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desert gardening basics
grow your greens
Grow Your Greens
October, 2012, Page 110
Photo by Brian Lilley
DESERT GARDENING 101
Limited space? Busy schedule? Don’t let that deter you from growing fresh, tasty veggies chock-full of vitamins. All you need to get started is a container and a locale that receives six to eight hours of full sun daily. Autumn is the preferred season to plant most greens in the low desert, providing “cut-and-come-again” harvests that last well into spring.
Containers and Soil
When choosing a container, anything goes, as long as it holds soil and has drainage holes. To enhance drainage, start with a good-quality potting mix containing perlite, pumice or vermiculite. Do not use native soil from your landscape, which contains heavy clay and drains poorly. Also, avoid mixes that include added “pest control.” Low-desert gardens do not suffer from as many pests as other regions, and those we do experience are highly seasonal. The added chemical may target pests that we don’t have to deal with or that are not around within the time frame the pesticide is active.
Some soil mixes contain a slow-release chemical fertilizer. Read the package to determine how long it will feed plants, and be prepared to supplement as needed. If you prefer organic gardening, choose plain soil mixes, and add organic fertilizers such as blood meal, bonemeal, fish emulsion or kelp. Because potted plants require frequent watering, nutrients leach away quickly; thus, regular fertilizer applications are needed if the soil mix does not contain a slow-release product. Follow package instructions for whichever fertilizer you choose.
Most greens and lettuces can be planted from mid-August through February in the Phoenix area. However, planting in early fall, after summer’s drying heat abates but before cold weather sets in, offers the best chance of quick growth and a lengthy harvest season. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension’s year-round planting calendar at cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az1005.pdf lists the time frame for sowing or transplanting each vegetable.
Rebecca Kidwell, co-owner of the Farmyard (myfarmyard.com), a Phoenix-based installer of organic edible gardens, suggests lettuces and winter greens (right) that can be harvested again and again to provide salads and bunches of cooking greens for several months.
“To harvest, simply start with the older leaves around the base of the plant, and cut them cleanly off the central stem,” explains Kidwell. “The plants will regrow more leaves each week from the center of the plant.” Harvest exactly what you need, and your plants will continue to provide fresh, delicious leaves for meals to come.
: ‘Italian’, ‘Rustic’ or ‘Sputnik’
: ‘Golden’, ‘Rainbow’ or ‘Ruby Red’
: ‘Georgia Southern’ or ‘Vates’
: ‘Lacinato’, ‘Red Russian’ or ‘Russian Blue’
: ‘Black-seeded Simpson’, ‘Buttercrunch’, ‘Green Deer Tongue’, ‘Lolla Rossa’ (aka ‘Lolla Rosa’), ‘Red Butter Lettuce’ or ‘Red Deer Tongue’
: ‘Q’s Special Medley’ or ‘Wine Country Mesclun’
: ‘Red Giant’ or ‘Ruby Streaks’
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