Neal Weisenberger

Gardening in the Antelope Valley can be a challenge.

There are many other places with hotter summers. There are a lot of other places with colder winters. There are more places with less rainfall. There are many other places with a shorter growing season. There are many places with worse soil conditions than our local soil.

However, the combination of the weather and soil makes gardening in the Antelope Valley a real challenge. If you can grow vegetables or have a nice flower garden or landscape here in the Antelope Valley, you would be considered a great gardener in other places with more favorable conditions. If you have a great garden in the Antelope Valley, you would be a world-class gardener in better areas.

If we were living in Minnesota, we would think the teens were balmy; of course, Los Angeles believes the temperatures in the 50s are too cold. The challenge with the temperature in the Antelope Valley is due to the temperature fluctuations. There are only a few places that are as cold and as hot on the same day. We have had 60-degree temperature changes over a 24- to 48-hour period. This really confuses plants. We have so many false springs that also confuse plants and gardeners.

The dry arid winds also make it difficult to select and grow plants. Many of our plants that tolerate dry, hot conditions will not tolerate our cold winters.

Sunset publication classifies the Antelope Valley as Zone 11. They also classify Barstow, Baker, Bishop and Las Vegas as Zone 11. Perhaps we have a common climate, but there are even climate differences between areas like Quartz Hill and east Lancaster.

I feel that our climate is similar to a cold Bakersfield. We have about the same rainfall, humidity and summer heat, but we are around 25 degrees colder in the winter. Because of this, I sometimes check Sunset and see if the plant will grow in  zones 3 and 8. Zone 8 is Bakersfield and zone 3 includes some of the coldest areas of California. If the plant is listed to grow in both zones 3 and 8, it should be able to grow here.

We have many false springs each year. The first frost-free day is considered April 17, even though there have been some freezing temperatures after that date. On the first of April, there is still a 50-50 chance of freezing weather. Most of our fruit trees start blooming in the middle of February and are in full bloom by the first week of March. There is a very good chance the fruit or flowers will freeze. Gardeners become excited about tomatoes showing up in the garden centers in March and plant way too early. Most of the warm season vegetables and flowers need to be planted in May.

Our first frost is usually considered Oct. 30, and it seems our plants are not prepared for the cold temperatures after a hot summer. Many people living in other parts of the United States would love to have this long of a growing season. However most of the winter and spring is still too wet and cold to enjoy their landscape. January can have beautiful weather in which we can enjoy the outdoors and our landscape. That was especially the case this year.

The typical soil in the Antelope Valley ranges from sandy loam to pure sand with abundant amounts of limestone and low amounts of organic matter. The last two conditions lead to poor soil structure that makes our soils act like concrete and become hard to dig. In tracts homes they also wet and compact the soil to prevent your house from cracking, this can really make the soil very hard. The limestone also increases the soil pH making the soil alkaline. Most plants prefer a slightly acid soil and specialty plants like camellias prefer a very acid soil. Our alkaline soil tends to make many of our plants have yellow leaves.

Gardening in the Antelope Valley is not impossible; it is a challenge, though. Planning helps you get through the challenges.

(1) comment

Seirra_Pelona

Do you have any books or a collection of your columns available to someone who is trying to make a go of gardening here?

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