Category Archives: Desert Gardening

If it weren’t for the last minute

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I once had a sign posted over my desk that proclaimed “If it weren’t for the last minute, a lot of things wouldn’t get done.” It was given to me by a co-worker. I never decided if it was meant as a joke or a suggestion that I change my ways.

Now, these many years later, I will allow that it was likely a suggestion, but one I’ve failed to follow. All this is to say, if you are like me, and haven’t quite finished your holiday shopping, I have some Last Minute suggestions for gifts for your favorite gardener.

This is the time of year when we gardeners love to read and dream about the gardens to come in a few short months. Here are a few books, most of which are available at Backyard Garden and Gifts (see my blogroll), which are designed to keep us, if not content, at least distracted until planting season comes around.

1. Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes by Judy Mielke
2. Plants for Dry Climates (Sunset Books)
3. The Western Garden Book (Sunset Books)
4. Gardening in the Southwest (Sunset)
5. The Edible Garden
6. Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles

If you’d rather not wrap a book, which to me is one of the simpler projects I encounter at this time of year, think about new gardening tools, a great pair of garden gloves, clogs that can be washed off at the outside spicket or a terrific hat. We may get muddy, but we still are conscious of our style.

There are also some great sales on outdoor pottery at this time of year. I don’t know a gardener who doesn’t love great pottery to set out in the garden. Speaking of setting out in the garden, there are wonderful gazing globes, and garden gnomes, and quaint signs that proclaim the names of the plants near them. I particularly love the brightly-painted, cut out signs for herbs. They just make me smile.

So there you have it. Some last minute ideas. Enjoy your shopping and the peace of the season.

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Put your feet up

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December, for most gardeners, is a time to put our feet up and dream of spring. At least, that’s what we did in Michigan. It seems though, that putting our feet up is allowable here in the southwest, as well. There are a few tasks that the garden demands first, though, but then we are free to begin browsing the seed catalogs and mentally redesigning our gardening spots.

First, to the tasks. Your tools would love to have you clean off all that caked-on dirt they’ve collected over the summer. Warm, soapy water works great. Oil any parts that are likely to rust, and store them in a spot where you will be able to find them in the spring. (As I get older the ability to find things I put away months before is becoming a greater and greater challenge.)

As I mentioned in the last post about roses, December is a good time to check all your trees and shrubs for dead or weak branches. Don’t give the winter winds an opening to attack your precious plants. While this kind of pruning is prudent (sorry, couldn’t help that one) major pruning should be left for the spring, unless the plant in question blooms on old growth. Then the pruning should already have been done. Give all your plants one last, thorough inspection, looking for any signs of weakness or infection. If you come across anything that puzzles you, check with your local nursery for their recommendations.

Finally, you may want to apply a layer of winter mulch to your perennials after the first few freezes.

Now, to the dreaming part. Here’s what I’m thinking for next year. I’m beginning to toy with what vegetables I can grow in containers, since I live in a community where digging holes for new planting is most easily accomplished with a jack hammer. I am not making this up.

I think I’m going to try hanging bags for tomatoes and maybe peppers from the two shepherd’s hooks that hold my bird feeders in the winter. Oops. Did I mention winter is a good time to help out our feathered friends with some extra seed?

Getting back to dreams of the spring, I wonder if I could plant some veggies like squash and cucumbers in whiskey barrels and trellis them to keep them from overwhelming the rest of the backyard landscaping. And, I’m definitely saving my pennies for the purchase of an Earthbox for salad greens. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google Earthbox, or better yet, stop by Backyard Garden and Gifts (in my blog roll) to check them out.

Finally, I’m looking forward to the catalogs beginning to arrive once Christmas is a thing of the past. Now that I am gardening in a totally different environment from the one I knew so well, I peruse the pages with a new eye, one that is peeled for plants that can survive the blistering heat of our summers.

Next time, holiday gift suggestions for your favorite gardening friends.

Not all roses in the desert are Desert Roses

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To be clear, the roses I write about today are not Desert Roses (Adenium Obesum). I admit to knowing little about growing roses in the desert, but I know NOTHING about Desert Roses. Fear not, however, if you need answers about Desert Roses, leave me a comment. I’ll find what I can and get back to you.

I was astounded when I moved to St. George by the number and robustness of the roses in our neighborhood. Their colors were so vibrant, and the floribundas were, well, flori-bundant with impressive blooms.

In search of more info about these wonderful friends I thought I’d left behind in the Midwest, I learned the following.

It almost goes without saying, but roses are not native to our Dixie Corridor desert environment. They exist, in large part, because we rose lovers plant them were they have access to water either from our trickle systems, or our watering cans. Experts recommend watering them deeply three times per week in summer, two to three times per week in fall and once a week in the winter to a depth of 3 feet. That can add up to quite a bit of water so make sure you mulch the plants well to ensure that as much moisture as possible stays around the roots. Drip irrigation or at least irrigating directly at the roots is recommended for roses, as water on the foliage is the cause of lots of rose diseases and problems.

If you want to plant new roses, the time to plant bare root roses is between December and January. It seems that the deeper, richer colors do better than their more delicate siblings, and floribundas are preferable to tea roses.

Roses need at least six hours of sunlight per day. Desert sun is, of course, much stronger than sun anywhere else so rose placement in the garden is very important. Roses grown in the desert should get lots of morning sun and be shaded from afternoon sun during the hottest part of the day, especially during the summer. Generally, the east side of a building will provide the protection roses need while also ensuring that they get all the sunlight they need.

If you have existing plants in your garden the next couple of months would be a good time for a basic pruning, cutting back long canes to prevent them from being whipped around in the wind. Floribundas should be taken back to approximately 2 1/2 to 3 feet. A more thorough pruning is appropriate in early spring, as long as you are dealing with plants that bloom more than once a season. If that is not the case, wait until after the bloom to prune.

Fertilizer is an important consideration for your roses as the soil quality in the desert is often very poor with little nutrient value. It is always a good idea to consult with an agent at your local county extension office to discuss the soil quality in your area and which supplemental nutrients you’re likely to have to supply. You may need to fertilize your roses each month from February through June and at half strength from June through August.

So, that’s what I’ve learned about roses in the desert. They reward me with such unexpected joy each time I see them. I’m willing to give them all the extra attention they need to survive around here.

Just Chillin (bulbs)

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This is not something we did in the Midwest, but Angela of Backyard Garden and Gifts (see my blogroll) highly recommends it. After your bulbs have been in the ground for a year, begin digging them and chilling them for 6- 14 weeks each Fall. I suspect that it forces the bulb to dormancy, which our St. George weather can’t be counted on to do. Make certain to remove any fruit from the refrigerator in which you chill them, as the the ethylene gas emitted by ripening fruit (apples and pineapple are the worst offenders) tends to ruin the bulbs.

Now before you dig them, you need to decide which bulbs to plant. There are several proven to in mild winter climates such as ours. Among them are daffodils, certain tulips, crocus, hyacinth, Asiatic lilies, iris and muscari (aka grape hyacinths).

As to the ‘when’ of planting bulbs in the St. George area, December and January are the preferred months, however, if you are a gardener who likes to take risks, you could plant as late as the month of March. Just make certain the spot you have chosen is in well-drained soil. Soggy soil will drown bulbs.

As with bulbs planted in other climates, make certain to fertilize for sturdy roots and optimal flowers, and water during the dry periods.

Bulb on, fellow gardeners. We just need to remember to chill!