Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster

Garden-Planting Calendar for Tucson and the Sonoran Desert

This calendar is a rough planting guide for food plants in the Tucson area, southern Arizona, and northern Sonora Mexico. It is compiled from Desert Harvest, Tucson Organic Gardeners’ Composter newsletter, Native Seeds/SEARCH planting chart, conversations with Tucson gardeners, and my own experience. Please experiment and let us know if you have any improvements. Let’s grow this list and our knowledge as we grow our gardens — and then share the abundance!


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  • Sow beets, lettuce, carrots, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips, onions, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, Chinese cabbage, Chinese celery, cilantro, collards, leeks, mustard greens, Swiss chard
  • Plant bare-root plants


  • Plant beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, Chinese celery, cilantro, collard, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard green, onion sets, pea, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip, Jerusalem artichoke
  • Plant bush beans, cucumbers, squash, dill, chard, and sweet corn late in the month
  • Mulch potatoes and onion


    March 15 is traditionally the last day of frost. If the native velvet mesquite trees are leafing out that, too, is a good sign that we will now be frost free until fall.

  • Last sowing of carrots, beets, and heat tolerant leaf lettuce
  • Set out transplants of tomatoes and peppers
  • Plant basil, squash, sweet corn, Lima beans, snap beans, cantaloupes, watermelon
  • After danger of frost you can plant Lima beans, black-eyed peas, cane sorghum, chilies, chiltepines, cotton, gourds, indigo, panic grass, teosinte, tobacco, tomatillos
  • Mulch trees, shrubs, and vegetables (will retain moisture and lessen stress on plants as temperatures warm up
  • Plant such annuals as marigolds to add color and deter pests from garden
  • You may want to sow tall plants such as sunflowers and amaranth on the west side of your plot to screen other plants from the hot afternoon sun.
  • If planting corn consider the traditional “three sisters” arrangement of corn, beans, and squash or melons together. The corn creates a trellis and shade. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil and grow up the corn. The squash or melons take advantage of the shade and nitrogen while creating a living-mulch over the ground to protect the soil.


  • Plant okra, asparagus, beans, cherry tomatoes, sunflowers, amaranth, cucumber, eggplant, melons, Lima beans, black-eyed peas, cane sorghum, chilies, chiltepines, cotton, gourds, indigo, panic grass, teosinte, tobacco, tomatillos, muskmelon
  • Still not too late to plant pumpkins, cantelopes, squash
  • Plant summer bulbs – caladium, anna, dahlia, glads, iris
  • Warm-to-hot-season greens such as amaranth, purslane, lambsquarters, Malabar spinach, and Yakina Savoy lettuce can be sown now and grown through summer — all will appreciate afternoon shade from a tall trellis, native mesquite tree, or sunflowers to the west.


  • Plant heat tolerant veggies: Lima beans, eggplants, peanuts, peppers, sweet potatoes


  • Cover tomatoes with shade cloth or perhaps you have grown some shade
  • Sow fall tomatoes indoors
  • Make sure you have covered the soil with mulch to retain moisture and reduce plant stress


  • With the monsoon rains plant tepary beans, devil’s claw, corn, purslane
  • Start tomatoes, peppers, eggplants inside
  • If you want, some folks now prune their tomato plants by 2/3
  • Hand pollinate squash and melon flowers in the early morning or increase pollinator habitat and they’ll do the work for you
  • With the first good summer rain, plant seed of native perennial plants within or beside water-harvesting earthworks, especially coyote gourds.
    Wildlands Restoration is a great source for native Sonoran desert wildflower and restoration seed (Spadefoot Nursery and Native Seeds/SEARCH sell their seed).


  • You can sow sweet corn again
  • Set out tomato, pepper plants mid month
  • Direct seed cucumbers and bush beans late in the month
  • Set out transplants of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower


  • Plant most greens such as spinach, lettuce, chard, collards, kale, mustard greens, etc.
  • Plant garlic, carrots, onions, parsley, peas, cilantro, radishes, sweet peas, beets, broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and celery, turnips, garbanzos, lentils, desert chia, rutabaga, artichoke, and nasturtiums
  • Start thinking about neighborhood street and shade tree planting programs. Contact Trees for Tucson 791-3109 and see www.DunbarSpringNeighborhoodForesters.org for recommended tree and understory plant lists.


  • Plant carrots, beets, broccoli, spinach, garbanzos, lentils, desert chia, cilantro, peas, parsnip, salsify
  • Sow native wildflowers.
    Wildlands Restoration is a great source for native Sonoran desert wildflower and restoration seed (Spadefoot Nursery and Native Seeds/SEARCH sell their seed).


  • Plant peas, fava beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, mustard, turnips, chard, horseradish, rhubarb
  • Set out seedlings of celery, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts
  • Plant hardy herbs like cilantro
  • Plant hollyhocks, calendula, alyssum, bachelor buttons, freesias


  • Late in month, start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants indoors
  • With the first good winter rain, plant native wildflower seed within and beside water-harvesting earthworks.
    Wildlands Restoration is a great source for native Sonoran desert wildflower and restoration seed (Spadefoot Nursery and Native Seeds/SEARCH sell their seed).

For great info on:

• how to irrigate these plants with free, on-site waters such as rainwater, greywater, A/C condensate, stormwater runoff, and more;
• how to effectively place these plants in relationship with other vegetation and buildings to passively to shade/cool your tender plants at the hottest time of day, which will conserve lots of water and improve the vitality of your plants ,
• and more…

See the new, full-color, revised editions of Brad’s award-winning books:

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 3rd Edition


Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2, 2nd Edition.

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THE UMBRELLA: A catch-all of resources, events, media, and more from Brad Lancaster In this time of Covid-19 and spending more time at home to be safe, I’ve been grateful for the solace, inspiration, and bountiful sustenance my water-harvesting gardens, landscape, and neighborhood forest has provided me, my family, friends, and neighbors. Record summer heat […]

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