Gardening in Kansas is quite a bit different than gardening in most other states—and that can be both good and bad. The Kansas climate is unique, which presents challenges and opportunities found nowhere else in America.
So what exactly is different about gardening in Kansas, and how do we adapt?
- Long growing season. Most of Kansas has a long growing season, giving you plenty of time to enjoy your plants. The Glaciated Region enjoys the longest season (about 200 days), but all except the northwest corner of the state can take advantage of a generous gardening year. You won’t have to sit inside dreaming of growing plants for very long in the winter!
- Fewer wet-weather problems. Wet weather and cloudy days tend to foster plant disease, as well as a few water-loving insect pests like slugs. While some years are exceptions (2015 and 2016 come to mind), most of Kansas in most years will not have to battle fungus to harvest a good vegetable crop.
- Fertile soil (usually). A good portion of Kansas is blessed with deep, fertile soil. If you live in the spacious Glaciated Region or High Plains, you are in luck. Even in other regions there are pockets of soil just right for gardening, particularly along streams. Generally, you can find good soil across the state except in hilly terrain or in the wet, leached far southeast corner.
- Spectacular natives. If you are a fan of landscaping with native plants, you will love the selection you get to choose from in Kansas! Our state offers us a particularly colorful variety of wildflowers and grasses, many of which attract equally beautiful butterflies.
- Variable climate. One never knows just what to expect from Kansas weather. A late frost can come when least expected, a hailstorm can damage ripening fruit, or a sudden deluge can break a drought and turn a garden into a bog. Forecasters usually struggle to provide accurate information on upcoming conditions, so it’s best to keep an eye on the sky and learn how to read the clouds ourselves to minimize plant stress caused by dramatic changes in weather.
- Dry summers. Most of Kansas does not receive enough precipitation during the growing season to keep garden plants healthy (exceptions include the Glaciated Region and the Ozark Plateau). Your fruits and vegetables will depend on you to water them throughout the summer, increasing your gardening workload. As long as you have time and live over an abundant aquifer, this should not be too much of a problem. However, you will have to match the size of your garden to your time resources, and you will have to make sure that you have the water supply to accommodate the needs of your plants.
- Wind. Yes, it’s pretty windy in Kansas. Give tall garden plants like tomatoes and peppers a little help with a support cage to keep them from getting whipped around and blown over. Also, use plenty of mulch to keep that hot summer breeze from stealing the moisture out of the ground.
- Marketing woes. A good portion of Kansas has a small population base, which does not make market gardening easy. There is a reason that most of the state’s farmers’ markets and market gardeners are concentrated around Wichita, Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City.
Obviously, we are dealing with sweeping generalizations here, and Kansas is not a state that is easily generalized. Still, there are certain challenges that most Kansas gardeners will be faced with. There are also opportunities that they can take advantage of.
These are probably the most important steps we can take to ensure the success of our gardens in Kansas:
- Prepare the soil. Choose a prime location for your garden. Almost every property offers more than one potential garden site, so choose the best—one that drains well and receives plenty of sunshine. Then take measures to make it even better. Add plenty of organic matter and natural fertilizer to enhance soil fertility, texture, and drainage.
- Assume the weather will be dry. While gardeners in the far southeast corner of Kansas probably won’t have to worry about a lack of rain, the rest of us should be ready to water our plants all summer long. Practice water-conserving measures in the garden, such as using thick mulch and growing drought-hardy plants. Also develop an alternative source of water. If your groundwater supply is inadequate, find ways to store rainwater. When it rains in Kansas, it frequently pours—make the most of it!
- Do your homework. Do not jump into a market gardening enterprise without a plan. Make sure your business will have a solid customer base to rely on.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of learning how to garden in Kansas is gaining experience. Find good resources to guide you, but be prepared to learn as you go. Be observant of changing conditions, keep a garden journal, and be prepared to adapt. Good luck!
Find tips and resources for successful gardening, handpicked just for the Sunflower State!
K-State Horticulture Newsletter
Timely advice for every Kansas gardener. And it’s free!
Prairie Star Flowers
This K-State site showcases ornamental plants that have proven their ability to thrive on whatever the Kansas climate sends their way.
Starting a Garden or Orchard
Important factors to consider before diving in.
Take a look at the challenges and opportunities unique to your part of the state.
Find out how to read the sky and adapt to changing conditions across the state.
Learn more about water-conserving tricks and techniques.
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