Gardening in Tucson

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tucson experts share their best tips to help new gardeners succeed this spring

  • Updated
  • If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to grow veggies, now is the time to fulfill that pledge.
    Tucson’s spring planting season is getting underway. If you’re brand new to gardening, this is the prime time to get a few tips and start digging.
    Don’t be afraid of the coming summer, says Jessica Paul, gardening technician for Community Gardens of Tucson. “Even though we live in a desert, we can have a bountiful garden year round,” she says.
    Gardening seasons are different in Southern Arizona compared to other parts of the country, so be careful where you get your advice.
    “The information that you read does not apply here in many cases,” cautions Toni Moore, a Pima County master gardener. She recommends attending local classes or using resources specifically addressing Sonoran Desert gardening.
    Starting with a small garden is “an easy way to keep things under control,” advises Brandon Merchant, owner of Southwest Victory Gardens. A plot of between 18 and 25 square feet is a good beginning size.
    A container garden using 5-gallon tubs also is a good option to keeping a small garden, suggests Luis Herrera, the home garden coordinator for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
    As for location, Merchant suggests putting your garden where running water from rainfall will flow into it.
    Watch out for glass windows, advises Jacqueline Soule, author of “Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening” and other gardening books. As the seasonal angle of the sun changes, light may reflect off of windows and into your garden.
    “The extra heat and light intensity reflected off windows can make a previously fine crop wither and dry up within a day,” she cautions.
    Fix your soil, the experts agree.
    “Healthy soil is one of the most important elements in gardening,” says Paul.
    “Our soil is desert dirt,” explains Moore. “It’s not sterile, but it doesn’t have a lot of bio-organic matter in it.”
    That matter — fungi, bacteria, microbes, insects and other living things — provides nutrients to plants and aerates the soil to hold moisture, she says.
    Replace as much as 50 percent of the native soil with compost. Compost is dirt enriched with decayed material such as food scraps, plant trimmings and worm castings.
    Optional amendments include ammonium sulphate and soil sulfur, says Moore.
    If planting in containers, be sure to use an organic, nutrient-rich potting soil mix, advises Herrera.
    If your garden will be in the ground, dig basins, says Soule. That will contain rainwater and flood irrigation so that water seeps deeply into the soil.
    There are many spring and summer veggies that are easy to grow both in the ground and in containers.
    “Peppers, basil and some varieties of tomatoes can grow well in 5-gallon buckets,” Herrera says.
    Other easy crops for beginners include onion, bush bean, Armenian cucumber, melon, corn, tepary bean, eggplant, pole bean, cowpea and squash, especially zucchini and pumpkin.
    Moore says tomatoes are “fussy” because of the narrow window for fruiting. Roma and cherry are easiest, she says.
    Heat-tolerant varieties such as “Heatwave” or cold-tolerant ones like “Siberian” or “Alaska” can extend the growing season.
    Squash may also be challenging for beginners because some plants may need to be pollinated by hand. “Plants that can easily self-pollinate tend to have more chances of being productive,” says Herrera.
    After planting, top the soil with a layer of organic material, called mulch.
    Properly watering plants will be crucial as temperatures rise and before monsoon rains kick in.
    It doesn’t matter what method you use for irrigation, as long as you’re consistently and correctly watering.
    “Water needs to go down 12 to 18 inches and the soil should be kept evenly moist,” she says. Water every day until monsoon rains start.
    Good soil and proper watering will take care of many growing problems such as pests or disease. “Plant vigor is your first line of defense,” she says.
    Warm weather will mean lots of critters eyeing your plants, says Merchant. Birds, caterpillars, rodents and other animals will munch away in your garden.
    Some of this won’t kill your plants, he reassures. “The majority of the time, these things will take care of themselves, but on occasion some intervention from the gardener may be necessary.”
    Both Merchant and Herrera suggest you spend time watching your garden grow so you know what’s normal and what needs to be addressed.
    Plus, the practice will give you benefits other than fresh food.
    “It’s a very calming and therapeutic experience to be around plants and taking care of them,” Herrera says.
    Don’t give up if the garden doesn’t do what you expect it to do, Merchant says.
    “When I first started gardening, I would stress out if my plants didn’t look perfect or if something didn’t go as planned,” he explains.
    “This took a lot of the fun out of gardening and I was always spending money trying to obtain the perfect garden.”
    He enjoyed gardening much more after he embraced the process and the challenges.
    “In gardening, mistakes are simply learning experiences and there is never one right way to do anything,” he says. “Each season brings new challenges and rewards that will be totally unexpected, so it’s best just to learn from them and move on.”
    Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Friday, January 25, 2013

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Give Your Tomato Plants a Second Chance this Summer - by Elena Acoba - AZ Daily Star - July 29, 2012. Nearly 20 fall and winter vegetables can be planted in August, according to "The Tucson Garden Handbook" by Pima County Cooperative Extension master gardeners. "In a perfect world, I would leave tomatoes in the ground until it would freeze," says Mary Sisson Eibs, who's an educator and in charge of the gardening program at The Haven, a substance-abuse treatment center. Read more here

Monsoon Season is the time to Plant Heat-Loving Species by Elena Acoba - Az Daily Star - July 22,2012 Planting at this time of year may be tough on you, but it's the perfect season for heat-loving species to get in the ground and grow. Read more here

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pointy Plants add variety to landscape - Az Daily Star article June 10, 2012 by Elena Acoba. Getting tired of the same old, same old in your yard? We asked local landscape designers what kinds of plants they'd like to see grace Tucson landscapes more often. They offer up a bunch that have one thing in common: spikiness. Read the article here

Plants for People with unusual tastes....experts come up with ideas for hard-to-find garden items by Elena Acoba of the Arizona Daily Star. This is the second of a two-part series on landscape designers' favorite underused plants.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Alternatives to Overused Plants

The Arizona Republic in February listed alternatives to planting the same old plants year after year. They listed ten alternatives to planting what the author, Brian Kissinger, called "Ten tired plants" that are overused in the landscape. Here's a link to the article:

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Gardening in Tucson

News and Events for the Tucson Gardener.
On this website you will find links to most of the Gardening Clubs in Tucson,
as well as a calendar of events for major gardening events, such as plant sales, garden tours, etc.

Photos of Plants featured at a recent weird plant sale at the Tucson Botanical Gardens
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Plant Clinic: Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions over the phone or on a walk-in basis weekdays 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. at the Pima County Cooperative Extension, 4210 N. Campbell Avenue. Phone 626-5161

Gardening for the Newcomer: This introductory class will familiarize newcomers or new homeowners with Tucson's seasons and soils. Discussion will cover proper techniques for planting and watering and how to create a garden of beauty and comfort in our desert environment. Class concludes with a walking tour of the Tucson Botanical Gardens.
Taught by trained docents. No preregistration required. 9:30 a.m. - noon on the first Thursday and third Saturday of the month at Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way. Price $12 (includes admission to the gardens) More info: 326-9686 x39 or

Tucson Gardening Clubs and Organizations:

The Gardeners of Tucson
is a local gardening club that has been around since 1959.
They meet the second Tuesday of the month at 7:30 PM
at 3202 E. First Street (1 block east of Country Club and
one block south of Speedway. They do not have a website.
But further information can be found here
For more information call the President, Jacqueline at 292-0504.

The Tucson African Violet Society
has meetings on the Northwest and Far East side monthly.
Their newsletter is published monthly and
you can find it on their website.


Tucson Area Iris Society
meets monthly (more or less) in various
locations (except
summer). In spite of Tucson's very hot summers,
irises actually do very well in Tucson
For information on how to grow irises there is a
culture page on the Tucson Area Iris Society's webpage.

Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society

Nearly 1,000 members belong to the very active Tucson
Cactus & Succulent Society which meets the first Thursday
of every month at 7PM at 2099 E. River Road at the Junior
League of Tucson Kiva Building.

Tucson Organic Gardeners
meet at 7:00 PM on the third Thursday of each month
September thru April at St. Marks Presbyterian Church
3809 E. Third Street (near Alvernon/Speedway).


Tucson Rose Society
meets at 6:30 PM on the first Tuesday of the month
at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way


The Tucson Watergardeners
meet the 4th Thursday of every month from February to October
at 7:30 PM at the Junior League of Tucson Kiva Building,
2099 East River Road. They are a club
for people who enjoy
the many aspects of watergardening; plants, fish or both


Tucson Area Gardening Talks, Lectures, Demonstrations:

The local Master Gardeners from the University of Arizona
Pima County Extension offers talks on timely gardening topics weekly.

The talks are every Wednesday at 9:00 AM at the Cooperative
Extension Garden Center, 4210 N. Campbell and at 1:00 PM at
the Wilmot Library, 530 N. Wilmot Rd as well as
Fridays at 1:00 PM
on the Northwest at the
Oro Valley Public Library,
1305 W. Naranja Drive in the large meeting room.

Talks are held monthly EXCEPT June, July and August

For subjects of these weekly talks visit


Arizona Native Plant Society
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
California Rare Fruit Growers-Southern Arizona Chapter
Community Gardens of Tucson
Desert Survivors
Native Seeds/SEARCH
Pima County Master Gardeners Website
Southeast Arizona Butterfly Association
Tohono Chul Park
Tucson African Violet Society
Tucson Area Iris Society
Tucson Bonsai Society
Tucson Botanical Gardens
Tucson Organic Gardeners
Tucson Rose Society

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