It’s a little warm out there, but a happy fall and winter garden depends on your summer commitment to the soil. Your goal should be to revive the hard, salty, nutrient-void soil, establish a watering system, set up shade and start seeding in September so that you can enjoy a bountiful garden of veggies and herbs come late October. Time to get started…
First things first, consider testing your soil pH levels with a home soil testing kit. For a hands-on and in-depth understanding of soil preparation, consider the Southwest Gardener’s course on Sunday, September 11th, with local gardening guru Gregory Ware. If you need additional or healthier soils and mulches, consider a visit to Singh Farms for some of the valley’s best.
Don’t forget to continually add organic nutrients to your soil by composting! There are many methods of composting, all relatively easy and making good use of your food left-overs, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc. There are a surprising list of things you can compost but thought you couldn’t. If you are too busy to manage compost, check out AzValleyCompost for pickup and delivery. They are a local composting service and make it as easy as taking out the trash.
Next, you want to establish a shading system. You can go natural routes with trees, go inexpensive and creative with wire fencing and mesh or even get extravagant with shade sails and pergolas. Dylan Kongos, local garden extraordinaire, uses a pvc/wire structure and 50% shade cloth from late May to mid October. The rest of the year and remaining areas of the garden strategically use other plants to provide shade for more sun-sensitive ones.
A watering system can be as technical or as traditional as you like. Kongos uses an automatic drip system, 1/2 inch tubing with 1gph emitters every 12 inches and each bed has its own shut-off valve. “I’ve found that having an individual shut-off valve for each bed is really helpful as plants require different amounts of water and you might be working with only one or two timers,” explains Dylan.
Now that you have made a good foundation for your plants to grow, its time to layout the garden and select your veggies and herbs. There is a terrific calendar available from the Arizona Cooperative Extension that explains what and when to plant. For best results, some plants should be started from seed and others from transplant. Fall seeds are already available in stores and bulbs will start arriving in mid-September. For transplants, Phoenix offers several plant sales. Check out the Southwest Gardener Fall Vegetable and Herb Plant Sale on October 9th, the Desert Botanical Garden Fall Plant Festival October 16th & 17th as well as the Maricopa Master Gardener’s “Perennial Divide” Fall Plant Sale on October 30th.
To get a better idea on what kind of time will be required to have a harvest-worthy garden, Dylan’s 3000 square-foot garden will take a couple hours everyday the first weeks of September planting indoors seeds, a couple hours everyday the first weeks in October transplanting and direct seeding and once a month organic fertilizing. After that, “I pretty much just sit back and watch it grow until harvest time.”
Good luck green thumbs!