A Guide to Gardening in the Desert

The sun bleached desert may not be the ideal place to grow a luscious vegetable garden. Access to water, blazing temperatures, hungry spider mites, as well as an unforgiving landscape are just some of the challenges one may face when trying to grow a garden in desert regions. However, proper planning and a little luck can go a long way to growing a green and healthy garden in even the most inhospitable conditions.

As with any garden, nutrient rich soil is essential for healthy plants. Sand, however, isn’t exactly ideal for growing crops. The layer of rock hard calcium carbonate called caliche found underneath most North American deserts doesn’t help either. One way around this is to manually dig out the caliche and replace it with soil. This may prove to be difficult seeing that the layer of caliche may be between a couple of inches to a several feet thick. Another alternative would be to build a raised bed you can use to plant crops in.

Timing is also very important in growing a desert garden. Summer months can be brutally hot in many areas but they are exceptionally intense in the desert. The best time to start planting is after the frost season has past, before Summer sets in. Seasons and growing times vary from region to region so it’s important to do research for your location. Also, the cooling off period after Summer is another optimal time to go ahead and plant your garden.

Sunlight is also vital. Most fruits and vegetables require at least four to six hours of sunlight each day. Full exposure to sunlight is typically preferred when growing most vegetables. When planting your crops be sure to stay away from anything that could shade your garden. Also, tall crops need to be planted in the northern side of your garden so they won’t shade shorter crops as they grow taller. These taller plants can also act as a wind barrier for the rest of your crops.

The desert’s unique environment requires you to be careful when deciding what to plant. In the early spring cold, hardy plants are ideal. Some examples of these are spinach, onions, broccoli, celery and brussel sprouts. During the warm season vegetables such as tomatoes, lima beans, eggplant, and pumpkins do quite well.

More often than not, the key to a successful garden is simply trial and error. It also helps to check in with your local Cooperative Service office so they can give you advice on what plants grow best in the area. With a little preparation you can turn your little patch of desert into a thriving oasis.






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