It’s time to speak specifically to newcomers about gardening in the desert.
Of course, you are probably reading this when the mercury is still firmly wrestling with 100-plus degrees on a daily basis, and you’re saying, “Are you kidding me?”
Really: I do not jest. We can and do have wonderful gardens here in the low desert; we just have to be smart about it.
Many of us come from climates with beautiful, cooler summers—and with those summers come stunning gardens. I know that many of us yearn for a similar garden here in the desert, and I want to assure you that it can be done.
A note for the non-gardeners who may be reading this: Why not try your hand with a garden at your desert home? Perhaps you have caught yourself admiring other gardens in the valley, and you think to yourself, “Could I do it?”
Here are 15 reasons to consider a container garden in the desert:
1. Pots are a great place to try your hand at gardening.
2. You can make a small investment to get started—both in money and labor.
3. Pots are movable. Change your mind about a location? No problem!
4. Pots will fit anywhere, even if you have limited space outside.
5. There are only rare frosty conditions, so there is little risk of pots breaking in a freeze.
6. We have a long growing season for flowers, vegetables and herbs.
7. Succulents and cacti provide easy care options.
8. Targeted watering means you can have an oasis garden (on a small scale) and use little water.
9. Immediate gratification—plant it, and enjoy!
10. Almost no weeding!
11. Pots are easier to reach than ground plantings. This is great for bad backs, aging bodies and anyone who does not like to dig in the ground.
12. Pots are the only way to have plants on your hardscapes, i.e., patios, entries, etc.
13. Grow plants easily in the shade.
14. Kids of all ages love pots!
15. You can create a potted garden to coordinate with any style or color … and then change it whenever you desire!
There are two key priorities when creating a potted garden in the desert. The first is water: Everything is going to need water. The second is your pot. Let’s address the pot question first, since you need one to begin your garden.
The biggest mistake that homeowners make is to buy a pot that is too small. You need a good-sized pot, i.e., one that is 24 inches or greater in interior diameter at the rim, when planning to plant in the full sun. Pots need this volume in order for them to have enough soil and moisture to protect, insulate and care for the plant, regardless of what kind it is. When you are planning to plant in the shade, you can go a little bit smaller, but you never want to go below 20 inches—even if your pot gets no sun.
People always ask me what kind of pots I recommend. You want a pot where the entire wall is as thick as possible; clay pots are particularly good. I never recommend plastic pots, because the walls are too thin, offer no insulation, and will become brittle. A clay pot that has been high-fired is your best bet. It will cost you a little more money, but it will last you a lifetime.
The easiest way to get started in a container garden is to think about cactus and succulents. Your first decision is where you want to place your first pot. Look at your home’s outside areas, and decide where the place of honor will be: Near your entryway? At a focal point in the yard? On the patio? Will it be in the sun or in shade?
Go to a local nursery and talk to someone in the know about where you want to place your plant. Look at the choices; ask for one that is easy care; and make your selection. Get some help in choosing the right-size pot; grab some cactus soil and time-release fertilizer; and take it all home.
Online at CVIndependent.com all this month, I’ll continue with tips for newcomers—for example, how to plant your plants in containers.
The Potted Desert Garden appears Tuesdays. 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 potteddesert.com. Email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.