Few things are more rewarding (and delicious!) than walking out to your backyard vegetable garden and picking that first ripe tomato off the bush. If you’re like me, you might not be able to wait and you’ll take that first, amazing bite right there, under the summer sun. As rewarding as it is to grow and harvest your own food right from your backyard, it can be equally frustrating to pour your sweat and tears into a garden, only to have it not produce.
As many of us have experienced, Utah can be a difficult climate for some would-be gardeners to have success. This doesn’t have to be the case; choosing the right plants can make a huge difference in your harvest. While we are never going to grow avocados or pineapples here in Utah, the climate we have is perfect for apples, cherries, and many other fruits and vegetables. With a little perseverance, even more plants can be grown successfully.
One way to know what plants grow well is to buy locally. Nurseries typically only sell plants that will survive in their local climates. Some plants can be planted a few weeks earlier if they are protected at night with plastic, newspaper, burlap, or other materials to protect them against cold and frost. Several varieties of the hardy vegetables that can be planted as early as mid March in typical years include artichokes, asparagus, onions, rhubarb, broccoli, peas, spinach, cabbage, radishes and turnips. A couple of weeks later, you may also plant beets, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, parsley, cauliflower, parsnips, and chard. Around the middle of May or so, when the threat of freezing has passed, you may plant celery, cucumbers, squash, corn, snap beans, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, eggplants, and pretty much anything else you can find in the nurseries.
Fruit trees are more challenging to grow than vegetable plants in Utah, mainly because of their more temperamental natures and the length of time before they begin to produce. Fruit trees require the appropriate balance of water, food, sun and ventilation to grow healthy and build resistance against diseases and pests. Careful clean up of debris around trees and proper pruning will help prevent diseases. Treating diseases and pests early upon discovery will help you prevent larger problems later and avoid the overuse of chemicals.
The planting area should have at least a half a day of sun and be protected from the wind. The soil should have reasonable drainage. If you have animals, young children, or wild deer nearby, young trees need to be protected with cages, or fences. Active dogs and children can snap a young tree. Deer and other animals love to nibble on the bark and the tender leaves. A tree that you have taken years to nurture can be destroyed in moments without proper protection.
If you have a small area for fruit trees, you may want to consider trees that have more than one variety grafted on to the same tree. There are apple trees that grow several types of apples. Some pit trees can grow peaches and apricots. Remember, some varieties need pollination, which may require planting two different varieties of trees. Talking with someone at your local nursery will help you choose the varieties that will best meet your needs.