When the growing season is winding down in most parts of the country, it is just beginning in Phoenix. Mid-September through early April is the prime garden season in this low-altitude desert. September and October are the best time to plant artichokes, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, lettuce, parsley, radish, spinach, and sugar snaps. With minimal protection from frosts, many of these vegetables will grow throughout the winter and into early spring.
The soil in Phoenix is some of the poorest in the country, heavily compacted and alkaline, full of salts and rocks. To garden in this soil requires generous additions of organic matter, preferably well-matured compost. Break up the first 12″ of the soil and remove any large rocks. Mix in the compost, along with gypsum to combat the alkaline Ph. Plan on repeating this process every time you plant a new crop. Other vegetable garden ideas include raised gardening – highly recommended – and container gardening. Raised beds retain moisture, but at the same time they allow excessive moisture from monsoon rains to drain very quickly.
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Vegetables as Ornamentals
Container gardens can be a rewarding way of gardening for beginners. They provide a colorful focal point, accent your home’s architecture, and can be moved around for easy accessibility. Choose large containers with a capacity of five gallons or more and fill with an organic soil mix. Place the containers in a protected area, sheltered from the wind and frost. Containers dry out quickly, so be prepared to water often.
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Try planting an Italian garden with a tomato, basil as a filler, and oregano to cascade down the pot. Mix colorful lettuces with edible nasturtiums for a cheerful salad garden. Cucumbers, dwarf forms of pumpkins and winter squash, and sugar snaps can easily be trained to grow vertically in containers, leaving room to fill in with colorful annual flowers.