Rex’s tips for a mixed vegetable garden

Onions growing in Rex's Garden, Toquerville, Utah, 2011 | Photo by Rex Jensen, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH – Because winters in Southern Utah can be cold and everything seems to go dormant, spring is especially welcome as our flora, fauna and even selves wake up and crawl out of our burrows. It makes sense that our hands extend towards our garden soil and our pallettes start to salivate for those fresh garden salads, we are alive and having healthy bodies has a renewed appeal.

Sometimes the awakening catches us unaware and we’ve missed the best planting period – time’s a wasting for some vegetables so hop to it, make like an Easter bunny, and get those seeds and bulbs into the ground if you haven’t already.  Here are some tips to assist – and you’ll be surprised how simple the planting and growing can be.


Onions are easy to grow, take little space, require little care, and produce a wonderful item that can be used in cooking, salsas, canning, or stored for later use.

Onions, a cool weather crop, are best planted from late January to the end of March. If you hurry, you might yet plant, cross your fingers and hope your onions aren’t watching the calendar too closely.

Onions can be planted from seed, bulbs, or transplanted as young sprouts. All three methods work well. Personally, I prefer planting the small bulbs because germination is guaranteed and I can space them when planted and won’t need to thin them later. Onion seeds take longer to sprout than most garden vegetables so must be kept wet and warm to sprout. They can be thinned later, using the thinned onions as green onions, but they must be thinned. If onions touch another onion, they will not grow larger. Spacing should be 4-6 inches apart. Onions can take a lot of nitrogen, but mono-ammonium phosphate works well too.

Onions are categorized into “green,” cooking, or storing types. There are sweet (Walla Walla or Grano), slicing (red), and storing/cooking (Sweet Spanish). Onions can be harvested at any stage of growth.

To harvest, dig up (pulling doesn’t work too well) bulbs, shake and brush off any loose soil and let the bulbs finish curing in a warm, dry place with good air circulation. Leave the leaves on. You can use fresh onions at any time now.

Onions keep longer in cool temperatures (35 – 40 degrees F.) but should not be allowed to freeze. Store onions in mesh type bags or by braiding the tops together and hanging. Just make sure they are not piled on top of each other or being deprived of air.

There was a reason the pioneers had root cellars. Onions, beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and any other root vegetable are best stored in a cool, dark place. We don’t really have root cellars anymore, so these vegetables will not store as long as they otherwise could. Even so, if you work it right, you can eat your own onions year round.


Carrots are kind of a no-fail crop; they can be planted thick and do not need to be thinned. Carrots will “push” out and enlarge even when touching other carrots. Carrots can be left in the ground year round if you choose; they will winter over and keep growing the next year. Carrots can grow to be very large, although I wouldn’t recommend allowing them to do so. Flavor and texture is better when grown to the typical size you see in a grocery store.

There are numerous varieties, but generally, the half-long (Chantenay) or long (Imperator or Nantes, etc.) are recommended. I have grown both successfully in Washington County, and both do well. If you choose Imperator, you should till the soil quite deep, at least 8-10 inches because the carrots will go that deep.

Broccoli growing in Rex's garden, Toquerville, Utah, 2011 | Photo by Rex Jensen, St. George News


This plant does well in Washington County and will produce flowerets long after the main head has been harvested. Flowerets are just as flavorful and nutritious as the main head. Broccoli should be transplanted from starts and can be planted early (it is not affected by frost). It is done when it gets hot, it will “bolt” and flower quickly, so broccoli should be planted early (February), but can still be planted in March, April is a bit late.


Lettuce is a cool weather crop that should be planted early, even in the fall if you like. Frost, and even snow, will not kill lettuce, so it can be planted in January and February. Like Broccoli, lettuce is done when hot weather arrives, so should be planted early enough to harvest before hot summer days arrive. Lettuce can be planted from seed, plant it shallow and keep it moist until sprouted. It will produce the best flavor when grown rapidly; slow, lingering lettuce will become bitter.


All parts of the beet can be eaten, and beet greens are delicious and very nutritious. The Detroit Red varieties are most common. Seeds are in a pod, so beets must be thinned or you will get only greens. Space plants 3-6 inches apart. Beets tend not to go to seed so they can be left in the garden a long time and the roots will continue to grow. Harvest in about 50-60 days or later.


Potatoes do well in Southern Utah although they are also subject to the same curly top disease that afflicts tomatoes. Potatoes should be in the ground now (plant them deep, 4-6 inches), they have some frost tolerance and require a lot of nitrogen. Seed potatoes can be cut up so at least one eye is on each piece, then leave them out a couple of days to “scab” over, and then plant them. Depending on the temperature, potatoes can take a couple of weeks to put forth a shoot.

Mono-ammonium phosphate is still good for potatoes, but you should supplement your soil for potatoes with a heavier dose of nitrogen. The growing potatoes should always be kept covered with dirt; sometimes throwing some extra dirt up around the base of the plant is needed. Potatoes can be harvested at almost any time; “new” potatoes are wonderful, or let them grow to full size, and they are still delicious. Potatoes keep well if stored in a cool, dark location (again, like the root cellar).


Bell peppers, Anaheim (mild) peppers, and even the hotter varieties are easy to grow and do well in this area. Peppers are very productive and produce all through the summer and fall. Care for peppers much the way you care for tomatoes, a little support or staking is helpful.

Bugs tend to leave peppers alone, so no insecticide is needed.

Homegrown peppers, tomatoes and onions make for great salsa, fresh or cooked. Remember, any pepper can be made milder by scraping out the seeds before using in a recipe. Bells, of course, don’t need to be made milder, but other varieties might.


Radishes are a no-fail crop, just throw them in the ground and they will sprout, grow and mature in about 3-6 weeks. I won’t waste space here telling how to grow them. If you need a garden success, start with radishes.


Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Kelli April 4, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Thanks for the tips, Rex! I got my container garden going a couple of weeks ago, so fingers crossed! 🙂

  • Tyler April 4, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    I’ve got my urban dwelling skill on with my container plants a thriving! I have a desert yellow bird of paradise tree in a large pot on the east patio that was only dormant a short time in January, then by mid February, started budding out 🙂 Thinking of trying a tomato in a pot. Even dwarf red oleanders make for nice year-round greenery in containers.

  • My Suburban Homestead April 5, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Great tips! But I disagree that carrots are easy to grow… but I have clay soil so that clearly wouldn’t work well.

  • Barbara April 5, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Haha, glad to see I’m not alone, and that urban gardening is more common than I thought in St. George! I’m very limited on what I can grow living on my 4th floor apartment home. But I’ve got quite a little mix of plants going on…

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