In the world of flora, the desert is home to one of the most classically recognizable and sturdy plants: the cactus. These tough, prickly plants may be the most famous, but they are far from the only plant that thrives in the desert climate.
Arizona is home to a plethora of plants and wildflowers, and if you enjoy gardening, you’ll find that with the right care and attention, you can grow flowers, house plants, and even fruits and vegetables at your Arizona home. In this guide, we’ll get you started with the basics of gardening in this desert climate.
What Grows Best in the Desert Southwest?
When determining which types of plants grow best where you live, a good first step is to get familiar with which USDA plant hardiness zone you’re in. The Phoenix area is in USDA climate zone 9b, so keep that in mind when you browse for plants. Plants that tolerate heat and drought well are easiest to cultivate here.
The desert is hospitable to a number of flowering plants, which can be found at your local nursery. Desert sage is a popular choice for Arizona gardens, with its pretty purple flowers and its resistance to wild rabbits and deer who may stop by for a nibble. Black-eyed susans are colorful, self-seeding and can handle direct sun. Liatris, penstemon, and hyssop each come in multiple colors and tolerate desert conditions well. Sunflowers can grow very large and make a colorful statement.
Vegetables and Fruits
If you want to grow vegetables or fruits, your best bet is to choose heirloom seeds or saplings that have been adapted to the desert. You can find these at a local garden supply store, order them online, or look for them at a local farmer’s market.
In the fall season, you can grow fruits and vegetables that require less water and cooler temperatures — such as lettuce, carrots, onions, beets, broccoli, potatoes, and more. This allows you to harvest them throughout the winter and spring.
When the temperatures begin to rise in the late spring, switch to tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, melons, and other summery plants.
Cacti are very common choices for desert gardening, both outdoors and indoors. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and many produce colorful flowers. They require cactus soil, available at your local garden center.
Cacti grow well in containers; just be sure your chosen containers have excellent drainage, as the roots cannot handle soaking in too much water. They need no water in the winter, but when spring comes, begin watering them again — just a little at a time, working up to a more thorough watering as growing season begins. When they begin to show signs of growth, water them regularly and watch them flourish!
Not a cactus fan? Hostas are another popular ornamental plant in many parts of the country, and they can handle life in the desert with just a little care. Popular desert classics such as aloe, jade, Mona Lavender, and Lantana are all fabulous choices for patio plants — the Lantana plant may even attract some beautiful butterflies to visit your window!
How Desert Gardening is Different
The climate in any region is the biggest factor when deciding which plants to grow and when. Native desert plants are easiest to manage in Arizona, and require less intervention to meet their soil and water needs. Crops like vegetables, fruits, and other non-native plants can certainly be grown in the desert — though they’ll need a bit more effort, as they aren’t naturally accustomed to the climate.
Soil and Water
The type of soil and amount of water needed for desert gardening depends on the type of plant. Desert soil is sandy, full of gravel and clay; so many plants will require added compost to grow.
Desert air is very dry, so be ready to give your garden lots of water. Consider using drip irrigation or a bubbler system to provide a slow and constant supply of water. Add a generous amount of mulch to protect the roots and keep the soil moist. Indoor plants are protected from the harshest elements, but still need appropriate soil and just enough water.
Shade-tolerant plants can sit in containers on a fully shaded porch, or you can keep them indoors — but many plants will need some direct sunlight. Place indoor plants that need sunlight by a window or on your patio, so they can soak up all the sun they need. If the light is too harsh during some parts of the day, draw the shades or close the blinds to shield them (and to keep your house cooler, as well).
Direct heat from the summer sun can burn your outdoor plants, so they need protection. Use shade cloth to shield your plants when the sun is high in the sky. This method still allows them to get the light they need during the parts of the day when the sun is less intense. You also can mix the types of plants in one area of your garden — allowing taller, hardier plants to shade the more delicate plants below them.
Wind is a factor for outdoor plants, especially in Arizona where the open landscape offers little to no protection from gusts. Strong desert winds can dry and damage your plants, so create a windbreak around your garden. Walls or fences are effective, of course, but you also can use items such as bales of straw or sturdy trees and shrubs that won’t blow away.
Gardening in the desert presents some challenges, but they can be overcome with a little experience and the right plant choices. Give it a try and add some vibrance to your condo, both inside and outside!
Are you looking to embrace the warm sun, fresh air, and relaxed lifestyle in Phoenix? Contact our staff at Aderra to get more information about our luxurious condo homes.