Arizona is notoriously known for its extreme climate conditions. The sun shines many days a year, so vegetable gardening in Arizona is challenging. The general zone guidelines found in seed packets do not work there because the temperature is distinct.
However, gardening in Arizona is quite possible if you understand the nature of the environment well. In this article, we will be helping you with vegetable gardening in Arizona.
A gardener’s job is pretty simple – know what the plants need and give it to them. Plants need sunlight, water and nutrients, but at the right time and in the right amount. This is where the tricky part comes in, you need to know what is ‘right’.
Gardening in Arizona
Arizona is made up of six plant climate zones. The zones are determined by the expected minimum temperatures and elevation.
Broadly, we can divide the regions into two parts: higher elevation and lower elevation. Low elevation regions are those regions ranging from 10 feet to 4,000 feet while high elevation regions around above 4,000 feet.
In Arizona’s high elevation areas, the main growing period is during the spring and early summer. Lower elevation regions gardens produce year-round.
Benefits of Vegetable Gardening in Arizona
Two states in Arizona – namely California and Florida are known to produce citrus commercially. This is because the climate of these regions suits citrus plants.
Hence, if you live in Arizona and you want to grow oranges or lemons, you will face no problem. There’s another benefit of vegetable gardening in Arizona – you can garden outdoors year-round. There will always be enough sunshine for plants to thrive.
How to Get Started?
Gardening in Arizona is tricky, so you must not start without having enough knowledge about what you are going to do. Before anything else, you need to choose an appropriate site for your vegetable garden.
Choosing a site
This decision is just as important as choosing which vegetables to grow. The location of the garden must be convenient to the plants as well as to the gardener. Here are a few points you should consider while choosing a site for your vegetable garden:
Soil – Right soil is probably the most important aspect of a healthy garden. It should be fertile enough and not too clayey or too sandy. Never choose an area close to a creek because the soil there is too wet.
Location – Make sure you don’t choose a high windy area. If you don’t have a choice, build a windbreak to protect your garden. Avoid areas near busy roads because pollution harms plants and vegetables. The garden should also not be near any construction site as the soil may have lead paint.
Sunlight – If you are gardening in Arizona, sunlight is not a problem. Still, it is important to choose a place with plenty of morning sunlight and some afternoon shade to protect the plants from the afternoon heat. Most vegetables do well with full sun exposure while leafy vegetables do with partial shade.
Selecting What Vegetables to Grow in Arizona
Gardening in Arizona is different because, unlike other regions, the weather is different. In place of one long growing season, Arizona has three small growing seasons – from September to March (cool-season crops), from February to May (warm-season crops) and in the monsoon season.
While selecting the vegetables, first take into account what you and your family likes to eat. Grow what you enjoy eating! Then, check if these vegetables grow well in Arizona. You can check an Arizona vegetable planting calendar and look for your vegetables online.
Some people also consider the cost involved in growing certain vegetables. For example, radish is easy to grow from seeds that are inexpensive. It also grows at a fast pace, so you can sow and harvest it several times a year. On the other hand, pumpkin uses a lot of garden space and takes time to grow. So, choosing to grow pumpkins in a small space is not a cost-effective choice.
Space is also a factor to consider. Most gardeners have limited space, so it is wise to think about the amount of space each vegetable will take up. For small spaces, you can grow quick-growing plants around larger fruit veggies. The goal is to allow small plants to grow before the big one catches up.
Container gardening in Arizona can also be a great option because it requires very little space. In fact, you can grow almost anything in a container garden.
Choosing the Right Variety of Vegetables for Arizona
Some varieties are bred for certain regions. There are native varieties that have been grown and harvested in Arizona. If you buy seeds or plants from a local company, you get plants that suit your region. These varieties are well-adapted to local climates. They are better when it comes to withstanding conditions in Arizona.
There are some short-season varieties that take comparatively lesser time to harvest. This means that you can incorporate a wide variety of crops each season into your vegetable garden. Gardeners suggest that you should go for these varieties if you have an option.
The microclimates available to you are the different weather conditions your garden experiences at the same time. Which means that some areas get more sunlight than others, some part is cooler than others and so on. You can take advantage of these microclimates by growing plants whose requirements match a specific microclimate.
Notice which areas receive more sunlight, which area has a cool atmosphere and which area is under shade. Study the sun requirements of your vegetable plants and place them in the desired region. This way, you will be able to utilise all the space effectively.
Time of Planting
Gardening in Arizona is pretty much knowing what and when to plant. Planting at the right time reduces the risk of damage from frost or warm weather. Check the information about planting dates in seed catalogues or seed packets.
Ideally, you should plant at the last frost date to avoid late spring frosts. The seed packets also tell you the number of days until harvest. This helps you calculate and work backward from the frost date.
For example, some vegetable takes 100 days to harvest, as mentioned in the package. But if frost is only 50 days away, it is too late to plant that vegetable this season. It will not have enough time to ripe before the frost hits.
The seed packets also tell you the required temperature of the soil. Use a soil thermometer to check its temperature.
Vegetable plants need enough space above and below the ground to flourish. Space is needed so that natural breezes keep them dry and healthy.
If they have room for sunlight, they will produce larger vegetables and sweeter fruits than plants grown too close to each other or in shade.
Nutrients in the soil also do not reach the roots properly if plants are too close. They will just keep competing with each other.
As you start with the seeding process, plan for the proper height and width of your plants at maturity because they might look far apart when they are small, but they will use that space once they grow up. Tall crops can also shade out short crops.
Preparing the Soil
Soil is the home of your plants; hence you should ensure that it is healthy before you start your garden. You can also improve the quality of your soil. But before anything else, keep in mind that you should not work in wet soil. Digging into wet soil makes it compact. Compact soil has poor drainage.
The ideal soil for a vegetable garden is loamy soil. Loamy soil can be identified by forming it into a ball, as it gets rolled up. If you squeeze the soil, it will crumble easily. Loamy soil is excellent in providing water and air to plants. It also drains very well.
Adding compost to your garden bed will increase the amount of organic matter in the soil and make it better for growing vegetables. If you are starting in the dry season, spreading a layer of compost as mulch on the top of the soil will help the soil hold moisture.
Composting makes the soil better for vegetable plants but they need extra nutrients every year. Among the important ones are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These are found in most fertilizer mixes. You can use NPK fertilizers to make the soil even better for a vegetable garden.
Start with loosening the soil with the help of a digging fork or shovel. Mix the compost and fertilizer as you work. There are various seeding patterns like row planting, hill planting and banded planting. You can choose any pattern for your seeds.
For the depth, check the seed packet. If there are no directions mentioned, follow this general rule – sow as deep as four times the longest part of the seed. Sowing seeds too deep may prevent germination.
Watering the Vegetable Garden in Arizona
Major problems in a vegetable garden are due to watering – either too much or too little. Gardening in Arizona requires attention to how you water the plants. The amount of water your plants need depends on the weather. During the hot summers of Arizona, gardens need watering every day. Other times of the year, watering 1-3 times a week will work. Adjust the frequency as per the climate.
Every time you water, make sure that you are watering deep enough to moisten the plant’s entire root system. Some people water the leaves instead of the roots. This can be the cause of many plant diseases. Always water only the soil. Let the soil dry between watering.
You should water deeply. If you are not sure if your soil is moist enough, you can use your hands to feel the moisture within one or two inches of soil. A drip irrigation system can be used for large spaces to prevent water wastage.
The watering need of the plants also depends on the species. If your seeds are germinating, they need to stay moist all the time. Just be careful not to wash them away. Developing plants need deep, infrequent watering for root growth. Shallow-rooted plants like onions draw water from the top soil.
Mulching the Vegetable Garden in Arizona
If you are gardening in Arizona, mulch plays a significant role as it protects roots from extreme temperatures. Mulch also prevents weeds and preserves moisture. It is advised to add a three-inch layer of mulch over your soil each season, especially in summer. This layer can include compost, pine needles, or straw. Mulching keeps the soil soft and stops it from developing a hard crust.
Solarizing the Soil
One advantage of gardening in Arizona is that you can use the sun’s heat to kill weeds and other pests in your garden. In peak summer, the sun can help you get rid of these unwanted substances.