Oklahoma: Hard to garden
Gardening tips to help your gardens thrive in the varying ecoregions and seasons of our state
Situated at the center of the U.S. and its continental climate, Oklahoma has plenty of weather challenges. According to the Oklahoma Wildlife Department, our state has twelve ecoregions. This means specific gardening advice for the northeast won’t work for the southwest or anywhere in between.
After a particularly tough season, you might want to throw in the trowel, but I would encourage you to try some of the following things to make your garden and our state even more beautiful.
Oklahoma soil varies throughout the state. Get a soil test from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service before you plant. It will tell you the soil amendments you need, saving you time and money. If you want to get started quickly, build raised beds or use containers. With both, you get to choose your soil. However, raised beds and containers dry out more quickly.
Depending on your budget, I suggest using soaker hoses with timers or drip irrigation. Group containers together for easy watering. For my containers on my back deck, I installed drip irrigation from a kit I ordered online. I also installed timers and back flow regulators.
As for the rest of my garden, we used soaker hoses and timers with y-connectors for many years. We later installed a professional irrigation system for the garden beds and for our small front lawn.
If you live in the eastern part of Oklahoma, you have hills and trees to help break up the wind. In the western part of the state, build fences and plant vegetation for windbreaks. If you want an evergreen windbreak and have well-drained, sandy soil, consider Arizona cypress or ‘Gray Gleam’ juniper for dry climates.
Use trees and shrubs like our native sumac for windbreaks, but large grasses also work well. Vines, like coral honeysuckle and Virginia creeper, planted on strong structures also help. I have a large arbor planted with American wisteria in my garden.
Hot summers and cold winters
Plant what works in your ecoregion. Shop local and research before you plant. When I first started gardening here nearly 34 years ago, I wanted an English garden. I still have some plants that are cottage garden favorites, but more often, I now choose native plants and those adapted to our region.
Biodegradable mulch is a prairie gardener’s best friend. Over time, it breaks down improving soil texture, and it helps soil retain moisture. Mulch also keeps soil cooler in summer.
If you have trees, use the leaves in your garden beds and borders. Some tree leaves easily break down and can remain in garden beds, while others, like oak leaves, can smother small plants. With fibrous oak leaves, you may need to shred them before using as mulch but leave some of them whole and pile them at the back of the yard. Insects overwinter in fallen leaves and dead perennial stems, and birds are attracted to insects especially in spring.
Oklahoma is a beautiful and diverse state, and with the right plans in place, you can successfully garden wherever you grow.