Gardening in Arizona can be tough. Super high temps, very little rain, and nutrient-deficient soil can often times lead to garden failures. But if you have a few important tips to help you along the way, gardening can be a very rewarding experience here in the desert! Today I am going to share the things that have helped my family and I have a successful garden in our desert backyard.
1. Raised Bed – We live on the side of a rocky, desert mountain hill where the ground is tough and full of caliche. Because of this, we quickly decided that a raised garden bed was going to be our best bet. Raised garden beds have many benefits including warmer soil, they are easier to reach, they have good drainage, and you are able to control the soil content. Plus I think raised beds are pretty, don’t you?
2. Soil Content – To create our soil content in our garden bed, we followed something called the Mittleider Method. This basically means we used a mixture of sawdust and sand enriched with various fertilizers to make the “soil.” To learn more about the Mittleider Method, I encourage you to go to Dr. Mittleider’s website, Food For Everyone. We have been very happy with our results using this method for our soil.
3. Automatic Watering System – The first year we gardened, we watered everything by hand. Our garden was very labor intensive that year. Now we have our garden hooked up to our landscaping system and everything is set to an automatic timer. This has made gardening SO simple for us. If you are able to hook your garden up to an automatic watering system, I highly recommend you do. To create our watering system we strung 12 drip irrigation hoses spaced evenly apart across the garden. These hoses have holes spaced every 6 inches to release water. Drip or flood irrigation is much preferred to any kind of sprinkler system as it keeps salt in the water from getting on top of the plants and damaging them.
4. Defense – The first year we gardened, animals ate every vegetable we produced. In fact, they ate our pepper plants down to nubs! To help defend our garden we made a small fence surrounding the raised bed using hardware cloth (better than chicken wire as the holes are smaller and the wire gage is heavier). Some of the ground squirrels eventually figured out how to climb over the fence, but it definitely slowed them down and kept many out. For the ones who did get in, we ended up setting traps and putting out poison trays. A week of that and our ground squirrel numbers were greatly reduced. To help protect our garden from the birds, we strung CD’s from wires above the garden and put metallic dollar store pin wheels here and there between the plants. The birds are scared off by the moving reflections so this was a great way to defend against them. If you are going to string up CD’s make sure to use heavy duty fishing line as all other kinds of string will quickly break (trust us, we know).
5. Plant Early – This is especially important for gardening in Arizona. Planting early allows you to have an earlier and longer harvest time before the hot or cold temps set in and start reducing your production. In Arizona you’ll want to plant between late January and early February for a spring garden and mid to late September for a winter garden. We really feel that planting early plays a major part in the large amounts of produce we have been able to harvest each year.
6. Fertilize – A couple of weeks before you plant, you are going to want to add manure and fertilizer to your garden. We used manure from a friend’s farm down the street and an Ammonium Phosphate fertilizer (Lilly Allen All Purpose fertilizer is a good one from Lowe’s). Apply the manure liberally and sprinkle the fertilizer over the top and then work it all into the soil. Water everything down and let it sit until you are ready to plant. When you plant, add more fertilizer. As our garden grows, we add fertilizer a few more times just as we think it needs it.
7. Tomato Tip – We like to plant tomatoes of the Early Girl variety. These mature faster than other tomatoes making them particularly good if you are gardening in AZ as they produce early and you are guaranteed a good harvest before the heat hits. Finding vegetables with a fast maturity rate is actually a good rule of thumb for all plants in your AZ garden.
And that’s it! There are other tips I could share with you, but these are the most vital ones to your gardening success in my opinion. Don’t let the desert scare you off! Gardening can be pretty awesome here. After all, we have one very important element always working in our favor: lots and lots of sun. Happy gardening, everyone!