Saturday, January 26, 2008

What is a "High Desert" anyway?

Wikipedia has an excellent description of the Great Basin High Desert. Essentially, though, it is an arid area (less than 10 inches of precipitation in a normal year) that is 4,000 feet or more above sea level. So while our area is generally a standard Zone 6/7, there are some other considerations with regard to the "desert" part.

For gardeners, the main items of note are:
  • It's arid - you must irrigate
  • Ground water is often salty and alkali (even if it is not salty enough to "taste" the salt, it is still probably salty by a plant's standard)
  • The native "soil" is probably sand, gravel and/or rock, with less than 5% organic content - you will need to find a way to provide "good, rich soil" for your garden (raised beds work well)
  • The native "soil" is also probably salty and alkali
  • There isn't enough rain or snow to "deep water" anything, so calcium particles and salts get pushed down 3 - 5 feet or so and then the minerals all bond to create a hard pan layer known as "caliche".
  • The sun is intense due to elevation - plants that are listed as "full sun" probably will benefit from some afternoon shade
  • Winds are dry and desiccating
  • Many non-desert plants will have a difficult time germinating in desert conditions without much babying.
  • Transplants need babying, too.
  • Sometimes there is no "Spring" - it goes from freezing to 90 degrees or more in the course of a few weeks - and boom! - Winter is Over.
  • Summer time temps in the high 90's to 110 are normal - if you have concrete near by, it could be much hotter
  • Summer time temperature differences can be 40 degrees or more (tomatoes hate this, as do many of the other sun-lovers)
  • In places just a little higher in elevation than we are, it could frost in June or July!
  • Mulch is your friend
  • You must water and shade your compost pile if you have one

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