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


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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