On Thursday April 15, the Mt Pleasant Library hosted a workshop for gardening enthusiasts. Those who attended left with a lot of information on how to keep things growing in this challenging environment and what species survive the temperature extremes and soil conditions in our high desert valley.
Matt Palmer from the USU Extension office in Sanpete County opened with some startling statistics on the precipitation over the last 12 months (measured in Manti). Many have forgotten that last year from April to September there was very low MEASURABLE RAIN in Manti, which is probably representative of the entire county. That resulted in one of the lowest annual precipitation levels in recorded history (since 1976) in Manti. The bad news continues with Sanpete County finishing the winter of 2020-2021 with an average of somewhere around 55% to 60% of the average snow water equivalent, showing no signs that the drought is easing.
In February, David Miscus of NOAA mapped Utah’s drought conditions, and places Sanpete County firmly in the Extreme Drought area of Utah.
With a growing season that averages 121 days (in Ephraim) the shortage of irrigation water presents a big challenge for those with gardens this summer. Add this to the usual challenges of very cold winters, high pH water and soil and vegetation-eating wildlife and gardeners need to be armed with information for success.
Good gardening practices that will help mitigate these challenges were outlined by Palmer.
When planting your garden consider the following:
Check perennial plants for hardiness. Plants that thrive in Hardiness Zone 5 or 4 can survive our winters.
Drought tolerant plants will have a better chance of survival.
Choose vegetable plants that will mature in 78 to 90 days if possible.
Choose plants that thrive in high pH conditions since the area has a high lime content in the soil.
Protect plants from wildlife with fencing, chicken wire and cages.
Ed Staker, retired science teacher from North Sanpete High School and avid gardener, was the second speaker at the workshop. Staker shared his observations complied from decades of gardening in Mt. Pleasant. Noting that he believes in good soil preparation in the fall or early spring. Staker recommends tilling in manure and garden refuse like grass clippings or leaves to prepare the soil and using grass clippings to mulch in the summer.
Staker notes that seeds can be planted as soon as the soil is frost free and has enough moisture, usually around the end of March or the beginning of April in Mt. Pleasant. Plant seeds too early and the cold, wet conditions will cause them to rot. If conditions are too dry poor seed germination will result.
From May 1st to mid-May Staker notes that bedding plants such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage) can be set out along with short-season potatoes like Red Pontiac or Yukon Golds.
From mid-May through the end of May, cucumber, squash, beans and corn can be started outdoors from seed. Bedding plants can be started from seed indoors two months before planting them outdoors. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra and melons already started as bedding plants can be installed in the garden at the end of May. With the chance of frost through the first week of June, be ready to cover tender young plants on cold nights.
Perennial garden delights that do well in our area are vegetables like asparagus, rhubarb, garlic, and onions. Many herbs will survive over the seasons as well. Mint, thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, dill, and cilantro make a beautiful herb garden that will require a minimum of care and produce crops of herbs every year.
If you love fruit, many berry varieties thrive in the high pH soil in the area. Raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, gooseberries, elderberries, and currants are favorites. Fruit trees like apple, pear and stone fruit (plum, apricot, peach and cherry) will produce fruit most years, but late frost that occurs after buds have set will wipe out a season’s fruit tree crop from time to time.
Matt Palmer reminds us that when in a drought situation such as we have now trees need a good soaking on the canopy edge every other week to survive, but grass that turns brown from lack of water should come back when the moisture returns. To get a list of trees that do well in this area see the USU Tree Browser (http://treebrowser.org) You can also sign up for gardening tips and online courses on USU Extension garden website (http://extension.usu.edu/yardandgarden).
Presently local gardeners are taking advantage of our warmer days to get their hands dirty in the garden. It is garden clean up time, and all gardeners know how satisfying it is to work the soil in the spring. Prepare the garden plot, plan the crops, thin perennials, start a compost pile.
Let’s get growing!