Eating from your own garden is delicious and healthful for both body and soul. My attention of late has turned to the joys of growing veggies and herbs, especially as I strive to eat healthier. And I’ve never had a store-bought tomato as delicious as those from my garden.
March is a great month for planting in Las Vegas, including artichokes, asparagus, beans, cantaloupes, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. Here are some of my favorite tips for successful herb and veggie gardening in Southern Nevada:
Consider well where you place your garden, or the plants. The best microclimates offer some shade in the hottest part of the day, 2-5 p.m. Block walls on the west side of your yard work great, as do areas east of shade trees. Better yet, trees with open, sparse canopies offer filtered sun.
Invest in raised beds. I prefer a block-type material rather than wood, as it won’t warp, dry out or rot, and you can sit on the edge. Fill it with a rich soil medium: sand and well-decomposed organic matter at about 50-50. Or buy garden soil at a local nursery or rock yard.
If you grow in pots, use large, deep pots, at least 12 inches deep. This will help store some reservoir of moisture.
Use drip irrigation. For raised beds, I prefer inline drip irrigation — half-inch diameter tubes with built-in emitters spaced one foot apart, then lay the tubes in parallel, also one foot apart. It’s very efficient, gives great coverage and it’s easy to plant and work around.
Put your veggie beds on a separate valve, as their water frequency and run-time needs are very different from the rest of your landscape.
Consider planting herbs and veggies in with the rest of your garden. Plant artichoke, hot peppers, lemongrass and asparagus — they’re ornamental as well as edible. Lavender is beautiful and likes it a bit on the dry side. Rosemary also thrives in a xeric garden.
Start with some easier-to-grow plants such as onions, strawberries and swiss chard. Radishes from seed are great for planting with children, as they have a high rate of germination, pop from the ground quickly and often mature in 3-4 weeks.
Some veggies are more tolerant of our alkaline soils: asparagus, onions, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, peas.
Consider starting some crops from seed indoors, 4-6 weeks before their ideal planting time. Covered cookie trays make great mini greenhouses, but make sure to put some drainage holes in. Root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips and radishes should be seed-sown directly in the soil. Mint is easy to grow here, but invasive. Keep it in a separate pot or it’ll take over!
In sunny areas, plant tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons, and plant the leafy greens in shadier spots.
Tomatoes can be prolific here. For the best results use smaller varieties such as yellow pear, patio, or fourth of July. Don’t over-fertilize with nitrogen — too much nitrogen causes lots of leafy growth but very little fruit.
Don’t plant tomatoes and pepper too early; do so only after last frost has passed (you’re probably okay anytime in March, but later is safer).
Plant tight and dense. The masses of foliage help keep soils shaded and cooler, with less moisture loss and fewer weeds.
After veggies have grown up a bit, apply a layer of wood-chip or other organic mulch, about 2 inches deep. Take care to not pile it up against the stems of plants, for that can cause rot. Use it in a wide area around your fruit and citrus trees, as well.
Visit your crops frequently. Insect control is always best achieved sooner rather than later. Soapy water sprays work well for many pests, or use pyrethrum, an organic pesticide derived from chrysanthemum flowers. For caterpillars, pick them off or use BT, a naturally occurring bacteria that’s very selective in what it controls. Pull weeds as soon as you see them.
There are great resources for desert veggie gardening online and in books. I keep handy a chart of what to plant when, that I printed out from Becoming a Desert Gardener, a University of Nevada Cooperative Extension pamphlet that’s available online. I also like Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening by Jacqueline Soule and Extreme Gardening by Dave Owens.
With these tips and other resources in hand, and a bit of time and patience, you can reap the delicious fruits of your labor. Just remember that any kind of gardening, anywhere in the world, will result in both successes and defeats. Celebrate your successes, shrug off your defeats and learn and grow as a Southern Nevada gardener!