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Master Gardener Journal  

B E T T E R   L A N D S C A P E   D E S I G N

Landscaping With Good Taste

by Sandy Turico,
Master Gardener

It has been said that nothing beats the taste of vegetables and herbs freshly harvested from the backyard garden. Considering the fact that consuming produce (preferably organically grown) is an excellent way to ensure good health, why would any enthusiastic gardener not want to include some delectable delicacies in their landscape? You might think you don't have the time or the space. Think again...perhaps it's time to add some edibles to your landscape!

Determine the type and amount of produce you will consume, and how much time you can give to this endeavor. Even a minimum of space and effort can yield some tasty morsels for the dinner table. Will you be able to devote only an hour or two to the garden on the weekends, or can you schedule gardening chores on a more regular basis? A culinary garden can be as small as a single container or as large as the space you have available to you. Regardless of the amount of room you want to allocate to your food garden, it is important to integrate the edible plantings into your landscape in an attractive and practical manner.

The first step in designing your garden patch should be to evaluate your home site. Vegetables and herbs require 6 to 10 hours of full sun daily. Sunlight patterns change with the seasons, and since we are fortunate to have two different growing seasons in our region it very important to figure out where your edible plants will receive optimal sunlight during each season. Afternoon shade during our intensely hot summer months is also an important consideration.

Locating your garden plants close to trees or shrubs will result in competition for water, nutrients and sunlight. An ideal location for interplanting vegetables and herbs would be among annuals and perennials with similar watering requirements.

Unlike the desert trees and shrubs in your landscape, your edible plantings will need frequent irrigations in order to thrive and bear fruit. Take into account the access you have to a water source. This will make your irrigation chores simpler. Using a drip system or soaker hoses are efficient methods to provide the water your edible plants will need. A level planting area with good drainage is another requirement for healthy vegetables and herbs. Waterlogged soil is an invitation to disease and rotting roots.

Locating your food garden close to your house is a practical idea, making it easy to get your veggies from the garden to the table in a minimum amount of time. A spot that provides good air circulation as well as protection from high winds will also aid in keeping your plants healthy.

Society Garlic

We're all familiar with the traditional vegetable garden planted in long rows, certainly an acceptable option if you have the room. But there are many other options to consider, no matter how much space you have, that can add charm to your landscape.

If you need to keep your garden in one designated area, contemplate a unique design that will complement the rest of your landscape. A garden plot in a circular, oval or freeform shape with well-placed paths for easy accessibility can become a highlight in the landscape.

If you don't want or need to limit your planting area to a single plot, think about interplanting your edible plants among the rest of your landscape. As long as you position groups of plants with similar light and water needs, they need not be confined to a solitary location. Think about blending vegetables and herbs with annual and perennial flowers in various planting beds throughout the landscape.

Containers such as pots, barrels, or even an old wheelbarrow can be a perfect way to raise vegetables and herbs. Make sure the vessels are at least 5 gallons or larger, and that they have drainage holes. Bushy or dwarf varieties are a good choice, and more than one variety of food crop can be grown in one pot if it is large enough. Arrange complimentary containers in various sizes for a striking addition to your patio or landscape. An added bonus to container gardening is the ability to move them around to take advantage of sun and shade as the seasons change.

Raised beds are ideal for your backyard garden patch for a number of reasons. With this method, the soil is built up 12 to 18 inches above ground level. Gardening tasks are physically easier to deal with, the soil mix is better controlled, and drainage is less of a problem. Limit the size of the raised bed to 3-4 feet in width in order to maintain the bed without having to walk over it. Frame your raised beds with bricks, landscape blocks, wood planks (not chemically treated) or whatever your imagination conjures up to keep chores more manageable.

Plant UP! Think about vertical gardening to make the most of the space you have. Besides the time-honored trellis, a fence, landscape tower, wooden stepladder or netting strung between two stakes can save valuable space. Try pole beans, cucumbers, peas or other vining plants for your vertical garden.

Take the time to plan your edible garden on graph paper. Sketching your design to scale will enable you to make certain that the spacing of plants is correct as well as help you to visualize the garden layout in relationship to the rest of your landscape.

Space plants fairly close together to shade the soil and help prevent weed growth. Be sure to position taller plants on the north side of your gardening area so shorter specimens receive sufficient sun.

Research the fertilizer needs of the vegetables and herbs you raise. Grouping the light, medium and heavy feeders together will result in healthier plants and simplify maintenance.

Soil preparation should be a top priority regardless of where you choose to raise your edible plants. Our alkaline desert soil has little organic material. So adding amendments will improve the soil structure, enhance drainage and enrich the soil. If using containers or raised beds, getting the right soil mix is simply a matter of adding the correct combination of soil and amendments to fill the container or build up the bed.

When planting directly in our native soil, the ground will need to be loosened. Organic matter such as compost, mulch or aged manure should be added along with nitrogen and phosphorus. A supplement of soil sulfur or gypsum will lessen salt buildup. If planting in containers, do not use native soil directly from your home site especially if it is composed mainly of clay. Instead, buy or blend your own lightweight soil mix that will allow roots to absorb enough air and water. Detailed directions on preparing garden plots and containers can be found in "Desert Gardening for Beginners" published by the Arizona Master Gardener Press.

This groundwork needs to be repeated before every planting season. The time and effort you spend getting your garden area ready for planting will pay off at harvest time, so don't skimp on your prep work.

Lambs Ear
Avid gardeners in Maricopa County will appreciate the fact that they can raise vegetables and herbs during two separate growing seasons. While there are numerous annual and perennial herbs, vegetables (with the exception of asparagus and artichokes) are grown on an annual basis. Vegetables that thrive in the warmer temperatures present from spring through fall are beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Cool-season crops that do well from fall through spring are beets, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, peas, and radishes.

Plants have many properties that affect the environment around them. Although plant life may compete for water and nutrients or even release toxins fatal to other vegetation, some plants flourish when they are grown near other specific plants. Vegetables and herbs can deter harmful pests, attract beneficial insects, add nutrients to the soil, enhance flavors, and shade smaller plants. For example, mints and lavender are natural insect repellants. Basil can be planted with tomatoes to improve growth and flavor. Beans and peas, which are legumes, enrich the soil with nitrogen. Many beneficial combinations have a basis in scientific fact, while others just can't be explained. Man has been observing the principles of companion planting for thousands of years; putting a few to work in your garden will help it thrive.

  • Once you decide which edibles you would like to have in your landscape, do some research. Find out the best planting times, mature plant sizes, and number of days until a crop will mature.
  • Determine whether it is best to raise plants from seeds or transplants. If you choose transplants, water them several hours before planting, and plant late in the afternoon, early evening or on a cloudy day to reduce shock to the transplant.
  • To prevent insect and disease problems, rotate your vegetable crops. Don't plant vegetables from the same plant family in the identical spot more than once in a three-year period. For example, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant all belong to the "Solanaceae" family; once a growing season has ended a crop from a different plant family should be planted in its place and vegetables from the Solanaceae family rotated to other areas of the landscape.
  • Choose varieties that are resistant to pests and disease.
  • Take into account the color and texture of the annuals, perennials and other plants in your landscape. Repeat colors and textures and vary heights to achieve a pleasing display. Planting in odd-numbered clusters (3, 5, 7, etc.) will produce a satisfying balance in your landscape.
  • Put aside the chemicals and go organic if possible; fertilizers such as compost, manure, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, and bone meal are less likely to burn plants. Natural pest controls are safer for your family and protect the environment.
  • Take care not to overwater or overfertilize herbs. Generally, they do not require as much water or nutrients as vegetables.
  • Plant aromatic herbs like lavender, rosemary and sage near patios, entries and patio areas where their fragrance can be appreciated.
  • If limited to a small space, keep your garden design simple.
  • Consider growing native crops such as fava or tepary beans, cilantro, chile peppers, or tomatillos that thrive in our desert environment.
Growing vegetables and herbs is a healthy, wholesome activity for the whole family. Your children, grandchildren or the neighbor's kids will get a thrill from planting and harvesting their own veggies, and will likely be more willing to try out a variety of foods they've actually helped raise.

There is a wealth of information concerning edible gardening available from your county extension office, the Internet, and books and magazines geared exclusively for our Southwest desert climate. Take advantage of classes sponsored by various municipalities and nurseries. Consider your vegetable and herb garden a work in progress; realize that success will be a matter of trial and error. Above all... enjoy reaping the rewards of your harvest!

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated October 4, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
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