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Tips offered for growing a successful vegetable garden in Wyoming

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As temperatures rise and the threat of a hard freeze passes, many Wyoming residents may begin planning their vegetable gardens. 

Although gardening in Wyoming comes with a host of challenges, growers can still produce delicious veggies with proper planning and care. 

Selecting and starting crops

One of the main challenges of growing vegetables in Wyoming is the state’s short growing season and moderate summer temperatures. Therefore, it is important for growers to select crops suited for this environment. 

According to the University of Wyoming’s (UW) Gardening Vegetables in Wyoming guide, written by UW Extension Horticulture Specialist Karen Panter, Wyoming growers should choose vegetables with a short maturation period or those developed in the northern U.S. and Canada. 

These include radishes, leaf lettuce, head lettuce, spinach, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, beets, carrots and peas. 

Panter notes seeds can be started indoors until the danger of frost has passed, then seedlings can be transplanted outdoors when temperatures start to rise. 

“A gardener can gain a few days or even weeks of growing time by setting out transplants at the normal time for outdoor seed planting,” she explains. “Transplanting inevitably causes some slowing of plant growth, but it is temporary. Most plants recover quickly and resume growing if they are given good care.”

Plants that do not recover well from transplanting if their roots are damaged in the process include sweet corn, cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins. 

Location and protection

When transplanting seedlings outside, growers should select a garden environment that will favor growth of their vegetables. 

Panter recommends locating a garden on a gentle slope facing south, southeast or southwest so soil will warm up more quickly. 

“Choose a spot in full sun,” she says. “Vegetables planted on the south side of a building often mature sooner because of the reflected heat from the building and possible protection from the wind.” 

In Wyoming, it is critical to protect gardens from the notorious wind, so gardens which are not located next to a building may need a different kind of windbreak. This may include a fence, trees or shrubs, which should be downwind from the garden equal to 10 times the height of the windbreak.

Panter reminds growers to avoid placing their garden too close to trees or shrubs whose roots will compete with vegetables for water and nutrients. 

Because Wyoming weather is often unpredictable, growers should also incorporate a plan for frost protection. This may include a fabric cover, clear plastic covers placed over wire hoops or portable cold frames.  

Garden preparation

Before transplanting seedlings into the outdoor garden, growers should first prepare soil.

“Organic matter is usually lacking in native Wyoming soils,” admits Panter. “Pre-plant incorporation of a high-quality, well-composted organic matter will lighten heavy clay soils, improve soil structure, allow better water penetration, allow air to reach root systems and provide essential nutrients.” 

She further notes organic matter helps sandy soils improve water holding capacity and aids soil microorganisms, which helps make nutrients more available for plants. 

To incorporate these benefits, growers may consider mulching with an organic matter source such as grass clippings, sawdust, straw, peat moss, wood chips, leaves, quality compost and even newspaper.

“Organic mulches should be applied only after the soil has warmed up in the late spring or early summer, otherwise, the soil temperature will not warm up enough for proper plant growth,” Panter explains.

“When using organic materials, spread a two- to three-inch layer around the plants in mid-June. Keep it in place through the growing season,” she adds. “Additional fertilizer will probably be needed, especially nitrogen, because using these materials may cause nutrient deficiencies to develop in vegetable plants. So, always fertilize when organic mulches are used.”

Panter notes Wyoming gardeners should pay particular attention to fertilization of their gardens, regardless of using organic mulch or not, and she recommends conducting an early-season soil test to determine which nutrients and how much fertilizer will be needed. 

Planting tips

After adequate planning and preparation, growers can finally start transplanting seedlings into their outdoor garden. 

While doing this, Panter reminds them of a few considerations. 

First, she notes perennial vegetables, such as rhubarb and asparagus, should be planted along one side of the garden so they are out of the way of tilling and other soil preparations. She also recommends planting tall plants, like corn and tomatoes, on the north side of the garden so they don’t shade smaller crops. 

“Try to group plants by the length of their growing period,” she says. “Separate quick crops from those requiring a full season to mature. Early-maturing crops can be planted in the same row or between rows of later-maturing crops.”

“For example, radishes can be planted in the same row with transplanted cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Lettuce may be grown where tomatoes, peppers and corn will be planted later,” she adds.

Crops should be spaced according to their seed labels, and it is good practice to leave enough room between rows to walk and kneel during the growing season. 

Once plants begin to grow, Panter encourages gardeners to partake in proper watering, regular weeding, frequent pest monitoring, proper fertilization and frequent harvesting. 

“Harvesting should be done frequently and at the proper stage of vegetable maturity. It is often the most rewarding part of vegetable gardening, but a common mistake is allowing produce to become overmature, losing the best flavor or appetizing texture,” Panter concludes.

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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