By Soumita Moitra
Did you recently move to a mountain resort and are contemplating growing your own vegetables and fruits? Or have you been living in a mountain home all your life and want to give it a revamp?
In either case, you need know that high-altitude gardening isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. From identifying the right plants to enriching the soil and finding the right watering strategy—growing a mountain garden requires planning and foresight.
If you’re just getting started, the idea of creating a high-altitude garden will seem daunting. How do you protect your plants from rain, sleet, hail, and snow? Is the soil in your area suitable for gardening? How long is the gardening season?
It’s simply a glimpse of the questions that’ll start popping in your head the moment you think about building a garden in the hills.
The biggest challenge with high-altitude gardening is the short growing season. For instance, if you live in the Lake Tahoe region, more than 62,000 ft (1,900 m) above sea level, you only get a short gardening window between May and August.
The harsh and freezing winter months, when mercury levels drop below 0°F (-18°C), could wreak havoc on your garden. Also, there are frequent spells of frost that can continue well into the beginning of spring.
Poor soil quality is another challenge you’ll need to overcome. The dry, rocky, and volcanic soil in high-altitude regions makes it difficult for plants to survive. Also, you need to watch out for pests and wildlife, particularly deer.
Then there’s also the issue of water retention. If your garden is situated on an incline, the slope will cause most of the water to drain before it can be absorbed by your plants.
The combination of all these factors could make it difficult for you to build the mountain garden of your dreams. That’s why in this blog, we’ve outlined a few key mistakes you should avoid while getting started with high-altitude gardening. Let’s take a look.
It’s easy to presume that air pollution is only a problem in cities. But you’d be surprised to know that scenic locations, such as South Lake Tahoe and King’s Beach, reported unhealthy air quality due to the Caldor Fire in August 2021.
Needless to say, dust particles and other pollutants in the air could be catastrophic to your garden. While many plants are equipped to endure adverse environmental conditions, they often end up with discolored, speckled, or wilted leaves.
If you’re growing an edible garden, poor air quality could also affect the yield and growth of your plants. Worse still, it can take a toll on the root system of your plants.
It emphasizes the importance of keeping an eye on the air quality index (AQI) in your area. A modern hyperlocal weather intelligence platform will give you a deeper insight into South Lake Tahoe air quality and its impact.
You even get a breakdown of the levels of different pollutants. Also, you can check how the AQI will change throughout the day. Having access to that kind of data will help you better protect your garden irrespective of your location.
Whenever you notice a deterioration in the AQI, it’s a good idea to move your plants indoors. If that isn’t possible, you should consider using a protective cover to safeguard the plants.
High-quality nutrient-dense soil is indispensable for every garden. It’s all the more important when you’re building a garden in the extreme conditions of high altitudes. The last thing you want to do is deprive your plants of essential nutrients while they’re already battling freezing temperatures.
Unfortunately, most high-altitude regions have low-quality soil. For instance, areas around Lake Tahoe are known for their shallow soil made of decomposed granite. Also, the acidic pH isn’t inherently equipped to support the growth of plants.
That emphasizes the importance of enriching the soil with compost and manure. It’s a good idea to use organic fertilizers to further improve soil quality.
Also, it’s important to protect the soil with a layer of mulch, such as pine needles, wood chips, or gravel. It enhances the soil by helping retain water. Also, it provides insulation and protects the roots from freezing.
It’s the most obvious mistake you can make while growing a high-altitude garden. The last thing you want to do is try to grow a bird of paradise or aloe vera plant when temperatures will regularly dip below freezing outside. Similarly, you shouldn’t attempt to grow vegetables, such as cauliflower and melons, that require a long growing season.
You must select plants that are either native to your region or can adapt to it. It’s a good idea to check with a local nursery or extension service. Keep an eye out for plants that have a lower “days to maturity” number.
Typically, plants that do well in high altitudes include:
- Blue woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinate)
Apart from colorful flowering plants, you can also grow cold-tolerant or fast-maturing vegetables, such as carrots, beets, leafy greens, snap peas and broccoli.
A greenhouse helps you create a temperature-controlled environment for plants. So, it’s only natural that you’d be tempted to install a greenhouse at your property to build your mountain garden. It protects plants from inclement weather and even helps extend the growing season.
However, not knowing how to modulate the ambient temperature could cause more harm than good.
If you’re planning to build your garden in a greenhouse, make sure you install a space heater to maintain a temperature of 60°F (16° C) or more during winter. Similarly, it’s important to cover your structure with shade cloths in summer to protect them from intense sunlight.
Creating a stunning garden in high altitudes could be easier than you think. Make sure you choose the right variety of plants that can endure the temperature. Also, keep an eye on the weather and air quality to prevent damage to your plants. Don’t forget to enrich the soil with organic fertilizers and compost as well.
An engineer and filmmaker by education, Soumita finds writing to be her preferred form of expression. She writes about a diverse array of niches, from fashion and beauty to travel and lifestyle. When not hammering her way through a keyboard, you’ll find her daydreaming about her holiday destination.