Vegetable garden at high altitude

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Here are some tips for being a vegetarian champion at 7,000 feet.

There are incredible benefits to living at high altitudes in northern Arizona—four seasons, stunning mountain scenery, extremely clean air—but truth be told, it can be a challenge for gardeners.

Difficult, but not impossible. All it takes is a little planning, a little patience, and a few edits. But the rewards – beautiful, healthy and local products – are worth it.

Here are some tips for being a vegetarian champion at 7,000 feet.

Understand your microclimate

Depending on your neighborhood, the greater Flagstaff area ranks between a “5” and a “6a” in the USDA Hardiness Zone, the map of average temperatures that gardeners use as a guide for growing seasons.

A few kilometers can make a huge difference here. The base of Mount Elden, which is part of an “inversion zone” where air temperatures above ground are warmer, is likely to get several weeks longer of optimal growing time than a garden located in Fort Valley or Baderville.

It is therefore important to understand your microclimate and plan your garden accordingly. If you only have 80 frost-free days, you might want to avoid this squash that needs 100 days to ripen. Warner’s Nursery has planting guides that can help you understand your area and what vegetables will work best for your garden.

Amend your soil

The quality of your soil will play an important role in whether your vegetables are getting enough water to survive and nutrients to thrive. Again, depending on the region, Flagstaff can be challenging, with neighborhoods that have clay soil, cinders, giant boulders, or overly alkaline soil.

The key to treating your vegetables well is to treat your soil well. Amendments will balance soil pH, increase water holding capacity and make dirt easier to work with. If you have limited space or extremely poor soil conditions, you may want to consider a raised bed. A 12 inch deep bed provides ample room for most plant roots. (Quick note on this, though: you probably don’t want a raised bed on a wooden deck; the weight when full of dirt and water can cause structural damage.)

Find the right seeds and plants

A good vegetable garden starts with high quality recommended seeds and plants. Given our climate, try seeds that only require a short growing season and are “cold hardy”. Our seed selection at Warner’s is Flagstaff-specific to help take the guesswork out of your gardening. If you are starting your garden with transplants, choose healthy ones that are a little stumpy.

Location, location, location

This time we’re not talking about where you live, but which part of your garden your vegetables will call home this season. First, find a sunny spot; vegetables like about six hours of tanning each day. Space them properly so they don’t have to fight over nutrients and water.

Plant correctly

Whether you start from seed or use transplants, there are a few guidelines that will promote vegetable success.

For seeds, lay out straight rows for easier cultivation and follow the seed spacing instructions on the package. Make sure they are planted at the correct depth (for example, lettuce and carrots only need half an inch of ground cover, while beans and peas require up to two inches ).

Transplants need tenderness as they move from their pots or flats into your garden. Do not let them dry out before putting them in the ground and water them thoroughly before taking them out of their containers. Be careful with the roots and disturb them as little as possible (although if the roots are all bundled up or ‘pot bound’ you might want to tease them a bit). Dig a hole large enough for the plant to be slightly deeper than it was in the container and cover with soil, making sure there are no air pockets. You may want to use a starter solution, and we can help you with the best selection for your plants.

Water well

Water to keep your soil moist and be consistent about it. Excessive fluctuations in soil moisture can adversely affect the growth and quality of your vegetables. Watering frequency will depend on several factors: Does your vegetable have shallow or deep roots? Is it a big or a small plant? And of course, what’s the weather like – if it’s the monsoon season, the need for watering is less urgent. And don’t forget the mulch, which will help prevent evaporation.

Get ready to protect your plants

If you’re like me, you treat your plants like botanical children, do everything you can to make sure they grow well, and protect them from the harsh world. And, as difficult as it may seem, your sweet tomatoes, pretty carrots and radiant Brussels sprouts have enemies: unpredictable frosts, weeds, pests and diseases. Our experts at Warner’s can provide advice and products like frost blankets, plant treatments or weedkillers to protect your vegetables.

Enjoy

All of this work leads to the greatest reward of your vegetable garden: the harvest. In my humble opinion, no purchase from the produce section can match your home vegetable garden – the taste, the smell, the knowledge that your vegetables are free from harmful chemicals, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Happy gardening! NBF

By Misti Warner-Andersen

Misti Warner-Andersen is the director of Warner’s Nursery & Landscape Co., located at 1101 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff. To contact Warner’s Nursery, call 928-774-1983.

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