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and Growing Plants at High Altitude
Some things grow
with difficulty. Some things grow better... for a while. Some
things don't grow at all.
grew a garden one year. We live at 6000 ft, which is technically
too high for traditional gardening. Even so, some things still
grow amazingly well.
have an apple tree in our back yard. It grows very small apples,
that ripen in September. They are less than 2" around,
and not really usable for much other than novelty. The tree
only produces about 30 of them a year, so there is never enough
of the tiny things to make more than one small pot of applesauce.
people here grow very good crab apples, and turn them into
very good jelly. Chokecherries also grow well here, as do
a particular strain of wild raspberry. Currents survive and
thrive also. Many fruit bearing trees and bushes which SHOULD
survive here, do not.
found that in our garden, certain things grew very well -
Tomatoes never really got going well, but potatoes did quite
well. A surprise since they had done poorly in the previous
states we had lived in. In fact, all of the root crops we
planted grew and produced well, as did the Peas, and lettuce.
Spinach did not do so well.
people grow gardens here in a greenhouse. And people who have
greenhouses have big ones - they put them into old house foundations
and build a greenhouse roof over that. The problems with growing
things seem to be more a matter of soil and growing season
than of altitude in particular.
areas that are high altitude have poor soil. It may be sandy
clay, alkaline, or hard clay. Improving the soil can help,
but is not the total solution.
growing season is very short. You cannot really put anything
out until mid-June. And by mid-September, the garden is pretty
well finished. You can start a lot of plants indoors, but
some do not do well when hardened off and transplanted, so
it is not a solution for everything.
plants simply grow smaller at higher altitudes. If you take
a Texan Prickly Pear Cactus and transplant it to Wyoming,
it will grow. But it will grow much smaller. It tends to have
the same number of spines, but just grows small, like a little
wrestler built cactus. Many things are like that.
higher altitude areas are often desert, you really have to
water your garden. The problem with that is, in most deserts,
there are a tremendously high number of dormant seeds in the
soil, just waiting for their chance to grow at the least amount
of water. Those plants are genetically designed to grow rapidly
whenever water is present. A tumbleweed plant that may grow
no more than 2 ft tall in the wild will grow 8 to 10 feet
tall in a garden. And they grow VERY fast. One day you'll
go out and find a solid carpet of tumbleweed sprouts, so small
you cannot yet even grab them to weed properly. Two days later
they'll be big enough to grab, but there are so many of them
that getting them all is nearly impossible. They grow a long
taproot, which is very tough to pull within just a short time,
and the stalk goes woody pretty fast also. Even a small garden
plot can be very difficult to weed. And clearing it one year
won't help, because through the fall and winter, new seeds
blow in, and you start all over the next year.
last factor at higher altitudes is wind. It can be very difficult
to grow certain types of plants in high wind, especially those
that would need trellising. Trees need staked early on, and
still end up growing straight only as long as you stake them.
The lower trunk will end up straight, and the tops will have
a nice graceful curve away from the wind!
can interfere with pollination for certain types of trees,
shrubs, and flowers also. Because the wind blows so hard,
if the blossoms are delicate, such as apple blossoms, they
can be blown off before they are pollinated. We got a pretty
good crop from our crab apple tree, though the fruits were
spite of all that, gardening CAN be done. Many people in the
town I live in grow lovely irises, crocuses, and tulips in
the spring (ok, summer!), and there are some nice wildflowers
which can be transplanted in also. Others persistently plant
a few hardy crops and get a decent garden, earwigs and all.
You really have to be determined though, to grow anything
that produces enough to be worth the effort.
Editorial Comments throughout this site written by Laura Wheeler (with occasional sarcastic remarks by her son, David). Laura is a 10 year resident of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, where the altitude is greater than the population. Medicine Bow is at 6200+ ft above sea level, and boasts a total of 297 residents from the last census. Laura is an experienced technical, health and family writer.