Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
March, 2009
Regional Report

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Trumpet vine takes over its space so be sure it has plenty of room to spread!

Spring has Sprung

With spring's arrival, so much happens in desert landscapes within a short time period that it's a challenge to keep up with all the fun options. Half of me wants to transplant something new, half of me wants to tackle clean-up chores (okay, more like an eighth of me is enthused about clean-up), half of me wants to visit other gardeners and see what they're creating in their landscapes, and all of me wants to amble out on a desert trail to spy wildflowers. That adds up to more than 100 percent so I need to set priorities.

Summer's blast furnace isn't far away, which means it is prudent to get a checkup on my air conditioning unit. However, right now that means hiring a service technician with an extremely flexible back to make his/her way hunkered over through the growth in my tangled wildlife habitat. Once again, my pink trumpet vine has outwitted me, traveling with far-reaching shoots from its assigned wall, crossing over (and obliterating) trellises meant to contain it, scrambling up to the roof, then dangling down from above, draping itself over other plants and creating its own version of a shady woodland nook beneath its dense foliage. I definitely need to clear a way through, which is going to involve me on a ladder.

Not wishing to let all of my plants flaunt me in similar fashion, I did assertively remove multiple four-foot-tall superstition mallow (Abutilon palmeri) that had grown smack dab in the middle of a path. Although I admire plants that self-sow where they most want to grow (because they are often extremely sturdy specimens, requiring little input from me), squeezing around these interlopers was impossible without being speared by agave. Superstition mallow is a tough desert survivor, getting along fine with rainfall in my yard. However, its velvety soft, heart-shaped leaves will be larger and the plant looks more attractive if it receives some supplemental watering during the heat of summer. Superstition mallow self-sows prolifically, so it could be a good choice to fill in the outer reaches of a landscape habitat if you're seeking a natural look with low maintenance. I've had some success transplanting the seedlings, although it helps to dig them when they are quite small.

Because the soil was still moist from rain and a thick layer of mulch, I easily pulled up a half dozen agave pups that were encroaching in another bad location, i.e., where my feet would like to step. Agave offsets can be transplanted into pots or the ground and are a fun item to share with other gardeners.

I also trimmed Artemisia 'Powis Castle' almost to the ground. I had transplanted it last year in a very difficult site (full sun in summer with intense reflected heat, full shade in winter) and although it grew and survived the summer well, it looked scraggly by the end of winter. It displayed puffs of growth at the end of about 10 bare woody stems, plus some new growth was appearing at its base. I cut it back to its new growth to rejuvenate it and potted up the healthier puffs of growth to start new plants.

Upon review, I guess I've done sufficient spring clean-up for now. I better reward myself with a hike to enjoy spring wildflowers!

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