4 Heirloom Seeds to Plant Now for a Lush Spring Garden
Fall is the time to prepare for a delicious and colorful spring. From desert-adapted salad greens to wildflowers, you can bank on these heirloom seeds recommended by Sheryl Joy of Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson (nativeseeds.org).
By Lori A. Johnson
(Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla)
• Annual • Insignificant blooms; winter • 1′-2’H by 1′-2’W • Well-drained organic soil • Zones 2-11 • Full sun • Medium water; medium maintenance • Wind-pollinated
This variety of acelgas, which is Spanish for chard, has shorter stems than the more commonly known Swiss chard and grows well in the low desert. The reference to Magdalena in the name is for the town in Sonora, Mexico, where Tucson’s Mission Garden Project first acquired the Garcia family’s heirloom seed donation.
Why we like it: “This rare chard variety is adapted to the arid conditions and alkaline soils of the Southwest,” Joy tells us. “It’s super easy to grow in the fall and winter and can keep on producing well into the summer if given some shade. Slice up fine for use in salads or toss in a stir fry or soup.”
Vadito Quelites Grandes
• Annual • Insignificant blooms; winter • 2′-6’H by 1′-2’W • Well-drained organic soil • Zones 2-11 • Full sun • Medium water; medium maintenance • Wind-pollinated
Seeds of this orach, also known as mountain spinach, were originally collected from a probable garden escapee along a roadside near Vadito, N.M. Just as nutritious as spinach, orach is also rich in vitamin C and high in minerals. It prefers cooler temperatures for germination in the low desert but can also be planted in spring at higher elevations.
Why we like it: “So much easier to grow than spinach, with nice big, tender leaves, you can use orach leaves raw in salads and sandwiches or cook like spinach,” Joy observes. “The plants are tolerant of salty soils, and the leaves have a naturally mild, slightly salty flavor.”
• Annual • White blooms; winter • 8″-12″H by 8″-10″W • Well-drained organic soil • Zones 2A-11B • Full to partial sun • Medium water; medium maintenance • Attracts bees
This arugula was a family heirloom brought to the desert by the DiMeglio family, who migrated from Italy in the 1920s. It’s both cold- and heat-tolerant, so it can be grown year-round in the low desert. Flavor is said to be stronger in hotter months, and milder in cold weather. Its creamy white flowers are also edible.
Why we like it: “Many arugula lovers have rated this variety as the best they’ve tasted,” Joy says. “These vigorous plants are easy to grow, and the leaves have an excellent spicy flavor. Be sure to let it bolt and produce flowers for the bees—they love it. You’ll also have plenty of seed for your next planting.”
Monsoon/Fall Wildflower Seed Mix
(Includes 10 different species)
• Perennial • Multicolor blooms; spring through fall • 1′-3’H by 1′-3’W • Well-drained sandy soil • Zones 8B-11 • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts bees, birds, butterflies
October and November are the optimal months to plant wildflowers in the low desert. This mix includes Arizona poppy (Kallstroemia grandiflora), blanket flower (Gaillardia sp.), desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), desert senna (Senna covesii), golden tickseed (Coreopsis tinctoria) and more.
Why we like it: “Formulated specifically to support the desert native bees that are so essential in our gardens, this mix includes perennial plants that, once established, can bloom from spring into the late fall, which can be a difficult time for bees to find food,” Joy says.