A lot of us living in the desert did not grow up here. We came from up North, back East or elsewhere on the West Coast. We may have gardened easily in those regions thanks to ample rain, plenty of moderate sun and simple conditions.
Many transplanted gardeners yearn for their gardens from back home. But now, faced with the challenges of the desert, we might give up and not even bother, once we see the thermometer hitting the 95 degree mark.
I have been sharing tips on not only surviving the desert summer, but having gardens that thrive, for almost two decades now. Today, I want to give you permission to try something different: Go ahead and plant something that you loved back home.
The photo above shows a bed of coleus. These wonderful, colorful, leafy plants are being hybridized to handle increasingly hot climates. Some even can take a moderate amount of sun. I suggest you plant them while it is still slightly cool at night (in other words … now!), and be sure to choose a location that has only morning sun. Be sure to provide them with ample water, too.
The second picture, to the upper right, shows coleus in the full sun. Imagine how this mound of plants shades the soil, keeping it cooler. The pot is about 28 inches in diameter and holds a volume of soil that will insulate the roots. In the low desert, I would advise you to place this pot in afternoon shade. It is amazing that even in this instance, it thrived!
Using these principles, tempt fate with plants that you would love to try planting again. Don’t spend your entire savings, though: Work with only a few plants at a time. For instance, it can be tough to grow marigolds all summer in the desert—unless the conditions are perfect. I once planted a bed with transplants in the early spring. As the sun made its northern journey across the horizon, the bed was positioned so it was tucked into shade from a short wall behind it. With plenty of water and good air circulation, the marigolds thrived.
Another surprise might occur when you let some of your herbs or veggies flower. Check the artichoke pictured below. Planted in a pot, the vegetable produces a flower bud, which, when picked, is a delightful delicacy. However, if you leave this flower bud on the stem and allow it to open, you are rewarded with a beautiful purple flower. Now I plant some artichokes to eat—and some to flower! Why not?!
Tips to Allow Your “Back Home” Plants to Grow in the Desert:
1. Choose some of your most resilient favorites.
2. Plant in morning-sun locations early in the summer season. It’s best to plant in pots before the nighttime temperatures consistently reach the 70s.
3. Provide consistent and abundant water.
4. Start small, and gain experience. It takes the right spot with the right conditions, a lot of love—and a little luck.
Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at email@example.com. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. Get a free copy of Ten Top Tips to Desert Potted Garden Success by visiting www.potteddesert.com/m.