New Mountain Gardeners: Try These Tips & Tricks

Many have gardened in places where the soil is rich, its pH perfectly balanced and the climate blessed with consistent rainfall, gentle sun and plant coddling humidity. If you have dug a hole in the ground, you know mountain gardening presents the opposite of such ideal conditions.

Our local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) garden zone is 7 with a definite influence from zone 8. The USDA defines our area as mild but with a solid winter and possible subzero temperatures.

Never, but never underestimate the Arizona sun, wind and dry air. They are significant influences in determining which plants do well in our landscapes.

Local soils are typically heavy clay with very little organic material. So, soil preparation for planting is of extreme importance. It demands organic mulch to your soil to either hold in the moisture for granite soils or keep clay soil from compacting. Our soil is alkaline and usually doesn’t need the addition of either lime or wood ashes, which would increase its already high pH.

Look for plants with thick, leathery leaves; they allow plants to retain extra moisture and are less prone to tear in the area’s fierce windstorms. It pays to talk to experts with some experience with local plants. It can save you time, energy and expense in planting your gardens. Visit

Mild winter temperatures provide the chilling necessary to grow all the deciduous fruits and perennials that thrive here. The list includes apples, peaches, cherries, grapes and berries. Get a free copy of my new Fruit Tree Book for more.

This climate also is conducive to blooming deciduous shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, hardy camellia, rose of Sharon, butterfly bush and Russian sage.

The most exciting roses in the country thrive without the tedious demands of constant tending. Thanks to the low humidity and mild winters, mountain roses experience few bugs, mildew and virtually no black spots.

The climate is so mild we garden and design landscapes 12 months of the year. The average last frost date is Mother’s Day. However, spring is so mild our cool-season gardens can be planted as early as March 1. These can include lettuce, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, onions, radishes and more.

The first light frost happens on or about Halloween, depending on your garden’s specific elevation, but gardens look great through Thanksgiving. This makes the average frost-free growing season approximately 150 days long.