FRUSTRATED in the California High Desert

zephyr66June 10, 2010

I have been trying to grow a garden in the desert for 3 seasons now. I finally resorted to the "easy" way and did container gardening for all my veggies such as tomatoes, okra, squash, peppers, etc. I bought the inexpensive container soil for veggies at home depot. The plants all just seem stagnate. It's been about a month, and I swear it looks like they havent' grown an inch. The tomatoe and pepper blooms just fall off. The last few days, the tomatoe leaves are starting to turn yellowish. I am making sure to not over water. The okra I started from seed, are about 3 inches and it's been 5 to 6 weeks since they sprouted. I did not fertilize... could that be the problem? I thought bagged soil would be OK. Most of the plants have shade cloth as it gets around 100 degrees and the sun is always out. No shade on okra as I know they thrive with heat and full sun. Please, please - any suggestions? What do you think is going wrong?


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Yes, lack of soil fertility is the problem. Especially if you use the "cheap stuff" but really for any container.

Ideally, you should buy yourself either one of those inexpensive siphon mixers or spend a little more ($50-$60) and get one of the dial type injectors that hook to the hose.

Use a Rapid Grow type fertilizer every time you water AND also use a timed-release like Osmocote in the soil as well.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 3:53PM
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You still need to fertilise container grown veggies. In fact, growing in containers the leaching of nutrients out of the potting mix with watering is something you have to allow for.

The mid-to-high price range commercial potting mixes usually contain enough fertiliser for approx 4-6 weeks *at the most* but the cheaper potting mixes often don't have ANY fertiliser at all, or what's there is of dubious value. Read the package, it should be listed if there.

I find an easy rule of thumb to use with containers is the old 'feed weakly weekly' saying. That refers to adding a liquid or soluble fertiliser (could be a soluble formulation like miracle grow, could be a seaweed or fish emulsion, could be your home-made worm juice or compost tea) to the water you give your plants once a week, but do it at half or even quarter strength (so it's the colour of weak tea). And when you water, stop when you see water coming out the drainage holes.

Or as denninmi mentions, you can add a slow release fertiliser. But even with that kind of fertiliser it's better to keep an eye on your plants and listen to them rather than go by the calendar, because the release rate of the granules is affected by temperature among other things. So if the veggies are not growing and their colour is pale (and you're not over-watering) then by all means add more fertiliser.

good luck!


    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 6:30PM
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sandhill_farms(10 NV)


I'm not sure what part of the California Desert you live in but I live, and have been growing vegetables for years 60 miles outside of Las Vegas so I'm almost certain our growing conditions are somewhat similar. When we first bought our property it was nothing but blow sand, (I guess that's why they call the area I live "The Sandhills)." I knew immediately that vegetable gardening was going to be a large part of our two acres but what to do with our soil? I realized that the only way we were going to be successful was if we improved the soil so that's what I started to do. Given that there's a lot of livestock around here I was able to collect a lot of manure and stockpile it. I made some large compost bins and started making compost for the gardens. Over time I have added literally tons of compost and continue to this day. I also pick-up cheap straw bales and spoiled hay to use.

I guess where I'm going with this story is that in order to be successful in the desert you must make good soil, and I'm sure that's where one of your problems lies. If you have access to livestock you can save many $$$$ by making your own compost to improve your soil. The bagged stuff in the stores is not that good and is very costly for what you (don't) get. Something else you can look in to is to buy "Bulk" compost from landscape yards. Around here we use "Turkey Manure."

The bottom line is to build your soil and to keep building it. You can't add too much compost.

Something else you should look-in to is to install a drip irrigation system for your garden area. Water costs are high and wherever you can save it's a good thing. I use an all drip system that I have set-up on timers. If you decide to do this buy a quality drip hose and it will payoff in the end, I use some stuff that's called "Netafim." I've had it laid-out in the garden for over (10) years now and it's never cracked - leaked - nor have the emitters clogged-up.

Build, (and keep building), your soil along with regular fertilizing and proper water and you can grow great vegetables in the desert.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 7:01PM
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The OP has made several mistakes.

1) okra is fine, but there are other plants which will do well in high heat, better than squash. Things like sweet potatoes, Malabar spinach, purslane, watermelon.

2) container is never better than soil

3) MULCH. A truckload of wood chips here costs $0 (free) and is 10 to 30 cubic yards. Assuming 30, that will be 0.5 foot of chips over about 200 sqft and a good start. Ideally, some manure can be spread before the chips are laid down. That saves water, fertilizer, and protects the plants from heat stress. Call a company in the LA suburbs and they may deliver if you pay for gas

4) if possible, plant on the East side of the house, where there will be shade in the afternoon.

5) and then of course you have to fertilize. Once the chips are degraded, micronutrients will be OK, until then, add fertilizer. Later, nitrogen will have to be added every year, in the form of manure or urea.

6) once you get to be successful, add drip irrigation

    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 8:36PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)


I don't *always* agree that "container is never better than soil". Depends where you live as well as rainfall conditions. Where I live, we don't get any rain from June to October. Water conservation is critical, so for me, Containers reduce my water consumption in the garden by about 75%. I would think the OP in Las Vegas has similar water and soil conditions to be concerned about.

And BTW, here is what can be done in containers with the right Container Mix, as well as the proper fertilization. Photos taken yesterday:


Here is a link that might be useful: EarthTainer

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 12:07AM
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I've said this before on other threads, but I still think if Native Americans were able to grow vegetables in the desert (without any fancy modern technology, and without grocery stores as backup if they failed), then home gardeners should be able to grow vegetables in the desert today.

I think Greg is right that it takes some soil improvement and drip irrigation, plus selection of the right plants, but it can be done (perhaps with container grown plants to tide you over until your soil is improved).

For example, watermelons are native to the Kalhari Desert! California should be no problem for them.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 5:50PM
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I bought a book on dry farming because I was so paranoid about another drought, alas it flooded the whole middle Tennessee area this year and rained last year too much too. I panicked at the first year in water restrictions.

You live in water restrictions every day, so some of the things might apply to you that I read about. One was very strange and with creating too much of a workload by hand tools. They dug holes in their yard about 2 to 3 feet deep during rainy seasons to collect rain water deep in the soil and then bury it just after the rainy season.

Mulch is good, but traps insects, so newspaper or the mulch paper is probably better, I would only guess at that, now battling squash bugs that live in my mulch/leaves at the base of my squash. A deterrent for those were thin mulches like a paper.

You can root water only, not just use drip irrigation, saving you even more water bills. A tool I saw, pondered, but didn't buy:

The root soaker is tool "C".

It would take a lot of time to root soak individually a full garden for each plant, but it might be worth it. Also there were suggestions of pulling back mulch just before the rains, so the water would soak in, then pulling it back around each plant when the rain is over.

You can dig sunken beds or waffle gardens, those are American Indian garden ideas. They found those everywhere, so it was the method of choice in that day. Water at night so the steam created during the midday sun can't damage plants. Most people try to water during the morning to avoid mildew that can grow at night, but that is for different conditions.

Are you watering during the morning or night? You could be killing your plants with steam from morning waterings. It could soil ph issue, either way, compost is the best option, buying topsoil and building it up year after year is another option if you want a fast fix. It seems like it would be expensive, but people buying dirt for their raised beds don't complain too much saying the price is not bad.

You mentioned you cover your plants, so that is what I saw in an Israeli garden, desert gardens for sure. They have a tan tarp covering their plants.

Good luck and maybe it's a bug you are fighting sucking the water from your plants, try companion plants to rid the bugs. I can't help from experience, but those are some of the things I can think of I read about for farming in your area.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 8:13PM
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Hey all i knowits an old thread . Anyone consider water ph or soil toxicity alkalinity ,salinity acidity? evan if your city water is ph 7 the soil may be full of or made up of a off the scale ph changing element im sure that be the case here in hesperia so water buffering is required or soil amendments sand is the easyest media to frow in you hust add every thing the plants need and never let the drip recovery system remain off for more than a few hrs or better yet just plant your seeds in house hold ibsulation buffer your nutiant sulution return at jus t above 7ph not to exceed 6 in tank .ow imsorry hydroponics.

Its all hydro the ph is everything or anything you do is never going to reach the stem of your plants anyone know an analisis in general of the problems we face here With the soil and water . Thanks good to be back in the hi desert Growing bright blue inside watermelon .carl hava nice day

    Bookmark   last Friday at 12:29AM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

"I bought the inexpensive container soil for veggies at home depot."

Thread is several years old but the problem was almost certainly the soil used. Last winter I used the cheap Vigoro organic potting soil from HD for my winter sowing and it was a huge mistake. While it might not be the same soil as what the OP used, I had the same problems. It was awful soil. It was heavy, poor quality, and I had sickly plants, next to no growth, and yellow leaves.


    Bookmark   last Friday at 8:20AM
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Thanks for the info . Im trying to get it rite the first year ive been growing for years but a new earea and new climate means as usual listen to the local gardeners . So thanks water be fine in quality gardening soil. Ill get a test kit for the native soil .i m at a loss trying to figure out why my dad and the neighbor both had failed crops last season? My father cant understand the value of composting he says what am i paying for this big trash can for ?") So mg or what ever is on sale and Soluble normaly works for him. Leading me to suspect a ph or toxicity problem .other than that theres the larva in the root systems of the now dead fruit trees . Beatles what ever. Guess i should start a thread of my own .carl garden thanks again hava great day

1 Like    Bookmark   last Saturday at 1:24PM
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