High Desert Gardening (Elevation:  4,200’)



Don’t believe everything you hear about things that will NOT grow in the high desert. We have grown a variety of things that we were told could not grow. If we had listened to the people who told us what we could not grow, we would not even have a garden because we were told that hardly anything grows in this area (Sprague River, OR). At the end of this article is a list of fruits and vegetables that we have grown successfully, along with planting tips.


Planning what you want to grow is the first step in a successful garden. After you have chosen your garden mix, it is time to decide how big you want the garden to be. Next, get a rototiller and work the ground really good. After that, you will need to put fertilizer on it. We use horse manure, sometimes goat, and cow manure. Cow and goat manure work the best because you won’t end up with a bunch of weeds in your garden. I won’t go into why because then this would really be lengthy. After you have worked the ground really good and put the manure on it, you get to work it again. Till the ground really good with the manure on it so you have a good mix. In preparation for the following year, you can put more manure on the garden in the fall and let it rest all winter. 


Next, you will need to stake out the rows. Drive a stake at the ends of each row. You want your rows to be straight, so use a string line. We usually put our stakes about 3’ apart. This allows room to maneuver between the rows to do the weeding. This distance also gives the plants room to grow. You will need to read on each package about the depth, seed spacing, and when to plant. I don’t plant until the last week of May, to keep everything from freezing.


We have found that planting in furrows, or trenches, works the best. The trenches are at least 6” deep. We plant the seeds in them and then for the first 3 to 5 days, we lightly spray them with the garden hose so as not to disturb the seeds. After that time we just hold the hose at the start of the trench with a light flow of water running until the whole trench is damp. As the plants grow, you can increase the flow of water. We water in the evening so the water has the whole night to soak into the ground and into the roots of the plants.


Planting in trenches cuts down on the weeds that grow between the rows because you are just watering where you need to. You are also saving on water because you are not watering areas that do not need it. We also have small birds that come to drink and bathe in the trenches when I am watering so this helps them out, and they do not bother the plants. 


Before we started planting in trenches, we had weeds growing everywhere, and the plants did not grow as well. Also, if we tried to harvest anything in the daytime we would have a lot of bees to contend with. Now we do not have this problem.


Well I hope this has helped at least one person, and I hope you enjoy your garden as much as we enjoy ours. Here is the list of fruits and veggies that I promised you: 


Successful planting without a greenhouse:


Plant in trenches










Dill Weed

Sweet Basil  (great for indigestion problems)


Swiss Chard


Plant in hills



Squash  (different kinds of squash)

Crooke Necks



Plant in small round trenches







© 2008, Penny Jarvis


30 Responses to “High Desert Gardening”

  1. ppjg Says:


    I use to do what is called companion gardening but have long since lost my notes on planting in this manner. Do you have anything on that?


  2. db Says:

    We are seriously considering relocating to Lassen County in California and i have been gathering information on crops to grow for ‘high desert gardening.’ Since I love tomatoes my research seems to be pointing in the direction of the darker skinned varieties of tomato some called ‘black tomatoes’ or ‘russian tomatoes’ for altitude gardeners and I am wondering if you have tried any of these newer varieties as shown at http://www.gourmetseed.com/green_tomato_seed.0.html biologically it makes sense that these tomatoes would have darker skins than their lower altitude and more mediterranean cousins would be so that they might gather more sun energy and demonstrated a shorter period of time from seed to ripened fruit, in this case 70 to 76 days! Also, having read of other’s travels to the Caucasus/Siberia/Russia they do grow their own local varieties of tomatoes which came as news to me when I first read of it!

    1. Dianna Perkins Says:

      The local onestop in Westwood has garden classes on tues in the summer here in Lassen county. they recomend hoops or other covers for all tomatoes.and heat loving plants last snow was June 5th first frost in sept. Dianna P

  3. Cheryl Ann Says:

    HA! Now I know what to do with all my horse manure! Thanks for sharing!

  4. yuccakev Says:

    I want to grow orange trees up here. (Yucca Valley-high desert 3500ft.) I see they grow well in Palm Springs and San Bernardino. What do I have to do? The soil is caliche clay and water runs right thru it. It will get cold here in winter (low 30’s-mid 20’s) and we will get snow 1-2 times/yr.

    Any advise?

  5. Greg Stanko Says:

    To ppjg re: companion planting. An excellent book on this subject was written by Anna Carr called “Good neighbors: Companion palnting for gardeners”, published by Rodale press. This is the most extensive book I have seen on the subject. Get a used hardback copy from Amazon for $1.14 as of yesterday.

  6. mf Says:

    Hello….I am so excited to see that there are other high desert dwellers. I live in the high deserts of california at elevation of 5,500. I started a vegetable garden and I currently have tomatoes, corn, zuccini, beans, yellow squash. I am using large containers..the kind you would use to place at a party with tons of ice and soda in. I am watering from bottom up. There is a space below with lots of broken up used plastic a screen covering it and then dirt on top of it. I started my seedlings indoors in my southern window during the spring…April & May. Planted them outdoors when the weather would reach up to 80 during the day and not drop below 50 at night. It appears to be successful so far. I’m also going to raise “red” worms to help enrich the soil and eat my garbage. You are welcome to email me. I am still learning to live in this area. I have lived in this place almost 4 years.

    Take care,

  7. jolena shea Says:

    I’m going to move to Hesperia this month and I really love my roses and fruit trees here in Los Angeles do you think I can have the same up there??

    1. You are in the high desert, at a slightly less elevation than I am, which means a longer, warmer growing season.

      Here are the weather statistics:


      From this, it looks like the average is NO SNOW! And, the lows look to be in the high 30’s. Excellent! I would love to have those conditions here.

      Here is a site I ran across for growing apples in SoCal:


      Lots of good info.

      Here is another link that goes into all sorts of tips for growing fruits and veggies in that area:


      I don’t know why you couldn’t grow roses there, we can here, but the deer get them rather quickly.

      Since it is high desert, I would condition the soil, beware of frost, and protect any young plants from freezing.

    2. Patti Says:

      I have lived in Denver (5280′) and now in northern AZ in the high desert at 5100′. I have grown roses successfully in both locations. If you’re concerned about hard & prolonged winter freezes, you might try mulching the crown. Some of my neighbors did this although I didn’t. Look for roses that say they’re hardy in your climate zone. Good luck!

    3. Nora Nanni Says:

      I live in Phelan, and we do get snow (so does Hesperia…which is just down the street from my town) and can get down to 22 degrees at night for many days in a row (two winters ago we even had three feet of snow fall in one night, with temperatures below 20 degrees at night for several days). So growing can be tricky, especially citrus (I overwinter my dwarf citrus in a really big pot in a sunny area of my enclosed garage). But there are fruit trees that I have found to do well: cherry, apricot, apple, peach, plum, and even Brown Turkey Fig. These are in ground, no overwintering required. Hard frosts can reach in to the end of April, so any flowers on your apricots, and even the baby fruit themselves, can be lost unless you use frost blankets. The other fruit trees may lose some flowers from the frosts, but have generally not produced any fruit by that time (in fact, the longer the trees are around, the more they seem to acclimate and delay flower and fruit production until things warm up a bit…my cherry trees have delayed blooming this year and last year…I do not anticipate seeing any flowers until very late April, although when I first planted them several years ago they flowered in late March). Do beware of desert hares if you grow almond trees (they like to eat the bark off the trunk at the bottom of the tree). But they seem to leave all the other trees alone…

      1. CT Says:

        I idon’t know if you are still gardening but thought I would try and contact you.
        Getting started gardening in Prescott Az and hearing a lot of negative talk. But I want to try some fruit trees like you have.

        Are you still successful?
        Tim in Prescott

        1. Hi CT, I don’t have fruit trees. The closest I come to real fruit in the garden are the raspberries, and they took some doing to get started. That is because of my soil. It is taking years to build up. I would consider the soil first and foremost. Found some info for you: http://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/archive/chillingreq.html

  8. I need some advice about growing fruits and veggies in Agua Dulce, CA zone 8-9 – it gets very hot in the summer and I’m worried about the plants getting burned by the sun. Any advice on types of food plants to grow here would be appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Hi spiritofvenice,

      Here is a link to an online growing guide at Heirloom Organics, of which I am an affiliate. http://www.heirloom-organics.com/guide/organicgrowingguides.html. If you need any seeds, please support my sites by clicking on the Heirloom Organics link at http://farmwars.info if you decide to purchase them from the company. Thanks!

  9. Tiffany Says:

    I am planting a garden with my 5 children…trying to show them what we can do with a lil work. We are planting Artichokes, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, carrots, cilantro, basil, dill, yellow, red and green onions and a variety of hot peppers. Have you grown any of these up here, or heard if they will grow? I live in Hesperia and am hoping to have some success…my kids are so excited!

    1. Hi Tiffany,

      Where I am near K. Falls, I have had success with cabbage, dill, basil, carrots, onions, beets, spinach, lettuce, zucchini (if I protect it from night time freezes), radishes, peas, turnips, and swiss chard. The neighbors tried watermelon and cantelope with no real success, but they didn’t cover them at night.

  10. Mo Says:

    I am very excited on all these helpful comments about gardening. I just bought a beautiful home with 1+ acre lot. Instead of rent it, I am thinking to move there. Living in Los Angeles I did not have any idea if any vegetable grows in Hesperia. Thanks a lot.

  11. seema Says:

    hi i live in Palmdale california wheather is weired hre i like to gro the vagitable garden i try before some of my plant gro good like tomato patato turnip and carrot but other plants get dai what can i do to grow healthy garden here

  12. Sue Says:

    Hello! In December I moved to Independence Ca (in the Owens Valley of the eastern sierra). My little rental house has lots of large basic shrubbery such as lilacs and pyracantha around the edges and several trees including a wonderful old sycamore that gives me dappled shade all afternoon. The rest was sand, waiting to be planted with flowers and veges. In February, during a short warm spell, I seeded a few pounds of wildflower seed and covered them with fabric cloth to keep out all the birds I was feeding. They started blooming in April about the time I planted potatoes, covering them thickly with straw as we were still in the 30s at night. Lettuce and spinach also went in, as did the sweet pea seedlings I had started in February. June 2nd, my first sweet peas bloomed, most likely due to the long cool spring we enjoyed (neighbors tell me they have never been able to grow these fragrant beauties). I ate my first tomato this morning; corn, peppers and beans are growing, as are several melon and squash plants. I am truly pleased, so far, with my success in this new environment with very sandy soil.

    Who has had success with fall planting of peas and other veges in the high desert? And seeding wildflowers?

  13. Amy Says:

    Roses grow beautifully in the high desert. Just drive around Hesperia, CA to find out. Citrus does not grow in the high deserts that have freezing temperatures like Hesperia. Our citrus and avocado will not fruit due to our normal below or at 32 degree weather in the winter. We frequently have temperatures below 32 degrees in the winter. I do not know of anyone in the Victor Valley that has successfully fruited citrus or avocado. Otherwise, anything is possible with enough sunlight, water and good soil. Treating your soil is easy enough, water will cost you but the sunlight in Hesperia is bountiful and free! I have had much success with tomatoes, hot peppers, squash and more. When in doubt, give it a try!

    1. Nora Nanni Says:

      I am growing dwarf citrus in big pots, and making my poor husband haul them into the garage at nights when we expect freezing temperatures…the lemons are worth the effort, and I will eventually put wheeled stands under the pots so I can move the pots myself. I live in Phelan, so I imagine if it works here, it can work in Hesperia too. The only tree I have not had luck with is my Genoa Fig, although my Brown turkey Fig is happy here…

  14. Paige Says:

    We just moved out to Beatty, OR and this post is quite helpful. We have a lot of space at an elevation of 4,900 and bordering national forest, which is wonderful but I know it’s going to be a lot of work to garden. I’m also really glad to see that there are some like minded people in the area!

  15. Dawn Says:

    I can’t grow anything in the ground because of the ground squirrels. They (and a cute little bunny) eat everything. Does anyone know how to keep them from eating my plants? The only solution I have is to container garden. I’d much rather plant in the ground.

    1. Dawn, We have the same problem. This year the only things that we have going on outside are zucchini, raspberries and onions. We are losing zucchini right and left, the roots being eaten right off. I’m going to try something like this: http://www.ehow.com/how_7744996_keep-only-animals-can-hear.html. Not a pesticide or raised beds, but high frequency sound.

  16. ci ci Says:

    I bought a house recently in Yucca Valley ca (high desert about 2500 ft.) i have been in a compulsory gardening frenzy. I just bought & planted zucchini & cucmber starts in a planter made from tires. Am i nuts to expect them, mid-septi to live much less grow into vegetable bearing plants? also propigating from seed beets, parsley, & mustard (mustard sprouted after 2 days!) using bunny poop & bat guanno.

  17. Jeanne Says:

    Thank you, very new info…this is in Portland, or?

    All of us becoming farmers and barterring. Jesus is my Father, and I can’t wait to have.my own chickens, and just thank God I wake up to all the beauty.

    Does watering at night cause mold?t

  18. Nena Says:

    I am going with the worm route, worm castings are great. I will tilled my garden and firtilize again. I am just waiting for the last frost usually in March to make its final stand. Then its hot wire the bottom of the fence, till and plant. Cant wait to see how and what I an get to grow up here in Appl Valley. I live in the north east orner and this lil valley of ours seems to have a Climent of its own.

  19. Hi Penny! Now I don’t know, I could be guessing here but my fiancé and I just bought 3 acres up on Kootenia, when I looked on Google Earth I saw a garden just like yours, it was to the south of our place. Could it be?! Well you are doin brilliantly if so. We are higher up and dealing with a lot more rock (evently when we build our home and garden) BUT I also believe it is completely doable with the knowledge and preparation. I’ve been reading a bit about high altitude gardening and things like selecting veggies that mature quicker, using some good ol’ cow manure in the soil and using straw to help keep temperatures in and soil from drying out. Anywho! It’s great to see that you garden is thriving :D Well done!!!!

    P.S My Nan’s from Lake Como Italy and she said theres no way I’d be able to grow anything out by Sprague, I say ‘I love you Nan but that’s hogwash’ ;)

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