Regional Gardening Zones: From Slugs To Dust, A Gardener’s Journey

By Bonnie Grant | March 31, 2020
Image by neenawat
by Bonnie Grant
March 31, 2020

I have always been a gardener. In fact, I’m pretty sure I came out at birth bearing some pruners and a little spade. I have fond memories of visiting my aunt on her orchard or helping my grandma clean up her roses. Several grandparents also had large vegetable gardens with exotic foods (to a little girl) such as kohlrabi. My mother is a master gardener and has always played in the landscape, creating magnificent vignettes and restful niches filled with carefully planned native and ornamental plants, all within suitable growing zones.

Zones for Planting Aren’t the Same Everywhere

As an adult, I have had several lush, fruitful gardens. These were all in the Pacific Northwest (growing zones 7-9), and my plants enjoyed the temperate weather and consistent moisture. There were some problems, like slugs and mildew, but mostly, gardening on the Washington coast and island areas was a dream. Drainage could be a problem, but using plenty of compost or making berms and raised beds conquered that.

Pretty much anything you could buy at a big box store’s garden center would perform beautifully and without complaint. You hardly even needed to water to keep them happy. If you wanted to get fancy, there are numerous boutique nurseries within an hour’s drive. I could happily spend an entire paycheck at one of these and bring home some real prizes that might need a bit more attention at first, but fit right in after a month or so.

Then I had to move”¦

I wanted/needed to be closer to my family, so I bought a home in eastern Washington (growing zones 5-7). Talk about a head spin in regional gardening zones. We are in the wheat bread basket of the U.S., and the hills are gorgeous during spring but by mid-summer have turned a dull brown that remains our persistent canvas until the following spring. Apparently, lentils and alfalfa also feature prominently on the agricultural menu, but whatever is growing has to do it in desert-like conditions with no supplemental irrigation. One mind-blowing fact for me is the lack of trees. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, trees were our constant companions. Here, not a tree exists for hundreds of miles. This creates gale force winds that blow topsoil away and evolve into mini dust devil tornadoes.

The conditions and zones for planting we are experiencing here could not be more different from where I have lived for the past 30 years. The weather has changed not only my personal habits but even my sleep patterns. If you don’t get up and gardening done by 11:00 a.m., forget it. You will have to wait 12 hours before it is cool enough to mow that lawn. A typical summer day may reach over 100 degrees F. (38 C.) and have hot, gusty winds that suck the moisture out of your garden as well as your parched cheeks. I have never looked my age as much as I do here where no amount of moisturizer can seal in the humidity. At night, you will need a coat since temps dip down 40-50 degrees from the daytime.

Then there is wildlife”¦

I am used to rabbits, squirrels, the occasional deer and a few other little rascals in my garden. Here, we can expect rattlesnakes, elk, bears, coyotes, skunks and more. I’m not sure how they survive out in this desert, but they do. As a gardener, I am cued into the wonders a healthy spider population can do for pest control, but some of these guys are BIG! And there are some poisonous ones like fiddlebacks and black widows. You must exercise caution when digging or you might tick off some wasps or yellow jackets. Disturbing those nests means a frantic dance and a date with some Benadryl.

Tackling New Growing Zones

It’s not all doom and gloom. The growing season here is much longer, and even though we weren’t moved until midsummer, we were still able to start our veggies from seed. They germinated readily in this dust we call soil but are not being very obliging in the speed with which they grow, in spite of some heavy watering and feeding. Speaking of watering, due to the dusty nature of our soil, water sloughs off and, if it does stick around, it evolves into a heavy mud that dries quickly into cement that nothing will penetrate. It’s a wonder our seeds were able to germinate at all.

I have begun to fight the good fight against weeds. There are noxious weeds whose names I don’t know but I am certain are a blight to this earth. They have deep taproots to survive in this arid paradise, and I must dig deeply to get every bit of the root or the little devils will just come back again, and they will bring friends. Some funny little weed that may be purslane is persistent in both the beds and the lawn. I don’t advocate using chemicals, but I am about to turn my entire gardening philosophy on its head and reach for some herbicide. (Talk me down please, I can do this.)

Gardeners are, if anything, adaptable. And I will adapt to this desert garden that is testing my infinite patience. I will triumph and my landscape will flourish. I will keep my Benadryl close at hand, wear my sun hat, and sweat through the process with a grin on my face. Because if anything is true, gardening is a task of love and joy, and I will triumph or shrivel up trying.

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