Prolonged Cold Seasons, Challenges & Opportunities
Gardening in the Intermountain West can be challenging due to our region's unique climate and geography.
We are grateful for the moisture, 2.74 inches in Boise this March (2023), and on the high end in parts of Northern Idaho, as well as Salt Lake, Utah, according to Weather.gov, but dealing with prolonged cold wet seasons can present some challenges!
- Soil saturation: Prolonged wet periods can lead to more soil saturation than we know what to do with, which can cause root rot and other problems for plants. The majority of growable land in the Treasure Valley is clay, and a lot of moisture can lead to these complications. Our region has many different soil types. You can find some interesting information on Idaho Soil Health, put together by the Natural Resources Conservation Council on USDA.gov. On this resourceful page you'll find a rather interesting study, farmers were given a unique challenge to see how much microbial activity was going on in their soil. The challenge was called "Soil Your Undies."
- Delayed planting: Cold and wet weather can delay planting, which can reduce the length of the growing season.
- Fungal diseases: Wet weather can increase the risk of fungal diseases in plants, which can cause a range of problems from leaf spots to root rot.
- Cooler temperatures: As soil temperatures stay low hot crops will slow in their maturity–though peppers and tomatoes are often started indoors, greenhouses, cold frames, or hothouses. Prolonged cool temperatures through May and June can delay the amount of time it takes for warm-season crops to mature. If temperatures dramatically rise in June, as they have these past two seasons, plants can get stressed out by the sudden change.
- Plant cold-tolerant crops: Gardeners can choose to plant crops that are more tolerant of cold and wet conditions, such as broccoli, kale, lettuce, mustards, spinach, and other leafy greens. Peas adore these conditions! Root veggies such as carrots, radishes, and beets can be planted now, ideally, in well-draining soil, see below.
- Use raised beds: Raised beds can help to improve drainage and prevent soil saturation, which can reduce the risk of root rot and other problems.
- Choose well-draining soil: Gardeners can improve soil drainage by using well-draining soil and avoiding low-lying areas that tend to collect water. Amendments can be added to soil if needed, several good options are outlined in this article from TheSpruce.com. We’re huge fans of compost and other adaptive strategies outlined in this earlier blog post from us.
- Provide protection: Gardeners can provide protection for their plants by using row covers, cold frames, or other structures that can help to shield them from cold and wet weather.
- Rotate crops: Rotating crops can help to reduce the risk of soil-borne diseases and pests that can thrive in wet conditions.
- Improve soil fertility: Improving soil fertility can help to strengthen plants and improve their ability to resist diseases and other problems. Adding organic matter to the soil can also improve drainage and reduce soil compaction.
Mulch: Using a layer of straw, hay, or last season's leaves can help to retain the moisture we are getting right now, and offer newly planted seeds some protective insulation.
Overall, gardeners in the Intermountain West face unique challenges when dealing with prolonged cold and wet seasons. However, with the right strategies and techniques, it is possible to overcome these challenges and grow healthy and productive gardens!