Early Fall Planting Recommendations for Tucson and the Low Desert  2

Fall Planing
Putting Your Plan on Paper is the Best Way to Prepare for the Fall Planting Season

August is a particularly grueling month to be a gardener in Tucson. The challenges this time of year range from ecological to environmental and even psychological. If you’re like me, you’re dying to get some of those cool season veggie seeds in the ground. Perhaps the theory being that if we plant some cool weather crops, some cool weather may come along with them. HA! This is your mind playing tricks on you. As the monsoon fades into fall, temperatures will warm up one last time just to remind us where we come from. Remember though, winter is short, so if you want some of the longer growing cool season crops, sometimes you have no choice but to sow seeds during inhospitable weather.


If you do have the space, now would be an excellent time to try some late plantings of a few warm season crops.  Those with the shortest maturity dates will fair the best as days shorten and nights get cooler. Our fall temperatures are comparable to summer temps in other parts of the country, so as long as your crops are getting enough sunlight they should do very well planted this time of year. Try the very quick to mature “Early Prolific Striaghtneck” for summer squash. Also good to plant this time of year would be “Burpee Stringless” bush bean and “Bisbee Black” cowpea. Sunflowers, nasturtium, and buckwheat can be interplanted to attract pollinators for your squash.


If you’re space is limited, or perhaps you have had all of the baba ganoush and pesto you can stomach for one summer, the last two weeks of august should be spent planning ahead for September planting and sowing seeds of those cool season crops that require a longer growing season to reach full maturity or those that don’t mind the warmer temperatures.


Recommended Crops for Late Summer/Early Fall Planting

Some great options for planting these last few weeks of August include:


  • Broccoli: Broccoli is a cool season crop that takes around 80 days to mature from seed. Try planting a mix of varieties with different maturity dates in two week intervals, this way you can spread your harvest out over the season. Cut back the main flower head while the florets are still tight, continue to harvest side shoots and immature leaves even after the main flower has been harvested.

Recommended varieties: “Waltham 29“, “Early Purple Sprouting


"Rubine" is a Purple Brussels Sprouts Variety that Matures in Only 90 days!
“Rubine” is a Purple Brussels Sprouts Variety that Matures in Only 90 days!
  • Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts are notoriously hit or miss in our climate. Planting your seeds early and in a very nutrient dense soil is the best way to guarantee you’ll have a harvest come winter. Brussels sprouts require a lot of space, however they are very slow to mature. You can take advantage of the empty space around your Brussels sprouts by planting some quick maturing crops such as radish. By the time the radish matures the Brussels sprouts will just be getting started. You may even be able to sow and harvest a second crop of radishes in the same space if you are lucky.

Recommended varieties: “Jade Cross“, “Long Island Improved“.


  • Cabbage: Head cabbages grow very well in our cool season, they mature quicker than broccoli or Brussels sprouts, but take a little longer than lettuce and other leafy greens. Like most other crops we plant in Tucson, the cabbages that do the best are those that are small in size and have a short growing season.

Recommended Varieties: “Copenhagen Market“, “Early Jersey Wakefield“, “Green Acre“, “Red Acre“.


  • Collard Greens: Collard greens don’t really require a long growing season, young leaves can be harvested in about 45 days, however you can get away with planting some now due to the fact that they actually don’t mind the heat as much as some of their relatives. Harvest the leaves while they are still young and tender for the best flavor.

Recommended Varieties: “Champion“, “Georgia Southern“.


  • Lettuce: It used to be that lettuce was one of those crops that would preform better if plantings were delayed until September, however a new heirloom variety of lettuce has been developed that handles warmer temperatures better and is slower to bolt than many other varieties that you may be familiar with. “Jericho” romaine lettuce was developed in the deserts of Israel and has been bred to be more heat and drought tolerant than other lettuce varieties. If you are trying to get a head start (get it) on your fall planting, this is a great variety to try right now.



  • Onion: Usually this time of year i’ll start to see some of my “I’itois” onions begin to sprout. Those that are sprouting get put in the garden, the rest are planted in September and October for a late spring harvest. For more on planting onions, please see our blog post from last September which details the correct times for planting onions of all types.


  • Ruby Red Swiss Chard is a Beautiful addition to the summer garden.
    Ruby Red Swiss Chard is a Beautiful addition to the summer garden.

    Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is one of my favorite crops to grow in Tucson. Along with radish, it’s probably the single easiest crop to grow in our vegetable gardens. It thrives in pretty much all weather conditions and it doesn’t loose it’s flavor in the heat the way some greens do. In addition, it’s probably the prettiest plant we grow in the winter months. When the rest of the garden is mostly a sea of leafy greens, swiss chard stands out with it’s bright red, pink, and yellow hues. Definitely a must try for the first time gardener.

Recommended Varieties: “Bright Lights“, “Fordhook Giant“, “Rainbow“, “Ruby Red“.


Seeds for most of the varieties discussed above can be purchased from Native Seeds/SEARCH. Please visit their retail location:


3061 N. Campbell Ave.

Tucson, AZ

(866) 622-5561


Those varieties not available at Native Seeds/SEARCH can be obtained from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or D. Landreth Seed Co.


Please feel free to comment. Happy Gardening Everybody!


*This post was updated 7/16/2015





Know your Pesticides: Neem  0

cropped-Website-Logo1.jpgIf you’re a regular reader of this blog or my column in Zocalo Magazine then you are probably aware that I often recommend taking a measured approach when dealing with an outbreak of pest insects in the vegetable garden. By this I mean starting with the least invasive method of dealing with pests and working your way up to using more extreme measures, such as using an organic dust or spray like neem. This measured approach ensures that you have the least amount of negative impact on the garden ecosystem as a whole.


That being said, it is inevitable that sometime in the course of your gardening adventures that you will be forced to take drastic action in your battle with the pest nemesis. Pest outbreaks can occur at any moment and even experienced gardeners have to deal with these problems from time to time. The best way that you can be prepared when an outbreak does occur is to educate yourself about the different types of organic pesticides available and how they work, this way you can choose the right organic pesticide for the right occasion. Hopefully this series on organic pesticides will go a long way in helping you to achieve that goal.


What is Neem?Neem Tree

Neem oil, azadirachtin, and other neem based products are derived from Azadirachta indica, more commonly known as the neem tree. The neem tree is native to India and the Indian sub-continent and is prized for it’s medicinal properties as well as it’s many commercial uses, such as soaps, cosmetics, and of course it’s use as an organic pesticide and fertilizer. Neem oil pressed from the seeds of the neem tree is the most commercially valuable portion of the plant and is the primary ingredient to many of the neem based organic pesticides that are available on the market today.


How does Neem Work?

There is a lot of confusion about neem and how it actually works as a pesticide in the garden, this confusion often leads to improper applications that can result in less than desirable effects. The wonderful thing about neem is that it works on a wide variety of pests, from beetles, to mites, to soft bodied insects like aphids. It is even used as a fungicide and to combat scale outbreaks.  The confusion derives from people not knowing the type of neem product they are purchasing and whether or not it would be the right product for their particular situation. Both types of products are labeled as “neem”, however each works differently and if you look closely, each has a different active ingredient.


70% Neem OilThe firs type of neem based product is the least confusing, Neem Oil.  Neem oil is exactly as it sounds, the pressed oil from the neem tree seed. Products such as Monterey 70% Neem Oil contain a mixture of neem oil and other ingredients designed to help make the product last longer and easier to apply.  Neem oil is quite extraordinary in that it can work at repelling pests in many different ways. It first acts as an antifeedant causing insects to reduce feeding on treated plants. This effect alone can go a long way at stopping unwanted damage, but neem oil works further by wreaking havoc on the hormone systems of insects that are exposed to it. Applications can slow or stop insect growth entirely, halt the production and laying of eggs, and like all other horticultural oils smother or suffocate on contact. Neem oil is also an effective fungicide that can be used to treat powdery mildew, black spot, rust, and scab.


The primary chemical compound in neem oil that makes it useful as a pesticide is called Azadirachtin, and it is this compound that is used to make the second type of neem based product that is most commonly used in organic gardens. Unlike neem oil products which can have varying amounts of azadirachtin, products such as Safer BioNeem and Molt-X consist of high concentrations of the compound. Safer BioNeem is a concentration of less than 1% azadirachtin while Molt-X contains a 3% concentration of the active ingredient.  Because azadirachtin based products are not oil based, they are not effective against fungus or scale, they are however very effective against insect pests. One important thing to note is that while scale and fungus can be killed on contact, neem based pesticides have to be ingested by insects in order for them to take effect.


Although neem has a great reputation for being one of the safer organic pesticides, some precautions should be taken when applying any type of neem product.


  • Never apply neem based products around ponds, aquariums, or any place that it can come in contact with aquatic life.
  • Never apply to plants when bees or other pollinators are present and avoid applications to areas where they are feeding. If necessary spray at dusk to give the neem a chance to wear off a little before bees return the following morning.
  • Remember that all pesticides, even organic, should be considered poisons and always be treated as such. If you’d like to learn more about a particular pesticide, request a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS. The MSDS will contain all information about the contents of the pesticide and the proper procedures for how to deal with it in the event of an accident. More information on the products discussed above can be found on the product labels or online by visiting the following links:


Molt-X – Label and MSDS

Monterey 70% Neem Oil – Label and MSDS

Safer BioNeem – Label and MSDS