Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

Southwestern Deserts

January, 2002
Regional Report

Maintain Wildflowers

If winter rains are not adequate, provide additional water. Let is soak slowly through the root zones. Don't sprinkle from overhead, which promotes fungal disease. Once plants are several inches high, water only when they show signs of stress, such as wilting. Thin crowded seedlings. Leave about 8 to 12 inches between plants. Overcrowding results in yellow spindly plants, so don't be afraid to thin. If you're careful, you might be able to transplant them elsewhere.

Fertilize Annuals

Annual vegetables and flowers are heavy feeders. Container plants especially need regular fertilizer applications as they quickly use up available nutrients and can't expand the root systems to seek more. Use a balanced fertilizer, such as 5-5-5, according to product instructions. Organic gardeners often make a "tea" from compost and use it when watering.

Plant Bareroot Roses

Dig a planting hole that is 18 to 30 inches wide and deep. Mix a phosphorus fertilizer (to promote bloom) in the bottom of the hole. Amend the backfill with half organic matter, such as compost or forest mulch. Put some of the backfill in the hole and make a cone shape of it. Drape the roots over the cone shape to help them grow out into the surrounding soil, rather than wrap around themselves. When planting, make sure the bud union (the raised bump where the variety was grafted to the rootstock) is 2 to 3 inches above the soil line.

Monitor Plant Water Needs

Use the same amount of water, but apply less frequently. Most desert-adapted landscape plants only need watering once every four weeks during cool winter months. Established trees can go longer. High-water-use plants may need more frequent applications, about every 2 to 3 weeks. Water should penetrate 3 feet deep for trees, 2 feet for shrubs, and 1 foot for smaller plants, such as groundcovers and perennials.

Listen to Weather Forecasts

Freezes do occur in the low desert and can kill annuals and frost-tender tropicals, such as citrus, bougainvillea, hibiscus, natal plum and lantana. If freezing temperatures are predicted, cover plants at sunset with frost cloth, burlap or old sheets. Remove the protection in the morning before 10 am, so it doesn't heat up the plant. Wrap the trunks of young citrus. Trunk wraps can be left on until spring.


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