I’ve heard it said that successful high elevation gardening is “all about timing.” That’s important, but it’s also about careful selection of what will be grown.
Timing the planting is extremely important, and can make the difference between success or failure. Most of my plants are started as seedlings indoors under lights. I’m careful not to plant them too soon or too late. Too soon, and they will be too lanky or large to be healthy. Too late, and there may not be enough time for them to be harvestable before it’s too late. Some things appreciate the cooler fall weather and can be started outside in the beds, but again, timing is important and they can’t be started too late. We don’t get two plantings of things that are often planted for both spring and fall, unless they are planted in different locations. Save some beds for fall planting, and you may get the most use out of the available space.
Only the cold tolerant things may be planted outside prior to mid-June, and even then, having a way to cover them in a hurry is prudent. It’s very tempting to try to plant outdoors prior to this time, because many days are beautiful, warm, t-shirt weather. But the cold and snow may still come!
Choosing the best varieties is important for success as well. We have about a 90-day season here, so I’m careful to select varieties with the shortest days to harvest, and if they are typically grown in warmer climates, I choose varieties that indicate “cold-hardy” or other similar language. The tomatoes I’ve chosen are all in the 55-65 day range. The corn I’m trying is 55-70 days. I’m growing Yukon Chief corn, developed in Alaska. The description states, “Yukon Chief sweet Corn is cold-resisitent and early maturing making it a perfect for colder mountain or coastal climates.” These are the kinds of things I look for. I buy most of my seeds online, where I can find the greatest varieties available. As time goes on, I will try to save my own seeds, choosing the plants that are the healthiest and ready for harvest first in the season.
Another thing I keep in mind when selecting perennials is the Climate Zone. This can be confusing! There are different resources and different zone maps. If I plug my zip code into a zone-finder, it will be wrong. Some websites will ask you to enter your zip code to help find varieties for your area. These do not work. My zip code brings up Zone 5a. More accurately we might be a 4a, but to be on the safe side, most of my perennials are hardy to Zone 3. It really does get that cold here sometimes.
These are some of the things to keep in mind when planning and planting, and will help bring success.