Gardens for Humanity: The Monsoon Garden
After nursing young plants through the hot dry months of May and June, the onset of the monsoon season is a great relief for gardener and garden alike. Monsoon rains bring a burst of growth to plants that were always on the edge of dehydration unless we watered, watered, watered.
The monsoon rains that produce new vigor in plants has as much to do with the thunder and lightning as it does with the refreshing rainwater. Air is made up of about 78% nitrogen and 20% oxygen, but the nitrogen in the air is not available to plants except with the help of lightning. The heat and electricity of lightning produce nitrogen oxides that fall from the sky and mix with rain, giving the plants a good shot of nitrogen.
Our first Sedona garden was planted on Fourth of July weekend in 1982. In the years that we have good monsoon rains our plants seem to jump out of the ground. Early spring planting is great, but the plants often struggle to get established even with our constant care and coaxing.
Planting just before monsoon rains when the humidity increases, our okra and squash emerged in less than a week from seed, and by August were highly productive. Tomatoes and peppers also benefit from more humidity. Their flowers are self-pollinating (both male and female) and during hot, dry May and June the blossoms often dry before setting fruit.
We have been experiencing mild fall temperatures well into October, so a garden planted in July will produce abundant rewards by the time one is ready to prepare the fall-winter garden. Many cool season crops can be started towards the end of the monsoon season in August and September.
While we plant much of our monsoon garden from seeds, healthy young plants purchased from a garden center may also make up for not starting a garden in the spring. Small transplants from pots will get better established during the monsoon season with some cloud cover, higher humidity, rain, and cooler temperatures. Succession plantings of beans from seed can continue into mid July as well.
The ornamental garden also benefits from our monsoon season and we enjoy many annual and perennial flowers at that time, and vigorous growth. Monsoon season is an excellent time to plant perennials so that new plants in the landscape have a chance to develop a strong root system before frost and dormancy. The cooler, more humid weather, along with the nitrogen-enriched rain really help the newly planted vegetation get established.
If you collect rainwater in rain barrels, your plants will also benefit from watering with rainwater since they will receive a natural boost of nitrogen. Putting houseplants outdoors during a thunderstorm will also make them greener and lusher.
If one consults the planting guide available on the home page of the Gardens for Humanity website, GardensForHumanity.org, one will see that from July through September many vegetables can be started that will continue into the cool days of fall and winter.
Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.