15 Vegetables That Can Grow in the Arizona Heat
If you live in Arizona, you know that growing anything in your garden can be a huge task, especially vegetables. But the good news is, there are several veggies that can thrive in the hot, sunny Arizona climate. In this article, gardening expert and former organic gardener Sarah Hyde walks through her favorite vegetables that you can grow in Arizona!
Arizona is synonymous with the sun. Its heartwarming rays are one reason it has become one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S. The Arizona sun can also be harsh, unforgiving, and burningly hot, especially for garden crops! Despite the dry climate and hot sun, many vegetables can thrive in the Arizona sun with adequate care!
Arizona is a landscape of highly varied topography. Snow-capped mountains, sparse deserts, and everything in between means that it is very tricky to generalize gardening in Arizona. One generalization is true: When you are growing vegetables in hot southern Arizona or chilly northern Arizona, the sun’s rays are intense. They are even more extreme in the summer.
The strong sun is an important consideration when choosing crops for your Arizona garden. Some vegetable crops do better than others under extremely sunny circumstances. In this article, expert gardener Sarah Hyde shares her favorite vegetables that can grow in the Arizona sun, after personally growing them herself for over 10 years in this location.
Growing Vegetables in Arizona
Arizona is known for being incredibly hot and sunny. This poses a number of challenges to gardeners looking to grow vegetables in this region.
The biggest issue with growing many vegetables in sunny environments is sunscalding. This is plant damage caused by too much direct sunlight.
If sunscald is still a problem mid-season, try interplanting vegetables with basil or sunflowers. Both of these plants can quickly grow large enough to help shade some of the plants.
Another challenge Arizona gardeners may face (especially those in the valley) is the heat of the sun causing little or no fruit to set. These hot temperatures, consistently higher than 85 degrees, can keep flowers from fruiting, even when properly pollinated.
Even with these threats to your vegetables, it is still possible to grow them in these conditions. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite vegetables to grow in the sunny state of Arizona.
Bell peppers of all colors naturally thrive in the heat and do not mind the intense sun. Provide enough water and nutrients to have healthy, productive plants.
Sunscald on bell peppers looks like white, gray, or dull yellow-colored spots that eventually turn soft and rot. To avoid sunscald on your peppers, pick off the first two or three flowers when the plant is small to direct the plant’s energy into leaf production.
Once the plant has more leaves, the bell peppers underneath should not have considerable scald. Planting your pepper plants close enough together so they shade each other’s fruit is also a good practice.
Make sure your pepper plants are adequately fertilized and watered to encourage healthy leafy growth. Using a balanced fertilizer formulated for vegetables, adding compost to your garden soil, and watering deeply when the soil is dry to the touch are the basics of growing healthy plants that have a good leaf canopy.
If you are companion planting, make sure your pepper plants are only in partial day dappled shade. This should be ideally, in the afternoon. Too much shade is not ideal either. Installing shade cloth to reduce sunscald is also an option. But, it can be cumbersome and costly and is a last resort.
Chili peppers are an excellent choice for an Arizona garden. They love the heat, can withstand the dry climate, and are essential for southwest cooking! Growing chilies is very similar to growing bell peppers, and they can handle the intense sun. Again, the strong Arizona sun can cause sunscald on chilies too.
Choose lighter colored chile varieties to help limit sunscald since the lighter color reflects light rather than absorbing it. Also, planting the plants close enough together to help shade each other is a good practice against sunscald, just the same as bell peppers.
Many times a sun scalded chili can still be salvageable, provided the spot has not started to rot too badly. Harvest the chili and roast it – you will never know it had a sunscald spot! The same trick can be used for bell peppers. Although they are quicker to rot due to their higher water content and generally thicker flesh.
Garden grown tomatoes love the sun and can take the heat! Tomatoes have very few problems in the heat. Sunscald can happen when fruits are exposed all day long to the sun.
Make sure your plants are healthy enough to grow a full leaf canopy. If you do, sunscald should rarely be a major problem. Pick any sun scalded tomatoes off when you see the damage since they do not recover . They will then start to rot in the scald spot, causing a mess and potentially spreading disease.
Consistent, extra hot temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit will inhibit tomato flowers from forming fruit, even if they are adequately pollinated. Hot temperatures are out of the gardener’s hands and can be frustrating.
Increasing shade on your tomatoes can work if they are grown in a pot and can be moved to a shadier spot. Setting up a shade cloth for in-ground grown tomatoes can work to reduce hot temperatures around the plants. Just make sure there is still plenty of air movement around the plants.
Most often, the best course of action is to be patient and wait for the hot temperatures to abate. In Phoenix and southern Arizona, most gardeners plant early in the year and start harvesting tomatoes way before any other gardeners in the continental U.S.
Tomato season is generally over for Phoenicians when temperatures reach their summer peaks of over 100 degrees consistently.
Eggplants are easy to grow, love the heat, and can perform well in sunny environments. Similar to bell peppers, the eggplants can be susceptible to sunscald. The best remedy is to make sure the plants are fully leafed out before allowing any eggplants to mature.
Most times the eggplant will take care of this itself, naturally. The gardener can assist by removing the first one or two flower clusters. This helps the plant direct energy toward leaf development before setting fruit.
White eggplant is not commonly seen in stores, but it is a great choice to grow in Arizona sun. The white fruits have a pearlescent glow at prime harvest time and have less bitterness than large-fruited purple eggplant. White eggplant varieties can still suffer from sunscald, and you will see the spots as a yellow marks on the fruits.
Though corn can grow in Arizona, sweet corn is a huge consumer of water. This is a concern for the drought-stricken state. Corn has been grown in Arizona for centuries by native Arizonans and is still a widely grown crop by native people today.
Most native grown corn is highly drought tolerant and has adapted to grow in the arid climate with little to no supplemental irrigation.
When growing corn, plan to have at minimum a 10×10 square foot plot. Corn is wind-pollinated. Any less square footage (or a strung-out 1’ x 100’ row) and the corn will not pollinate fully and the ears will be poorly filled out. Also plan to plant extra corn to share with the critters – raccoons, ravens, and crows are notorious corn thieves.
Dry beans are a well-suited crop to grow in the hot Arizona sun and have been grown in Arizona for thousands of years by native people. Homegrown dry beans will astound you with their rich flavors not found in store-bought beans that may have been harvested years ago!
Beans are a staple in a healthy diet, providing protein and fiber. With a huge array of varieties available, you can stock your cupboard with a rainbow of colors, sizes, flavors, and textures of dry beans.
There are tons of drought-tolerant, heat-loving bean varieties available. Many of the best adapted to heat varieties are native heirloom beans that have been tended for centuries in Arizona and southwestern states. Even non-native dry bean varieties tend to do well since beans have fewer disease problems in arid climates.
Pinto beans are a great starter bean for growers new to dry beans. Pintos tend to be easy to locate seed for and mature in fewer days than other beans. They also are large-sized, easy to harvest, and their flavor works well in many cuisines.
While you can most likely grow store-bought beans from the bulk section, it is best to purchase actual dry bean seed. This is because it’s been germination tested, is fresher, and you can be certain what variety it is.
The long frost-free season of southern Arizona is especially helpful to dry bean growers. The dry climate is compatible with letting the beans dry in the field before threshing. Sunscald is rarely an issue for dry beans, and they make a great companion crop for corn or sunflowers.
Green beans perform as well as dry beans do in the Arizona sun, though they generally need a bit more water to produce a green bean that is good for eating.
Choose varieties that state in the description that they grow well in the heat. Sunscald is generally not an issue for green beans. Be sure to plant your green beans in a different section of your garden than dry beans so you can differentiate them when harvesting for fresh eating since the plants look very similar in growth habits.
One major bonus of planting dry or green beans is the bean family’s nitrogen-fixation ability. Nitrogen is abundant in our air, but not generously naturally occurring in soil, and is essential for plant growth.
Legume family plants convert nitrogen from the air into plant-available nitrogen by way of specialized root nodules that are a symbiotic relationship between the roots and mycorrhizal fungi. This nitrogen is available to the bean plant and other adjacent plants that share the soil.
Though common beans are not the best of the group in terms of pounds of nitrogen fixed, any is better than none! Beans may be the hardest working plant in your garden!
Gardeners in the Southeastern United States love growing okra but Southwestern gardeners should enjoy it just as much! Okra absolutely thrives in the heat, has little pest and disease pressure, and has basically no problems with the intense Arizona sun.
Fresh-picked okra is a game-changer and may convince any okra skeptics to appreciate its fine, balanced floral/vegetable flavor and unique texture.
If you do not like eating okra, the yellow hibiscus-type flowers are beautiful enough to grow to enjoy ornamentally! Okra seed pods are a fascination to watch as they come to maturity, and the plants are stately and beautiful. Most okra varieties are green podded, but some are deep burgundy podded, and these gems can provide unique interest in any garden.
Potatoes are excellent to grow in Arizona sun because they grow underground and never get sunscald! Many varieties of potatoes can do well in dry climates, though they will most likely need supplemental irrigation to produce a good crop.
Potatoes prefer cooler soil temperatures, so mulching the plants with straw or leaves is a good choice to help retain soil moisture and lower soil temperatures. Potatoes grow upwards from the seed potato, and if you continually hill them with soil or mulch as they grow, you will create more space for the potatoes to mature.
Sweet potatoes are a heat-loving crop that is easy to grow and beautiful to look at, with vibrant green leaves that can form a dense canopy. The vines of sweet potatoes have even been cultivated for the ornamental plant market!
Sweet potatoes perform well in sunny climates since they are naturally heat-loving, derived from wild plants native to the tropics. A bonus is that sweet potato greens are edible, providing a hot-weather green, and are delicious when cooked like spinach.
Sweet potatoes require a long season to mature, and will not tolerate frost. Arizona growers in the high desert and mountains may struggle to grow sweet potatoes because of this but more southern growers should have little trouble. Do note that deer LOVE sweet potato greens and javelina are experts at rooting up sweet potatoes, so plan to grow them in a fenced area.
Sweet potatoes are grown from “slips,” which are cuttings from other sweet potato plants. You can grow your own slips from the sprouts from the eyes of any sweet potato. However, you need to start growing them in the middle of winter and need ample space to grow enough, which makes purchasing the slips more convenient
Zucchini is an Arizona gardener’s best friend. Zucchini is very easy to grow and can take the heat of the direct Arizona sun. It also thrives in hot temperatures. Giant leaves usually cover the fruit enough that sunscald is rarely a problem. If you do have a fruit with sunscald that creates a soft spot, just pick it off – the plant will grow a new one practically overnight!
In the heat of the summer, you may see the leaves of zucchini wilt during the day, even when the plant is adequately watered. Do not panic if you see leaf wilt, as the plant naturally reduces leaf turgor during periods of intense heat.
Healthy zucchini plants’ leaves will return to their normal perkiness when the heat has passed for the day. If your zucchini does not recover after the heat of the day, it is either water-stressed or diseased.
Winter squash is a huge category that includes butternuts, kabocha, and delicatas to name a few. Most winter squash does well in the intense Arizona sun, but some varieties may perform better than others. Following a similar note as watermelons and cantaloupes, choose winter squash varieties that have adequate leaf canopies which help protect the squash from sunscald.
Butternuts, spaghetti, and delicatas rarely have sunscald issues, but if they do the spot will be a white to orange mark on the sun-up side. If the sunscald is minor, these squashes are still edible though they will not keep as long as normally expected without damage.
Dark-rinded winter squash can be grown just fine in sunny environments, as long as the varieties have adequate leaf canopy. Sunscald on dark-rinded varieties can be bright orange to white spots on the sun-up side.
Note that dark varieties like kabocha or buttercup naturally get an orange spot on the bottom where they sit on the soil, indicating ripeness.
Pumpkins are a fun crop to include in your Arizona garden, provided you have enough space for their wandering vines and immense leaf canopy! Pumpkins’ big leaves are one reason they perform well in the Arizona heat. Sunscald is rarely an issue on pumpkins due to their tough skin and light color.
When fall rolls around and the pumpkin’s leaves die back, the sun’s intensity is less due to it being lower in the sky. The sun helps the pumpkins ripen fully. How beautiful it is to watch the September Arizona sunset on the ripening orange globes of a pumpkin patch.
Garlic growing is immensely satisfying, though it requires patience since garlic is slow to mature. Once you harvest a crop of garlic, you can replant your own cloves year after year, developing garlic that is uniquely adapted to your garden’s microclimate.
Garlic performs well in the sun and rarely has any issues. Using mulch on your garlic plants with straw or leaves is essential. This is to maintain soil moisture, keep soil temps down, and protect the bulbs from the intense sun.
Try soft-neck varieties such as California White or Silverskin that do not mind the heat. If growing a hard-neck variety, read the description to find one that performs well in the heat (generally Spanish or rocambole-types, but others may do fine too).
A good place to find locally-adapted seed garlic might be your local farmers’ market. Look at buying seed garlic as an investment in your garden. Good garlic is expensive, though you should only have to buy seed garlic once if you continue to save your own!
Growing carrots is a great crop choice for the sunny Arizona climate, especially since they do not get sunscald! Carrots can take the heat, provided they have enough water to keep the roots from getting soft. There is very little special care to be taken for carrots in relation to the sun if they have fertile soil and adequate water.
The hardest part of growing carrots in the heat is getting them to germinate. The seeds and soil need to be moist until germination, so extra care is required in the arid Arizona climate. After planting the seeds, cover with a damp old bedsheet, row cover, or burlap to help keep the soil moist.
Check the soil and water gently when needed. Do not drown the carrot seeds, but do not let the soil dry out completely either. Continue to keep the soil moist while the carrot seedlings are small since they will not tolerate drying out.
Growing vegetable gardens in Arizona can be extremely rewarding. Plants can thrive in warm temperatures, sunny days, and dry air which helps reduce plant pathogens and molds. The extreme brightness of the sun needs to be taken into consideration when planning your Arizona garden.
Take care to observe the signs your plant is telling you it needs more or less sun, and find creative ways to reduce intense sun exposure on vegetables by interplanting and plant spacing. Fill out your garden with crops from this list of heat friendly vegetables that are tough enough to grow in the Arizona sun and enjoy the bounty!