After choosing your cold-season crops, it’s best to look at the seed packet for planting information. Most will tell you the planting depth, row spacing, whether to direct seed or transplant, days to germination, days to maturity and when to plant (for example 2 weeks before last frost or after last frost).

The “square foot garden” style is popular at the community gardens. This means planting in 1 foot sections. You can do this by marking out the squares with string, just keep it in mind or scratch a line into the dirt. Let’s say the recommended spacing on the seed packet is 3 inches. Each side of the square is 12 inches, 12 divided by 3 inch spacing allows 4 plants. So you can have 4 rows of 4 plants or 16 plants per square. You want to plant tall plants toward the back of the bed so they don’t shade the smaller plants.

When is it time to plant?

It’s an educated guess based on three factors:

  • The soil has the right amount of moisture. You can make a loose soil ball in your hand, give it a tap with a finger and it crumbles.
  • Soil Temperature – Measure soil at 8am (before soil warms in morning sun) with a soil thermometer inserted 4″ deep. It should be at least 35 degrees.
  • The last average frost date:
    • The date on which there is a 50% chance of a light freeze (29-32 degrees)
    • Information found online at National Climatic Data Center or Dave’s Garden websites – June 25 for most of Grand County – July 13 is 10% chance of frost


Steps for direct sowing seeds:

  1. Prepare soil by mixing 1”- 3” of soil amendments into the top 6”- 12”. Add fertilizer according to package directions.
  2. Spacing is dependent on the vegetable crop plus layout design chosen – block, square foot or single row. To measure for spacing and depth, you can get technical and use a ruler but I usually guestimate with my finger or garden tool like a trowel or weeder.
  3. Plant seeds at recommended depth for crop – a general rule of thumb is to plant seeds two times deeper than the size of the seed.
  4. Some seeds with a thick seed coat like peas, beets and Swiss chard benefit from a pre- seeding soak in water for a few hours to overnight to hasten germination.
  5. Gently cover the seeds with soil and lightly press down on the soil above the seeds.
  6. Mark the area with a label! It’s easy to forget where and what you’ve planted in an area.
  7. Water the soil with a light mist or gentle rain nozzle. It’s best to give the garden bed some water, let it soak in and then add additional water. Be sure not to flood the area as this can make the seeds float and germinate in an unintended location.
  8. Make sure the soil surface stays evenly moist at all times during germination which may be up to three weeks.
  9. After the plants have their second set of leaves, thin (clear out extra seedlings) to get the recommended spacing. I’ve found that either pinching off the unneeded seedlings or cutting with small scissors is easier and causes less damage than pulling them out.

Steps for transplanting:

  1. Choose happy, healthy plants. Inspect for evidence of insects or diseases.
  2. Make sure the transplant is hardened off – adapted to outdoor growing conditions.
  3. Dig a hole as deep as the transplant’s soil line in the container and twice as wide.
  4. Gently loosen the soil around the roots, minimizing overall root damage.
  5. Place the plant into the hole. Be sure that the top of the soil line of the transplant matches the depth of the planting hole.
  6. Gently fill soil around the base of the plant & carefully tamp soil.
  7. Water the transplanted plant to minimize air and soil pockets.
  8. Check the soil level depth of the transplant root system and water accordingly the first few weeks as the plant establishes.

If you’re new to high altitude gardening, it can seem strange to wait until June to plant. As a former zone 5 gardener, it used to drive me crazy! I have tried to rush the season by planting on a warm day in May, but the plants all start to thrive around the same time in late June or early July whether they were planted early or not.

There is much more information on our website under Gardening Class Notes.