Low Desert Summer Garden Survival

photo dgi summer greens bigger

Let’s face it—the motivation to garden wanes when the temperatures wax.  However, there are gardening strategies to survive the sweltering summer heat for gardener and plants alike.

Strategy #1

Use shade cloth to extend your season. Shade cloth protects summer vegetables by providing shelter from the searing sun, especially in the late afternoon. Shade cloth still allows light to filter through, which is important, since most vegetables require at least six hours of sun a day. The nice part about instituting a shade cloth regime is that once you’ve built the structure to hold the shade cloth above the garden, it can double as a cold shield when the threat of frost returns, simply by switching materials from shade cloth to frost cloth.

Strategy #2

Plant heat-tolerant varieties. To be a successful gardener in the summer months, do not try to grow cool-season crops in June. Warm-season crops that can be planted from seed from May through August include:

  • Armenian cucumbers
  • Yardlong beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sunflowers

Other crops can weather the summer if they were planted and established before the heat set in. These varieties include summer squash (plant from seed February 15 through mid-April), tomatoes (plant from transplant February 15 through mid-March), radishes (plant from seed anytime between September 1 and May 1), and eggplant (plant from transplant March 1 through mid-March).

Strategy #3

Think unconventionally. Local leafy greens can be difficult to find in the summer because traditional greens such as kale, spinach, and lettuce do not grow well in the late spring and summer of the low desert. Consider growing some alternatives from Africa and Asia such as Cochorus olitorius (jute leaves), Salsola komarovi (land seaweed), Basella alba (Malobar spinach), and Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato leaf). All can be eaten raw (thrown into a salad) or cooked (stir fry, anyone?).

Some consider Portulaca oleracea (purslane) and Amaranthus tricolor (red leaf amaranth) to be weeds in the garden. Turn a nuisance into a crop by cultivating these unconventional leafy greens, which can be eaten raw or cooked.

Strategy #4

Utilize cover crops. If you lack the motivation to maintain the garden in the summer, rather than surrender to the heat, plant cover crops to do the work for you. Cover crops are a tried-and-true method of organic production. Put the strategy to use in your garden by planting cowpeas (also called black-eyed peas) anytime between March and August. After 60-90 days, take down the cover crops with a mechanized Rototiller  and incorporate the crop into the garden soil. Let the organic matter sit atop the garden for at least three weeks before planting seeds for the cool season. Also called green manure, cover crops fertilize and condition your soil without adding purchased soil amendments such as fish emulsion or synthetic fertilizers. Legumes such as cowpeas fix nitrogen in the soil, a fundamental nutrient for optimal plant growth.

Strategy #5

Learn more.

Got a gardening question? Contact the Maricopa County Master Gardener hotline at 602.827.8200 x301.

Haley Paul is an Assistant in Extension in Urban Agriculture at the University of Arizona
Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County, a unit within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Find your local Cooperative Extension office at http://extension.arizona.edu. Contact Haley at hepaul@cals.arizona.edu  or on Twitter @haleyepaul.

1 Comment
  1. New to east valley AZ Great article decided to cover crop here even in grobags on my patio. Will send pics if you want. Thanks,

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