State by State Guide to Rocky Mountain Gardening

Discover the state-by-state challenges of Rocky Mountain gardening — from poor soils and high elevation to extreme temperature variation and short growing seasons.

| May 3, 2013

The Guide to Rocky Mountain Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2009) is a vegetable gardening book that addresses the unique growing conditions and challenges of the five states of the Rocky Mountain region. Authors Bob Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough include advice on everything from starting your garden from seed, to planning your garden with helpful space-saving techniques. Helpful charts will outline when to plant and when to harvest cool and warm season vegetables. The following excerpt comes from chapter one, “The Lay of the Land: Climate and Soils.”

You can buy this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Guide to Rocky Mountain Vegetable Gardening.

Of all the information that we will share with you in this book, the most important thing for you to know is the specific climate and soil type of your area. Our five-state area covers more than a half million square miles from the flats of the western Great Plains west beyond the alpine peaks of the Rockies. Wow! But what you’ll need to know to get started can be found in our state-by-state general discussions of the soils, precipitation, temperatures, and storms that will have an influence on your garden. Ours is a region of extremes, and gardening here can be a challenge. The most important issue is elevation, for elevation has the most significant impact on temperature, precipitation, and local weather conditions. Sometimes there’s as much as 30 to 40ºF of difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, and the intense sunlight can burn plant foliage and rapidly dry soil and leaves. Soils become thinner at higher elevations and hence are less suitable for vegetable gardens. You’ll quickly learn to amend and enrich your garden soil to be successful, but it’s important to know the type of soil in your garden to determine what additions may be needed.

Gardeners can expect about an 11°F reduction in temperature for every 3,300-foot increase in elevation. But even small differences in elevation can cause marked differences in growing conditions. For example, we used to live six miles south of Bozeman, Montana, where our garden was about 200 feet higher than Bozeman proper, yet our growing season was about a month shorter than that in town. Part of the reason was the heat sink effect (heat retaining effect) of towns, but another was the small difference in elevation.

We’ve included tables in the Appendix containing elevation, average length of the growing season, and the range in the length of the growing season of twelve cities for each state included in the Rocky Mountain region. The length of a growing season is based on the average number of days between the first and last frosts (that is, 32.5°F temperatures). Using these figures you can estimate the length of your garden’s growing season pretty closely.

Our extreme variability in growing season length is the result of the highly variable climatic conditions that make our gardens such a challenge. There may be multiple sets of data for the same town, depending upon whether the information was collected at the airport, in the town center, or at the local agricultural experiment station.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!