Gardening In My Zone: Dealing With Short Growing Seasons

By Mary H. Dyer | July 13, 2020
Image by Mary H. Dyer
by Mary H. Dyer
July 13, 2020

I live on the Columbia River Plateau – an area of about 100,000 square miles of shrub-steppe that extends from the Cascade Mountains to the Rockies. People think the Pacific Northwest is lush and green with a marine climate, but that’s only the narrow strip running down western Oregon and Washington.

Otherwise, the area is high desert, with hot summers, cold winters, and very little rain. This area is rocky, rugged, isolated, and starkly beautiful. Regional gardening in this zone 6 climate is challenging and the growing season is relatively short.

Co-Existing with Nature in the High Desert

Mostly, I’m fascinated by the area’s native plants. A small section of my yard has never been disturbed, and it’s populated mostly by prairie grass and rabbitbrush, which is beautiful in late summer and fall. Rabbitbrush is a shrubby plant (underestimated and taken for granted) that often grows along with sagebrush.

My wild prairie garden comes alive in spring, with masses of bachelor’s buttons, lupine, and wild phlox (depending on how much snow we receive during the winter). Another section of my yard is planted in native prairie grass. We’re still waiting for the grass to fill in, and we hope that, eventually, it will be healthy enough to crowd out the weeds.

In the meantime, the handfuls of wildflower seeds we mixed with the grass paid off with masses of poppies, bachelor’s buttons, and black-eyed Susans that bloomed and attracted bees all summer. Other wildflowers that are predominant in the area are balsamroot, Indian paintbrush, desert parsley, yarrow, biscuitroot, penstemon, and many others.

The previous owner planted yucca in various areas around the yard. It grows beautifully here, and the summer blooms are spectacular.

Other than juniper, there are very few trees that grow naturally in the area. Juniper grows like crazy, and it actually creates problems because it draws so much water from the ground. Believe it or not, a large juniper can use 20 to 40 gallons per day during the summer (when water is available).

For me, the challenge of regional gardening in this neck of the “desert” is learning to co-exist with nature. Unfortunately, non-native plants (such as Russian thistle) are a huge problem for farmers and gardeners in this agricultural area. 

Gardening in my zone means short growing seasons that vanish quickly. That said, nature in the high desert is a beautiful thing.

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