Starting your backyard garden
The arid desert earth appears to be filled with hard, unusable uninviting soil, but upon closer reflection it can be far from the truth. The amount of sun Arizona receives can make for a much longer growing season, and multiple growing seasons in a single year. While it is true, the soil is extremely alkaline (high salt content), it can also contains beneficial minerals, especially in areas that have not been cultivated extensively. Be aware of the potential for the high degree of clay or caliche in the soil and its high salt content that may cause salt burn in new vegetation growth, which appears as a yellowing effect on grass and leaves, and avoid potential plant failures.
Caliche causes a cement like barrier (typically several feet below the soil surface) making penetration of the roots in the soil difficult and water buildup due to lack of water drainage. This can cause root rot and fungal diseases in your plants. If your garden area is prepared properly such as irrigating the intended area well over a period of several days before planting, digging out native soil, mixing with mulch and other soils, and creating ‘raised’ vegetation areas, a would-be farmer or gardener can succeed.
More established neighborhoods of a couple decades old would have less issues than newer developed areas. If you find yourself in a newer developed area with ‘native’ soils, the first best practice is to be patient and prepare your garden area. Irrigating the soil to push the alkaline content below your plants’ root system is essential. Also consider digging several inches of your planting area down, supplement with soil mixes, compost and top soils ideal for your particular plants. Make friendly conversation with your local nursery, and they will certainly share their recommendation how to treat your particular soil. Finally, consider increasing the height of your garden area above the native soil by using various raised garden bed techniques, which will be discussed in a later post.