Ready, Set, Grow?!

Greenhouse Season Extender | High Altitude Gardening

High altitude gardening is a challenge–to say the least. Just this weekend we had about a foot of snow and temperatures below freezing.

If you add the wind chill that means it is still mighty cold. Some of the plants and trees are budding.

In a few areas they are blooming, but if you are planning to do some high altitude gardening–you need to know some of the local secrets.

But first, some of the challenges…

High Altitude Gardening Challenges

  • Weird Weather – We’ve had snow in July and many figure waiting to gardent until June is best.
  • Surly Soil – Around here we have ample amounts of rocky soil that is definitely not garden friendly.
  • Chomping Critters – Ample numbers of bunnies, rodents, rabbits, gophers, etc., tell there friends to come eat!
  • Temperamental Temperatures – Need I say more?
  • Arid Altitude – Yep, it is dry up here.
  • Diggin’ Dogs – Neighborhood dogs on the loose like that cool soil and the critters burrowing underneath.

Okay, so that isn’t all the challenges I use as an excuse to not garden but it is a good start.

I am sure you have a few more that you can leave in the comments. Heh, heh, heh.

In the meantime, let’s talk about some work arounds.

Short Growing Season

GG has been a garden girl now and again, but around these parts it seems to be more trouble than it is worth.

Still, there are those who have lovely gardens around the valley.

Kathy Hogue’s wildflower garden is the talk of the town but so is the NSIA community garden areas near the Fawnskin Post Office, Miller Park and the Town Triangle.

How do they do it?

Lot’s of work!

BUT, GG has the inside scoop and will share a few secrets to help you to overcome the short growing season which most people consider to be from about mid-June through mid-September.

To overcome this, plants will need protection from frosts throughout each season so that if they face an untimely cold snap, they will be protected–especially when day-night temperature swings are extreme.

I remember one pal who created some deep garden beds which he then covered with black plastic and the plants did surprisingly well even in the snow!

Season Extenders

Season extender is the fancy term gardening fanatics use to describe the techniques and products that help extend your growing season.

They work by helping to keep plants warm during cooler weather. Some work best in the spring while others work best in the fall. Then there are those that are good for both the beginning and end of the growing season–GG likes those.


Around these parts, a few neighbors have greenhouses. You can make a nifty one with PVC pipe, plastic and clothesline pins or find commercially available ones in a wide range of sizes and price ranges.

Truth is that any old something or other that creates a layer between plant and the outside air will work to hold in heat and protect plants from the cold and frost.

Greenhouses come in an assorted materials such as glass, plastic, or fiberglass. They are popular around here for tomatoes but can be used to grow a variety of vegetables or flowers.

Placement depends on when you decide to grow since the winter and summer sun position varies.

In the summer, keep in mind that some sort of cooling option should be in place. Sometimes just opening the doors, windows or roof might be enough–otherwise you can kill things with the heat.

Garden Covers

While my pal used plastic and snow to insulate plants, there are more formal products available.

GG is a practical sort through and I remember one late snow where I just tossed sheets over the newly planted garden (this was July) to save them. It worked fine!

But some innovative folks who wanted to protect large numbers of plants developed some nifty row covers.

Usually made up of long pieces of fabric, they are placed directly over hoops above the plants to make a tunnel. These tunnels protect the plants from frost but also can be used to provide warmth and protection in other seasons.


Citrus growers have used electric, charcoal, propane, and oil heaters to prevent frost injury to their crops. These same heaters can be an option for the small town gardener as well.

Although, come to think of it, I don’t know how many of us Fawnskin Folks would actually bother since the wind and weather can be pretty daunting.

Daffodil | High Altitude Gardening


One of the odd strategies used is that of irrigation. Once coated with water, the ice-coated plants are protected to about 27°F or so.

If you’ve ever pondered this a while–like when the lake surface is releasing steam during the cold, non-sunny hours, you probably learned that water actually generates heat while it is in the process of turning to ice.

Now I’m sure there is a fancy term for this–but I don’t know it. If you do, put it in the comments for goodness sake!

Of course, this doesn’t seem too practical since there are a lot of rules around it.

For instance, the way I understand it, the sprinklers need to be turned on before the temperature drops below freezing and until the ice begins to melt the next day.

Of course, if there are consecutive nights of freezing temperatures, the soil will get saturated and then there may be damage the plant roots.


Okay, that is enough of that for now.

If you are thinking of growing a garden this season, you can start some seedlings indoors now by using small pots or egg cartons.

This can get things growing while you plan out where you might put that fancy growing area, get the soil amendments and other such paraphernalia like those girlish gardening gloves.

As for GG, I am still kickin’ back with Jack (the juvenile bald eagle)…but I’ll be back with the TOT on Thursday!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 and is filed under Gardening, High Altitude Living, Mountain Lake Resort.

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