The backyard garden isn’t exactly a mainstay in Las Vegas, but gardening’s rising popularity across the country has certainly found its way down the valley.
Many homeowners are now experimenting with gardens in small (sometimes less than ideal) backyard spaces or in community gardens; Residents also took part in the campaign. In fact, Apartment Guide recently listed Las Vegas as one of the best cities for gardening.
Still, it’s important to remember that all gardening tasks require consistent attention, patience, and a lot of trial and error. Here are some tips to keep in mind for a garden in a small backyard or apartment.
Let the sunlight guide the plant position
Plants need bees, sun, and water, and the first two are hard to find indoors, explains Leslie Doyle, director of the Desert Gardening School at the Sweet Tomato Test Garden in Las Vegas. Whether you have a yard, balcony, or indoor space, you’ll first want to find spots that get maximum sun throughout the day.
Many experts say fruits and vegetables need about six to eight hours of sunlight a day. That’s a basis for survival, adds Doyle; A flowering plant needs much more sun. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow a fruit or veg in a small space or apartment, but you just need to adjust expectations about how well it will grow.
“Yes, you can grow it (with six or eight hours of sunlight), but the plant won’t be what it can be,” Doyle said. “If you’re growing a 10-ounce tomato, you might be lucky enough to get a 3-ounce tomato.”
Water plants to cool them down
Giving plants as much sun as possible means keeping the plants cool with adequate water. The desert does offer some help on this front. Natural groundwater temperatures in the valley range from 50 degrees in winter to 75 degrees in summer, Doyle found. Use this knowledge to your advantage.
Doyle’s 10 x 14 foot garden bed produces hundreds of tomatoes each year. She uses a drip system to water for about four to six minutes about nine times a day. This will help keep the plants from burning. Doyle also emphasizes the importance of reading the instructions for each plant before planting to understand how much water it needs.
“Everyone thinks they need to create shade for their plants, and that’s dead wrong,” Doyle said. “People think they’re too hot … but the stinging is caused by you probably watering infrequently.”
Start with good quality soil and establish a feeding plan
Doyle also foliar feeds three times a year by applying a liquid seaweed fertilizer to the plant leaves and adding soil fertilizer every 30 days. She says quality soil is important for your base, and with the Dr. Earth and Arizona’s Best succeeded.
“I’ve heard the saying, ‘If you’ve got a dollar, spend 90 cents on the earth.’ Very right. ViraGrow has some wonderful organic, biosolid free choices that I prefer,” added Jonathan Spears, owner of Sage Design Studios, a Las Vegas landscape architecture studio.
Doyle isn’t too specific about which floor she chooses. She says there are many high quality ones out there. However, she warns against using Miracle Grow as it’s designed for plants, not fruits and veggies.
“The nitrogen content is too high. You will get beautiful plants, but not beautiful tomatoes,” she added.
If possible, use a raised bed
When working with a backyard area, you should avoid planting directly in the ground. Doyle says cinder blocks work well for creating borders in a small backyard space, and you only need about 8 inches of soil off the ground to plant.
Sarah Jameson, a spokeswoman for website Green Building Elements, suggests the “square-foot garden approach,” which is a raised bed garden divided into 1-foot squares. “
If you’re not sure where to start planning your garden, you can use this as a guide to knowing how many plants can fit in a 2-foot by 4-foot space,” she said.
Jameson also suggests grouping plants that have equal needs for sunlight and water.
“This makes it easier for you to monitor their progress and prevents you from making mistakes by overwatering or overexposing them,” she added.
Choose what grows best in the desert
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, cantaloupe, and lettuce varieties like kale can grow well in the desert with the right amount of sun and water. The larger fruits and vegetables require a small garden space.
“I’ve had good luck with serrano peppers on the side of my previous home that was sandwiched between two two-story homes with only 5 feet of yard on each side of the wall,” Spears added.
Herbs require less light and can be a good option for apartment window sills and situations with less available light. Parsley, chives, lavender, thyme, and rosemary are herbs that work well in small gardens or in containers, says Brody Hall, a gardener at The Indoor Nursery, a website devoted to indoor gardening.
“They are drought tolerant and add great flavor to homemade dishes. Root vegetables like carrots and radishes also thrive in a sunny spot with good soil,” he added.
Don’t forget to get permission and keep learning from others
Stuart Mackenzie, a gardener at Trees.com, also offers a sound tip for apartment dwellers, or even house renters, before getting started.
“It’s really important to talk to your landlord, property manager or community coordinator. Regardless of the size of the community, the landowner has a right to know what your plan is,” he said. “Property is an asset, so digging up land for a garden without a permit is not a wise thing to do. Get permission first.”
Doyle also says there are educational opportunities throughout the valley, and it’s a good idea to keep in touch with others in the local gardening community so you can learn from their experiences and get some of your questions answered.
You can learn more from Doyle’s Las Vegas Gardening Club Facebook page. She suggests using community gardens like the San Miguel Community Garden for workshops and education. The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and Springs Preserve are other gardening and educational resources.