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Potted Desert Garden

There are different ways to look at the arrival of summer in the Coachella Valley.

While many people complain about the heat and the hefty power bills, summer also brings a lot of good. Our winter visitors have left, which means we can get into popular restaurants at a reasonable time, possibly without a reservation—and we can get some great deals, too! Traffic is certainly less troublesome.

In your garden, summer offers opportunities, despite the heat. Of course, we can simply rely on the strongest desert and arid plants, which require little water and minimal work, such as cacti and succulents, bougainvillea, trees and shrubs.

But that’s kind of boring, isn’t it?

The largest pots in our yards offer us another opportunity: You can choose to do some minimal but productive gardening in pots that are 24 inches or larger (in width and height), as they will retain enough water to support the plantings of your choice.

If you are like me and want some summer color, two heat-surviving summer annuals are vinca (see picture above) and pentas (below). Go with hues of vibrant reds and hot pinks, or soften the look with pale pinks and white. These plants will need daily water, but not so much that you risk violating the water restrictions. You can even save the first water from your shower in a 5-gallon bucket to use to water your pots. (For more ways to save water in your container garden, check out this article.)

If you would like to grow a little food, try some basil in an area which only receives early-morning sun. Make sure the soil stays consistently moist, and harvest the leaves regularly. Pesto, anyone?

Two popular vegetables that can take the heat are okra and eggplant. Both of these thick-skinned veggies will do pretty well—especially if you can keep them out of the sun by 1 or 2 p.m. Harvest the okra while still young on the vine, and it will be nice and tender. Local nurseries will have appropriate varieties of both of these plants, but I would get them ASAP, from starts; it is too late to begin from seed.

If you have become inspired to grow your own food, and are thinking about tomatoes … sorry. You have missed your season, and you’ll need to wait until the fall to grow your own.

As for that okra and eggplant that you’re growing … try grilling the veggies, and combine them with a few other fresh ingredients to complement your summer dinner!

  • Wash both vegetables thoroughly. Slice the eggplant into 3/4-inch pieces, and place on a paper towel with a little salt sprinkled on the top of each slice.
  • Heat your grill to a medium heat, and brush the grate with cooking oil. Then brush the veggies with your favorite olive oil, and place them on the grill.
  • If you have some tomatoes, cut them into thick slices and add them to the grill when the okra and eggplant are almost done. You can use cherry tomatoes, too.
  • Remove the veggies from the grill on a serving platter; top with that the fresh chopped basil you grew; and season to taste. Add some feta or goat cheese if you like. Enjoy!

See? Summer does not need to be all about air conditioning and ice cream. Just do your gardening early, and then get out of the heat. Remember: Both you and your plants need to stay hydrated!


Your June To-Do List

1. Avoid pruning plants now that the desert has heated up. You can deadhead your spent flowers, but pruning leads to sunburn by exposing previously shaded stems.

2. Increase the watering frequency to be sure pots don’t dry out.

3. Keep using a water-soluble fertilizer biweekly. Be sure the soil is already damp before applying fertilizer.

4. Garden and water in the early mornings.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. Marylee’s book, Getting Potted in the Desert, is now available. Buy it online at potteddesert.com. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. The Potted Desert Garden appears the first Tuesday of the month at CVIndependent.com.

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