The President’s Day 3-day weekend is a great time to start your vegetable garden in the Sonoran Desert, so get out your shovels, mulch, and other garden materials this weekend. But if you want to grow healthy vegetables in the desert- you’ll need to prep your soil before the quickly upcoming planting season. Here are some pointers:

Raised beds

Raised bed gardening is a popular because it works so good in AZ. The beauty is that you can fill your raised bed with the perfect growing medium rather than trying to amend existing soil, it’s easy to provide deep watering, and you can build to a height that minimizes bending and kneeling. Weeds are easier to control, and you won’t compact your soil by walking on it. One of the keys to planting in a raised bed is planting close together, not following rows as in traditional gardening, so that the leaves of mature plants touch each other and form a canopy that helps suppress weeds and maintain a moist microclimate. Check out this link, this link, and this link for more info.

Site Selection

Vegetables need direct sun to grow and produce. You’ll want to select a site that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. Within every climate, there exist various microclimates, and even in your own back yard you will find that there are different microclimates. Temperature, sunlight and even humidity can vary from one place in your yard to another. A general rule of thumb is that vegetable gardens do very well with southern exposure. Since the sun’s path varies with the seasons, pay attention to where the shaded areas are during different times of day. A winter garden will do fine, even thrive, with afternoon sun. A summer garden, on the other hand, will do best will morning sun and shade in the afternoon.

What’s Good Now?

This planting calendar was designed specifically for the Lower Sonoran Desert. Now is a great time for planting spinach, turnips, swiss chard, egg plant, onion, mizuna, mustard greens, tomatoes, peppers, arugula, cilantro, beets, basil, broccoli raab, collards and more. You can also check out the USDA’s brand new Hardiness Map for the whole US.