GARDENING: Perfect time to seed pasture, grass, vegetables |

GARDENING: Perfect time to seed pasture, grass, vegetables

Curt Swift
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Curt's lavender field tucked in with a frost blanket for the winter.
Curt Swift |

Cold weather moved in Sunday night and for those of you who were waiting to seed your pasture, you have gotten the timing right.

When you plant seed at this time of year, it won’t germinate until spring when moisture and temperature conditions are adequate. Pastures are often planted after Nov. 1 to take advantage of winter moisture.

Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue lawns also can seeded at this time of year. If the lawn does not receive adequate moisture during the winter, you can always drag a hose. How about planting seed for spinach, lettuce, radishes, peas, and other very cold-hardy vegetables in the early winter? Like the cold-season grasses these crops won’t germinate until early spring. They will emerge from the soil and survive even when we are still experiencing spring freezes. Gardeners who plant these crops in the winter typically harvest spinach and these other crops way ahead of their neighbors who wait until the weather warms before planting their garden.

In all cases, the soil will need to be properly prepared by working in organic matter and possibly even charcoal if you can find it at this time of year. Maybe you can find an orchardist or viticulturist who is planning on burning his pruning. If he accomplishes this task properly he will have charcoal. You don’t want to apply ash to the garden so the fire to burn these prunings needs be done in a low-oxygen atmosphere. There is a lot of interest in the use of charcoal (biochar) for crop production and even in the home landscape. Adding biochar to the soil increases its nutrient holding capacity and improves overall plant health and growth.


By now most everyone’s sprinkler systems should have been winterized. This process is accomplished by blowing it out with copious amounts of air. The quantity of air is more important than the pressure. The pressure must be adequate but should not be excessive. If your sprinklers perform best at 40 psi like my Hunter MP rotator nozzles, you want to use at least 40 psi to blow out the system but not much more as you will blow the nozzles off the end of the sprinklers.

You more than likely will still need to water your trees, shrubs, flowers and lawns during the winter so make sure you stock up on an adequate number of hoses to reach the farthest part of your landscape. The recent rains have provided adequate soil moisture for a while, and hopefully the soil will remain damp until the soil freezes.


Even though I have put one of the lavender fields I’m working with to bed this winter, it doesn’t mean I won’t need to water at a later date this winter. One field of young ‘Grosso’ plants was covered with a frost blanket to keep the soil warm and moist. This will allow the roots to continue developing until the ground freezes. I don’t want the plants to dry out during the winter as we know plants in dry soil break dormancy sooner than plants in moist soil and this results in what most people call winter injury.

Winter injury is essentially dehydration of the plant tissue. As soon as ‘Grosso’ and other temperate zone plants are nipped by frost, they acclimate to a point where they can tolerate temperature down to at least minus 40 degrees. If they start to break dormancy too early in the spring, they will be susceptible to the drying effects of the cold. I’ll be leaving the frost blanket on the lavender field until after the spring frosts are over, possibly even into mid-May.


In mid-winter Jude Sirota and I have been conducting workshops for pesticide applicators. Individuals who apply restricted use pesticides, to include many of the fruit growers and other farmers, are required to receive training every few years to maintain their license. Commercial applicators, those who apply pesticides for hire, are also required to receive training in order to retain their certification. This is required under the rules of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Jude and I will be conducting our winter 2013 pesticide applicator workshop on Friday, Dec. 13, at the Country Inn on Horizon Drive. Applicators who want further information can give me a call at 970-778-7866 or find the schedule and registration information on my blog at

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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