In most parts of the country, gardeners are weeding and tending to their gardens because after all spring is for planting. Not so, in many parts of Arizona. Here, spring time is for harvesting and getting ready for fall planting.
The hot summer months, especially in areas like the East Valley, most vegetables can't withstand the heat. However, there are a few that will do well with an early to late spring planting, as suggested by Leslie Honaker, master gardener and co-owner of Garden Territory at the Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix. These include squash, radishes, zucchini, eggplant, cucumber, tomatoes, okra, peppers, some beans. Some fruits such as watermelons and cantaloupe can also be planted, and their vines provide shade for other plants.
These summer growing plants will need extra care to survive. They'll require more water than in other seasons – be sure to watch for the telltale signs of drooping leaves. Plants are much less forgiving in extreme temperatures, so allowing the ground to dry out may mean the death of your seedling. A drip watering system is more effective than a spray system, especially in hot temperatures. The water in the latter versions tends to evaporate, decreasing the amount of moisture absorbed by the plant. Early morning watering also provides the plants with adequate moisture to take them through the day and will also decrease the amount of evaporation experienced in late afternoon watering.
Plants should also be blocked from the harsh rays of direct sunlight. Just as plants require protection from frost, in temperatures over 100 degrees, they will require a source of shade. Try using a shade cloth with 50 percent reduction.
Don't expect plants to thrive the way they do in more moderate temperatures, but with extra care, they should produce hardy crops.
Here are some of the special care requirements as they relate to specific varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Tomatoes: Tomato cages are not effective in this climate as the delicate fruit is exposed directly to the hot sun. Instead, create a wire cage, 2 to 3 feet in diameter to contain each plant. They will form a canopy of leaves for protection. The best planting time is mid-February or mid-March, once there is no longer a threat of frost. Select varieties with maturity dates from 65 to 70 days to avoid the extreme temperatures.
Apply a 50 percent shade cloth and mulch around each plant once temperatures reach 100 degrees. Water regularly, giving the plants a good soak rather then periodic short watering which may cause the tomatoes to dry out.
Melons: Plant by mid March or April, and once the soil has warmed up to about 70 to 95 degrees. Plant in hills, 4 feet apart, and allow plenty of space for the vines to roam. The melons will do better on the ground than on a trellis where the foliage has a tendency of drying out more quickly. They require plenty of compost tea or other organic fertilizer. Next year, replace depleted nutrients in the soil by planting beans or peas in this spot.
Cucumbers: These plants are fairly easy to take care of, but they do require a lot of water. It's safe to plant them once the soil has reached a temperature of 65 degrees. Be sure to combine plenty of compost or other organic material with the clay soil to increase drainage.
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