How to Grow and Maintain a Desert Garden

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My ability to learn the necessary skills to become self-sufficient does not carry over into the garden. It is the one area of the ranch that I fight my way through.

Seriously. I’ve watched more plants die than grow.

But this season, it seems the winds have changed. Actually, it’s not the winds. I’ve been doing A TON of reading about soil composition, sun exposure, general plant needs, etc. I’ve also been learning a whole lot over at Seattle Seedling’s YouTube channel.

After years of failure in the garden, I am finally beginning to see progress right here in the 100+ degree desert- shocking, I know!

How am I successfully growing and maintaining a desert garden you wonder?

  1. Start above ground. I used extra-large tree barrels I found on our property. Build beds or find your own alternative. Doing this allows you to overcome the poor soil quality in the desert by allowing you to customize the soil to your plants’ needs. Once you’re comfortable with this, try a few plants (such as easy to grow potatoes) before trusting your entire garden to the desert soil.
  2. Know the sun. Out here, the sun can be a tool or a weapon. Make it a tool. Place containers in spaces that have morning sun exposure before the rays and heat become too strong. I place our containers in the front of the house where the sun’s rays begin to show at about 4:30am. By 3pm, the shadow of our house has consumed the front, protecting our plants from the sun’s rays as the heat intensifies over the afternoon.
  3. Water, Water, Water. Watering on a schedule isn’t always efficient in the desert. The best way to protect against over or under watering is to check the soil. I use my index figure to check the soil’s moisture and have found watering is necessary almost daily. In addition to checking for each plant’s need for water, be sure to provide water in the evening when the plant will have time to absorb it over night when there is less competition with the hot dry air.
  4. Protect against pests. Garden pests are a problem everywhere, but in the desert, there are many rodents looking for nutritious food. Know which ones you are up against and plan accordingly. I know our biggest threat is the ground squirrel, which can’t climb up any smooth surface more than 24” tall. As a result, I made sure all of my containers were at least 2 feet tall to protect our precious food.
  5. Listen to your plants. Plants are fantastic at sending you clues that they are too dry, getting too much sun, or in need of a more sheltered home. Know how your plants look at the end of each day so you can recognize normal for abnormal. As for diagnosing problems, I recommend Google.

Are you a desert gardener with some great advice of your own?

Leave a comment, I would love to hear your secrets to success.

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