How to Grow Vegetables in the West
The Western United States is made up of a variety of landscapes and climates. The Pacific Northwest is cool and rainy, while the Southwest is hot and dry. In the Mountain West, the climate depends on the elevation you're at. Wherever you are in the West, it's possible to plant a vegetable garden that will thrive and produce delicious food. The key to a successful vegetable garden in the West is choosing the right vegetables for your area, making the necessary soil amendments, and giving your vegetables the right amount of water.
Growing in the Pacific Northwest
Grow vegetables that do well in cooler weather.Since the Pacific Northwest has cool, short summers, avoid planting warm-weather vegetables like eggplant and peppers. Instead, you’ll want vegetables that can tolerate cold temperatures and minimal sunlight. Some good vegetables you can try growing are:
Plant your vegetables during the spring.Some vegetables need to be planted in early spring, while others do better if you plant them later in the season. It all depends on the type of vegetable. Refer to the seed packages to see what the recommended planting dates are for your vegetables.
- Plant carrots in late March or early April.
- Plant lettuce, broccoli, and spinach around mid-April.
Add organic compost to your soil if it’s too sandy.Sandy soil is common in the Pacific Northwest. It doesn’t retain water well, so it’s not ideal for growing vegetables. If you have sandy soil, till 2 inches (5.1 cm) of organic compost into it.
- To tell if your soil is sandy, pick up some moist soil with your hand and firmly squeeze it. If the soil falls apart, it’s too sandy.
Cover your soil with topsoil if it’s too clay-like.Clay-like soil is also common in the Pacific Northwest. While sandy soil doesn’t hold onto enough water, clay-like soil actually holds onto too much. If you have clay-like soil, cover it with 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) of vegetable garden topsoil.
- To tell if your soil is clay-like, grab some moist soil and squeeze it in your hand. Then, try poking a hole in the soil. If the soil holds its shape after you squeeze and poke it, it’s too clay-like.
Water your vegetables when the soil is dry to the touch.If your area is getting a lot of rain, you won't need to worry about watering your vegetable garden. However, if you’re experiencing a drought, you'll need to check your soil daily and water your vegetables when it feels dry.
- Rainy weather is common in the Pacific Northwest, so you’ll want to be careful not to overwater your plants.
Harvest your vegetables throughout the summer.The right time to harvest your vegetables depends on when you planted them and what kind of vegetables they are.
- Lettuce should be harvested once it has reached full size and the leaves are tender.
- Harvest carrots when they reach a usable size, or after about 2 and a half months.
- Broccoli can be harvested once the buds are firm. Make sure you harvest broccoli before the heads flower.
- Harvest spinach once the leaves reach a usable size. Don't let them get too big or they'll develop a bitter taste.
Gardening in the Southwest
Plant warm-weather vegetables between February and May.The period between February and May is considered the first growing season in the Southwest. During the first growing season, you’ll want to plant vegetables that thrive in a hot, dry climate. Some vegetables you can try planting are:
Plant cool-weather vegetables between September and December.The time between September and December is the cool growing season in the Southwest. Some cool-weather vegetables you can grow in your garden are:
Add a layer of fresh topsoil to your soil if it’s too clay-like.Clay-like soil is common in the Southwest, and it’s not good for vegetable gardening since it retains too much moisture.One way to solve this problem is to cover your soil with a 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) layer of vegetable gardening topsoil.
- You can tell if your soil is too clay-like by picking some moist soil up and squeezing it with your hand. Then, poke a hole in the soil — if it holds its shape after you squeeze and poke it, it’s too clay-like.
Water your vegetables deeply in the mornings before it gets too hot.Watering your vegetables in the mornings will give them time to absorb the water before it evaporates. You’ll want to deeply water your vegetables so the soil is soaked because of how dry and hot it is in the Southwest.
- You can also install an underground irrigation system to water your vegetables so the water doesn’t evaporate.
- You may need to water your vegetables more during the first growing season since it's hotter.
- Regardless of the growing season, you'll want to water your vegetables whenever the soil is dry.
Set up a shade cloth to protect your vegetables if they get direct sunlight.Sometimes the sun can be too much for vegetables in the Southwest. If your vegetables are in a spot that gets constant direct sunlight, a shade cloth can shelter them from damage and dryness.
- You can find a shade cloth online or at your local garden center.
Harvest your vegetables near the end of the growing seasons.The exact time you should harvest your vegetables depends on what kind of vegetables they are and when you planted them. In general, warm-weather and cold-weather vegetables will be ready to harvest at the end of their respective growing season.
- Harvest eggplant whenever it develops shiny and unwrinkled skin.
- Peppers can be harvested when they reach a usable size.
- Harvest brussels sprouts when the sprouts are around 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.
- Harvest kale once the individual leaves are the size of your hand.
Growing in the Mountain West
Grow cool-weather vegetables if you live at a high elevation.High elevations are elevations above 7,500 feet (2,300 m). Because high elevations have cooler temperatures and shorter summers, you’ll want to use plants that can tolerate the cold. Some good plants you can grow at a high elevation are:
Try growing warm-weather vegetables if you live at a low elevation.If you live somewhere below 7,500 feet (2,300 m) in elevation, you may be able to grow warm-weather vegetables. The lower your elevation, the more likely warm-weather vegetables will thrive in your garden. Some vegetables you can try growing are:
Plant cool-weather vegetables 4 weeks before the last expected frost.Since cool-weather vegetables are more tolerant of the cold, you can plant them directly in the ground during the spring, even if it’s still a little cold.
- If you’re not sure when the last expected frost is, look up the average last frost date for your area online.
Start warm-weather plants indoors 4 weeks before the last expected frost.Since warm-weather plants are more sensitive to the cold, you’ll want to plant the seeds in containers and keep them indoors at first. After the last expected frost, you can transplant your warm-weather vegetables into your garden outdoors.
- You can find the average last frost date for your area online.
Amend your soil with compost or manure if you’re planting in mountain soil.Mountain soil usually doesn’t have enough organic matter in it for vegetables to grow. To increase the levels of organic matter in your soil, add 1 inch (2.5 cm) of compost or manure for every 4 inches (10 cm) of soil.
- You can also have a sample of your soil tested by your local extension office to find out exactly what you should amend your soil with.
Water your vegetables when the top 2 inches (5.1 cm) of soil is dry.Use your fingers to test how dry the soil is. If the top 2 inches (5.1 cm) feels dry to the touch, thoroughly water your vegetables.
- Depending on where you live in the Mountain West, you may need to water your vegetables daily or even twice a day.
Harvest your vegetables once they reach maturity.The exact harvesting times will depend on the kind of vegetables and when you planted them. Keep an eye on your vegetables so you know when they're ready to harvest.
- Harvest lettuce after it has reached full size and its leaves are tender.
- Carrots can be harvested whenever they're a usable size, or after about 2 and a half months.
- Harvest beets 50-70 days after planting. Make sure you harvest them before the greens grow taller than 6 inches (15 cm).
- Tomatoes should be harvested when they're firm and a deep red color.
- Harvest beans when the pods are firm and full-sized.
- The Pacific Northwest is made up of Oregon, Washington, and Northern California.
- The Southwest consists of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Southern California.
- The Mountain West is made up of Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
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