Starting A Fall Vegetable Garden

Get ready for a bountiful fall garden:

We’ve just settled into the whirlwind of school starting back up and pulling in the last of our summer harvests. There was a smaller yield this year with the record temps which was discouraging. I’m trying to remember the excitement and encouragement that comes from a fall garden in the desert.

The heat is ever present and will continue to recede as we move through September and onward. It’s good to think about starting a fall vegetable garden in Tucson. This is my third year gardening so I’m adding in a few more tips I wish I had known before starting my garden.

Quick list for starting a garden:

  1. Soil Prep – Worm Castings
  2. Pick Your Seeds – Seed Mail Seed Co
  3. Watering Technique – Ollas
  4. Map It Out – Garden Journal

Good Fall Vegetable Gardens Start With Soil Prep

Why do I list soil first? You constantly hear that good soil means a good harvest, and it is completely true. This summer I tried to garden in the ground with barely amended soil. I literally added one bag of raised bed soil to our native soil. I thought I could make it work by also adding a basic fertilizer 1-2x per month.

This worked on a more fertile area in my yard that once grew flowers. I also tried this in a different section in my yard that was barren. The lack of nutrients in this barren area meant we finished the summer at a negative. Starting a fall vegetable garden with good soil will help you ensure this doesn’t happen to you.

Soil prep for gardening in the ground

If you have started a garden bed in the ground add at least 3 inches of new garden soil. Be sure to mix it in well with your native soil. Then add the layer of compost and also a fertilizer. An important and necessary step is to also check the pH of your soil using a soil test kit. You can send in the sample and it will tell you how acidic or alkaline your soil is.

This is very helpful in your garden planning. It allows you to determine what fertilizer and amendments you need to grow successfully. Planning to have more gardens in the ground? This is a crucial step so be sure to budget it in. If you’re not a farmer and are experimenting with doing both ground and raised bed gardening, it’s up to you if you want to do this test.

Soil prep for raised garden bed

If you have an existing garden bed, refresh it with a layer of compost. Then sprinkle in worm castings, a natural fertilizer that gives an extra nutrient boost. If you had previously heavy plant feeders in this bed, be sure to plan for a nutrient fixing plant to add nutrients back into the soil.

You can read more about heavy feeders here. I like to add an extra layer of compost to the garden beds and worm casting as a natural fertilizer. If you don’t have worm castings available you can try a basic fertilizer like miracle gro or similar at your local home and garden center. 

Pick Your Fall Vegetable Garden Seeds

Gathering seeds for your fall vegetable garden can be a fun way to shop local or with small businesses. There are many places to find seeds at larger box stores, but I especially love supporting my fellow garden enthusiasts.

One of my favorite places to shop for seeds is with Seed Mail Seed Co a woman owned business from a fellow backyard gardener. I am always amazed at the variety they have available online and they grow all of these plants on their property. It is encouraging and fun to see the ways they prep their garden to grow successfully.

Vegetable Planting Guide

Starting a fall vegetable garden is exciting because of the extensive list of available vegetables you can plant. For a full list of possible plants to add to your garden this year check out this planting guide created by Southern Arizona Community Food Bank.

Remember to check companion plants when choosing seeds to add to your garden. For every plant you choose to add to your garden, is a companion plant that will help it have a better growing experience.

The same can be said for plants that should not be planted next to each other. Check out my post about fall companion plants to help you get the most out of your garden this season.

All Vegetable Gardens Need A Watering Technique

Water methods are often chosen to accommodate and work with a gardener’s lifestyle. If you are home a lot and enjoy watering by hand then the good ole watering can is just for you.

Knowing what type of watering method you would like to use can be immensely helpful when starting your fall vegetable garden.



A great option you could also consider using the Aztec technology of Ollas. Generally they are specially shaped terra cotta clay pots submerged beneath the soil. Their porous walls allow water to seep slowly out, thus keeping the surrounding earth moist.

You only have to refill these after 2-3 days and water the top soil less often. I prefer this method as I work-from-home and am a homemaker. I enjoy visiting and tending to the garden daily.

Drip Irrigation

If you prefer to have a system set up that regularly waters for you, then you may want to consider drip irrigation. There are different varieties and systems out there for you to choose from and I find it overwhelming to figure out which one I would want.

I have seen lovely systems set up by Epic Gardening and Curly Cultivators that may be helpful to you. I have seen a consistency in moisture with this type of technique and hope to pick a system that works for my garden soon.

Mapping Out Your Vegetable Garden

Finding the perfect spot for your garden requires a little bit of knowledge about the sun in relation to your home and backyard space. Go ahead and look out your backyard door. Identify which direction your backyard is facing. You need to figure out which parts of your backyard face north, south, east or west.

If you can’t remember or never noticed the sun’s movement in relation to your home here is a quick way to find out. Just type your address into google maps or some other map app and look at the compass rose. Find your house and zoom in to see your backyard. Now looking over at the compass rose you can see which part of your backyard faces the south (f you were to stand at your backyard wall and faced the south direction that would be called “south facing”).

Most plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. In Arizona we need to make sure we also include a little bit of afternoon shade as our direct sun exposure can get pretty intense. It is typically helpful to plant your garden near the west side of your backyard. 

Don’t forget to keep track about how your plants are doing each season with a garden logbook. There are many moving parts to a garden and keeping regular entries about your plants will help you understand what is happening and how you can improve.

This has helped me immensely as I always think I will just remember. After your 20th seed you’ve planted and as you move throughout the rest of your days it’s easy to forget what you did that morning in the garden. Keep a record, your future self will thank you.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I was looking forward to this read:) I love worm castings for seedlings. Such a beautifully natural way to add the many nutrients our plants need to flourish. I started my own worm bin to have fresh worm castings whenever I need them! The guide is very through with everything one needs to start a nourishing fall garden. Thank you!