Twice a year, I get excited and sift through seed catalogs and peruse nurseries for what I want to plant next.
In the Phoenix, AZ area, we have two seasons: cool and warm. The cool season planting begins around August 1 and most crops go into the ground in September when the days are still hot but the evenings begin to cool down, giving cool season seeds a break.
I know that we are experiencing one of the hottest summers on record so far, but it REALLY IS time to get moving on the cool season garden. You can take advantage of the August monsoon rains. Think free water!
REMOVE OLD PLANTS
In the Southwest, July and early August are times to remove the plants that quit producing. If they haven’t produced fruit within the last two weeks, it’s not going to happen. The heat throws the plants into dormancy. So don’t waste the water; pull them out and prepare the ground for the next planting. I admit it is tough. I have tomato plants that are 5 feet tall and still beautifully green. A couple of plants even have one or two green tomatoes on them. But into the compost bin they go!
When you pull the plants, remove all debris and old mulch (straw, pine needles, sawdust, chips, etc.). Both can hold onto diseases that may be passed to the next crop you plant. Lay down fresh mulch one your plants are about 4-5 inches tall.
Don’t pull your perennials like berries, lavender and herbs that continue to grow. Later this fall, you will thin them out and cut them back.
PREPARE THE SOIL
You have the plants, debris and mulch removed. Place a few inches of fresh compost on top. You can buy good compost from a nursery if you don’t make your own. Make sure you are buying compost and not mulch (a common mistake as gardeners see “composted mulch.” That just means that the mulch is shredded.). If you are using raised beds, simply lay a few inches of compost on top of the current soil. If you are growing in-ground, work it into the soil. With raised beds, the soil is already porous so you don’t need the additional aeration that compost adds to native soil. It’s the fresh nutrients carried top down as you water that make fresh compost helpful in a raised garden. If it’s on top, the nutrients flow down through all of the soil with the water, which is what you want.
CHOOSE YOUR PLANTS & SEEDS
Roots and greens grow well in the cool season. Attached is the Maricopa_Vegetable_Calendar to help you plan. You may also use the USDA site to find your local extension partner if you aren’t in Maricopa County. each extension office will have information about what plants work well in your area.
For regions with cool seasons, garlic, bulb onions, lettuce, peas, some squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, broccoli and carrots are good choices. There are many more to choose from. Just check your local planting calendar to make your selections. The back of seed packets give you general planting dates for your local regions also, although your county extension groups will be more accurate per locale within the region.
Pay attention to the sun exposure needs for your plants also. For example broccoli, squash and peas will need more sun than lettuce and herbs, so they should be planted where you get the most sun.
My favorite online seed vendors
- Seed Savers Exchange: created by home gardeners for home gardeners; members share seeds for free but non-members can still buy seeds.
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds: guaranteed not to be GMO seeds
- Seeds of Change: all organic seeds
- Native Seeds/SEARCH: seeds selected and grown for success in the Southwest; its store and center are in Tucson, AZ; its research farm is in Patagonia, AZ)
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: offers the largest variety of heirlooms
Memorize this mantra: root, fruit, bean, green. If you rotate crops, you will cut down on diseases and improve your yield. Different types of plants are susceptible to different diseases and pests. They also need different nutrients. Plants suck nutrients from the ground and put others back into the ground. That’s why the specific rotation is important. It ensures that you have a few years in between similar plantings so that diseases and pest eggs die and you are replacing nutrients naturally without adding commercial nutrients (and the cost of them).
Fruit includes tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers.
If you only have one or two raised beds or sections in your garden, don’t fret about rotation to another raised bed. Just place the plants into different parts of the bed according to the mantra. This can be done in square-foot gardening also, although not quite as successful.
When you plant seeds, plant to the depth designated on the back of the package (see the image above). Spacing can be a little closer than designated if you are using raised beds. More nutrients are available, which is partially the spacing consideration. As plants grow, be prepared to thin them out if they grow too close, however. Seed packages also carry expiration dates. If you are using last year’s seeds, you may want to plant two close together then thin out one. It doubles your chance of germination with older seeds.
Immediately after planting, water gently but thoroughly.
So get out the seed catalogs or go to the websites and have fun! Try something new while you’re at it.