Hello fellow gardeners. My name is Mary McKay. I am a devoted plant fanatic, graduate of the University of Arizona with a Plant Science degree, and also trained in landscape design. 

Two years ago, I started an Instagram and Facebook page devoted to my love and addiction of plants (@patagoniaplants). It has since grown into my own backyard nursery business called Patagonia Plants. I get asked a lot of questions about gardening so I thought I might share with you some of my own gardening experience in this area. I don’t claim to know everything, but I hope to pass on a few bits of what I have learned. I would welcome any questions or comments about your own garden. Email these to kmmckay810@gmail.com.

Spring is here! The gardening itch is real. If you are a seasoned gardener or new, there are a few things all gardeners need to do before planting.

1. Choose your location wisely. Summer vegetables in general need full sun (6-8 hours per day). Cool weather crops, such as lettuce for example need only part sun (3- 6 hours of sun per day). 

The south facing part of your yard is perfect for most things. If you don’t have a southern exposure free, you can do well with the east side or west side. I have great luck with most of my garden being located on the south and east facing sides of my house.

West exposure can be tricky. As you know if you have lived here a full year, it gets HOT on the west side of your home unless you are lucky enough to have a good shade tree or structure to help. If you do have a shade maker on the west, your garden should do fine there. 

Make sure your garden location is placed where it can be watered easily. Remember, if you live along a wash, you are in a low-lying area where cold air literally runs down the mountain sides and settles in these areas each night. There can be a 10-degree difference in temperature in these areas compared to nearby places! 

2. Prepare the soil. Decide if your garden should be in-ground or a raised bed (or large pot). If growing in the ground, dig in good quality compost to loosen and fertilize the soil. Use composted manure or all-purpose fertilizers. Don’t use fresh manure or your plants will be burned. Follow the application instructions on the bag of fertilizer to prevent over-application. Top dress the area with mulch (after planting) but don’t mix the mulch into the soil (especially if woody material) or your plants will suffer from nitrogen deficiency. 

If you live in a rocky place, have shallow soils or gopher problems, use raised beds. Some of my most productive gardens were in raised beds. They are easier to weed and easier to harvest. 

Lay chicken wire or hardware cloth on the ground under the bed if you have a gopher problem. There are many different types of pre-bagged soil available to fill beds. It can be confusing which to buy, and they can be expensive. I recommend using your own native soil if you have it or know someone who wants to get rid of a pile of soil. It holds moisture and nutrients longer and will outlast any bagged soil. You can always amend it with compost and fertilizers to improve the texture and fertility

3. Know your garden zone. Here in the Patagonia/Sonoita area we are generally zone 8, which can be broken down further to a zone 8a and zone 8b. Zone 8a has an average minimum temperature of 10-15 °F. Zone 8b has an average minimum temperature of 15 to 20 °F. We will continue to see freezing temperatures through the first week of May and maybe later, so April is NOT the time for planting peppers, squash, tomatoes or any frost sensitive plants (unless you like to gamble!) Do plant herbs like chives, thyme, parsley and cilantro, or any labeled hardy above 32 degrees F. Go for peas of all types, lettuces, beets, and chard, to name a few. 

If you are interested in getting plant starters grown by me, they are available at the Patagonia Farmer’s Market, my home nursery by appointment, or at the Sonoita Hardware store at the end of April. I hope to keep in touch with future Garden Guides in the PRT.