By Scott Calhoun
When the long, hot summer shows signs of waning, it is time to sow seeds and plant your desert veggie garden. Those signs include daytime highs under 100°F, and nights that cool into the 60s or below. In the low- and mid-elevation desert Southwest, this weather pattern typically appears in late September to mid-October.
Star Performers: Lettuce and Greens
Growing salad and stir-fry greens is the most rewarding and tasty part of cool-season gardening. Fall is the time to start them from seed, transplants, or both. A trick to remember with lettuce seeds is to sow a new batch every couple of weeks in fall so you always have a crop of young, tender leaves ready to harvest. Because lettuce seeds need light to germinate, cover them with a ¼-inch layer of soil.
The fastest-maturing lettuce varieties from seed are loose-leaf varieties, including Buttercrunch, Black-seeded Simpson, Lolla Rossa, Green Ice, and Red Oak. Plant the following from seed or as transplants:
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Lettuces (all types)
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
Herbs and Mediterranean Specialties
The edible plants below enjoy fall planting in the desert. The herbs—some of which have Mediterranean origins—also thrive with fall planting. If you have room, consider using a large artichoke, like the one pictured here, as the centerpiece in a raised-bed garden.
- Artichoke (purchase plants)
- Fava beans
- Garlic (plant from cloves)
- Parsley (Italian and curly leaf)
A number of root crops are also winter growers, so consider adding them to the beds. Transplants often fail, so root crops such as beets are usually best grown from seed. Cover young beets beneath a 4- to 6-in layer of compost or mulch. Like lettuce, you can sow a new crop every two weeks for a continuous supply of fresh beet greens. Root crops for fall planting include:
Even if you don’t get your garden planted in September or October, don’t fret. The other forgiving aspect of fall veggie gardening in the Southwest is the growing season is so long. In the low desert you can plant transplants clear into December and January, provided you take a little care to protect young plants from freezing temperatures.
Fall offers a second lease on life for many edible gardens. Sometimes it’s even better for growing vegetables than summer. See what you can grow this autumn.Learn More