Habanero Pepper Plant
Habanero Pepper

One of the main goals for my desert homestead is to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Now that our house is under construction, it is time to start making my dream come true. When I gardened at our first homestead, I didn’t take the time to develop a plan for my garden – and it definitely showed in my failures and mistakes.

While we were waiting for our house construction to start, I spent a lot of time researching what successful gardeners did. Based on this research, I developed 7 key questions to answer to help create a plan for our desert garden.

1. What Gardening Challenges Does Each Season Bring?

When we purchased our first homestead in Phoenix, I jumped right into planting trees and a garden without understanding what challenges and issues each season brought. So many successful homesteads say it takes a year to really get to know your property. Based on all the failures and corrections I had to deal with, I wholeheartedly agree with their advice.

Even though I was impatient, I took a whole year to observe my new property through a gardening lens. I did some test plantings to help me get information as well. Some of my key observations for each season were:


  • Winds are stronger and more frequent than in Phoenix
  • When I planted some test crops, gophers and bunnies appeared out of nowhere and did a lot of damage
  • Deciduous trees leaf out later than in the Phoenix area
  • Last frost date is later than Phoenix


  • Monsoon rains cause sheet flow in many areas
  • Monsoon rains cause water to run down the road and onto my property
  • Monsoon winds can appear quickly and create a lot of damage
  • Free range cattle (legal in our area) will find weak fences and eat trees and other plants
  • Extra water capacity for possible wildfires would be very good
  • Monsoon rains bring weeds. Lots of weeds
  • Tamarisk trees are a major fire risk


  • Frost and freezing temperatures came quicker than I expected
  • Javelina come down from the mountain and will do damage
  • Bird population increases with migration
  • Weeds from monsoon rains are dying and need to be managed


  • Our lowest temperature was 15 F and it wasn’t rare
  • Frost cloth worked on brassicas but not more tender plants
  • Hoses freeze and don’t thaw out until 10 am. Must plan ahead for water needs
  • We have more chill hours than Phoenix
Desert Trees, Shrubs, and Monsoon Weeds
Monsoon Weeds

2. What Are The Enemies Of My Garden?

At our previous homestead, I completely failed to consider the enemies of my garden. If I would have evaluated what my garden enemies were before I started gardening, I would have realized I needed infrastructure and strategies in place before I started planting. To help me plan for this garden, I created a list of enemies and solutions I will implement.

Garden EnemySolution
GophersChicken wire baskets for susceptible plants/trees; Perimeter fence with buried hardware cloth
RabbitsPerimeter fence with buried hardware cloth
Summer sunCreate shade for sensitive plants/trees; Choose correct varieties for the desert; Shade cloth
15 F low temperatureChoose varieties suitable for zone 8B; High tunnel for sensitive plants/trees
Free-range cattleAppropriate perimeter fence to prevent breakthroughs; 10 ft between fence and plantings
Javelina, coyotesPerimeter fence with buried hardware cloth
WindWindbreak trees and plants; Stake new trees
Monsoon rainsEarthworks to channel and plant water; Plant trees on pedestals; Raised garden beds
WildfireManage weeds and trees with proper fire safety practices; Water features for backup water
Monsoon weedsMulch bare areas; Utilize cover crops; Compost area for weeds; Tools for removing them
BirdsBird netting and organza bags; Plant more to share; High tunnel
Late frostChoose varieties that flower later in the spring; High tunnel; Frost cloth
SnakesPerimeter fence with buried hardware cloth
Dry climateIrrigation system for annuals, perennials, and trees
Alkaline soilSoil test to guide amendments; Choose varieties suited to soil; Container grow acid-loving plants
Garden pestsInsect netting; Plants and habitats to attract predators; Plants to attract pests to safe areas

As I review the solutions in the table, it is obvious that there are several infrastructure items that need to be designed and completed before I plant anything.

3. Is The Growing Zone For My Property Correct?

When I consulted the USDA website to determine my plant hardiness zone, it identifies my location as Zone 9a. As I started to notice what other homesteads in my area grew, I didn’t see trees I expected to see growing in that zone, like citrus.

I asked my neighbors why they weren’t growing these plants, and they shared that the low temperature for our area was 15 F. This was lower than the minimum low for Zone 9a. Observing my property for the entire winter showed me that our low was 15 F and it happened more often than I expected. I now consider our property to be in Zone 8b. I will choose varieties suitable for that zone and I will utilize a high tunnel to see if I can grow varieties for Zone 9a or 9b.

Fruit Trees in Pots
Fruit Trees Waiting To Be Planted

4. What Do I Want To Grow?

Creating a short-term and long-term list of what I want to grow provided a lot of information for planning my garden. I started out listing all the trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals I knew I wanted to eventually grow. I keep the list on a spreadsheet and I have added items other gardeners have shown that interest me. I keep notes on the spreadsheet that detail the following information:

Water requirementsSun preferencesGrowing tips
Purchase options, including when to pre-orderDisease risksPest problems
Pollinator needed, if necessaryGrowth rateCompanion plants
Annual or PerennialGrowing zoneFull-grown dimensions

The information I have on this spreadsheet will be used to create an infrastructure plan and garden layout. It also helps me determine how much space I need now and in the future for my garden.

5. What Are My Gardening Limitations?

Evaluating my limitations helped me develop a plan that will work with them. I created a list of my limitations in the following areas:

Physical Limitations

I am in my 50s and I have recently completed cancer treatment. I have neuropathy and fatigue. I need to be able to do garden tasks in small amounts and then rest. I struggle with fine motor skills due to neuropathy. I am not as strong as I was. Based on my assessment of my physical limitations, I need a garden plan that will:

  • Utilize open space to allow me to use gorilla carts and a rolling garden seat
  • Minimize physical labor like weeding, watering and maintenance
  • Avoid high maintenance and high need items

Monetary Limitations

Budget is a concern. I need a plan that will allow me to understand what needs to be done first and what can come later. This garden will be completed in multiple phases as the budget allows. A detailed long-term plan will allow me to prioritize the order of completion and create an estimated cost for each phase. As money allows, we know what we should purchase next.

Property Limitations

Our county has a minimum setback requirement for structures. We need to make sure any structure we plan for our garden meets those requirements.

In Arizona, some wells have limits on how much water you can use in a day. Our well permit does not have this limit, but if we did, we would need to make sure we could irrigate our garden within those limits.

Weatherking Shed
Weatherking Shed

6. What Infrastructure Does The Garden Need?

One of my biggest failures at the last homestead was the lack of a comprehensive infrastructure plan. I either tried to add infrastructure after I had already planted items, or I needed to tear out plants because I couldn’t add the necessary infrastructure after the fact.

One of the most important plans I did for this garden was creating a complete infrastructure plan. I included all items I hope to have one day, not just what I need to build in the beginning. My infrastructure plan includes the following items:

Water Harvesting

I discovered Brad Lancaster’s website several years ago. I am extremely impressed with his work on water harvesting. I will be utilizing his methods in many areas. Since this involves creating basins and other details in the land, this infrastructure item will be done first.

In the future I would like to add gutters to the Weatherking shed and high tunnels to fill water storage. Because we are in an area at risk for wildfires, I want to have as much stored water as I can.


I need a perimeter garden fence to protect my garden from many of its enemies. I am not planting anything until this fence is complete. Because we are installing this item before planting, we can utilize our tractors to make this process much easier. If we were to add this later, we couldn’t use our equipment due to plants.

Electric & Water

We will need to irrigate our garden, which will require connecting the main irrigation line to the well and connecting timers, solenoids, etc to electricity. I also have a shed that will need electric service.


We need to have pathways around the perimeter fence for our tractor so we can keep the fenced area clear. There also needs to be interior pathways between planting beds and around the shed and high tunnels. Pathways will be integrated into the water harvesting plan.

High Tunnels

I will be utilizing high tunnels to grow items that need more protection from birds and bugs. I also want to try and extend the growing season – the high tunnel can provide frost protection in the cold months and shade in the summer. Due to winds and sun, these will be oriented North/South.

Pollinator And Beneficial Insect Support

I want my garden to be an ecosystem filled with life. To attract and support pollinators and beneficial insects, I need water sources, food sources, and habitats for them. Planning for them allows me to integrate them easily within my garden.

7. What Is The Best Location For My Garden?

After I answered questions 1-6, I was finally ready to determine the best location for my garden. I evaluated my property based on several criteria:

  • Close to house, well, electric, and road/driveway
  • Topography – flatter is better
  • Area for chickens and ducks nearby
  • Sunny location
  • Space needed for initial plan and expansion

Next Steps

Because I took the time to research and plan for this garden, I feel better prepared for gardening success. I know there will be failures, but doing the work upfront will hopefully minimize errors that cannot be fixed or that would be expensive to correct. I am looking forward to getting started this fall!

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