Most Sun City residents harken from other states – and even countries! The avid gardeners amongst us want to bring their gardening talents to this seemingly hostile environment.
Surprisingly enough, most of what you grew in the cooler climates can be grown here with the proper care and timing adjustments. As you can guess, our frost times are not the same as you will find in the northern states. And, yes, we do get frosts and below freezing temperatures here in Arizona and Sun City. But you can start your seeds indoors just like you did in Michigan, New York or Canada; you’ll just have to change the time of year you plant them.
Please check out our local Arizona Cooperative Extension calendar for tips and planting times for the more common vegetables. http://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1005.pdf
Many of the fruit trees you had in cooler climates can also be raised in Sun City. Citrus is a given, but other fruits and nuts can be grown here so long as you choose the variety wisely. Chill factor is huge when choosing a fruit tree. Sun City registers between 300-350 chill hours per year with some years (few and far between!) going as high as 400.
If you plant an apple tree requiring 500-1000 chill hours, you may have a lovely shade tree, but it will produce no fruit for you. Also, beware of big-box stores that sell fruit trees. Many of them ship the same tree varieties nationwide with no thought as to whether it will produce fruit in your area. If the tag doesn’t provide the chill hours, don’t buy it before you check it’s suitability for this area. Don’t bother to ask most big-box store employees about a trees suitability since they may have general knowledge of gardening, but not the specialty of fruit and nut trees.
Something to keep in mind is that when you plant young trees, their trunks need to be protected, and sometimes the entire tree, for the first few years. The sun will burn the tender bark on many trees, not just fruit trees. Some people wrap the trunk, other paint it with special paint. Others provide the proper shade.
I’m sure you’ve seen all the citrus tree trunks painted white in and about Sun City. Unfortunately, most people don’t know that Citrus – oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit – are supposed to be bushes and NOT trees. Yes, they look lovely and that’s fine if you only want to admire them, but if you are planting a new citrus bush, please don’t trim it up as a tree. The trunks are very susceptible to burning and you want to encourage the branches to come down to cover and protect it. Also, don’t prune the interior of the bush. The outer leaves protect the fruit on the inner branches, so pick the outer fruit first to prolong your harvest.
Another problem is our native soil in Sun City. It is more alkaline than most other locations, so the proper root stock is a plus. If the root stock cannot tolerate alkaline soil, you will fail from the start. What is rootstock, you say? It is the part of the plant that is below ground to which other fruit stock is grafted above ground. The root stock can be bred to be disease or drought resistant and is chosen so that it will provide the proper nutrients from the soil and it should be different for the different soil types around the country.
You can get information from the Urban Farmer who sells fruit, nuts, berries, citrus and grapes once a year, but you can use his website to see what types of fruits grow here and which varieties. His main website offers a wealth of information and he offers many free classes and podcasts. He is good at answering questions, so check out the tree site below and click on his home page for more information on raising food in the Phoenix area: