Autumn arrived Friday, and local gardeners say the West Valley is just days away from the best planting time of the year.
“This time of year, people will be adding new plants for landscaping and replacing dead or damaged plants that were harmed during the Valley monsoon,” said Jim Oravetz, a Sun City West Master Gardener, “Fall is the best time to do it.”
Oravetz, director of public training for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, said fall is the best time to begin putting plants into the ground because soils don’t freeze or become too hot. Oravetz said these conditions provide the best opportunity for root systems to grow and for plants to “jump out of the ground” come spring.
Oravetz has been involved in gardening for roughly 50 years and said fall also is a good time to start soil preparations for winter vegetable gardens.
“I tell people we don’t have soil out here; we have brown cement. When you get it wet, it does soften up and become workable,” he said. “I also like to tell people, ‘I don’t grow plants in my yard; I grow roots.’ If you provide the proper environment for the roots, they’ll take care of the top for you.”
Some ideal crops to plant this fall include cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, chard, carrots, radishes, different kinds of leaf lettuce, spinach, onions and garlic.
Warm-weather vegetables to avoid include tomatoes, beans, watermelons and peppers.
Oravetz said Arizona is blessed with three growing seasons: two seasons for growing warm-weather plants and vegetables, and one for cooler-weather plants and vegetables.
The Master Gardener said fall is the ideal time of year to inspect or replace an irrigation system since gardeners aren’t watering their plants and vegetables as frequently as in the summer.
Oravetz said people should water their plants and vegetables with less frequency in the fall, but for the same duration of time as the summer in order to “wet the entire root system.”
“So many people I talk to make the wrong selection. They say, ‘Well, we watered for an hour during the summer and it’s getting cool, so now we’ll cut it to 30 minutes,’” Oravetz said. “Well, no, you only wet half the root system (when doing that). You want to continue wetting the entire root system; you just don’t have to do it as often when the weather cools down.”
Sun City Grand Garden Club president Cherie Czaplicki said the fall is an ideal time to start planting and advises to put shade tops over plants to help protect them from the sun.
Czaplicki said 3 to 6 inches of compost per 12 inches of soil is ideal for planting cool-weather vegetables.
“It’s a real exciting time to be planting veggies because you can be harvesting them in no time,” said Czaplicki. “Radishes, my heavens, they’re ready in a month, and your greens can start being ready in six weeks, and you just keep going with other plants that can be ready in the spring.”
While the West Valley provides a climate for numerous plants and trees to flourish, not everything grows well in the region, Oravetz said.
“So many times, people from back East come out here and want to have a tree like they had back home,” Oravetz said. “Well, that may not work here, and not only from our weather standpoint. Trees and shrubs from back East take the cold better than they can take the heat, so they don’t survive here.
“Can I grow rose bushes? Absolutely. Can I grow vegetables? Absolutely,” he said. “Once people understand the soil preparation, the location of what they’re going to put in their yard, and how to water and feed in a desert environment, they can be successful with a lot of plants that don’t normally grow here. These plants just require a little bit of extra care.”
Master Gardeners are available to answer questions and provide advice 9 a.m. to noon weekdays at the PORA offices, 13815 Camino del Sol, Sun City West. In addition, they conduct diagnostic clinics 10 a.m. to noon the first Thursday of every month at the PORA offices.
Clinics take place throughout the Northwest Valley each month: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Saturday of each month at the Surprise Regional Library, 16089 N. Bullard Ave., and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m the second Saturday of each month at White Tank Regional Library, 20304 W. White Tank Mountain Road, Waddell.
Master Gardeners also participate in community events, including many in the city of Surprise, the Sun City West Green Fair in January and at Surprise Water Department classes. Call the office hotline at 623-546-1672 for more information.
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.