The Q&A Archives: Desert Vegetable Garden in Summer?

Question: Do you have a cover for plants during our intense summer sun? How do we keep our plants cool while it is so hot? I have a beautiful tomato plant grown from seed full of big tennis-ball sized tomatoes, but still green and now it is 105 outside. I don't want them to fry before they get red. Help. Any other ideas?

Answer: There are two distinct growing seasons in the low desert with different vegetables thriving in each season. There's a cool season from approximately the end of September through April. Annuals can be installed from late September to February. Some gardeners prefer to wait until October, as cooler temperatures also help kill off whitefly populations which can quickly decimate plants. There is no need to cover cool-season vegetables, unless frost is predicted.

The warm season starts with planting in mid to late February. Some plants will make it through the summer's heat; others will end their growth when the heat arrives in May or June. You can purchase shade cloth to put over tomato and pepper plants to help them through the summer. Vining crops, such as cukes and squash, can usually take the sun. If you can put plants where they receive morning sun and protection from hot afternoon sun, that is helpful. Also, layer several inches of organic mulch (compost, dried leaves, straw) on top of the soil to reduce temperatures and maintain moisture. A good reference book that contains planting calendars for the low desert is called "Desert Gardening for Beginners: How to Grow Vegetables, Flowers and Herbs in an Arid Climate" written by local Master Gardeners. ISBN 0-9651987-2-3. Also, check out the bi-weekly Southwestern Regional Report on the website for tips on area gardening. Good luck!

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