Although summer is winding down, the desert heat remains strong. Our unique environment in Phoenix gives us sunshine and warm weather year-round, and many species of flora and fauna thrive in these conditions. With the most intense heat out of the way as summer fades into fall, many locals are looking to get to work on their gardens. Whether you’re a first-time planter or a proud gardener, these tips and tricks from local experts will help you achieve a beautiful and bountiful garden.
Best Time of Year
While people in many other states across the country have to do major gardening in the spring, when the snow melts and the cold temperatures warm up, Arizonans are lucky that fall is actually the best time to plant many different types of flowers and shrubs. Melinda Walton from Berridge Nursery says autumn is an exciting time for residents to set their gardens up for success. “Planting in the fall provides the plants an opportunity to establish before next year’s summer heat,” she said, “Planting now allows us to enjoy a long fall and spring season full of color.”
Another benefit of planting right now is that there is an abundance of annual and perennial flowers, which Walton says is a welcome change from the limited selection of summer staples. “Fall favorites for pots and flower beds include geraniums, petunias, pansies, calibrachoas, salvias, alyssum and lobelia.” That’s not all, as bulb planting season begins in October. “Dutch iris, ranunculus, narcissus and freesias will yield bountiful blooms in the spring with little preparation effort now.”
Many residents worry about planting in the fall because of possible winter freezes. Walton says that actually shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as most plants will make it through the winter just fine, especially with a sheet of frost cloth to protect against chills on the few nights temps may dip down to the mid to low 30s. “Even if a little damage occurs, a spring prune and fertilization will rejuvenate the plants and encourage new growth and colorful spring blooms,” Walton added.
Now is the ideal time for gardening, because the weather is perfect for both plants and people. The lower nighttime temperatures give plants relief from the sun and heat, while the warm days support new growth and blooms. “The mornings are a great time to walk your gardens and make a plan of action for the items which would benefit from an end of summer clean-up and fertilization to produce an enjoyable fall show of color,” Walton suggested.
Another good idea is to improve the soil before planting fall flowers and vegetables. Bruce Solomon from Arcadia Color Garden recommends adding organic matter like composted mulch as well as soil sulfur, gypsum and fertilizer for the best results. “Landscape plants can be lightly pruned and fertilized, for the last time, until growth begins in the spring.”
The fall season is the prime time for installing most landscape plants, as the cold won’t have too much of an effect on new plantings. “Our soil is still warm so the root systems of newly planted landscape plants will take advantage of this to put out new roots,” Solomon explained.
“These new plantings will also have the cooler temps of fall for less stress while establishing and the fall/winter/spring months before they have to deal with the heat of the following summer.”
The main exceptions are frost/freeze sensitive plants such as Bougainvillea, Hibiscus and Lantana, which are best planted in the spring after danger of frost/freeze. Other great flowers to plant in your yards this season include alyssum, lobelia, poppies, snapdragons, calendulas, dianthus, stock and hollyhocks.
One of the most exciting reasons to start your own garden now is that you can yield delicious and healthy vegetables in your own backyard. Autumn provides exceptional growing conditions for many vegetables that need a long-term harvest, including root crops such as beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, radishes and turnips. Solomon says there’s also room for cole crops including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and mustard greens, as well as leafy greens such as bok choi, celery, swiss chard, lettuces and spinach. Of course, there’s also cold-hardy veggie varieties such as peas, endive, garlic and artichokes, as well as must-have herbs from parsley and cilantro to oregano, mint, chives and rosemary.
For more questions about fall gardening, or to get the supplies you need to get started, visit some of our local experts at Berridge Nursery or Arcadia Color Garden Nursery.