Click here to donate
About us



Garden for Your Climate
From the Bountiful Gardens Archive

Flowering Quince in the snow, 2023. Image: Shannon Joyner

You can change your soil, but not your climate. Strange, then, that gardening books often ignore it, assuming the seasonal cycle at the author’s home to be “normal.” Successful gardeners adapt by planting what grows best where they live, and by using cultural practices that create the microclimate their plants need. Below are tips for your climate, and resources to learn more. There’s a list of popular vegetables, with varieties adapted to each climate. The suggestions are limited by space and our experience. Climate types are based on growing season, so winter possibilities vary.

Hot and Wet:

The priority is to prevent disease by ensuring good air circulation, and good cultural practices. Plants will grow and use nutrients quickly, so keep them well fed with compost, and get a soil test.

Start with the soil: good drainage allows air to supply your plants’ roots with oxygen, and prevent root rot. Beds raised above the rest of the garden will drain better. Adding compost lightens the soil, allows for air pockets, and increases the diversity of soil micro-life, keeping it in balance. Consider using inoculants of beneficial fungi and bacteria to increase this effect.

Rotate crops to keep the soil from harboring disease/pests. The basic plant families are: cabbage/kale; potato/tomato; squash/melon; grain/corn; spinach/beet; pea/bean; carrot/parsley; and lettuce/endive. The plants in each family share diseases and pests, so avoid growing them in the same spot two years running. Herbs and flowers scattered around the garden help deter pests too. Make sure plant wastes are hot-composted at the end of the season, to kill disease spores and overwintering pests.

In planting, use wider spacing and keep the beds weeded to improve air circulation. Don’t enclose your garden too much: let breezes in and out. Trellis climbers and tomatoes well, and keep the bottom 12-18” free of leaves. A light mulch will prevent spore-laden soil from splashing on plants during watering. Weekly spraying with compost tea prevents disease and adds nutrients.

Beans, green Rattlesnake, Yard-Long, Lima, runners
Beans, dry black-eyed peas, Lima, Black Turtle
Corn, sweet Country Gentleman, Golden Bantam
Corn, dry Floriani, Painted Mountain
Greens mustards, collards, Malabar/Egyptian spinach, orach, purslane, arugula, chard
Lettuce Merlot, Anuenue, Buttercrunch, Jericho, Bronze Arrow, Grandpa Admire’s Dark Green Romaine
Squash, summer Tromboncino, Yellow Crookneck
Squash, winter Butternut, Musque Provence (Fairytale)
Tomato Homestead 24, Eva Purple Ball, Matt’s Wild, Arkansas Traveler
Try okra, eggplant, cucumbers, habanero peppers
Winter kale, collards, arugula, mustards, cabbage, endive/chicory, winter lettuce, cabbage, garlic

Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace;
Good Bug, Bad Bug, by Jessica Walliser;
Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Cold and Dry:

The priority is to ensure enough moisture and warmth. Getting moisture into the plants and keeping them from losing it requires watchfulness and strategy. Soil life is likely to be limited by both cold and drought. Inoculating with beneficial fungi and bacteria will help, but you must provide soil organisms with food (compost, mulch) and water to create a diverse and productive soil community. Compost tea contains it all. The life in the soil will feed your plants.

Earthen walls, swales—even little furrows, bands of mulch, or buried wood—can harvest water and create warmer microclimates to transform a dry barren spot. See Resources, below.

Most cold and dry places are in the mountains, and have short growing seasons. Plant shelters and protection like coldframes, hoophouses, and row covers really come into their own here. Short-season varieties are key, also. Mulch can retain heat at the end of a warm spell, but if the soil hasn’t warmed up, mulch can shade it too much.

Shelter from wind is critical. Hedges, walls, buildings, and temporary barriers (even cardboard) prevent wind chill for your plants just as they do for you. Create sun traps, open to the sun in the south but enclosed to trap heat. Rock (or water barrels) can be a gardener's best friend in this climate, storing heat in the day to radiate it at night. Terraces and walls can create a microclimate like moving to another climate zone. Make walls (rock/wood/soil) that wiggle, and plant in niches created by the curves.

Beans, green Contender, favas, Blue Lake
Beans, dry Nodak Pinto, Beefy Resilient, favas
Corn, sweet Little Giant
Corn, dry Painted Mtn, Mandan Bride, Roy’s Calais
Greens chard, kale, mustard, sylvetta, chickory, mache
spinach, Aztec spinach
Lettuce Bronze Arrow, Chadwick’s Rodan, Merlot,
Winter Density, Arctic King
Squash, summer Dark Star
Squash, winter Buttercup, Lower Salmon River, Acorn
Tomato Glacier, Stupice, Amish Paste, Black Krim
Try Asparagus, rutabaga, beets, parsnips, carrots, peas, dry peas instead of dry beans, chimayo peppers
Winter kale, winter grains, mache, garlic, spinach, chard,
minutina, sylvetta, miner’s lettuce

Desert or Paradise by Sepp Holtzer;
Sepp Holtzer’s Permaculture by Sepp Holtzer;
Rainwater Harvesting by Brad Lancaster;
Four-season Harvest by Eliot Coleman

Cold and Wet:

The priority is to ensure enough air and heat—both around the plants and in the soil. To warm your soil, plant on mounds, scooping soil from the paths to make beds higher. More drainage means warmer soil. In a truly cold-summer climate, like Alaska, use narrower beds so they warm up faster. Instead of a 4’ or 5’ wide bed, try making them 2' wide. Research in Alaska shows increased plant growth in beds 28” wide or less.

Hot beds are an ancient soil-warming technique worth learning. Simply dig out a sunken area at least 4’ x 4' (or enclose the area with boards); this size creates enough mass for heat to build up. Save the topsoil. Build a compost pile 2-3' high in the pit using any organic debris that will rot and heat up: weeds, grass, straw, household food waste, seaweed, shredded leaves, etc. Make sure it is moist, and top with 6-8” of topsoil, which you plant into. Enclose with a cold frame or clear tent for better results.

Soil aeration is important in a high rainfall climate. Raindrops compact the soil as they strike; once soil is compacted, you need to fork it over to fluff it up. If you cover it with thick organic mulch all winter, earthworms will fluff it for you. Heavy winter mulch also prevents erosion and frost heaving, but pull it off in the spring so the sun can warm the soil. Adding compost will lighten soil texture and allow air and biological activity to warm things up.

To ensure heat around the plants, there are many forms of shelter: greenhouses, hoophouses, row covers, and our favorite, cold frames (they're portable, have little disease buildup, work with hotbeds, and avoid plastic if the covers are glass). Plants stay in vegetative growth longer in cool weather and will get bigger. They need air circulation all around them to prevent fungus diseases, so use spacing from 1½ to 2 times what is normally recommended.

Beans, green Blue Lake, Scarlet Runner, favas
Beans, dry Beefy Resilient, Nodak Pinto, Scarlet Runner
Corn, sweet Little Giant, Tuxana, Top Hat
Corn, dry Painted Mtn, Magic Manna, Cascade R-G
Greens all Asian greens, mustards, spinach, kale, cabbage
Lettuce Emerald Fan, Black-Seeded-Simpson, Goldring,
Winter Density, Hungarian, Bronze Arrow
Squash, summer Bennings, Black Beauty, Costata
Squash, winter Acorn, Buttercup
Tomato Stupice, Glacier, Black Krim, Amish Paste
Try all greens, peas, favas, turnips, cabbage, perennial veg, mushrooms kits, dry peas instead of dry beans
Winter kale, cabbage, Asian greens, overwintering onions,
winter lettuces, endive, sprouting broccoli

Gardening for Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour;
Salad Leaves for All Seasons by Charles Dowding;
Sepp Holtzer’s Permaculture by Sepp Holtzer;
The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk;
The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe;
Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening by Will Bonsall

Hot and Dry:

The priority is to retain water—in the soil, in plant tissues, and deep in the ground. Organic matter is key to retaining soil moisture; it holds water in humus, yet allows life-giving oxygen, which watering can exclude. Mulch also holds soil-water by preventing evaporation. In hot places with cool nights, try stone mulch: fist-sized rocks shade the soil, slow evaporation, radiate the day’s heat at night to help crops ripen, and add moisture to the soil from the dew that condenses on them.

To retain water in plants, protect them from wind, which can double water requirements. A hedge or belt of fruit trees to the windward side of your garden will help, as will light fencing (reed, bamboo, even cloth or dead branches). Even peppers and tomatoes stop growing/setting fruit over 90°F. If you have intense summer heat, plants will appreciate shelter from the midday sun. Site leafy crops on the east side of taller crops or buildings so they get morning sun only; position tall crops like corn so shorter vegetables get an hour or two of shade between noon and 4pm, or use shade cloth. Trees that cast light shade are helpful, and if they are nitrogen fixers like Honey locust or mesquite, they won’t rob vegetables of nutrients.

Plant roots go deep if they can, and deep water is the key to self-sustaining landscapes. Earthworks like swales, hügelkultur, or sunken beds really pay off here (see Resources below). To make a fertile sunken bed, remove and save the topsoil first, then remove a layer of subsoil, then replace the topsoil, well amended with compost. Or build a dike or berm around your beds to retain water.

In a summer-dry/winter-wet climate, use water when you have it: keep your garden full of growing crops during winter rains. Start spring crops early while there is moisture and the weather is gentle. Row covers, hoophouses, or cold frames help extend your soil-water season. Irrigate in the evening or early morning to prevent evaporation, and make sure to keep water off of plant leaves.

Beans, green Rattlesnake, Romano, Dragon Tongue
Beans, dry any
Corn, sweet Anasazi, Tuxana, Top Hat
Corn, dry Hopi Blue, Floriani, Painted Mountain
Greens chard, sylvetta, purslane, Amara, collards
Lettuce Cougar, Ben Shemen, Jericho, Bronze Arrow
Chadwick’s Rodan, Arctic King, Grandpa Admire’s
Squash, summer Dark Star, Cocozelle, Bennings
Squash, winter Lwr Salmon River, Banana, Buttercup
Tomato Pineapple, Aks Traveler, Italian, Myona, Stupice
Try hot peppers, melons, beets, rutabagas, fall fennel
Winter favas, cool-weather greens/mustards,sprouting
broccoli, cabbage, Nappa, winter lettuces, kale, garlici

Growing Food in a Hotter, Dryer Land, by Gary Nabhan;
Rainwater Harvesting by Brad Lancaster;
Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway;
Desert or Paradise by Sepp Holtzer;
The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe;
How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons

top | Newsletter Home |Table of Contents| Archive

Please donate $40 to our 40th Anniversary Fundraiser! Click here to donate!