The 2008 Growing Season

by Jan Cashman

Don Mathre summed it up at the October Gallatin Gardener’s Club meeting when he said that he has gardened here for 41 years and this has been the most challenging year ever because of the cold, wet, spring and three hailstorms within five days in July. Truly the wet, cold, floods, and hail of 2008 made gardening challenging. Let’s take a look at how this year’s weather affected our gardens:

The winter total for snowfall, according to Greg Ainsworth’s column in the Bozeman Chronicle, was the most since the winter of 98/99. April was cooler and wetter than average. That meant people were planting less this April compared with last year’s April, when we got an early start because of good weather. Our apricot tree (apricots are one of the first trees to bloom in the spring) bloomed on May 11 in 2008 compared with April 11 in 2007; we were one month behind in degree days. We planted our sweet corn on May 29, as usual, but it took 18 days to germinate. We were lucky the seed didn’t rot in the ground because of the cold, wet soil. Memorial Day weekend brought 4+ inches of rain in many places. That, combined with the heavy mountain runoff, caused flooding along rivers and streams. Homeowners in lower areas didn’t have time to worry about their gardens; they were sandbagging their homes.

Towards the end of June, vegetable and flower gardens started to come around. Lilacs bloomed two weeks later than normal, but they were beautiful and their blooms lasted a long time. Shrub roses thrived in the cooler, wetter weather. On July 13th, it got down to 38 degrees at MSU, but some gardeners south of town had frost which hurt their tomatoes and other tender vegetables. Most people’s raspberry crops, including our Boynes, were great.

Then, on July 23, a devastating hailstorm hit the south and west parts of Bozeman. Gardens there were flattened, although our garden, and plants at the nursery, escaped with minor damage. At the Gallatin Gardener’s Club’s fall meeting on “What worked and what didn’t in gardens this year”, many of the members said that even though the hail where they lived was severe, their gardens bounced back well. July was cooler this year after last year’s record heat. Ainsworth reported daytime highs ran about 8 degrees cooler than 2007, but still were above average. Plants grew well. I noticed the annual flowers at Riverside Country Club were gorgeous.

Two insect pests hit our area hard this summer. The mountain pine beetle is a serious problem in pines, especially Scotch and lodgepole. Most professionals say that once the tree is infected, it cannot be saved. But preventive measures can be taken. Grasshoppers are not supposed to thrive in wet conditions, but once the weather dried in July, many who lived in drier spots reported the worst grasshoppers ever.

Despite all the challenges,most vegetable gardens were productive. We enjoyed eating our garden lettuce for weeks. Although the zucchinis in our garden were slow to mature, Cashman Nursery’s Zucchini Festival was well attended with many entries for the largest zucchini. The late fall (it seems the falls get later every year) with only light freezes until well into October, helped extend the flowers, colorful leaves, and vegetables. We were still eating later varieties of sweet corn on October 6! Our reliable Meteor pie cherry bore more fruit than we could use again this year. (We remembered to spray during the spring and summer for the worms that invade the cherries.) Our Hazen, Minjon, Goodland, and Honeygold apple trees were loaded with apples, but other apple varieties in our orchard had small crops or none, probably because they had extra heavy crops last year. Most apple trees that bear an exceptionally heavy crop one year seem to bear lighter or not at all the next.

Finally, on October 8, the thermometer dropped to 18 degrees here, killing all the annual flowers and late vegetables. Fall, then cold and snow, arrived within a week.

Although we struggled with cold, floods, frost, and hail, most of us ended up with beautiful flower and abundant vegetable gardens. Here in the Gallatin Valley, each gardening year is unique. Gardening even varies with different locations or microclimates around the valley.

The saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”, seems especially applicable to Montana. I might add my own saying: “If gardening was tough for you this year, there is always hope for next year.”