Gardening in the Salt Lake area can be a bit challenging at first, particularly if you’ve either never gardened before or if you’ve moved to the area recently. There are a few things to keep in mind as you start gardening in Northern Utah: the climate, soil alkalinity, water alkalinity, and the relative lack of precipitation during part of the year.
One thing to check when selecting perennial plants for your garden is both your area’s hardiness zone, and the hardiness of the plants. Hardiness zones are based on the average annual lowest winter temperatures. Each zone is divided up in 10 degree F increments. For 2012, the USDA Agricultural Research Service updated the hardiness zone map and instituted an interactive map into which you can enter your zip code to find the hardiness zone for your area. You can access this map at: HTTP://PLANTHARDINESS.ARS.USDA.GOV/PHZMWEB/.
Here in the Salt Lake valley, hot and dry summers are followed by cold and snowy winters- this can be tough on many plants. In Utah, the hardiness zone varies between 4 and 6, depending on where you live. Most gardens in Salt Lake City are in zone 5 with a minimum temperature ranging from –10 to –20 degrees Fahrenheit. So, before you purchase or install your perennial plants (plants that live more than two years), check to make sure they are going to survive in your area- make sure their listed hardiness is at or lower than your area’s hardiness zone.
The average last frost date in spring is May 7 and the first frost of the year is usually around October 17. If you’re accustomed to a warmer climate and you want to grow plants zone 7 or above, treat them as annuals, or plan on overwintering them inside. For marginal plants (those slightly higher in zone than your area), plan on mulching them well in the fall or plant them close to the foundation of a heated structure and they may (no guarantee, however) make it through the winter.
Soils in Utah are usually alkaline with a pH of 8 or more. The water is also alkaline and may be high in salts. Alkaline soils with a high pH level above 8.0 can impact the health of some landscape plants that are sensitive to high pH soils. The most common problem resulting from high soil alkalinity is chlorotic foliage (foliage that looks dull green or yellowish), a sign of iron deficiency. This deficiency happens because iron becomes immobile (and thus unusable to the plant) in the soil at high pH levels. Iron chelates can be applied as a supplement or, even better, choose plants that are tolerant of high pH soils.
Utah is the second driest state in the nation, normally receiving less than 16 inches of precipitation a year, most of which comes as snow. Very little precipitation falls between June and August, so designing and installing water efficient gardens is extremely important. It is also helpful to water your gardens wisely. For example, water in the early mornings or the evenings after the sun has gone down when it’s a bit cooler. This is when the water is most likely going to soak into the soil and not evaporate before hitting the ground. Keep an eye on how wet your soil is staying. Most plants can tolerate the soil drying out a bit between watering. The best test is to feel the soil- it can be a little dry on the surface, but underneath may still be damp. Also keep in mind the water needs of your plants when following this guideline, some plants like to be dry (cacti, succulents, geraniums, e.g.) while others like to have consistently moist soil (bamboo, impatiens). In addition, we encourage gardeners to plan and design their garden by water zones, situating plants with similar water needs together. For more information, check out the Waterwise Gardening fact sheet on our website.
Gardening in Utah can be rewarding and exciting, particularly with a little preparation and research into your area’s hardiness zone, soil pH, soil alkalinity, and water conditions as well as the needs of the plants you would like to grow.
Utah Planting Zones
Utah’s climate is semi-arid to desert, but it is a mountainous state with a wide variety of climates and planting zones across its numerous peaks. Eastern Utah is in what’s known as the rain shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. Precipitation is mostly from the Pacific Ocean, as the state lies in a direct path of many of the storms coming from the coast during fall through late spring. Summer brings monsoons from the Gulf of California to the southern and eastern parts of the state. The summer months can see temperatures into the triple digits across most of the state, but low humidity makes the heat more tolerable than it is in some other areas of the country. Average annual precipitation can range from less than 5 inches to 15 inches. Salt Lake City will get about 60 inches of snow each year, with the rest of the state seeing some snowfall in most areas except the Great Salt Lake Desert. There is a micro climate along the entire length of the Great Salt Lake that can cause up to 500 inches of lake effect snow annually.
Finding your hardiness zone is simple with Gilmour’s Interactive Planting Zone Map. Knowing the hardiness zone, or planting zone you are in is useful so that you know what will grow best in a certain area. Utah growing zones range from 4a to 9a. Growing zones do not just help gardeners figure out which plants, flowers and vegetables will thrive but also which will likely not survive the winters of their region. All hardiness zones, including Utah planting zones, are determined around first and last frost dates. For best results, choose plants rated for the Utah planting zone you are in or lower. So, if you live in zone 4a, plant anything rated for zones 1 through 4, but not higher. Using plants rated for a higher zone is tricky as they will most likely not be able to survive the winter.
A lot of plants, vegetables and flowers grow in Utah. Hummingbird fuchsia, bee balm, daylilies, hosta, blanket flower and tall garden phlox all thrive in Utah gardens. A number of vegetables will flourish there as well. Mustard greens, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, beans, radish, lettuce and peas are all great choices for Utah vegetable gardens.
From Park City to St. George: Which plants grow best in your zone?
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
This story is sponsored by Red Butte Garden.
Utah is a diverse state with several ecosystems, climates and biomes. The three main biomes in the state include Wetlands to the north, Forests in north-central Utah, and various types of Desert biomes to the south. Although this is a very general explanation of Utah’s biomes, it covers some basic aspects of Utah’s climate as well.
Whether you live in Logan or St. George, you’ll definitely experience less rainfall than, say, the Pacific Northwest. To get an idea of annual rainfall and other climate statistics throughout the state, usclimatedata.com is a good resource. Once you have a loose idea of your area’s annual precipitation versus sunshine, you can start to understand what to expect when it comes time to plant your garden.
Gardens can exist for several reasons: both to please the eye or the stomach. Farm-to-table trends have become more popular, so more people want to start their gardens. Unfortunately, planting a garden is only simple if you know what types of plants will flourish in your given climate conditions and soil type. Here is a general description of the types of plants and vegetables that flourish in various regions throughout Utah.
Home to some wetlands and many mountainous regions, northern Utah has short and mild summers along with long and cold winters. When considering what to plant in your garden that’s fit for your table, stick with basics that don’t demand much sunlight and will last under the hardy conditions:
- Tomatoes (smaller varieties such as Early Girl, Jasper, or Celebrity)
- Yellow squash
When choosing plants for landscaping, native ferns and orchids offer a beautiful addition to your garden. Otherwise, basic perennials should do the trick, although be sure not to plant too early. As for when to plant, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is an excellent resource for planting times and other agricultural knowledge.
Home to most of Utah’s population, central Utah has mountains, valleys and forests. Soil in this area isn’t usually ideal, so it’s good to supplement your garden plot with some well-balanced soil. All of the below vegetables can flourish when planted at the correct time and not overwatered:
- Tomatoes (previously mentioned varieties and Roma work best)
- Green beans
The above vegetables will require different things, such as plenty of water for corn. If you know what to expect and what to provide your plants, there’s nothing stopping you from an ample harvest this fall. Consulting a horticultural expert can greatly increase your chances for success. As for landscaping your yard, it can be easy with the help of some quaking aspen, blue spruce, gamble oak and currant bushes or a chokecherry tree. Cottonwoods are also common, but typically grow to a larger size.
This is a large area of the state as it includes south-central, southwest and southeast parts of the state. However, the following vegetables should be able to grow and flourish in the area with proper care and watering:
As for what to plant around your yard for curb appeal, cactus is basic and doesn’t demand much attention. Or, you could try something new like Desert Sand Verbena. If it’s more shade you’re looking to add to your garden, try a Mesquite or Ironwood tree. Fruit and landscaping trees vary immensely in where they flourish, so be sure and do some research before planting.
Get ready for spring
Regardless of where you live in Utah, it’s always good to brush up on your horticultural knowledge while adding some new plants to your plot. If you plan to plant for looks or for food this spring, come by the Red Butte Garden 38th Annual Spring Plant Sale that’s open to the public Saturday, May 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Located in the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre, this free admission event offers an impressive selection of plants (both ornamental and edible) along with plenty of qualified Garden staff and volunteers to answer your planting and gardening questions.
For tips until then including water-wise practices and plant profiles, visit www.redbuttegarden.org today.
× Red Butte Garden
Utah Planting Zones – USDA Map Of Utah Growing Zones
Utah USDA Plant Hardiness Map
Gardening in Utah is much easier when gardeners implement species of plants that are compatible with the plant hardiness zone in which they live. The map above is the latest version of the Utah plant map, which was released in early 2012.
Since 1960, the USDA has been gathering data and providing gardeners and plant enthusiasts all over the country with valuable information pertaining to plant hardiness. The most recent version of the map, based on thirty years of weather data, is more sophisticated than any prior version. Some of the country has seen a rise in their zones due to a winter warming trend that some people attribute to global warming.
Utah zones include a frosty 4a in the north to a balmy 9a in the southwest. Extreme winter temperatures range from -30 to 20 F. With this much variance in one state, gardeners do well to know which zone they live in. The map above can be enlarged by clicking it, which will help you determine your zone.
When you purchase flowers, shrubs and trees according to the Utah planting map, you are not guaranteed that they will survive, as there are other factors that come into play. However, it is a great place to start when searching for new plants for your garden and landscape.
Choosing Native Plants
Plants have evolved over the centuries to adapt to climate, elevation, soils, water and sunlight availability. Different species that are uniquely suited to similar conditions will form a distinct “community” of plants. With so much variation in elevation, temperature, and water availability, there are a great variety of plant communities in the Intermountain West.
The dominant plant communities found in Salt Lake County can be more or less roughly correlated with elevation, as follows:
While elevation is a good climate predictor—lower elevations are generally hotter and drier, higher elevations are cooler and moister—other factors play a role in creating microclimates within the elevation zones. The north-facing slope of a canyon will support plants that prefer cooler and moister conditions, while the south-facing slope at the same elevation will support plants that favor warmer, drier conditions. Stream corridors are another type of microclimate, given the regular presence of water and a greater abundance of shade. This allows plants found along streams to transcend some of the boundaries dictated by climate and elevation. This is particularly true in the hottest and driest areas of the watershed, where the riparian corridor is visibly obvious as a “green ribbon” of trees and shrubs. Native plants of the Intermountain West occupy an amazing range of microhabitats.
Use the map of elevation zones in Salt Lake County (opposite) and the NATIVE PLANT LISTS (on the following pages) as a guide to determine which plants could be best suited for improving native plant diversity in your landscape. Use what you know about the unique microclimate of your property—sun, shade, water availability (do you have irrigation for the drier upper slopes?), soil type, etc.—to select plants that will thrive in your landscape.
Let’s say, for example, you live at the lower edge of the Foothill Zone (at approximately 4,900 feet) on a north-facing slope and you have a nice canopy of big shade trees along your stream. Your shady streamside microclimate may support plants that occur naturally at higher elevations (cooler, moister) in the Mid-Montane Zone.
Selecting Plants by Elevation Zone
The dominant plant communities found in Salt Lake County can be more or less roughly correlated with elevation. Use this map, and the native plant lists on the following pages, to identify the best plants for your landscape.
Subalpine & Alpine 10,000+ ft
Upper Montane 9,000-10,000ft
Mid Montane 6,000-9,000 ft
Foothill 4,800-6,000 ft
Valley 4,200-4,800 ft
Native plant lists
The following plant lists provide recommended native tree, small tree/shrub, and ground cover species for planting efforts in the riparian corridor. Included to help further refine your plant selections are: preferred sun, preferred moisture, tolerance to saline and/or alkaline soils, and the elevation zone(s) in which plants are naturally occurring in Salt Lake County.
These plant lists are adapted from those included in the Salt Lake City Riparian Corridor Study Management Plans. Additional sources include Flora of the Central Wasatch Front; Waterwise-Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes; Landscaping on the New Frontier-Waterwise Design for the Intermountain West; and the USDA PLANTS Database.
Note: Plants from the Subalpine and Alpine elevation zones are not included, given that no streamside residential properties are found in these zones.
Native Species for Planting in the Riparian Zone