By Tina Frank
Growing up in a cold state, our family always thought citrus was the only produce that comes from Arizona gardening. Being a resident to Arizona now for 30-plus years has changed my perspective dramatically. Arizona, I believe, is one of the best places to have a winter garden.
For our family, a winter garden is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and spend time together. We plan through the warm months, so as soon as the weather changes we can get things rolling. Because we still get down to freezing in the winter, we like to plant early. The earlier you plant, the longer your harvest season is. Our ideal planting window for our winter garden is mid- to late-September. But it’s not too late if you want to plant right now. You can still enjoy your veggies until the heat hits again in the springtime.
- Preparing the soil
If you had a summer garden, then turning the soil and pulling out anything undesirable is the first step. We pull out things like perennial weeds and grasses. We will then follow up with compost. You can purchase compost or make it yourself with your leftover veggie pieces.
If you are just preparing your space for the first time I recommend you put some manure and fertilizer in your garden space a couple of weeks before planting. Work it into the soil with a shovel and/or rake, water it down, and let it sit. The day you plant you will want the soil to be moist. You can add a little more fertilizer or compost, if needed, at this time.
- Choosing vegetables
Now the fun part begins. Focus on root plants and greens. The fastest way to get things producing is to purchase seedlings and plant them. If you start early, seeds can also be a great option. A seed catalogue gives you a bigger variety of options. Our family does a little of both.
I find if you start planting with your root vegetables first (carrots, beets, turnips) and then your greens of choice, you will have the best results. The greens propagate better in cooler weather, so I usually plant my root vegetables a few weeks ahead of my greens. Some of our favorite greens are swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach and lots of varieties of kale, cabbage and lettuce.
Something else we like to grow in winter are fresh herbs. Herbs are relatively easy to grow, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time maintaining them. They also smell great. Most herbs prefer full access to the sun, good air circulation and well-drained soil. You can plant them in a small plot outside or put them in a flower pot. They’re versatile plants that will add some flavor to your meals. Some even have medicinal uses. Some of the herbs we enjoy are mint, dill, cilantro, basil and oregano.
- After planting
Once your seeds and plants are in, I recommend a layer of mulch. You can use any kind you like. We put about ½ to 1 inch of mulch in our bays or pots to help keep things moist. This allow us to water less often. We do have a drip system in our planting plots, but we water our pots by hand.
Enjoy your winter garden.
Tina Frank is a resident of Rancho El Dorado and a master gardener.
This column appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.