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01 Dec 2015

The Potted Desert Garden: Plant Your Garden Edibles Now!

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Greens! Greens!

We all move pretty fast these days.

I’m not talking about a physical race (although a lot of Coachella Valley residents are runners and bikers). What I mean is that over the last 50 years, life’s pace has gotten more and more hectic. Even many retirees I come across are very busy.

On the flip side, there is a movement toward “slow food,” across the country and even the world. This movement “officially” started in 1986 in Italy. The slow-food movement strives to build a region’s cuisine and encourages the local farming of plants, seeds and proteins distinctive of the local ecosystem.

As a result, more and more restaurants are sourcing local ingredients. There has also been a huge upswing in home gardens with vegetables and herbs, as well as an influx of chickens at home—and even some home beekeepers!

Those of us who don’t want to have a miniature farm at home can still enjoy a taste of freshness—right out of our own garden. Winter in the Coachella Valley is a splendid time to be outside gardening, and pots are a perfect way to keep this endeavor manageable, even for the most hectic of lives.

Starting a Potted Edible Garden

Place your pots in an area that receives approximately six hours of sun—preferably morning to early afternoon, rather than late-day sun. If you plan to grow anything edible in the summer, your pots will need to be shaded by 11 a.m.

When choosing where to place your edible garden, also consider the proximity to your kitchen. If you have to traipse across a large yard on a busy day, you might not be inspired to do so. If an area closest to your kitchen gets the required six hours of sun, it may be the perfect location.

I always preach that pots should have an inside diameter of at least 18 inches. They need to be large enough to support plants when they are fully grown—and even 18 inches is often not large enough to do so in our intense heat. As always, bigger is better.

Be sure your pots have adequate drainage, with at least one 1-inch hole which you will cover with a coffee filter or window screen to filter the water as it drains out.

Materials

Pots: For larger vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli and potatoes, you need one pot per plant. You can mix herbs, greens and other small plants in a large pot.

Soil: Get a quality potting soil from a local nursery. Fill your pots up to two inches from the top.

Fertilizer: Each time you plant, use a time-release fertilizer and some organic granular fertilizer. When plants are established, use a water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks to keep food available to your growing plants.

Water: Your pots will need water almost daily, so either plan to have your hose on the ready, or hook up the pots to your dedicated pot-irrigation line. They need to be continually moist but not overly wet.

Plants: If you are just starting out, begin with only a few pots. Think about the time you have available to plant, care for and harvest your garden through the next five months.

Plant Choices

Herbs: thyme, oregano, bay laurel, cilantro, parsley and mint. Be sure to keep mint in its own pot; it’s incredibly invasive.

Great winter vegetables for the Coachella Valley: tomatoes, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, onions, peas, radishes, potatoes, turnips and all greens, including lettuce and spinach.

Edible flowers: pansies, nasturtiums, calendula, violas, roses, dianthus and marigolds.

Other Tips:

  • Cluster your edible pots for easy harvesting and care.
  • Water in the early morning.
  • Harvest early and often. The more you harvest, the more plants will grow.
  • If we do get a cold snap, protect your tomatoes.
  • If you start now, you will have some lovely edibles in time for holiday dining: Greens planted now can be harvested in as little as two weeks! Bon appétit!

Your December Potted Garden Checklist

1. Continue to plant winter flowers.

2. Deadhead faithfully, and selectively prune longer branches—especially in petunias.

3. Use your water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks with a hose applicator.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. The Potted Desert Garden now appears monthly.

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