Besides soil, the biggest key to successful gardening in the desert is ...


Here’s another thing I was doing wrong. Always water in the morning. Common sense, right? Your plants should be completely hydrated before they face the heat of the day. If you water in the evening, the smaller roots are likely to rot. Be sure to water every day once daily temps hit 85 degrees. In extreme heat, try watering in the morning and late afternoon.

  • Try to keep your tomato plants evenly moist: Water to about 2 feet down. Let the soil dry to a depth of 4-6 inches then water deeply again. Leech soils by watering more heavily about once a month.
  • Container tip: Water every day but don’t allow it to collect in the saucer. Dump it out or, if the pot’s heavy, use an old turkey baster to siphon it out.

Poor fruit set:

Alas, it could be a lack of pollinators. I have definitely noticed an absence of bees in general. Most gardeners have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, but Google it if you haven’t. In the meantime, don’t use chemical sprays and pesticides — they’ll harm bees. Do plant flowers that attract bees; it’s especially beneficial for squash and cucumbers. I tend to let some things, such as basil or broccoli, flower and go to seed because the bees love them. And if you’re lucky, they’ll stick around long enough to pollinate everything else.

  • Solution 1: Blossom set spray. This is a natural plant hormone that keeps the blossom around a little longer so it has a better chance of getting pollinated. Spray it on the flowers of peppers, squash and cucumbers, too.
  • Solution 2: Use an artist’s paintbrush or a Q-tip in the early morning to touch all of the blossoms.

Other causes are extreme temperatures, dry soils, too much shade or too much nitrogen.

What varieties to plant?

This is the fun part: Beefsteaks or Romas? Cherry or grape? Yellow or red? Chocolate or heirloom? Honestly, Harlow carries so many varieties that my hand cramped just trying to write a list of them. They carry about 35 varieties, Carolyn says. Plant two or three different varieties to hedge your bets. Why not try at least one heirloom? They tend to be more flavorful and were carefully saved and passed down by our grandparents and great-grandparents. 

Here are some that I would grow just for the cool names:

  • Green Zebra
  • Mr. Stripey
  • Cherokee Chocolate
  • Indigo Rose (a purple tomato)
  • Heat Wave (a heat-loving variety, naturally)


Go for midsize or smaller. They’re less likely to split and will ripen earlier. Grape and cherry tomatoes withstand the heat better and should produce throughout the summer.

Random tip:

Plant yellow tomatoes if you're prone to heartburn — they are less acidic and easier on the stomach.

Contact me with comments or questions at