A fall vegetable garden will be the best garden you’ll ever raise in Las Vegas. No, it’s not too hot to plant and here’s why.
Nighttime temperatures are cooling — it’s just what cool-season vegetables want. They germinate quicker and grow faster to produce delicious, tastier, crunchier, crispy vegetables.
To help you start, Cindy Dixon and I will show you how to have a successful garden during the “Falling into Gardening” program Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 15 at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Call 702-822-7700 to reserve your seat. At 2 p.m. Sept. 15, Master Gardener Don Fabbi will teach “Vegetable Gardening in the Fall” at the West Charleston Library, 6301 W. Charleston Blvd.
The late Bill Tomiyasu developed a gardening guide while producing vegetables during the building of Hoover Dam. He found cool-season vegetables planted in September and early October produced best. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension still uses his guide in its booklet “Becoming a Desert Gardener.” Get your free copy by calling 702-257-5555.
Here are keys for a successful fall garden:
Plant at the right time:
■ Now through Columbus Day is ideal cool-season vegetable-planting weather. You never know when the frost will hit, so plant soon. We often enjoy Indian summers, meaning our falls may not experience a killing frost. The average first frost comes in mid-November.
■ Plant in the right location: Plant close to your kitchen door to increase your chances of success. This helps you keep a closer eye on bugs before they become a problem. Plus, the vegetables are easier to harvest. Remember, your garden must get at least six hours of sunlight.
■ Plant the right vegetables: There are more than 30 vegetables that love our fall weather to mature in. We define cool-season vegetables by the parts of the plant you eat. If you eat leaves, roots, immature flowers and bulbs, they are cool-season vegetables.
Leafy crops include lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, endive, mustard greens, collards and parsley. They are shallow rooted, meaning they need an open soil so roots can mine freely for nutrients. Since you’re eating the leaves, keep a constant supply of nutrients available always.
Then there are the root crops, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, parsnips and rutabagas. They love sandy loam soils so the roots aren’t inhibited. The harder roots have to mine, the tougher they will taste.
Don’t omit the cabbage family, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi. They love cold weather and are often called the Eskimos of the garden. Either direct seed or buy transplants. Be on the lookout for cabbage loopers and aphids working the outer leaves.
And remember bulb vegetables, such as chives, garlic, leeks and onions. They, too, like open soils and plenty of room to grow. Fertilize them in the early stages to push top growth. When bulbs swell, water them to increase their size.
■ Prepare the soil: Our desert soils are virtually dead; they lack organic matter, are high in salts and alkalinity, have poor drainage and in some cases caliche. Apply copious amounts of organic matter, such as compost and planting mixes. Also, mix a vegetable fertilizer in with the organic matter to maintain maximum growth throughout the season.
■ Water properly: Keep the soil surface moist during plant establishment, and then water deeply the rest of the season. Check the soil a couple of inches down to see if it’s moist.
■ Keep your garden small: For the first-time gardener, keep it small. Otherwise you’ll confirm your self-fulfilled prophecy, “I can’t grow anything in Las Vegas.”
■ Seed packets tell a lot: Seed packets tell you all you need to know to succeed — planting depth, plant spacing, what seedlings look like, thinning and fertilizer instructions and a picture of when to harvest.
■ Mulch vegetables: Mulching conserves water, controls weeds, regulates soil temperature and improves the overall health of the soil.
■ Plant what you like. Spend more time in the garden to keep problems to a minimum.
Give your vegetables the nutrients and water they need, because they are only in the ground a short time. Planting early is so important going into the fall.
Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 702-526-1495.