How to Grow Vegetables in the High Desert

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A high desert can be thousands of feet above sea level.
A high desert can be thousands of feet above sea level. (Image: desert image by Carol Tomalty from Fotolia.com)

A high desert is a desert region located at high altitude, as opposed to one at sea level or several hundred feet above sea level. Most deserts are defined as having very little rainfall, but a high desert can have rain and snow. Even though a high desert experiences extremes in temperatures, it is possible to grow vegetables in this climate.

Things You'll Need

  • Hose
  • Rototiller
  • Cultivator
  • Shovel
  • Hoe
  • Compost
  • Mulch
  • Vegetable seeds

Locate an area of your garden that receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day, without being shaded by your house, other buildings or large trees. Make sure a source of irrigation, such as a hose, is accessible for watering.

Till the soil using a rototiller or cultivator for large areas or a shovel and hoe for small areas. Amend or fertilize the soil—since high desert soils can be low in nutrients like a lower altitude desert, although high deserts lose nutrients due to freezing temperatures and snowpack or heavy rains. Add an organic compost or mulch by mixing it with the soil.

Plant vegetable seeds directly in the garden after the last frost. Plant cool season vegetables in the spring like artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, leeks, lettuce, peas, radishes or spinach in late March or early April, and warmer season plants like beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant or peppers in May or June. Start seeds earlier indoors and then plant outside after all danger of frost has passed.

Water the garden thoroughly so that the water soaks in several inches. Continue watering every two to three days while the weather is mild, and water more frequently, even every day, once the weather becomes hot and dry.

Protect seedlings from wind by staking or placing wire cages around the plants. Place a 1-inch layer of mulch around the seedlings to help the soil retain moisture.

Tips & Warnings

  • Make sure all winter and spring snowfall has passed before starting your garden.
  • Do not plant slow-maturing vegetables, as the growing season is shorter in a high desert.

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