Gardening 101

aaanckOctober 18, 2006

This looks to be a forum of experienced gardeners, but I am hoping to get some general information on yardcare and gardening in Utah. I just moved to Salt Lake City so I know nothing about the climate. Also I am a beginner to gardening but would like to get more involved as I have a beautiful yard with many flowers and some vegetables. Having lived in Texas and California most recently, I was suprised to see what are usually summer vegetables still being picked in October! Can anyone offer some guidelines on planting, fertilizing, watering, lawncare, vegetables for the SLC area? Again, my apologies for being a rookie. Also, are there any good gardening books specific to the region or nurseries in the area? Thanks.

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stevation(z5a Utah)

I could give you more later (I'm at work right now), but you should check out USU's Extension service, which has a lot of useful information for Utah gardeners. It's hard to find everything on their site, but they have publications ranging from weekly pest spraying alerts for fruit trees in the summer, to weed identification, to tree selection, and all kinds of stuff.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2006 at 5:00PM
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The first bit of advice I'd give you is to be careful about the advice you get on lawn watering. Although we live in the desert, one of the biggest problems most lawns around here has is too much water. From what I've observed, most people here water too much and too often. When I first bought my house, I was watering three times a week (some of my neighbors were watering twice a day). I now water only once a week (if it rains, I usually skip or at least delay a watering cycle). I try to water deeply and infrequently so the grass gets long roots. I also cut my grass tall and mulch mow. These three practices together reduce the need for water and fertilizer and also limit weeds without the need for weed killers.

Most of the soil along the wasatch front is heavy clay, with little organic matter. Because of that, you may not be able to water enough at first to get it deep enough to water only once a week (it doesn't soak in very well).

Much of the soil is also pretty alkaline, so some plants get iron chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins). You can treat that short term by spraying water soluble iron on the leaves, but do that only when it is cool because it can burn the leaves. You can add chelated iron to plants that are chloroitic, but that's a short term fix, and EDTA chelates don't do as well as EDDHA (which you may have trouble finding). A longer term fix is soil sulfur. Another thing that will help is adding more organic matter.

Although you want to add organic matter, I stay away from things like cow manure, because soil salinity can be a problem in arid climates, and it it exacerbated by irrigation (and further exacerbated by overwatering).

If you were in CA and TX, I'll caution you to wait longer than you think you need before planting the garden (may be why you're seeing summer vegetables now). I usually wait until Mothers Day to plant my garden. Later than that if it's still snowing.

Other than those hints, I second the idea of going to the extension service.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2006 at 8:35PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Yeah, Mothers' Day is a good rule of thumb for spring planting in the valleys, but if you were up high, like Heber or Park City, you'd wait another month past that. Last spring I planted tomatoes on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and the next day produced a hail storm that froze them dead! (And I don't live up high -- I'm right on the bench overlooking Utah Valley). However, others who had planted earlier in the month had plants that were strong enough to endure the cold hail.

There are things that can be planted earlier, like peas, lettuce, and other cold-season veggies. Some flowers live through the winter and really come alive early in the spring, like pansies, wallflowers, and dianthus. I'm just planting some pansies this week. I used to hate those things (what kind of man plants a flower named pansy? Uggh!) but I'm trying them for the first time because I want some early season color next spring. Plus, I'm putting them over the tulip bulbs I recently planted, so they'll be a little cover under the tulips when they bloom.

- Steve

    Bookmark   October 19, 2006 at 4:58PM
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I just wanted to chime in and say please don't feel like this is a forum of "experienced gardeners". Most of us, whatever our experience, learn constantly from each other on forums such as this. And most of us are "experts" only on what we grow in our own yards! It's often the questions from those that are just learning that bring out the best discussions and resulting information that benefits all of us. So ask away! :-)

    Bookmark   October 19, 2006 at 5:19PM
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Thanks for the good advise. I appreciate your comments. Keep them coming!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2006 at 6:52PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

As far as garden books, I've always gotten a lot of use out of the Sunset Western Garden Book, which is pretty much an encyclopedia on all the plants you can grow in the West. There's also a companion called Sunset Western Landscaping, which is cool if you need some ideas for new or revamped landscaping. One caution -- Sunset created their own climate zones to add more detail than the USDA zones, so while we're a USDA zone 6 along much of the Wasatch Front, Sunset says we're a 3a or 3b (can't remember which). It's not that Sunset thinks we're colder -- it's just a different scale they use.

Also, a few years ago some local people wrote a book called Temple Square Gardening, which is pretty good on describing technique for creating flowerbeds. It's available at Deseret Book. I think you gotta love the flowers at Temple Square and all around the church office building. I took this photo of tulips in the wind there a few springs ago:

There are other great public gardens, too. I've never been to Red Butte Garden, but I hear it's nice. You should check it out. I have been to the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy's demonstration gardens, and I really like them. They created a wonderful public garden to show people how you can save water and still have beautiful flowers, shrubs, grasses, and trees. You can see more about them on the web at:

One of the coolest pages on their site is From there, click each of the garden areas on their little map graphic, and you can learn more about each type of garden, including a PDF file that describes how to create it in more detail.

If you go visit their site real soon, there might still be good stuff to see before winter.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 11:49PM
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songbirdmommy(UT 5)

This forum is for ANYONE who is interested in gardening... from someone who has lived in the big city their whole life and never has seem a real earthworm and does not know the difference between a pansy and a petunia.... to the person who has had their hands in the dirt their entire life and can identify every part on a plant and tell you what the scientific name as well as the common name for that plant.

We all live in this great state and many of us are transplants from other places... which would make us beginners to HERE too.
We are here to share and learn from each other.

I tell my kids all the time, the only dumb question is the question not asked.... there are NO dumb questions!

I love irises, but I, an experienced gardener, feel intimidated when I go on the iris forum.
They all sound stuffy, and not too friendly to someone who just loves irises and doesn't give a hoot about the technical name.
I would feel bad if anyone came to this site to have a question answered and got a rude response like I have seen in other forums here.
I hope that I(or any of us) would be able to answer anyone questions with courtesy and friendly advise... or point you in the right direction and let everyone know Utah forum..... This is the place!

I apperciate that everyone is really friendly and I have felt welcomed here.
Thanks everyone! (((((( SMILE)))))))

    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 2:15PM
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dsidwell(UT 5)

As you go to nurseries, really ask questions. Many nurseries sell blueberries, for instance, and even if you dig a $100 hole, a blueberry bush, or any other acid soil loving plant, is just not going to do well.

For non-vegetable gardening, natives and native cultivars are a wonderful choice, and many nurseries are now carrying these because of public outcry (yes, even I have written angry letters to local nurseries who only sell plants that would do well in Kentucky).

As has been indicated above, it gets cold here. I'm up near Logan, which is borderline zone 4 and 5 (for the last few years, a clear zone 5). In Salt Lake City, you are very safe planting zone 5 plants, and can perhaps even cheat and plant some zone 6 plants if the site is right.

Utah usually gets less than 15 inches of rain per year, too. so drought tolerant plants are worth planting! One comment above gave some excellent advice on lawn watering that I also follow with great success. You can also find more drought tolerant species of lawn grass if you do just a little research.

Utah is a great place to live and garden! We have all four seasons, and they usually come on pretty strong. Enjoy your time here!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 1:58PM
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"You can also find more drought tolerant species of lawn grass if you do just a little research."

I'll suggest a couple of them. If you're in an area that is warm enough long enough, there's buffalo grass and blue grama.

If you prefer cool season grasses, there's western wheatgrass and streambank wheatgrass (both natives), or crested wheatgrass (imported from Siberia).

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 8:15PM
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I live in cedar valley nd have fairly acidic soil, 5.0-6.5 according to my handy dandy home depot soil testing probe, and am wondering exactly how acidic blueberries need the soil to be to do well. Also, does anyone know of any varieties that do well in the utah county?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 10:49PM
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songbirdmommy(UT 5)

IF your soil probe is correct, you have got Washington State soil. That is where I used to live, and miss the richness of the soil up there.
Blackberries were a thorn in any gardeners side... sometimes literally, most of the time just through the leather gloves!
They love the acidic soils, as do Rhodies & azaleas.
anywhooo... Where I lived, there were several professional blueberry farms nearby and my Ph, was just about the same as yours. If I was you, I would double check the Ph, and if it is correct...........blueberry muffins, pancakes, cobbler, oh list goes on and on, and send me some of your soil!!!!!
You are sooo lucky!

Of course when I lived there, I just wanted to try to get my soil as neutral as possible. Never happened.
Never the less, I managed to grow some wonderful things in my garden and yard.
Lawn was a different story.
Now that I am here, I am trying to do the same thing, atleast here in UT, I do not have to put a cover over the top of my compost pile to keep it from being drenched 24/7!
and... "Moss" is not the color of the roof tops 9 months out of the year here! LOL

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 3:29PM
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