Desert Gardening 101

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Have you ever tried to keep a colorful flower bed alive through a summer in the Valley? Or dared to grow some herbs in your yard that ended up completely withered in the heat? I have experienced both of these things a couple times over the years that I’ve lived in Arizona, and I’ve laughed at the though of vegetable gardening in my yard like I grew up doing in foggy California.

But leave it to my determined friend Christine, a Scottsdale mom of four, to not only show me it’s possible, but to demonstrate that gardening here in the desert can provide you with so much more than the ingredients for a great salad.

I spent time with her in her garden recently – nibbling on fresh sugar-snap peas, cherry tomatoes, mustard greens, and cape gooseberries – while she shared some of her best tips for anyone wanting to try a garden in the desert.

Depending on how much space you have to work with, you can start small with just some pots or go big with a raised bed. Christine built some of her own wooden, raised beds, and purchased some others. For successful growing, she says the three main things to consider are placement (how much sun and shade your plants will get), quality soil, and of course, water. An app-controlled drip system will make your life much easier and your chances of success much higher.

Christine shares an important reminder for those of us who didn’t grow up here: “We have two shorter growing seasons rather than one long one like much of the country – getting plants to produce before the high heat, and then in fall before the coldest temps of winter. It’s a race to get plants growing as soon as the season permits!”  Also, we need to be mindful of “how the heat affects production or quality of fruits. I have had some success with plants surviving the summer to produce again and overwintering heat loving crops to produce again for a second year.”  She has found these to be her best crops – tomatoes, sugar snap peas, peppers of all sorts, eggplant, zucchini, and radish.

If you want to avoid applying any pesticides or herbicides on your plants, the way Christine gardens, she says excellent soil is the key to growing plants that are healthy and have the ability to withstand some interlopers. “I look at my plants daily and have no problem smushing an unwelcome invader who has come to interfere with the harvest. Bunnies, rats, birds and bugs can create some challenges, but I use barriers and other means to deter them.” She also composts and adds worms to help keep her soil at its best.

As for where to get the best advice and resources for gardeners in the Valley, Christine says “Arizona Worm Farm is my favorite! I also like Summerwinds and Whitfill Nurseries. I get lots of great equipment and product recommendations from Facebook Gardening groups and my favorite YouTube channels and blogs; Growing in The Garden, Edge of Nowhere Farm, and Urban Farmstead are a few. Most have links to Amazon shops with their recommended tools.”

Gardening here can be challenging but so rewarding. Christine admits that this hobby makes her feel “part student, part detective, and part scientist. It involves learning, investigating, experimenting, and having a good mindset to embrace growth and not just success.”

And oh, yes – she has tasty, fresh produce on her table every day of the year!

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