Early Season Gardening in the High Desert
Ah! Planting time in Central Oregon; the beginning of a short yet sweet season of outdoor activities, events and of course, home gardening and landscaping. Every year is the same. The temperatures rise and the soil dries. Backyard gardeners furiously rush to local gardening suppliers to find everything from fresh herbs to flowers to growing aids in hopes that a good harvest is to come.
Central Oregon has a very unique microclimate called an ecotone, or an area where two contrasting ecologies meet. The mountains to the west enjoy more rainfall and an acidic soil, while the east is more arid, sandy and cold. Our dramatic temperature changes—warm days and chilly nights—and consistent low humidity make it challenging to always get the results we want.
Rising in popularity in Central Oregon backyards this year are raised garden beds and xeriscaping. Raised beds keep out weeds, protect soil and contain a healthy year round ecosystem. With good organization and proper planning, raised beds are great for fruits, vegetables and herbs. Just make sure the local deer don’t devour all your hard work for a snack!
Xeriscaping is the use of plant material or culture that reduces the use of supplemental water. It is low maintenance and helps to conserve water—something Central Oregonians have been concerned about for a long time. More and more homeowners are xeriscaping both front and backyards alongside their existing vegetable and flower gardens.
Central Oregonians are also looking to plants centered around food and beer for their gardens. What could be more pleasing than to use vegetables freshly-grown in your garden to top a salad served at your backyard barbecue? Beer drinkers and home brewers enjoy the quick growth rate of hop plants, while our low humidity and cold winters keep common pests and diseases away. Other high-selling items include several varieties of mint, butterfly milkweed and indoor and outdoor succulents.
Early Season Gardening in Central Oregon
“Plants can handle the cold when it stays cold,” explains Moonfire and Sun Garden Center’s Brandon Reese. “But, (the problem is) when the weather warms up and things start to grow and then get frosted over. There are only so many times they can handle this fluctuation before they run out of reserves and die.”
Other challenges include our high altitude which comes with a more intense sun and rough high desert soils. But, with the correct soil amendments and a good irrigation program, most gardening difficulties can be overcome.
As with any area, there are suggested times during a Central Oregon planting season to plant flowers, herbs and produce. For example, the Oregon State University – Cascades Biology department suggests that if you plant onions in early spring as soon as the ground is dry, you’ll be rewarded with big, healthy bulbs by May.
“Breeders are constantly working on new plants, fruits and vegetables that can handle our cold temperatures,” adds Reese. “But, if your plants are not hardy enough, bring them in during our cold months.”
“It’s a constant learning experience here in Central Oregon and I learn so much from our customers,” says Reese. “We enjoy an active lifestyle here and do not want to spend all of our free time landscaping.”
“It’s a constant learning experience here in Central Oregon and I learn so much from our customers. We enjoy an active lifestyle here and do not want to spend all of our free time landscaping.” –Brandon Reese