Some people might think it’s a bit early to start talking about spring, and cool season planting, but this is Southern Nevada, where the seasons have their own peculiar ways of doing things.
What’s cool season planting? Just what it sounds like – planting your garden when temperatures are still cool. Not cold, mind you. In many parts of the great American Northeast, you can’t plant much earlier than the beginning of May. If you wait that long to start your garden here in the Mojave Desert, you’ll be terribly disappointed.
Cool season vegetables – get them going about the end of February. As an aside, I am hoping that we avoid a late-winter snowstorm. When we get snow here, it’s interesting, but really confusing. Fortunately, it’s not all that frequent.
So, what are these cool season vegetables? They’re the vegetables that don’t tolerate high temperatures. In fact, if you want to grow a delicious salad, you need to plant your lettuce when the night temperatures are consistently over 40°, and the daytime temperatures aren’t much above 75° F. Many leafy greens have similar requirements, but I always mention lettuce because – if the soil is too warm, the seeds frequently won’t even germinate.
There’re so many good things about leafy vegetables. First of all, they’re very nutritious and tasty. It’s not only lettuce, of course. There’s kale, broccoli, spinach, beet greens, and chard, just to name a few. They’re also really easy to grow from seed; you can start them indoors and transplant them, or you can just plant them directly in a raised bed or even a large pot!
Other cool season veggies are most things we grow for their roots and bulbs, like turnips, carrots, and onions. These also do best under cool conditions.
You can buy little seedlings at nurseries and home stores, but if you start your own, you can find a world of different varieties. Think about red lettuce with oak-shaped leaves, or purple carrots. We might expect red onions to be milder than the yellow ones, but they’re just as spicy and full of flavor.
Should you not be experienced at southern Nevada horticulture, you’ll want to take care of a few things. Starting from the ground up - we usually say to plant in a raised bed or a large pot where you have more control over the environment. If you’re going to plant in the soil, make sure to amend it. The best thing you can do is add compost, and our soils really need the help. Compost will improve their fertility and make them more workable as well.
Once you have the soil taken care of, think about water. Our gardens won’t survive without irrigation. You simply cannot rely on rainfall when we get just over four inches per year! Drip irrigation was invented for vegetables; don’t try using lawn sprinklers.
Then think about seeds. Buy varieties that you and your household will actually eat. You can find them in catalogs, but read the descriptions before investing. Some plants can really only grow in climates that’re different from ours. Remember that our environment is not only hot and dry, but the sun can be bright enough to scald little plants. West light is the most scorching, so plant your garden where it’ll get morning and early afternoon light.
For more information on gardening here, my Growing in Small Places series has already started for 2020. Every month I cover a different topic related to horticulture in our region. These are open to the public. Call the extension office to get more information on dates and to register.
If you’d like to see some interesting vegetable growing, please come and visit the Cooperative Extension outdoor education center. This three-acre area is full of vegetables in both raised beds and in the ground, along with fruit trees, shade trees, palms, compost demonstrations, a natural water catchment area, a great youth garden, a butterfly garden, and tons of native plants. The wonderful Master Gardeners who do so much work in this Center are there early on weekday mornings, and sometimes even later.
Once a month we also have a tour of the outdoor education center led by Master Gardener docents. These volunteers are highly knowledgeable and eager to teach their neighbors. They’d love to see you. The next tour will be on February 18 at 10 am. You can get the monthly schedule by calling the Extension office.
So much is going on in our little bit of heaven here in the Mojave. Enjoy the coming spring, and your cool season garden!
For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
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