The days are getting longer, the weather is becoming lovely and garden stores are sending out fliers for baby plants. It’s time to stick out that green thumb again.
The Weekly reached out to test gardener and agricultural consultant Leslie Doyle—aka the Tomato Lady—for spring planting pointers. Doyle has been gardening in Las Vegas for more than 30 years, and she lives in a veritable oasis of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables of all kinds. Here are a few of her tips:
Follow the (right) directions. “[People] bring their habits with them from a friendly climate, and they don’t apply here,” Doyle says. “So we had to rewrite the rules.” Whatever you’re growing, make sure that you are following desert-specific directions and/or directions for our growing zones, which is 9a in the USDA Hardiness Zone map, according to garden.org.
Water often, but water right. Doyle waters as often as nine times a day using drip irrigation. She says that some people want to get the plants wet to “cool them off” during the heat of the summer. But it’s better to keep the plant dry and just water at the soil level.
Soil matters. On its most basic level, soil is what keeps a plant from falling over. But soil also contains nutrients that feed plants. If you use a high-quality soil (Doyle recommends her proprietary Tomato Lady soil), your plants should be healthier and more prolific.
Go organic. Organic soils, fertilizers and insect control are better for the environment and healthier for you. Also, synthetic fertilizers and chemicals will kill your soil, Doyle warns.
Mulching is your friend. Doyle uses a silver mulch, which goes on top of the soil. It increases the light to the plants and also protects the soil from invaders, like germs. (Yes, germs are a problem for plants, just as they are for humans.)
Embrace the sun. Some desert gardeners fear the sun, because they think it will burn their plants. So they shade the plants, which keeps them from thriving. Doyle says if you give plants enough water, they can take the full sun. “Water goes through the vascular system of the plants and cools it.”
Don’t cage your plants. It’s a common belief that tomatoes, peppers and the like should be planted in cages, but that’s actually a regional practice best employed elsewhere. Doyle says caging plants here makes them more susceptible to damage from our high desert winds. And keeping them naturally low to the ground will actually keep them cooler.
Wait to plant those summer veggies.“One of the first things that happens when it gets warm in February and March is that people run up to the nurseries and buy plants to feed the hatching bugs,” Doyle says. “We wait for those bugs to starve to death.” Doyle recommends doing your spring planting in mid-April after the seasonal bugs, when winds and cold have died down.
Do “intense planting.” For warm-season veggies, Doyle recommends following this spacing practice. By planting the plants near one another, you create a micro-environment that lowers the temperature of the plants, creates a larger yield and looks lush and gorgeous.
Plant with raised beds. The Las Vegas ground is famously hard, often filled with a layer of rocklike caliche. “Raised beds solve the desert gardening problem; they can contain nutritious soil, and because they are raised they will drain well,” Doyle writes in her book Slam Dunk Easy Desert Gardening. She says they don’t have to be high: 4-6 inches deep is enough if you’re using quality soil.
Warm-season produce in Las Vegas. These grow well in our climate and should be planted in the spring, according to Doyle’s book Slam Dunk Easy Desert Gardening.
• Sweet corn
• Sweet potatoes