Wondering what to do in your garden this fall? Here's your Phoenix-centric guide to growing your own fruits and veggies — complete with tips and tricks for preparing, planting, watering, and harvesting your edible garden in November.
If you don’t have a garden yet, November is a great time to get started. The cooler temperatures will make the task of setting up your garden more pleasant for you — and your plants will appreciate it, too. Getting started on a garden can be as simple as digging into your existing dirt to remove grass and weeds and then plopping seeds and plants into the ground. Or it can be as complex as constructing raised beds from wood or concrete block and filling them with imported soil. Either way, the important thing is to start now so you can enjoy the benefits all winter and spring.
If you have an established garden and haven’t done so already, pull out the remains of your summer garden and prepare the soil for the next round. Add fresh compost to your beds and aerate any compacted soil with a digging fork or shovel.
You also should start thinking about frost protection. Get out your old sheets or buy some new frost cloth, and decide on your system for covering your garden – remember, your plants won’t be happy if the frost cloth is weighing down on them, especially when they’re little seedlings. You can use sticks, metal hoops, or build a frame to keep the cloth elevated off the plants, but still close enough to the ground to keep the heat in. And remember, not everything in your garden will need to be covered. Many cold-hearty plants will do just fine in our mild winters without covering.
November is the end of the optimal planting window for cold-weather crops, so don't delay if you want to get your garden established before the colder nights set in. Cold-weather vegetables include the brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage), root vegetables (carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips), lettuces, spinach, and peas.
Don’t forget to plant herbs now, too, including cilantro, dill, parsley, garlic, and onions.
Many flowers do well from seed this time of year, too, and they will add a lot of color and interest to your garden once they start blooming in the spring. Flowers to plant now include desert bluebells, California poppies, calendula, blanket flower, nasturtiums, and sweet peas.
It’s not too late to plant everything from seed, but you can get a jump-start by buying some vegetable and herb starts at a local nursery or garden center. Starts are baby plants that were seeded, germinated, and raised to a small size for you, so you get to bypass those early weeks of care-taking. If you haven't put seeds in the ground by mid- to late-November, definitely consider buying starts.
The cooler days in November mean your garden will need less water. But, when you plant seeds, those seeds need to be moist in order to germinate. Likewise, transplanted starts don’t have established roots to reach deep into the soil for moisture. So, keep the surface of the soil well-hydrated until your plants are established. This might mean watering a little bit every day or every other day for the first several weeks. After your seeds have sprouted and grown a bit, you can reduce that to a deeper soak once or twice a week, depending on daytime temperatures. In our desert climate, it's very difficult to over-water, but do keep in mind that plants don't like to swim in water for extended periods and roots prefer some drying time between waterings.
Watering your garden doesn’t have to be complicated. Yes, you can purchase and set up a drip irrigation system and put it on a timer so you don’t have to worry about losing your plants because you forgot or were too busy to water. But you can also water manually using a spray nozzle attached to a hose, or a basic watering can, and get great results.
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If you still have a few summer crops going strong, or you planted for an early fall garden, you might have some crops ready for harvest this month. We’re at the tail end of harvest for summer crops including eggplant, cucumber, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as basil. These plants do not like the cold, so harvest as much as you can now before they get wiped out on a chilly evening. Corn planted in mid-summer should also be ready now.
It’s also a good time to give any established herbs a good pruning to encourage new growth – including rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano. You can use the pruned herbs fresh in your cooking, or dry them, crush the leaves, and put into jars and give away as holiday gifts.
Want to find out more about growing food in the desert? PHX Renews will host two free classes: one on Saturday, November 12, concerning soil prep, and another at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 17, about water conservation. Also free are Agave Farms' weekly gardening classes at 9 a.m. on Saturdays at the Uptown Farmers Market.