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Monday, May 28, 2012

Container Gardening in the Desert Not Easy

Q. I am a new gardener.  I am growing everything in pots including my fruit trees: figs, cherries, peaches all on dwarf root stocks.  The trees are in 30 inch pots holding 6 cubic feet of soil.  My tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash and others I grow in 5 gallon buckets.  I am growing 12 different varieties of raspberries and blackberries in 20 gallon containers with a trellis on each pot other than my trees. I started my garden a bit late so it is mostly in the shade.  I am thinking about taking it out into the sunlight after the summer to hope to stimulate more fruiting on the plants.

A. You have to be a good gardener to pull that off. Container gardening can be quite a challenge but if you have no other alternative then it is what it is. Containers are not very forgiving. Even with six cubic feet there is not much room for error so they require more monitoring than plants grown in the ground.
Womak blackberry, a blackberry that does produce in the
hot desert of the Mojave but fruits ripen unevenly and
quickly when it is hot.
            Irrigation, soil temperatures due to the overheating of the container, soil nutrients because the soil can be exhausted fairly quickly are going to require careful monitoring. In smaller containers you can dump the soil and start fresh again. Small containers overheat in the summer very easily and the soil temperatures which can damage the roots of plants can be a problem.
            Putting them in the shade helps but finding the right balance of sunlight and shade can be trickey. Flowering and fruiting plants require more sunlight than plants grown for just their leaves. The fertilizer requirement for leafy plants is different than flowering plants.
Dorman Red red raspberry. A low chill raspberry for the
south that did not perform well for us and we finally
pulled out the plants.
            Leafy plants require more nitrogen while the flowering and fruiting plants require a more favorable balance between nitrogen and phosphorus. And don’t forget to rotate plants that are annuals so you don’t build up disease and insect problems. If growing in containers does not work out for you, try growing them in the ground. I can help you get started with that. Just let me know but don't give up!

By the way, I dont know of any variety of raspberry that does well in the hot parts of the Mojave Desert. If you have one that has lasted at least four years and produced a decent crop, I would love to hear about it!

1 comment:

  1. "If you have [a raspberry variety] that has lasted at least four years and produced a decent crop, I would love to hear about it!"

    Me too. I tried three varieties of raspberries this year in Phoenix, AZ (in 15 gal. white containers): Dorman Red, Southern Bababerry and Fall Gold (yellow). All were reported to do well in a zone 9b/10 area by at least one person. Bababerry leafed out, took one look around and died. Gold is barely hanging on, sent up some feeble shoots and I suspect August will kill it off. And Dorman is leafed out well, sending up shoots but not really looking happy. So if I can get it through August maybe next year .... I did give away half a dozen Dorman Reds to seasoned growers...maybe they will have some luck.

    But I figure I am done with Raspberry trials until my trees get to a height to provide a lot of shade in late spring/summer/early fall which is at least two more years. And I may switch to growing in the ground as my fears of raspberries spreading uncontrolled are blown out of proportion when you can't even keep them alive. Maybe I'll toss some cans of Japanese tuna in as fertilizer and see if I can create any heat loving mutants. Even then, I am not optimistic about establishing plantings and getting fruit that holds up well, tastes good and is present in abundance.

    But I dream.