Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
September, 2005
Regional Report

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A vibrant mix of salad greens is almost too pretty to pick.

Cool-Season Gardens

Nights have finally cooled and even daytime temperatures have backed down. It's definitely time to dig in for some cool-season gardening. Just the other day I met a new gardener who hadn't discovered that we have two gardening seasons, so I guess it's worth spreading the word.

Low-desert gardeners are blessed with two distinct gardening seasons -- a cool one and a warm one -- with different annual vegetables, flowers, and herbs growing in each. We're just heading into the cool season. Planting starts in late September or early October, with seven long growing months before summer heat arrives.

Cool-season gardening in the low desert is glorious. The weather is perfect and plants thrive. And there are so many choices of what to plant! I have several funky old tin containers jammed with more seed packets than I'll ever be able to use. It's a harmless addiction, though. Sorting through the packets is the gardener's equivalent of looking at baseball cards.

If you can eat the leaves (spinach) or the roots (beets), or if it's a member of the cabbage (brassica) family, it's a cool-season veggie. (If you eat the fruits, such as tomatoes and squash, it's a warm-season one.) There are so many salad greens to try, I don't have space for them all. Plantin a mesclun mix -- with four to six different lettuces in one package -- is an easy way to get some variety. Look for mixes that have leaves in different colors (red, speckled) and shapes (round, oak leaf). Sow the seeds closely for an extraordinary tableau of color.

Loads of culinary favorites thrive in the cool weather. Sow seeds for cilantro, dill, French sorrel, parsley, borage, salad burnet, chamomile, chives, cumin, and fennel.

October is the month to sow wildflower seeds. They don't need improved soil. Scatter seeds in the landscape or even in decomposed granite mulch. Save that rich organic soil you've worked so hard to create for annuals that need more nutrients. Bachelor's buttons, bells of Ireland, bishop's weed, calendulas, hollyhocks, Johnny-jump-ups, larkspur, marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, poppies, stocks, sweet alyssum, and sweet peas are some of my favorite garden annuals because if you let them go to seed next spring, they'll self-sow year after year.

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