Living in the High Desert is amazing. Less than three weeks ago we had nighttime freezes down to 28°F so I was running around making sure the flowering fruit trees were protected. A week later I was setting tomatoes, peppers and other seedlings out in the garden.
For the last three days it has already hit 90°F and no rain is forecast for about a month…or more. The answer to the big question on how to handle the heat involves both watering and shading strategies. As you can see in the photos I have set up shade over my pepper and tomato beds. Yes the seed packets say to plant in full sun – but they were written by someone living in Michigan or Maine. When you live a mile above sea level that means there is a lot less atmospheric protection. Many plants live long healthy lives with sunlight that is reflected or diluted in some fashion.
There are a plethora of ways to keep your plants happy. You can use shade cloth which is suspended above in some way. Used sheer curtains from Goodwill work well. The sheers can be attached to 10 foot lengths of PVC with small clamps – which allows you to pull them down out of the way.
Square tomato cages offer supports for wrapping cloth around. Wrap just the west side if you want to offer the plants protection only during the latter half of the day. Which brings us to another option. If you set plants on the east side of a wall or building they will get full sun for half the day and are protected from the blistering heat of the afternoon. Trees placed on the west side of a yard stretch afternoon shadows over yards and gardens. You can tell if they are getting too much sunlight as you will see pale white patches of sun scald on the leaves.
You can also use some plants to shade others in a garden. Interplanting corn with beans shades the beans, or plant a stand of corn, swiss chard, or sunflowers on the west side to offer shorter vegetables some afternoon shading.
Another important aspect of desert gardening is the watering plan. Below 90°F I will water every two to three nights. Yes…I said nights. You do not want to water during the day when the water is evaporated practically before the plant has a chance to drink it. Water between sunset and sunrise to give them time to suck up as much H2O as they can before being blasted. It also allows some water to sink into the earth, releasing it slowly as the day progresses.
Above 95°F watering goes to nightly. You’ll find that above 95°F the plants tend to not grow or produce much in vegetable gardens…they will play a waiting game for more favorable temps.
If you want to find more options for creating beneficial conditions for plant growth, get a copy of my book Creating Microclimates for High Desert Gardening. It is available on Amazon. Click here to order.