Herb Gardening in the Desert

Keeping Herbs In A Desert EnvironmentKeeping herbs in the desert can be challenging, but they provide so much value to your home and garden that they are worth some extra effort.

Herbs and Desert Soil

Herbs are often native to poor soils, but desert dirt has special problems when it comes to sustaining plants. The presence of salts and acidic minerals makes gardening herbs and other temperate plants more difficult. Raised beds that have been amended with sand for drainage and organic material for nutrients will give the desert herb gardener the best spot for a cottage herb garden. Some words of caution: Make sure that your raised bed is narrow enough front to back to reach all of your plants, and make your beds deep enough to accommodate the root system of your deepest rooting herbs.

If you are trying to create a garden from native soil, leaching may be necessary to remove unwanted minerals. This process requires repeated applications of water, and may have disappointing results if caliche, or other geographical features that inhibit water drainage are present.

Desert Herbs Have Special Water Needs

Water in the desert comes dear, so use it wisely by installing a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation puts the water where it will do the most good, and limits water loss as a result of evaporation. When setting up your system, make sure that each of the herbs you plant has enough water for its root ball. During the hottest part of the summer, your herbs will be stressed anyway. Don't risk losing them by irregular watering.

Another way to help keep water available to your herbs is by including water beads with your soil amendments. Providing beads that absorb many times their weight in water is like including a mini reservoir next to your plant's root system.

Mulch Your Desert Herbs

Herbs in the desert need stable temperatures. Providing a thick layer of straw or bark will give your herbs a lower and more stable temperature, as well as help to absorb and retain moisture. After the first application of mulch, water your bed thoroughly and test for water absorption. To keep your plants healthy, the water has to penetrate the mulch and saturate the underlying soil. Once you know how much water will do the trick, you'll be able to begin an effective watering program.

Desert Winds and Your Herbs

In many areas, desert winds can exceed 70 MPH. In order to keep your herbs safe and in the ground, be sure to give them the shelter of a wall or fence. Northern facing walls can also give your herbs some welcome shade.

Using large stones, statuary, and low decorative fencing can also create mini windbreaks that will protect individual plants, particularly shallow rooted varieties like mints, and annuals with tall habits that are relatively shallow rooted for their height, like dill.

If you deal successfully with the three areas that present the most problems for the desert gardener, soil, water, and wind, you will be on your way to keeping a thriving cottage herb garden.

If you want more tips on gardening in a desert environment, check my gardening blog entry:

Bringing Your Desert Soil to Life

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