Gardens and a Colorado Spring

Spring can be a confusing time in Colorado. Plants are growing, animals are returning, and gardeners are preparing. And it’s snowing at the same time. My garden received four inches of snow on April 26 this year. That isn’t entirely abnormal, but it’s not welcomed after teasing temperatures near 70F degrees.

The storm caught many of us unaware. When the sun disappeared, I suspected it would be worse than the forecast and brought in firewood for the woodstove that had lain cold for the last month. A number of birds were foraging in my yard and garden when the first snowflakes blew in and they didn’t seem to notice, until visibility decreased and the size of the flakes increased. They sought refuge quickly in unusual locations.

A bird on my deck rail

I was most surprised by the garter snake curled up on the floor of my shower. It was unexpected to see something dark and twisted at the edge of the water I’d just turned on, a ribbon or cord perhaps? It was quite shocking to see the ribbon move and flick its tongue. I rescued it and placed it in a bucket for the evening. It was not a fit night out for man nor beast.

The shower snake ready for bed

My guess is that the snake was caught unaware like the birds. When the snow and cold hit suddenly it was probably hunting and away from its warm home in the ground. It detected the warmth from the pipes in our septic system and followed the heat through the pipes, through the drain, and into our shower. Better a small garter snake than something larger.

The plants were shocked too; most spring plants are adapted to sudden changes in temperature and they seem none the worse for wear a few days later. Snow and cold temperatures can slow their normal germination and growth, but isn’t enough to kill them. The peas, lettuce, and radishes I planted a few weeks ago are still alive and doing well under their plastic hoops, but they haven’t grown as quickly as I hoped given this recent week of cold temperatures.

This rhubarb will be fine

Once the sun came out the snow became a distant memory. Four inches disappeared in one afternoon. The birds went back to foraging through the wet ground, the snake was released and quickly slithered away, and I ventured back outside checking on plants.

The shower snake ready to go home

We’re not out of the woods yet. The last official frost date is still a few weeks away and the relatively safe date for planting warm season plants is still a month away. Another storm is coming this weekend and the first of May should be downright cold.

I do wonder about new gardeners in our region who lost some plants in this recent weather mishap. Lowe’s had a sale last week with tomatoes two for a dollar. Quite a bargain, unless freezing temperatures and snow hit right after planting. Even the supermarkets have flowers and herbs for sale. It’s tempting to buy the pretty plants and put them in the ground on a warm day, without thinking.

Summer is coming with its hot days and abundant sun. We’re nearly halfway through spring and the warm days and cool nights should happen soon. But our daily weather is still unpredictable.

It’s beneficial for gardeners to experience extremes of weather in their gardens so they know what can happen. That’s one reason experienced gardeners have much more success than newcomers. Pay attention to your conditions and keep a garden journal. When you’re tempted to plant early, take a look at years past and remind yourself about the late spring snows in the Rocky Mountains.

I won’t soon forget the snake in the shower or the bird on the rail. I didn’t have anything planted that couldn’t survive a snow because I’ve been through this before, though without the snake. I’m anxious for new plantings, but patience truly is a virtue when it comes to gardening. The season will start soon enough and when it does I’ll be ready.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lori on April 28, 2011 at 11:17 am

    My yard snakes like the garage when it’s cold in the spring. I’m so used to them slithering out when I open the garage door that I don’t flinch!


  2. I just saw another, bigger one sunning himself. I still flinch.


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