Best Veggies to Grow in Southwestern Vegetable Gardens

A garden expert explains the best vegetables that grow well in her desert southwestern veggie garden.


As a garden blogger for Birds & Blooms, I enjoy sharing with you interesting gardening topics and things to try in your own garden. Today, I thought that I would share with you what is going on in my vegetable garden this fall.

artichoke Swiss chard

A young artichoke, carrot seedlings, Swiss chard, garlic and radishes are growing in a corner of my vegetable garden. As a horticulturist, I must confess that I didn’t always have a vegetable garden. I used to be solely focused on ornamental plants such as perennials, shrubs and trees. But, that was before I decided to take out a few flowering shrubs from my backyard and transform it into a vegetable garden. Needless to say, I was hooked and now have transformed three areas of my backyard into vegetable gardens.

cool-season vegetable garden

Planting Times

I live in the desert Southwest where cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, leafy greens and radishes are planted in late summer. Other than the differences in planting times, vegetable gardening is much the same wherever you live. There are great resources available to help you determine when to plant vegetables in your area.  Here is a planting schedule that will show you the best time to plant vegetables in your zone.

Right now, we have not experienced our first frost of the season yet, so there are still some warm-season vegetables still producing like my green bell pepper plants.

Malabar spinach

Malabar Spinach

Another hold-over from the summer garden is Malabar spinach.  Many people have never heard of this leafy green before, but it is a real star of the summer garden when leaf lettuce and other leafy greens won’t grow in the heat.  Malabar spinach (which isn’t a spinach at allenjoys the warm and even hot temperatures of summer. While it doesn’t taste like spinach, it does have a nice citrusy, peppery flavor when cooked. Use it when you cook stir-fry, in soups or try it in a salad.  It grows easily from seed once the danger of frost is over and does best when given something to climb up on.

I am a big believer that vegetable gardens can provide delicious food for your table, and add beauty to your garden as well.  To that end, I like to include flowering annuals among my vegetables.

Sugar Snap Peas

Many vegetables have attractive flowers, like the delicate white ones on my sugar snap peas that I have growing in a pot. As the flowers fade, delicious vegetables grow in their place.

Herb container

Growing Herbs

At the entry to one of my vegetable gardens, stands a large container filled with some favorite herbs. I added some petunias (planted in warm-climate gardens during the winter months) for added color and beauty in my herb container. In my zone 9a garden, chives, parsley, sage and thyme will stay green all winter long. In many colder climates, these herbs can be grown outdoors all year long, but may go dormant during the winter. Chives are hardy down to zone 3, sage down to zone 4 and parsley and thyme can handle winters as cold as zone 5. Learn how to grow herbs indoors.

Cauliflower and Celery

Cauliflower is a huge favorite in our family and are surprisingly easy to grow. While I like to grow vegetables from seed whenever possible, you generally have better success when growing cauliflower using transplants. My youngest daughter has celery growing in her vegetable garden plot. We have never grown celery before, so I don’t have any advice about how to grow it, but would love to hear any special tips you may have.

broccoli and nasturtiums

Broccoli and Nasturtiums

Broccoli takes up a big area of the garden because everyone in our family likes it—including my 11-year olds. The plant growing next to the broccoli are nasturtiums. Many gardeners (myself included) believe that nasturtiums act as a companion plant, which help to repel bad bugs away from vegetables. An added bonus is that the flowers of nasturtiums are beautiful. I allow my nasturtiums to self-seed and they come up again every year.

Jalapeño Pepper

Late Season Growing

As winter approaches and with it, our first frost, my heat-loving jalapeño pepper plant will be pulled out. Thankfully, it has been very productive and I have freezer bags filled with diced jalapeño peppers available for the winter months.

Ripening Oranges

As the weather begins to cool and warm-season vegetables fade while the cool-season vegetables grow larger – there is another edible plant in my garden that is just beginning to come into its own. My orange tree will soon be filled with sweet, delicious oranges for us to enjoy all winter long. Learn how to repel borers from fruit trees.

I hope you have enjoyed touring my vegetable gardens and that maybe you have picked up a tip or two to try in your own garden, whether you are able to grow vegetables now or wait until spring.  It is never to early to start planning what you will plant!

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.