial plants and annuals for instant and mid-summer color. They’ll fill out as the season progresses.
  • No time to work the soil or don’t have a suitable garden space? Add hanging baskets to a porch and planter boxes on deck railings. Plant herbs with annuals in pots and include trailing plants like sweet potato vine to add visual interest.
  • Include plants that native pollinators—like bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies and flies—need for food and habitat. Plants need pollinators! Pollinators also bring the birds to the yard! More than 90% of terrestrial birds rely on insects to feed their young.

A native bee (Bombas sp.) on cliff Fendler-bush (Fendlera rupicola) in Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Image, Mary Menz,

Keep in mind that planting too early can be risky. Be prepared to cover tender plants when unpredictable May and June frost or snow threatens their survival.

Claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) in the Cactus Garden at the Tri-River CSU Extension office in Grand Junction. Image, Mary Menz.

Find Inspiration in Your Favorite Places

The best way to determine what you like and what grows well at your elevation is to take note of what grows best around you.

  • Emulate the gardens you find in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to ask people how they achieved the garden you enjoy on your daily walk. Gardeners are typically eager to share their successes with people who have like interests and appreciation.
  • Visit your local botanic gardens. There are botanical gardens in Montrose, Grand Junction, and Durango. This is a great way to see different habitats and the kinds of plants that grow well together. Are you curious about cacti? Visit the Chinle Cactus Garden at the Tri-River CSU Extension office or the Ernis Cactus and Succulent Garden at the Western Colorado Botanic Garden—both in Grand Junction—to see how attractive a dry garden can be. Do you like tall ornamental grasses? Visit the Montrose Botanic Garden to check out its Waves of Grass demonstration area. Is xeric gardening in your future? Visit the Durango Botanic Garden to view water-wise plants that thrive in low-moisture conditions.
  • No time for gardening? No worries! Enjoy nature’s gardens as you hike in the Gunnison Gorge, travel on the Grand Mesa or Uncompahgre Plateau, or explore the alpine tundra of the San Juan Mountains.

All of these options provide inspiration for gardens this year and beyond!

Nature as Your Personal Garden

For those who prefer the bounty of native plants in the wild, start your wildflower-finding ventures late April in low elevations on the Western Slope. By then, the desert paintbrush and cliff Fendler-bush should be blooming. As Spring progresses, move up in elevation. Billy Creek State Wildlife Management Area and various trails on the West End will feature sugar bowls, Townsend’s daisy, and Pasque flowers in early May. By the time the snow melts from the Uncompahgre Plateau and the San Juan Mountains, wildflower season will be in full swing!

Prairie smoke, also known as old man’s whiskers (Geum triflorum) at Silver Jack Reservoir. Image, Mary Menz,

Mary Menz is author of Common Wildflowers of the San Juan Mountains and is a lifelong gardener. It’s not uncommon to find vegetable plants in her flower garden! She is also a Colorado Native Plant Master® and co-teaches the course on the Western Slope. Her favorite summer activity is leading hikes on the Western Slope for fellow wildflower enthusiasts.Common Wildflowers of the San Juan Mountains  available through San Juan Publishing. Click HERE order your copy.