The warm season vegetable gardening season is starting, and many readers are ‘rarin’ to get growing. Here are my top ten tips for success.
Number 1 Tip – Plant What You Eat
Plant something that you like to eat or will use, like maybe gourds.
Want tomatoes? Tomatoes are the hardest to grow in our hot dry climate – so what’s you next choice?
Have you ever had salsa verde – green sauce made from tomatillos? It’s very tasty. Then, once you have grown tomatillos, you can expand those skills to grow their cousin, the tomatoes.
Tip 2 – Start with Seedlings
Start with seedlings from nurseries (not big box stores). Seed planting is an entirely other skill set. Just growing something is tough enough to start with. Master growing first – then you can branch out. But – if you like to simply jump off the deep end – here is my post about Seed Starting.
While you are at the nursery – don’t forget this next tip, and get some flowers.
Tip 3 – Attract Pollinators
Warm season vegetables are in reality – botanically speaking – fruits. They have seeds. They need pollinators to pollinate the flowers so the fruits will start to grow.
Plant some flowers with your veggies, especially edible ones, for example nasturtiums, calendula, or even a perennial with edible flowers, like garlic chives.
Tip 4 – Plant to Save Money
Plant the vegetables that are most expensive to buy in the grocery store. I like leeks and fennel – so I plant those. But not in the spring garden – They are cool season plants.
For summer I like to eat light – lots of salads! And yet growing greens in the heat of summer is tough in the Land of El Sol. I will post about that separately.
Tip 5 – Walk Before You Run
Start small and don’t stress if it doesn’t all work. Any true gardener will lose plants. Remember that you didn’t learn to walk the first time you tried. And how long does it take to learn to play a violin?!
Tip 6 – Southwest Soils Suck
Yes folks – our soils are far from ideal for vegetable gardening.
Yard soil will need to be amended with compost and/or aged manure. You will need to work this in evenly. If you have clay soil you will also need to add some sand and small (pea) gravel. This is why container gardening is a great way to start vegetable gardening. Good if you are a renter too!
Tip 7 – Containers are Good
Start small the first year or two. Build a single raised bed, but better yet – start with a couple of containers.
Start by learning just how much effort is involved in vegetable gardening. It might be more than you bargained for. If you go too big too soon, you might become disappointed
Tip 8 – Southwest Sun Sucks Too
In Low and Middle Desert – select a site that offers afternoon shade in summer. But for winter growing you need at least 6 hours of direct sun. This is why containers are good. You can move them as needed.
Tip 9 – Plan for Time
Gardening takes time. If you want to succeed (I want you to!), plan to take some time every single day to check on things.
In our climate, plan to make watering a daily task in summer – it’s the best way to check on your garden. Also try to make this in the morning, when plants are waking up and becoming active for the day. Watering in the evening leads to rot problems.
Tip 10 – Train Your Eye
This gardening thing is a new skill set – you need to get to know the look of things in the garden.
The best advice I can give about this is to put a comfortable chair in your garden. Sit and drink your morning coffee, or go out and watch the sunset. Be sure to put your phone on silent. You might want it with you in case you want to take a photo – but otherwise don’t look at it.
After you make some time and some brain space, you will start to notice more about your plants, pollinators, the air movements, and even some pests – just by sitting.
Once you get to know how your garden looks, you’ll more easily recognize when plants are stressed, when the soil starts to dry out, when pests are most active, details like that. You will become more tuned in to the natural world around you.
Tip 10 and 1/2 – Relax and Enjoy
Most important – have fun! Don’t let the garden become another chore on your to-do list. When you’re tending your crops, take a moment to breathe and enjoy the time in your corner of heaven on earth.
Need Some Vegetable Garden Help?
May I recommend my book? The Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Guide offers not just growing guides but some of the latest varieties – including ones specifically for raised bed and container growing. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from me you get a signed copy!
From the review:
“In this updated 2nd edition of Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, you’ll find much-needed advice and practical tips on growing an edible garden, no matter which part of the southwestern US you call home.
Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!
Botanist Dr. Jacqueline Soule simplifies the ins and outs of gardening in the Southwest and serves as your guide to success. Regardless of whether you’re tending an in-ground plot, a small container garden, or a series of raised beds, Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening is an invaluable resource.”
Profits from the sale of this book go to the Arizona-based Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.
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