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Gardening in the arid desert of Arizona can be a challenge, especially when dealing with the extreme heat summer can bring. While not every fruit or vegetable will thrive in our summer heat, a surprising variety of plants will. Whether you are working with raised beds, container gardening or making edibles part of your landscaping, the time to plan your summer garden is now.
A New Gardening Calendar
Hot, dry and overwhelmingly sunny, the desert is a place of extremes which means that standard gardening advice often does not apply. Summer in Arizona means that only the most heat-adapted summer plants will have the stamina to endure when our temperatures soar. In general, plants that can handle Arizona’s heat include okra, sweet potatoes, peppers, corn, eggplant, melons and beans.
For gardeners in central Arizona who plan well, vegetable gardening can be a year-round endeavor. The low desert heat means that, unlike other regions of the country, there aren’t months of snow, ice and freezing temperatures that make most winter gardening untenable. Our unique desert climate does mean that a desert planting calendar looks rather different than other regions. If you are starting plants from seed, the planting recommendations on the package are most often not written with our climate in mind.
Choose Your Varieties Wisely
In order to set up your desert garden for success, we recommend doing some research into the plants you will be putting into the ground. Heirloom varieties let you choose from a host of important features such as drought-tolerance, days until plant maturity, and growing zones. While Arizona is full of microclimates, most of the area around Phoenix is considered growing zone 13. You’ll want to look for short-season varieties of plants that are able to successfully mature within the quick seasonal shifts the desert is subject to. Finally, drought tolerance is an important characteristic for any plant grown in a desert garden.
A great way to find varieties of seeds and information about the best times to plant them are from local seed banks and exchanges. Resources like Native Seeds/SEARCH include many heirloom varieties that are native to the desert Southwest. Local desert gardeners can also offer their experience in finding the best varieties and methods for productive growing in our summer heat.
Perfect Your Soil
The aridity and extremes of the desert climate can wash and blow away needed organic matter in our soil, making it difficult to effectively grow many plants. If you are a gardening novice, you’ll especially want to consider how you support your gardening soil. Starting a compost system in your yard is a great way to turn your organic waste into high-nutrient soil for your gardening.
Compost is an easy and natural way to improve your soil. You can also amend your garden with fertilizer. The base of most fertilizers is nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Potassium is important for supporting rapid plant growth and proper development. Nitrogen in the soil is used by plants to build a healthy leaf structure and phosphorus is used to fight disease as well as develop flowers and fruits.
Even drought tolerant vegetable varieties still need water to grow, and proper watering is one of the biggest challenges to summer gardening in Arizona’s arid heat. The dry air causes water close to the surface to quickly evaporate from the ground. Plants will need to grow in moist soil, so it is important to check your soil often. Irrigating your garden bed will most likely be a necessity and can be done efficiently with a drip irrigation line, soaking hoses or drip tape set to a timer to regulate water flow. Laying down a light mulch, like straw can also help keep moisture in your soil all day long.
Made In the Shade
While many plants call for placement in “full sun,” they aren’t going to thrive in our harsh summer heat and punishing sun. Using shade cloth is an important factor in keeping your garden bed happy. Shade cloth screens heat and filters light so that your plants can thrive without being fried!
Plants aren’t the only thing in your Arizona garden that appreciate the climate control sunscreens can bring. Custom patio screens and window sunscreens from CC Sunscreens can help you cut your energy costs and enjoy home comfort even in the heat of summer.