I've become a great gardener. Thus proving ANYONE whose simply willing to try can become a successful gardener in Arizona! Here's a silly excerpt from my old journal, dated 1/1/2003: "My garden is extremely romantic and poetic for the purpose of enjoyment. If there’s anything practical about my garden, it’s because I’ve stumbled upon it by accident. For instance, the tomatoes weren’t planted for the purpose of eating. I plunked the little plant into the ground because the tag promised it would produce juicy red, oval tomatoes. I wanted to see it happen! I wanted to see if the plant I owned would really produce a flower and then a little, itsy bitsy fruit. I wanted to see if it would fill in with juicy flesh and grow big and red. SO you see, I planted the tomato out of wonder ~ pure, romantic curiosity and joy. A little red dangling jewel. A prized possession. All mine! Actually, now that it's grown, I love it so much I don’t even want to pick it! I’m such a novice vegetable gardener that I’ve only grown 8 tomatoes in my life. But the important thing is, I have! And you know what? I’m getting better at it all the time."
Lol. What a fun, curiosity-filled beginning and now I'm enjoying the garden year-round and training others to plant and enjoy their harvests as well.
Welcome, all to the journey!
Arizona's Garden Resources:
University of Arizona
Located in Tucson, AZ:
A truly unique collection of trees and plants from arid and semi-arid climates around the world. Many campus trees are the largest specimens in Arizona and have been designated as Great Trees of Arizona. Several are unique to the entire Southwest; a few were the first of their kinds to be planted in the Western Hemisphere.
We invite you to explore the UA Campus Arboretum - virtually or actually. See the Plant Walks and Wildlife Maps. Each season we show you What's In Bloom. The online database provides a great deal of knowledge regarding excellent trees and plants for growing in AZ.
Glendale Main Library
Located in Glendale, AZ: With over 400 species of low-water-use plants, the Glendale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden is a unique setting to discover more about the diversity of plant life in the Sonoran desert.
The garden is open to the public every day of the year. By walking the garden paths, you’ll see plants at their mature size, find examples of good plant combinations and discover ideas for your landscape. A free self-guided audio wand tour is available for checkout inside the library during normal library hours.
Download "Tales from the Garden" (pdf file),
a full-color, 40 page booklet detailing many of the rare and beautiful plants featured in this garden.
Learn to Garden in Arizona
Miracle Haven was a yard smattered with mix-matched rocks and gnarly bernuda grass when we acquired it in '91. Transforming the entire space into a pleasing garden was daunting so I chose a 15x30 foot area upon which to focus my atention like a magnifying glass on a bug. (Just a metaphor, I can't kill bugs.)
I carefully watched the sun and shade patterns and discovered the area was full of mini microclimates - burning hot spots and cool shady strips. Slowly, by trial and error, love, patience and quite a few long conversations at local nurseries I learned to work successfully with the unique conditions Arizona had to offer in that little 15x30 foot spot. You could say, I conquered it!
I amended the soil, laid drip irrigation lines and chose plants and flowers that were right for the exact location. After transforming this first patch of land into a charming little "Garden Room" I was energized! I turned my attentions to another bity section and continue to work my way through, designing & gardening daily.
When you understand what's different about gardening in Arizona and learn to work intelligently with the 2 unique Seasons, hard clay soil, microclimate environments and low-rainfall you can garden very successfully, practically year-round in Arizona!
& Easy Gardening Labs:
> How to Prepare Garden Beds
> Where to plant your garden
> How-to Use Drip-Irrigation
> Grow Flowers in AZ
> Planting Vegies in AZ
These were both grown during Cool Season in full Arizona sun.
(Left) January Salad Bowl
with Brussel Sprouts, Lettuce and Cabbage
April Butterfly Iris Dietes blooming in full spring sun
These were both grown during Warm Season.
(Left) August Cactus Bloom in full sun (volunteer was sewn by a bird)
(Right) September Bower Vine in shade (Shade with lots of light.)
A snipet of the garden during Cool Season, December
Red roses, Blue Salvia and a Poinsettia next to the birdhouse
1. ARIZONA HAS 2 SEASONS
The calendar reads:
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall but trust me, the plants in Arizona don't have cute calendars hanging in their kitchens! They are not checking the date to decide when to grow. Plants bloom and grow in Arizona because of water availability and temperature - not because the calendar calls it Spring. Let me explain. We can garden nearly year-round in Arizona because our climate is mild year--round (except in late summer when we soar past the 90's into triple-digits), but even then there is something that will grow. In AZ the year is essentially divided into 2 Seasons.
We have a "Cool Season" when outdoor temperatures are consistently getting cooler. At the start of the cool season you should plant seeds, flowers and vegetables that thrive in cool weather. Root vegetables like onions, garlic and snap peas will grow vigorously. Leafy vegies like lettuce, spinach and swiss chard love cool weather, too. At the end of Cool Season you will have your final harvests of these vegies.
We also have a "Warm Season" when outdoor temperatures are consistently getting warmer. At the beginning of the Warm Season plant fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and corn. It's also time to plant potatoes and sweet potatoes. At the end of Warm Season you will have your final harvests of these vegies.
Being able to tell if we are in "Cool Season" or "Warm Season" right now is easy! If the temps are going up, we are in Warm Season. If the temps are going down, we are in Cool Season. This total change in perspective will make Arizona gardening easy!
There are many beautiful plants, trees, shrubs and cactus that grow year-round in Arizona. Simply learn what their sun/shade and water preferences are and plant them in the right location for fantastic growth and year-round vegetation.
Peppers thrive with a minimum 6 hours of Warm Season sunshine.
Water garden plants, like these tropical lillies, also appreciate 6-hours of bright, Warm Season sunshine to bloom proficiently. (Shade 2-4 pm.)
Shaded Garden during Cool Season. A large tree shades this corner, allowing it to fill with cool light. (Plants made for shade: Begonia, Asparagus Fern, Agapanthus & Ruella, which grows and spreads like crazy in shade or sun and produces purple trumpet-like flowers.)
I've learned to easily transform green leaf trimmings, shredded paper and vegie scraps into rich, brown compost; then mix it with native soil.
Booklet Coming Soon!
> "Fail-Proof Composting, Turn leaves, junk mail, vegie scraps and
dryer lint into Rich Garden Soil in 16 days flat!"
Watering Guide: "Landscape Watering by the Numbers" is a full-color, 11-page booklet which explains exactly how to determine the amount of water your trees, grass, flowers and shrubs will need in summer as well as in winter. (download pdf file)
2. DON'T FEAR THE SUN
I was born in Arizona and the blistering sun was my nemeses. I 've attempted to plant an Arizona garden only to see it turn into into a strip of brown sticks. I've run bare-foot to the mailbox in August, teetering like an awkward ballerina with my toes planted in a tiny spot of shade. I've cooked an egg on the sidewalk with my kids.I thought the sun was my enemy.
Not so! If you know a bit about the sun, you will garden with great success. Here goes:
The sun is your partner! All vegetables need 6 HOURS of full Arizona sun - minimum. Most flowers do, too! (Exception: shade plants.)
Arizona morning sun is best for Warm Season gardens! My most successful Warm Season gardens capture warmth and light from the rising sun, then become shaded by tall plants, fences or buildings by 2pm. Some plants do well in full, all-day summer sun. Protect others from scorching sun and heat by using shade cloth.
Cool Season gardens grow well in full sun ALL DAY long! Your Cool Season garden should capture as much early morning sun as possible and will enjoy winter sun.
The Arizona winter sunshine is completely different from the summer sun because the days are shorter and the sun is beating down from a different height and angle. This means a shady Cool Season spot may be sunny in the Warm Season (and vice versa). You may need to re-position your garden beds and pots in summer. Simply pay attention before you plant.
As an Arizona native, I recommend wearing SPF 45 Sunscreen while you garden.
3. USE GREAT SOIL
It's impossible to grow inside of a brick. Native caliche soil, which has been watered and then dried is essentially a brick!
Amend (i.e. add things to) "the
brick"! Make the soil softer and better for roots to push around and grow. Use logic. If you were a root, trying to grow, how would you want the soil to feel? The general rule is to create soil that is permeable, drains well and contains nutrients. I personally shovel-stir a lot of mulch or compost and a little scoop of gypsum into native soil before using it to grow flowers or vegetables.
Consider making your own compost! If you learn how to do it right, you'll create fluffy, nitrogen-rich soil from things you might have thrown away.
4. REMEMBER TO WATER
Water your garden. DO NOT MISS A DAY of proper watering when the summer temps are extremely high. Summer sun dehydrates plants and soil fast! However, in winter you will water like a normal gardener from any other normal state.
EASIEST SEED TO GROW IN ARIZONA Sunflowers and ZInnias are the easiest seeds to grow in Arizona, so if you'd like a boost of confidence, start with them for guaranteed success! (Plant either seed often in mid-March thru May + late-July thru Oct.)
5. LEARN TO PLANT SEEDS
Planting a seed is probably one of the easiest things you will ever do.
Two simple rules:
1. Plant 2-3 times deeper than the seed size.
2. Keep the soil constantly moist until the seed sprouts and grows it's first set of leaves.
If ANY doubt remains, as to the simplicity of seed planting, I've prepared this video, titled "How To Plant A Sunflower Seed" (click).
Surprisingly, the video has already received over 6,500 hits...
Zinnia seeds are EASY to grow and come in many different colors and sizes. They are tough flowers and can take full summer sun exposure.
Plant these often! They grow absolutely BEST when seeds are planted in mid-March thru May, skip the months of June & first half of July. Plant more seeds starting in late-July all the way thru Oct.