Once temperatures start inching toward triple digits, many Southern Nevadans put away the garden implements until the cool days of fall. Understandable, since many of us aren’t equipped to do much labor in July and August. And not too many plants thrive when it feels like they might as well be growing on the surface of the sun.
There are exceptions; some plants do just fine in the raging heat of the Mojave. Not just cactus and other desert natives – as long as we remember to irrigate and fertilize properly. Not too much, and not too little of either one.
Members of the squash and melon family produce fruit that is so tasty; I think we get the sweetest fruit here in the desert. And they grow during our summer. Melons and their cousins prefer the heat. Their roots don’t even work when temperatures are below 60°. When it’s in the 90’s and the irrigation’s working, you’ll find your melons are flourishing. We’ve even had them growing and producing in very large pots, ½ wine barrels that you can buy at home stores.
In our school gardens, we’ve had kids plant pumpkins before they leave for summer vacation, and as long as the plants had regular watering, there were pumpkins for Halloween! The biggest problem of this family is squash bugs. One way Master Gardeners found to deter the onslaught of the evil squash bug is - plant melons and squash after Father’s Day.
Melons and squash are annuals, meaning they produce flowers, fruits and seeds just once, then die. We only grow a few perennial vegetables, but some survive for several years. They’re not all designed for hot weather, but here’s a few you might want to try.
Sweet potatoes enjoy toasty temperatures – I plant them early in June, and harvest them in time for Thanksgiving dinner. One’s supposed to plant the little shoots that grow from the sweet potato root, called “starts”, but being a lazy gardener, if I have a sweet potato that starts to produce shoots, I’ll plant the whole thing. When shoots appear in both ends of the root, I cut it in half and plant both halves. If you don’t harvest the entire crop, you’ll have more next year.
You don’t need a huge garden for them. I’ve grown them in big pots. While they’re growing, you’ll have a gorgeous flowering vine. Sweet potatoes are cousins of morning glory, and that’s what the blossoms look like.
Sweet potatoes aren’t regular potatoes. They aren’t yams, either, but I won’t make a big deal about that. Regular white potatoes are also known as “Irish potatoes”. Take it from someone who’s lived in Ireland – no high temperatures there – not sweet potato country.
Another hot season plant is New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides), which isn’t from New Zealand and isn’t spinach, although they do look a bit alike.
This perennial can grow through our summer and it tolerates salty soil. You can eat it raw, but to me it tastes too salty. I throw it into stir fries and soups for that extra green flavor.
And who could forget okra? Not only is it a perennial that does perfectly well here, the flowers are great. I’m not crazy about the vegetable, but I’ll grow it just for the blossoms.
If you plan on gardening during the Mojave summer, remember - take care of yourself. We do sweat out here, but it evaporates so fast you wouldn’t notice. Yes, your plants need water, but so do you. And don’t forget to replenish the electrolytes that you’ve sweated out.
For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Please - stay healthy.
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