Gardening the High Sierra: Here’s A Planting Guide

So many folks are thinking of starting a garden this year, I thought our planting guide might be helpful. As you’ll see, these dates are ranges rather than hard-and-fast. But it’ll give you a rough idea of when to plant what if you’re here in our part of the Sierra!

Rick couldn’t wait to get started this year, so he planted our tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse a day or so earlier than our “April 1 to 15” window — but you’ll be right on time if you’re thinking of starting things now!

Here’s what the inside of our greenhouse looks like. Yeah, that’s a lot of tomatoes and peppers! And this isn’t all. There’s more pots on the opposite side of the greenhouse.

Tomatoes and peppers galore.
Love those craft sticks aka tongue depressors. This is a batch of San Marzano seeds, plus pansies waiting to go in the ground.
Some things get started all on their own. This is Miner’s Lettuce, luxuriating in its pot on the back porch. That’s a blueberry bush in the center because — well, “intensive gardening.” No space goes to waste.
The other side of the greenhouse.

 

 

We’re at 5,500 feet on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra, so these dates are for our Zone 6 climate. That means we can expect our last frost between June 1-10 — the legendary “Mother’s Day Snow” is alive and well, here! But wherever you are, I hope this list will give you some ideas for your own garden this year.

Rick’s Garden Calendar:

Spring: (Mar/Apr/May)
Mar. 14 – 31 – Plant onions in the garden.
Mar. 15 – 21 – The “week when everything changes”! Makes total sense, as March 21st is the Spring Equinox. Pansies can be planted any time between now and mid-May.
Mar. 25 – First leaves typically appear on our aspen trees.
Mar. 15 – 31 – Time to clean out flower beds. Lawns will be mostly green by now, and ornamental willow trees will have a “green haze” at the top.
Mar. 22 – 30 – Start flower seeds in the greenhouse: bachelor button, coreopsis; snapdragon; marigolds; Chinese forget-me-nots; bluebells; larkspur.
Mar. 20 – April 20 – Keep an eye on the asparagus! You’ll be able to harvest fresh shoots now.
End of March – Expect lots of wind, even some snow flurries.
April 1 – Lilacs have nearly-open buds and the first green leaves will begin to appear on the aspens. The entire month of April tends to be cold, windy, rainy, cloudy, and it may even snow 2-3 times. In between those episodes, however, it will be sunnier (if still cold). Trees are starting to come out.
April 1 – 15 – Plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse.
April 21 – 26 – The weather is gorgeous, but unpredictable! End-of-April snowstorms are still possible.
May runs 40 to 70 degrees. Lawns will be green!
May 7 – 14 – Leaves start appearing on the grapevines.
May 25 – The “perfect flower week,” when our columbine and other flowers are at their showy peak.
May 31 – Count on our annual “Memorial Day Snow” sometime near the end of May.

Summer: (June/July/Aug)
June 21 – Summer Solstice.
July 8 – 23 – Time to begin saving columbine, lupine, and other flower seeds for next year.
July 8 – Freeze basil and cilantro.
July 12 – Aug 15 – Pick currants.
July 27 – Aug 18 – First tomatoes are ready for eating! And pick the peaches!
Aug. 6 – Trim dead blooms from columbine and giant lupine, leaving only the still-green leaves.
Aug. 15 – Nights are getting cooler.
Aug. 15 – 31 – Time to put up tomatoes. Save seeds from dried snow pea pods.

Fall: (Sept/Oct/Nov)
Late Aug – Sept 10 – Pick grapes; finish up last of the tomatoes. Apples will be looking tempting but it’s still too early for Jonathan and Gala varieties to be fully ripe.
Sept 9 – Aspens are beginning to turn; the sun is just starting to come up at 6:30 a.m.
Sept 21 – Fall Equinox.
Sept 23 – It’s getting cold enough to start a fire. Time to finish gathering the last of the seeds and begin thinking about next year’s garden.

From Rick’s book, “Gardening the High Sierra“:

Gardening the High Sierra by Rick Dustman, available on Amazon.

Spring Is Around Here Somewhere

The official start to Spring is — oh, next week, according to my calendar. March 20, to be precise. For gardeners like my husband, planting hopes spring eternal and start to ramp up the day after Christmas.

But calendars lie.

Gardeners’ hopes spring eternal. These seeds are languishing in our garage already.

Right after that purported grand debut of Spring comes Easter, a warm-sounding holiday which falls appropriately enough on April Fool’s Day this year. No doubt to remind us here in the High Sierra that only fools start thinking “planting time” is truly here by then.

It’s followed a few weeks later by Earth Day, April 22, by which time we ought to be getting warm enough to throw a few seeds in the ground, shouldn’t we? Well, that’s followed by May 3, National Day of Prayer, a helpful occasion if you’re thinking of asking a bit of Divine Intervention on those planting plans, just in case.

But today, just three short days away from the Official Spring,  is — well . . . .

Our “view” of the Valley says it all.
A grand day for reading seed catalogs and dreaming.

Grapes

Our journey into vineyard-dom began just a week ago. A dozen baby grapevines finally made it out of the greenhouse and into the soil. And boy, were they ready!

Just planted.

So were the bunny rabbits, unfortunately. Most of the lower leaves disappeared that very first night as bunny salad. A quick trip to the hardware store for rabbit fence put an end to the Chez Cottontail Deli. But losing so many tender sprouts was depressing nonetheless.

Tendrils already hanging on.

Fast-forward just one week to more encouraging news: several of the newly-planted twigs have already grown an amazing six inches and managed to wrap their tendrils neatly around the horizontal wire! One week. Go figure!

Pretty soon we’ll have grapes in earnest, as we already do in the mature arbor. Bunnies, eat your heart out.

Mature Himrod vine

High Mountain Gardening

When gardening is an addiction, no expanse of perfectly-manicured green lawn is ever large enough. Yet another reason for expanding the greenbelt:  fresh edges for new flower beds.

The organized gardener’s dream.

As you can see, projects like this call for certain must-have gardening equipment. A mini-tiller to make short work of digging trenches. A handy roll-around metal tool tray to keep those sprinkler parts organized and at waist height (no bending over). A quad, of course (doesn’t every high mountain garden need one?) with its own dump-style trailer to haul away the rocks.

How many tools does it take to add a sprinkler run?

Soon we will have yet another beautiful swath of emerald-green lawn, edged in glorious flowers.

Thank heavens for the ride-on lawnmower.