There are many negatives to gardening in the desert—which is why many people think that growing plants in very dry, extreme heat is impossible or at least a fool hardy endeavor. Since the definition of a desert is an area that has limited water resources and does not receive much precipitation throughout the year, water quantity is an obvious problem. However, this is easily cured by irrigation. A drip irrigation system is considered to be the best in a desert climate as it can produce the healthiest plants with the least amount of water. You should also keep plant selection in mind. Rather than trying to grow plants, fruits, vegetables, or flowers that require moisture rich climates or a great deal of available water, you need to stick to hardy plants that can survive scarcity of water and a harsher environment than is offered in temperate zones. Compost and mulch are also key to helping plants thrive in the desert. The soil in a desert climate is not simply hot and dry. It is also very much lacking in organic matter that healthy plants need. Using compost will act like a sponge in your desert garden as it keeps what few nutrients are present in the soil locked in place and then slowly releases its own organic nutrients into the roots of the plants. Mulch that is placed on the surface of the soil aids in keeping moisture in and weeds out. Dry lawn clippings, wood chips, pine needles, and old straw are all effective mulch bases that work hard to keep the soil from drying out even in intense heat. Newspapers placed in garden rows can also be useful as they break down at the end of the season to contribute organic matter in the soil. Mulch composed of sawdust should be avoided though as it takes out the important nutrient of nitrogen that is vital for healthy plant growth.
Quality of water is also a major issue. Several aquifers produce water that is too high in saline or other minerals to be good for human or plant consumption since irrigating with water that is weighed down with minerals can lead to salt accumulation in the soil itself—raising the alkalinity of the ground which can in turn stunt plant growth or even kill the plants trying to grow in the area. Also, once salt is in the soil, it is almost impossible to remove since the salt binds on a molecular level.
There are some amazing plants that can thrive in desert climates since the winters in the area are milder, creating the perfect growing environment. Deserts also have a naturally long growing season which means that active gardening can go on for nine to even twelve months (the entire thing!) of the year. The fact that a variety of plants do well in even these seemingly harsh environments (grasses, flowers, cacti, vegetables, trees, and shrubs) also make for exciting garden designs that contain a multitude of looks and feels instead of simple boring set ups.
In order to prepare your garden for a desert setting, an easy way to make things more pleasant for your plants is to properly arrange your garden so that you reduce sun, wind, and the extreme glares of the environment. You need to focus on planning and the work involved in setting up your garden before anything gets planted. Modifying the contours of the land (such as adding raised beams, scraping arroyos, or basins for water collection and movement) are key to any desert garden design. Do not forget about traffic patterns when you decide to lay out walkways or paths through the garden so that you can plan areas of increased dryness. Orienting a shady patio so that it covers a large portion of the garden will prove to be very helpful during the extreme hot season as it minimizes direct heat and glare on the plants. To give a slight amount of humidity in the dry air, you might want to even design a dry stream bed that is lined with river rocks or gravel with the plants along side it. Supply water to this area with a trickle of water at the head of your stream bed or even a small fountain.
If you can lessen the harsh conditions of the desert climate, there is no reason for your vegetables not to succeed in your carefully laid out garden. A variety of foods can be grown if you pay attention to the two major desert growing seasons. In early February or March, you will want to go ahead and get your hot weather crops in the ground so that they will be blooming and producing fruit before the intense summer heat really starts to sink in. Hot weather crops that do well in desert environments include corn, tomatoes, okra, and beans. By the time August rolls around though, you will want to start planting your cool weather crops like broccoli, lettuce, carrots, and spinach. As long as you take care of your vegetables and pay close attention to the daily conditions in your garden, you can truly have a wide selection of vegetables in your desert garden.
Trees are almost vital for a thriving desert garden since they help reduce the powerful effect of wind in this intense climate. Windbreaks which can protect an area two and a half times the height of the plants you use to make it require several selections of trees as you need these strong plants to be at differing heights in order to be properly useful to block the cruel desert wind. The shade provided by trees also acts as a welcome attribute since it can reduce intense sun glare during the long summer for both the plants and the gardener! However, not every tree does well in the barren, alkaline soils of the desert—which is why there are very few trees native to the climate. Today biologists and astute gardeners have worked together to create trees that are adapted specially for the harsh desert environment. These hybrid trees are hardy enough to withstand a series of droughts, strong winds, and widely varying temperatures.
Author: Brooke Windsor — Copyrighted © roadtickle.com