Are you interested in establishing a garden on the dry wasteland? Even for those who are new to desert gardening, the process of cultivating plants in a harsh climate can be difficult but ultimately rewarding. Because gardening always needs some degree of effort on the part of the gardener, there is no such thing as easy desert gardening.
There is nothing novel about cultivating one’s own food supply. Many people now hold as a desirable ideal the concept of supplying their families with freshly harvested, organic fruits and vegetables. Growing vegetables may be challenging even in the climates that are considered to be the most temperate, so taking on the challenge of doing so in a desert environment is not for the faint of heart. However, once you have mastered the learning curve, you will be able to have your very own vegetable garden that is thriving.
Nevertheless, you can save water, time, and money by implementing the following suggestions.
Know Your Environment
Deserts are regions with scant precipitation, but not all deserts are identical. Low elevation deserts typically experience mild winters and sweltering summers, whereas high elevation deserts experience warm, dry summers and frigid winters.
Right Plant, Right Location
Before installing a garden, one should create a landscape plan. By assessing the area beforehand, we can prevent errors. When designing a landscape, one of the most important factors to consider is the plant’s mature size. Ensure that the plant has sufficient space to prevent the constant shearing of shrubs into unattractive “biscuits.” Consider the sky before planting a tree or palm. Are there any other trees or power lines in the way? Consider planting drought-resistant plants further away from the house and on higher ground, and water-hungry plants closer to the house and in areas where water will collect.
If you’re new to growing fruits and vegetables in the desert, begin with simple techniques. Discover how they develop, how they spread, and when they produce fruit. Tomatoes are a great starter veggie. Along with peppers and squash, herbs are fairly hardy and easy to cultivate. Ensure that there is sufficient space between your plants for them to grow freely and without stress. Do not feel compelled to begin with a 100-square-foot garden. Gain speed over the course of months and/or years. Once you have the hang of it, let loose!
Invasive plants that are not native to the area have a negative impact on the ecosystem. One of the greatest threats to the Sonoran Desert is the introduction of invasive grasses from Africa and Asia, which serve as fuel for wildfires. The plants of the low desert, including the iconic saguaro, are not adapted to withstand fires that can alter the landscape over centuries. The most invasive grasses to watch out for in your garden are buffelgrass, red brome, and fountain grass. Remove them prior to their going to seed. However, there are also native bunchgrasses that provide seed for native birds and control erosion without providing sufficient fuel for fires. Before removing grasses, please determine whether or not they are native.
Include Edible Plants in the Landscape
Instead of selecting plants solely for their aesthetic value, incorporate edible varieties! Filling plant containers with a mixture of annuals, herbs, and vegetables is one of my favorite things to do. For instance, plant petunias and Rudbeckia (coneflowers) among basil and use a tomato plant as the focal point. Possibilities are infinite. The annuals attract beneficial insects, and the overall design is beautiful and contemporary. You may not be able to grow enough fruits and vegetables to feed your family, but it doesn’t take many herbs to do so. Pomegranates and quince are two fruit trees that require minimal care and water.
Keep an eye out for pests
Pests can be one of the most challenging aspects of fruit and vegetable cultivation. One day the plants appear to be healthy, and the next they appear to be infested. Learn about common pests in your area and prepare accordingly. The warmer it becomes, the more likely it is that pests will become a problem. Keep a close eye on your plants so that, if pests do become a problem, you can capture them before they cause significant harm.
Growing fruits and vegetables can be extremely beneficial for the entire family. Children enjoy being able to help plant, water, and especially harvest the vegetables. Get everyone involved. Developing an appreciation for gardening and producing one’s own food is a lifelong lesson in care, resiliency, and appreciation. Enjoy your gardens! We hope they are abundant and outrageously delicious.
Observe the Sun
Due to the high altitude and intense UV rays, the sun in the high desert can literally roast your vegetable plants. To prevent our plants from catching fire, I’ve discovered that the following two methods are most effective:
- Companion Plant – Companion planting is typically associated with protecting against pests, but it can also be used to shade lower growing plants beneath taller, more resilient plants. For instance, kale orchard could be grown beneath a pole bean teepee.
- Shade Cloth – Shade cloth is an excellent and relatively inexpensive method for shielding your tender vegetables from the sun’s rays and baking heat. I’ve discovered that Summer and Winter Squash greatly benefit from some shade during the hottest part of the day! You can accomplish this by simply inserting PVC pipes in your beds, as you would build a hoop house or low tunnel, and then securing your shade only over the very top of the PVC pipes using small clamps, so that your plants still receive some sunlight, but not the hottest sun of the day.
Commit to Lots of Water
The unique, extremely arid climate of the high desert not only affects plants at their roots, but also their ability to absorb water through their leaves. Given this, it is essential that you optimize the amount of water your vegetables receive when you water them. Drip irrigation and heavy mulching are the simplest methods for achieving this result.
- Drip irrigation consists of a series of small hoses that permit water to drip slowly into the soil around the plant’s base and into the root zone. A network of tubing, pipes, valves, and emitters compose the system. Depending on the size of your garden beds, installing drip irrigation could take a few hours, but the end result more than justifies the initial effort. Not only will installing drip irrigation provide you with the peace of mind that your plants are receiving enough water, but it will also save you hours per week because you won’t have to water everything by hand!
- Water collection in the form of rain barrels can save lives (if it is legal in your state). Allowing rain water to be diverted from your roof into large barrels or cisterns on your property can help offset your water costs (or reduce the strain on your well) when used to water plants that require more water than others. Alternately, you can set up your rain barrels with hoses, a gravity feed, or a timer to water your plants, but that is the subject of an entirely different article.
Growing food in the high desert can present a number of formidable obstacles, yet there is unmistakable evidence that it is possible to achieve success in this endeavor. It is possible to almost ensure a plentiful harvest by adhering to a few straightforward practices that will assist in mitigating the negative effects of the hot, dry, and windy circumstances.