Spring Vegetables to Grow in the Southwest

Things are warming up for your desert garden

If you live in the Southwest, March is likely a bustling time in your vegetable garden. Follow these tips on caring for all the vegetables in your desert garden during this busy month.

Keep Planting Your Tomatoes

Continue to set out tomato plants through the first 2 weeks of March. For excellent results, start with strong, vigorous young tomato plants from Bonnie Plants®. Begin to feed the plants every 2 weeks once they have been in the ground for 4 weeks with a water soluble plant food, such as Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food. For the most plentiful tomato crop, avoid overfeeding. Water regularly to maintain consistent moisture. Be aware that sudden changes in soil moisture can cause your tomatoes to split and encourage blossom end rot.

Plant Eggplants and Peppers

You can set out eggplant and pepper plants throughout the month of March. If you're transplanting, cut off any flowers when you set your plants in the ground. For peppers and eggplant, feed your plants 4 weeks after planting with a continuous release plant food, such as Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food, which will provide your vegetables with continuous plant food for up to 3 months.

Other Warm Season Crops

For a number of warm season crops, early March planting is critical to a successful crop in the deserts. These crops include snap beans, cucumbers (especially Gherkin varieties), Armenian cucumbers and summer squash (look for heirloom desert varieties or those from the Middle East). Tepary beans, okra and melons (try Ogen for great results) do best when planted from mid-March to early April.

Solutions for Changing Soil Temperatures

Warm season crops grown from seed want to germinate in warm soil, and soil temperatures can be erratic in March. If the soil is still cool when you plant, cover the bed after planting with either black plastic or frost cloth, which can be found online or at home improvement stores. Check the black plastic daily and remove it as soon as plants have germinated. Frost cloth can be left in place after germination and until the plants are tall enough to push against it. Early planting is key to getting a strong, well-established crop before the really hot temperatures set in.

Grow Less Traditional Crops

Less traditional crops you can plant in March include the delicious greens huazontle and amaranth, both of which also have edible seed heads. Also, consider planting chayote and jicama from seed. These crops will continue to grow and produce well into the summer months.

If Space Is a Problem, Try Interplanting

In small gardens, many of the winter vegetables are still producing prolifically in March, so finding room for warm spring crops can be tough. Interplanting is a good solution. Mix the spring crops, either from seed or transplants, among your still vigorous winter crops. By the time the warm season crops are large enough to compete for space and light, the winter crops are spent and it's time to pull them out. Since timing is so critical for warm-season crops in the desert, interplanting not only saves space, but allows even your small garden to stay pretty much continually in production well into the summer.