Growing Vegetables and Herbs In Phoenix Arizona

Upcoming Event - AZRFG Fall Plant Sale - Saturday, October 18th 2014, 8am - 1pm

Overview
Arizona is the biggest producer of commercial tomatoes in the United States. This is largely because a company located in Willcox called Eurofresh grows over 125 million pounds of hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes a year. The irony of this is that tomatoes are actually not that easy to grow here in our regular old soil and sunshine. Regardless, people always want to grow tomatoes and for that matter other vegetables and herbs in their yard.

There are many good reasons to grow your own vegetables. For one, almost everything tastes better when it is fresh out of the garden. Additionally, with the growing popularity of organic foods many people like to grow their own organic vegetables so they can fully certify the organic origins of what they eat.

There are definitely some vegetables that are easier to grow in Phoenix AZ than others. Some vegetables can be grown almost year round and some can only be grown during the cooler months. Given below is a general approach to vegetable growing and then a listing of vegetables I have tried and what my experience has been.

An Overall Approach To Vegetable Gardening In Phoenix Arizona
Fruit trees are the primary focus on most of this web site, but vegetable gardening requires a different technique than growing trees. Unlike trees, vegetables do best with frequent waterings and lots of fertilizer. Most vegetables pop out of a seed, grow extremely rapidly, produce their crop, and die within months.

If a gardener wants to grow their vegetable garden organically, the two most useful components are compost and fish emulsion. A couple inches of compost can really help out a vegetable garden. Compost helps to keep the soil moist and also generates a slow steady supply of nutrients. Fish emulsion gives vegetables the nitrogen boost they need for rapid growth. A local celebrity in the field of organic vegetable gardening is Dave Owens - The Garden Guy. Many more suggestions about how to grow organically can be found on his site and in his book "Extreme Gardening".

If a gardener wants to go the less than 100% organic route, the good news is that vegetables are more tolerant than fruit trees of strong fertilizers. Being rapid growers and heavy feeders vegetables will often respond positively to common off the shelf garden fertilizers. Still, it is possible to over due it and build up a lot of salt in the soil so start conservatively and see how your plants respond to what they are being fed.

The primary seasons for growing vegetables in the Phoenix area are winter and spring. Fall is the primary planting season. October is a particularly good time to plant. The majority of vegetables are not worth keeping alive and watering through summer. A garden that will not be maintained through summer does not need to be sheltered from the afternoon sun, so the best place for a winter/spring vegetable garden is in full sun. Still it is best to avoid placing a garden in the reflected heat of a western exposure. For example, avoid creating a garden close to a western facing wall. Note, there are few vegetables that do well in the summer heat or need to survive the whole year and can benefit from afternoon shelter from the sun in summer. A gardener planning to have both a crop of winter/spring vegetables and a crop of summer/fall vegetables will probably want two garden locations.

Growing Artichokes
Globe artichokes actually grow fairly well here, but they need afternoon shade and plenty of water. If planted in the early spring they will not produce until next spring so its best to plant them in the fall, so that you will get heads the following spring. In summer they look dead, but don't despair just keep taking care of them and they will come back. I find the effort to reward ratio on artichokes to be a little low. They only produce for a short part of the year but require maintenance all year. Probably that is why they are expensive in the stores.

Growing Broccoli
Broccoli is a relatively easy crop. Plant it in the fall from seeds and harvest it in spring. A garden that receives full sun is best.

Growing Chilis and Peppers
Both hot and sweet peppers do very well in Phoenix Arizona. Interestingly, they don't like the hottest part of the year, so they are most productive in spring and fall. They can be kept alive through the summer, but its really not worth the trouble. To maximize your pepper production either plant them in the early fall from seed and pray for a mild winter, or plant them in early March as larger nursery stock. Unfortunately, the local retailers don't often have these plants available until later in spring, so a good plan is to raise your own from seed in pots. Peppers are hungry plants so fertilize them well to maximize yield. A garden that receives full sun is best.

Growing Dill
Dill is a weed here. It is easy to grow. Planted in early spring and cared for a dill plant will be 5 feet tall by early summer. At this time cut it off at the base, hang it in the shade to dry up, then just rub the dried out leaves between your fingers, drop them into a tray, and seal them up in a bottle. The result will be years worth of dill seasoning. A garden that receives full sun is best.

Growing Eggplants
Eggplants do very well in the Arizona desert and even like the summer heat. They are so productive that its not unusual to see people sharing them with coworkers and friends. Like most vegetables they need the soil to be kept always moist and are heavy feeders. Frost in the winter can kill them, so it is best to plant them in March.

Growing Melons
Melons do very well here, except for one problem, whiteflies love to suck the life out of the plants. Most years the whitefly invasion starts in July when the humidity starts to rise. Anyone who plays tennis probably has fond memories of all those little white moths flocking to their tennis ball. The best strategy is to plant melons as early as possible in the spring, so that fully ripe fruit is produced before the middle of summer. Don't even bother trying to poison the whiteflies once they have decended, they rebound amazingly fast. They are more or less invincible in the melon patch, you will never win. That being said, the best cantaloupe I ever had was grown in my own garden here in Phoenix. A garden that receives full sun is best.

Growing Mint
I have tried peppermint, and it lingered for years in light shade. It never really took off, or took over as mint is known to do. Mints naturally grow in the mountains which leads me to believe it is just too hot for it here.

Growing Oregano
Oregano is so easy. Grow it in light shade and water it on the same schedule as your grass. That's all you need to know.

Growing Rosemary
Rosemary has to be one of the easiest plants to grow in the Phoenix area. It needs very little water and likes the sun and heat. Even if you don't plant it, it might show up in your yard anyway. It grows as a bushy ground cover and makes a decent landscape xeroscape plant. The big bonus is that it is an excellent spice.

Growing Spinach
Spinach is a relatively easy crop. Plant it in the fall from seeds and harvest it in spring. A garden that receives full sun is best.

Growing Strawberries
Strawberries are a frustrating crop here. Right about the time they take off and start pumping out berries it gets too hot for them. Furthermore, they don't like the alkaline soil so one has to practically replace the native soil with compost and other amendments to get them to grow. Sure, there are always those gardeners you will run into here that tell tales of their wonderful berry patch and how sweet the berries they had last year were. Further investigation always reveals that they had just a few nice berries for 2 weeks in late May before the cooker started. Strawberries in the Arizona desert .... not worth it. If you still insist on trying the best variety for here appears to be Sequoia. A garden that receives full sun is best.

Growing Tomatoes
The tomato is always the star of the vegetable garden so everyone wants to grow it. Yes, home grown tomatoes always have a lot more flavor than store bought ones. Unfortunately, no other garden plant seems to have as many pests and diseases hunting it down as the poor tomato. Being a celebrity draws attention apparently. In Phoenix, tomatos have a problem very similar to strawberries. Just when they are getting ready to really produce the summer heat knocks them out. Therefore, the key to tomato growing is planting early and choosing the earliest varieties. A formula that works well for me is transplanting 1 foot tall Early Girl tomatoe plants, purchased at your local store, in October. There is some risk of frost when doing this, but the head start the plants get is well worth it. Even so, keep in mind that your season will be short. Keeping tomatoes going through summer here is a waste of time and water, so say goodbye to your little darlings when temperatures go over 100 F., and pull the plug. A garden that receives full sun is best.

Links to more vegetable gardening information

Roger Smith's Desert Garden      Maricopa County Home Horticulture