Heat Proofing Your Garden

Deborah North

Bob Allen, SE Pinal County Master Gardener

When Deborah North returned to Arizona from the very green Northwest in 2003, she quickly learned that to enjoy gardening in Tucson required significant retraining. She entered the Pima Master Gardener program in 2004 through the University of Arizona and never looked back!

On April 10 Deborah shared her knowledge with 72 eager-to-learn gardeners in a lecture titled “How to Heat Proof Your Garden.” The Southeast Pinal County Master Gardeners sponsored the event at the SaddleBrooke Ranch Sol Ballroom in Oracle.

Her first piece of advice? Remember you live in a desert! Our Sonoran Desert is notorious for dry, alkaline soil, high in mineral but low in organic material content. Add intense sun, high summer temperatures, low winter temperatures, little rainfall, high winds, and insect pests, and you will ask yourself, “How will I ever grow anything here?” Deborah demonstrated that with knowledge, patience, and an understanding of our unique climate, you can get plants to thrive in our desert!

Do you know how large containers need to be if you use them for gardening? (18 to 24 inches) How much sunlight should shade cloth block to protect your plants during Southeastern Arizona’s notoriously hot summers? (30% to 40%) Deborah shared those and many more tips with the eager audience of gardeners. Other hints? Be kind to yourself! Wear sun protection, sunglasses, stay hydrated, and garden early in the day when it’s cooler. When the temperature reaches 90 degrees, plants stop taking in water.

Amend your soil with organic matter to improve water-holding capacity, and choose native or desert-adapted plants for landscaping. Water your plants deeply with increasing frequency as the weather gets warmer. Water annuals or grasses to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Water shrubs to a depth of 18 to 24 inches, and 24 to 36 inches for trees. Use a long screwdriver as a soil probe to measure how deep your irrigation goes. But do let the roots dry out a bit before watering them again. Desert plants evolved to thrive on periods of dryness, followed by deep watering. There are some great watering guides and articles about choosing plants, planting, and keeping them healthy at the Southeast Pinal County Master Gardeners website extension.arizona.edu/southeast-pinal-county-master-gardener.

Everyone learned a lot from Deborah North that day, and the good news is she’s returning to SaddleBrooke Ranch at 1 p.m. on Nov. 13. She will talk about “Winterizing Your Garden.” Plan to attend this free event at the Sol Ballroom at SaddleBrooke Ranch.