By Ric Coggins
Arizona is a wonderful place to grow green things year round. Whether you have a balcony or a barnyard, almost any type of fruit or vegetable can be successfully grown here. The key is that you must select the right varieties and plant them at the right times. For spring crops, that time is now!
Your favorite almanac, organic gardening magazine or book may be misleading for Arizona growers. For the most part, traditional gardening sources cater to parts of the country that have one growing season. We, in the low desert, have two.
Most Arizona gardening disappointments are the result of planting the wrong variety at the wrong time for our climate. Fortunately, the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension provides a number of research-based resources to guide Arizona gardeners, which are readily available online for free.
One of those resources is the Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County published by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. More of a spreadsheet than a calendar, where the X axis plots dates and the Y axis charts the plants, this amazing guide takes all of the guess work (and most of the failures) out of desert gardening.
While the exact spring “start date” can vary from year to year, it’s pretty much agreed that the last frost will be over by February 15. Once you have passed the risk of frost, you should immediately get into the ground with your garden items as listed in the planting calendar.
Basil, sweet corn, cucumbers (traditional and Armenian), cantaloupe, watermelon, sunflowers and summer squash can be directly seeded into prepared soil. This is also the right time to plant tomato and pepper transplants which were started inside in December and January to get a few weeks “jump” on the season.
February is also our last chance to plant some of the “fall” garden items. You can still plant asparagus crowns until mid February. Beets, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, leaf lettuce, green onions, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips can still be planted from seed in early February.
The common thread that runs through these varieties is that they all mature quickly. For the most part they are all “60 to 90 days to harvest.” This allows the plants to complete their life cycle to fruiting before the stress of high temperatures, humidity and direct sun.
Download or print the Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County at cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az1005.pdf. For more information on the planting calendar or what to plant in February, ask a Master Gardener! Call the “Plant Help Desk” at 602-827-8201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ric Coggins is a University of Arizona Master Gardener (Maricopa County) who grew up on a one-acre garden tended to by his father, who was a regular contributor to organic gardening and farming magazines. Ric continues his father’s “green” traditions, owning and operating The Fool on the Hill Farm, a one-acre organic garden homestead in Mesa.