As a new gardener to this side of the state, I feel a bit like Dorothy when she touched down in Oz. Nothing here is as it was on the other side. The other side was coastal, temperate, and rainy. Here it is windy, dusty, devilishly hot in summer, and well below freezing all winter. This is a learning curve that I have failed several times in the last few years, but I keep learning!
The place I lived for 35 years was pleasant, although occasionally a bit wet. Literally everything I put into the ground not only lived but thrived. It was the perfect gardening climate, where all my plants flourished with ridiculous ease. I didn’t even have to contend with many weeds or pests, and the weather was cooperative year-round. Flash forward to now and things are much different.
To put things in perspective, let’s talk temperatures. Last year we had sustained highs of up to 114 degrees F. (46 C.) and lows of -17 degrees F. (-27 C.). Now I don’t want to complain, but come on! Those highs and lows really do a number on plants. We are listed as zone 6b, but after some trial and error, I have decided only to install plants hardy to zone 5. The tricky bit here is that those cooler season plants don’t really like it when the temperatures are over 100 for a long period.
Growing Plants in Extremes
I’ve had to get creative using microclimates. This is where I take advantage of areas in the landscape that may not get as much wind (and boy do we get wind!) or have some shelter from advancing snow and ice. Since we have no trees except for the new orchard, this means placing anything I think will be tender on the lea side of the house. I also use my huge planters a lot. I can lift bulbs to store and move containerized things into the garage in winter. Some plants that aren’t too large come inside when the cold temperatures start peeking in.
Mulching has also become crucial, as have groundcovers. Not only do they keep the soil cool in summer and warm in winter, but they prevent the bounty of nasty, tenacious weeds we seem to have here. Our town has a compost pile for leaves and grass clippings from which I often steal in fall. I take these and pile them around perennials and other plants to help protect them.
I also have to use shade tunnels when veggie season comes around. The unrelenting sun can do a real number on my seedling babies without some protection. The tunnels also protect them from the blasting winds we get. Once the plants have established, I remove the tunnels so they can get bigger and say a little prayer that they are strong enough to withstand the punishing conditions here.
It may sound like I am unable to get anything to grow, but that is far from the truth. I struggle with my ornamental plants, but my perennials are huge and healthy. My vegetable gardens produce more than we can use in just a couple of months. My fruit trees are coming along nicely, and I even have many tender summer bulbs that flower beautifully. It’s just not as easy as it once was, but I am adaptable, and this old dog has learned new tricks.