Planting Strawberries and Asparagus in Southwest Colorado’s Unique Soil

In southwest Colorado, gardening can sometimes feel like you’re trying to solve a tricky puzzle. The soil here isn’t like your typical garden dirt; it’s a mix of sandy and shale components that challenges even experienced gardeners. But if you’ve got this type of soil, you’re in luck if you like strawberries and asparagus because, oddly enough, these plants thrive here when others struggle. So, let’s dive into how to make the most out of these hearty plants and turn your garden into a part of the local food forest, complete with your piñon trees.

Why Strawberries and Asparagus?

During the 2020 Covid pandemic lockdown, gardening became my new hobby of choice. I tried planting all sorts of vegetables and herbs. Everything I planted just wouldn’t take. Brassicas like kale and broccoli were destroyed by bugs. My tomatoes barely budded before the weather turned cold. But, when I tried strawberries and asparagus, it was like they were meant to thrive in our unique soil.

Planting the Perfect Pair

To start planning this perennial garden patch, choose a spot you don’t intend to disturb with tilling or plowing in the future. Your plants will live in this space for a very long time. Make sure to select a sunny location in your garden, since both strawberries and asparagus thrive in sunlight.

Prepare the area for asparagus first, since they require deeper planting. Dig trenches about 6-8 inches deep, incorporating organic matter, such as compost, to add nutrients to the soil. Many planting guides suggest to slowly fill in these trenches as your asparagus grows. I did not take this step, and just smoothed the garden bed. My asparagus is still thriving; so if your soil is extra sandy, you may also be able to simply plant your asparagus in one step.

After you’ve established a your asparagus placement, you can plant the strawberries. Because strawberries do well in sandy soil, which naturally aids in drainage, there’s no need to create raised beds or mounds for them. This setup has encouraged my strawberries to produce runners prolifically.

Since we’re dealing with sandy and shale-type soil, adding compost is important. It helps retain water and nutrients that sandy soil often lacks, and it makes the hard shale parts easier for roots to penetrate.

Plants Spacing for Strawberries and Asparagus

Plant your strawberries about 18 inches apart and your asparagus crowns about a foot and a half apart in rows. Water them well after planting and keep the soil moist, especially during the dry months.

Companion Planting Under Piñon Trees

Planting under or near your piñon trees can create a mini food forest. The trees provide partial shade and help protect the plants from too much sun while also helping the soil retain moisture. Strawberries, in particular, can benefit from this arrangement as they like a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day. The asparagus, with its ferny foliage, can also look quite decorative underneath the spreading branches of piñon trees.

Understanding Our Soil: Mancos Shale

Now, what’s this about our soil? In our region, we deal with something called Mancos Shale. It’s a type of sedimentary rock that you can find spreading across the southwestern United States, particularly in Colorado. This shale is part of what makes our soil so unique and challenging. It doesn’t hold nutrients well and can be tough for roots to break through. But with the right approach, such as adding compost and choosing the right plants, you can turn this challenging soil into a productive garden.

Mancos Shale is a geologic formation predominantly found in the Western United States, particularly across Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. This formation consists of fine-grained sedimentary rock, primarily composed of shale, which is a type of clay-rich rock formed from the consolidation of mud and clay under pressure over millennia. Mancos Shale is known for its gray to black color and often contains marine fossils, like seashells, indicating that the area was once under a sea during the Cretaceous period.

In gardening and agriculture, Mancos Shale presents particular challenges due to its dense, compact nature and low fertility. It tends to be poor in nutrients essential for plant growth and can be hard for plant roots to penetrate. Its composition also means it has low water retention capabilities, making it difficult to maintain the moisture levels that many plants require. However, with proper management, such as the addition of organic matter to improve nutrient content and soil structure, gardeners can successfully cultivate certain hardy plants like strawberries and asparagus, which are adapted to less-than-ideal soil conditions.

Final Thoughts

With a bit of preparation and understanding of our unique soil, even a garden filled with sandy, shale conditions can become a lush, productive spot in your food forest alongside your piñon trees. So, don’t give up on your gardening dreams just because the soil is challenging—embrace what works, and you’ll be amazed at what can thrive!

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