Gardeners who haven’t started their summer garden can still get some fruits and vegetables into the ground and harvest their crop by summer’s end. The best suggestion is to plant cantaloupe. A fresh, end-of-summer cantaloupe from your backyard is sweet and flavorful and so much more delicious than the melons from Honduras and Guatemala currently sitting in grocery stores.
Why cantaloupes? Because they love warmth and require a sunny growing sight.
Paul Noe, a staff horticulturist at Star Nursery, said the planting season for tomatoes and other popular summer vegetables has passed.
“When it gets over 95 degrees, tomato growth slows down and that prevents the flowering and setting of fruit,” he explained. “In reality, tomatoes should be ripening on the vine right now. But there is still time to plant squash, cucumbers, peppers and melons. They like warm weather and will grow and ripen in the hotter months.”
According to Noe, the best time to plant a summer garden in Southern Nevada is March, April or early May. Then in late September or October, plant cold season crops such as leafy greens, cabbage, kale, turnips and beets.
Back to those cantaloupes. Noe said they need room to spread their vines. An area that is about 4-foot square or larger should produce four to six cantaloupes.
“Cantaloupes have large leaves that grow and shade the fruit as it ripens,” he said. “So let the vines spread out and cover the fruit. It’s going to take about 65 to 80 days to harvest depending on the variety of melon being grown.”
Soil is the No. 1 issue with any gardening in Southern Nevada. That’s because the soil is deficient in organic matter. Roots need that organic matter in order to process fertilizer, which needs to get into the system of the plant.
Proper soil preparation — using organic matter and starter fertilizer — is the answer. Another issue is making sure water drains properly from the root zone to prevent fungus and other diseases.
Since a typical summer garden is almost out of the question, Brian Parker, senior merchant of horticulture at Home Depot, suggests planting a desert landscape of agave, succulents and lantana plants. They are low-care plants with colorful leaves that thrive in hot sun and poor soil. Just include lots of mulch and keep it watered until established.
Another suggestion is a container garden.
“One of the trends that I’m seeing is container gardens,” he said. “This is being driven by people in condos who don’t have backyards but still want to experience the joy of gardening.
“Start your favorite plants or flowers in a container with good soil and place in a shaded area. Once the weather cools in the fall, take those plants and transfer them to the yard. Just remember what vegetables you’re growing and know when to plant them.”
Container gardening also is known as pot gardening with containers being anything from a box, tub or basket to a barrel or hanging basket. It has become popular in Southern Nevada because of the difficult soil and climate. Novice gardeners can buy ready-made containers that guarantee success and can immediately spruce up a deck or patio.
Parker said a small garden is perfect for someone who doesn’t want to purchase a barrel of tools, and if there is only one tool to own, it’s a garden trowel.
“No large shovel is needed to plant cantaloupes or other vegetables,” he said. “A garden trowel has a pointed, scoop-shaped metal blade and wooden, metal or plastic handle. It can be used for breaking up earth, digging small holes for planting and weeding, mixing in fertilizer or other additives, and transferring plants to pots.
“However, this is Las Vegas and because the soil is so rough, maybe a pick might be helpful to get through the initial layer of caliche. Of all the environments that I have been around, the desert is the most difficult for growing fruits and vegetables.”
Caliche is enough to send most local gardeners running back into the house. So Home Depot has created convenience and simplicity in the name of Drop-N-Bloom. These plants are pre-arranged with a mix of flowers.
Remove the plant from the container and drop it into a pot for an instant display. Just add water and watch them grow. Each container is custom made to the local environment, and that takes the guesswork out of figuring out how to create a colorful planter.
Parker knows there are still individuals who will plant tomatoes despite being told not to.
“Tomatoes are so popular and people love them,” he said. “There is great pride in taking the plants and nurturing them to fruition. I know some who, despite the lateness of the season, have recently planted tomatoes. They’re covered and protected and looked after daily even though they may not produce.
“At the same time, there are many new hybridized tomatoes that are disease-resistant and have developed traits to grow in spite of the time of year. Scientists are right now experimenting by grafting tomatoes to develop a stronger root stock to produce twice as many tomatoes. So it’s possible the day will come when tomatoes can be grown in Las Vegas year-round.”