Raised garden beds and planters offer another way to “contain” your desert gardens. They can provide a larger space to grow veggies and flowers.
One reason why I like raised planters is that, like pots, they are much easier on your back. If the raised planter is designed well, you can sit on the edge of the bed while planting and caring for your plants. The downside is you can’t move around a raised bed like you can pots.
To prepare a raised bed for planting, fill it with a quality potting soil. If the bed is large, this may be too expensive, and you may need to instead pick up a quality garden soil at the nursery. You want something that is sterile and smells earthy—there should be no hint of a manure smell.
As you add the soil to the bed, stop every 12 to 18 inches, and compress the soil with your hands to pack it down. Without packing the soil down, air pockets will cause the water to flow through, dropping the top soil level. However, take care not to pack the soil so intensely that there will not be any air left in the soil.
In the desert, I recommend you plant more gallon containers than 4-inch plants. To prepare for these gallon containers, fill the bed to the point approximately 10 inches below the top of the walls. Place your plants where you want them, about 8 inches apart (for gallon containers). Be sure to open the root ball before going on to the next step.
Add soil up the root balls, coming up about two inches short of the top of the plants’ soil line. Then add time-release fertilizer to the soil. Follow the directions on the container. Distribute the fertilizer throughout the top 2 inches of soil. You do not need to worry about mixing it in beyond this, as ongoing watering will continue to deliver the food down throughout the root structure.
Now you can add your 4-inch plants, opening the roots and adding soil up to the top of all of the plants’ root balls. Press down on each plant to seat it into its new home, and press down all soil areas.
Water all of the plants and soil with the shower setting on your hose nozzle, making sure the soil is wet all the way down through the root balls. To test it, use a metal rod or stick to push into the soil. It should consistently come out damp or with soil adhering to the stick. You will average about one minute of water for every square foot of space.
This same planting method can be used for containers or pots—everything above the ground.
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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. Marylee’s book, Getting Potted in the Desert, has just been released. Buy it online at potteddesert.com. Email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.