Site Selection

Many avid gardeners can hardly wait for spring and just can’t help thinking about gardening. If you are planning a new garden, site selection is an important component for success.  Plants, particularly vegetables, need a certain amount of sun, good drainage, loose soil, protection from wind and water.

Factors to consider when selecting a garden site include topography, exposure and soil. Average high and low temperatures vary around northern Nevada and can greatly impact gardening success. In town, the average last frost date is May 15 and the average first frost date is September 15. In colder areas, the last frost may come in June. To complicate design decisions, each yard has microclimates – areas where temperatures may be higher and lower than the rest of the yard or the surrounding neighborhood. Good draining soil rich in organic matter is critical for growing vegetables because healthy soils grow healthy productive plants.

Although most gardens tend to be located on flat sites, a flat site isn’t necessary. Flat areas can be easier to design and work than a hillside or low area. Low areas have a tendency to be colder, because cool air sinks. They generally have later and earlier frosts than nearby sloped areas. Advantages to planting in a low area are less wind, soil may stay wetter and the soil may be richer.

Hilltop gardens have great air circulation. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on the strength of the wind. Strong winds can damage plants, erode soil and wick out soil moisture. Water will drain away more readily which is good for air circulation, but makes it harder to water. Soil may be thinner up higher. Gardens placed on slopes, particularly a south-facing slope, are often protected from cold air, may have a longer growing season and may be less prone to frost. Fruit may not freeze early in the year. Sloped areas generally drain well. Many of the challenges, such as erosion and thinner soil, that a hilltop area has, also apply to a sloped area. Additionally, you may need to build terraces on a slope to keep water from running off too quickly.

The amount of light an area receives will limit the vegetables that can grow there. For example, tomatoes will survive with six hours of sunlight per day and produce some fruit, but eight to twelve hours will greatly increase yields. However, if you prune tomato foliage exposing fruit, all those long hours of intense northern Nevada sunlight can burn the fruit. Some plants, such as lettuce, grow better with less sun and less heat.

Selecting a good site is the first step towards a successful vegetable garden.