The high desert climate of Santa Fe, New Mexico offers unique challenges for practiced and would-be gardeners alike. Yet the beauty and bounty inherent in overcoming these tests only adds to the feeling of accomplishment when one reaps the bounty of their harvest.
Regardless of where you are located, there are quick and easy steps that you can take in getting prepared to make the most from your garden in any climate.
Finding your growing zone
If you’ve ever perused a seed catalog you will often see references to “zones.” Certain plants may be marked as growing best in Zones 3-5 or 9-10. This secret code is actually quite helpful once you’ve deciphered its meaning.
Formally known as Plant Hardiness Zones, these delineations are set by the US Department of Agriculture. They are geographically defined areas that are categorized by their average annual minimum temperature. So for example, a plant that is hardy to Zone 5 can withstand a minimum temperature of 29 degrees Celsius.
To find out your Plant Hardiness Zone go to: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/
Identifying first and last frost date
Knowing the first and last frost dates of the year is an important step in defining the planting season for your area. As you may have predicted, the last frost date of the year is the last day when meteorologists predict that you can expect frost. This marks the time at which you can begin planting cold sensitive plants such as tomatoes and peppers outside. In the weeks leading up to the last frost date you can direct plant cold tolerant plants such as kale, spinach and Swiss chard.
The first frost date marks the end of your growing season. Knowing this date allows you to plan any subsequent plantings during the summer. For instance, you can get many succession planting of things like lettuce, carrots and radishes in each growing season. By marking your first frost date on the calendar, you know when any cold intolerant plants need to be harvested by.
To find out your first and last frost dates visit: http://farmersalmanac.com/average-frost-dates/
It’s easy to get anxious about the upcoming garden season! Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get your hands back in the soil when the days are still short and cold. Plants like tomatoes, peppers and melons all need a longer growing season. These plants work well when started indoors and then transplanted outside when temperatures are more appropriate. Just remember, when choosing seeds keep in mind your Plant Hardiness Zone and first and last frost dates!
You don’t need fancy equipment to start your seeds. Many local nurseries and hardware stores carry seedling trays and potting soil to get started. Purchasing a seedling tray with a plastic cover is recommended to maintain the moisture needed for seeds to begin germinating. Just remember to remove the cover when most of the seeds in the tray have germinated to prevent any mold or mildew forming. Additionally, a simple low-hanging fluorescent light can be used to stimulate seed germination and plant growth.
No garden season is without its shares of ups and downs. It’s important to forgive your mistakes and celebrate your accomplishments. Each season is unique, but every hour spent with your hands in the soil is an hour worth remembering!
Danielle is a horticulture and animal interactions experiential guide at Sunrise Springs.