Thursday, October 2, 2008

Clickity, clickity, clickity typing...
The garden newsletter's late, but NO GRIPING!
My fingers are flying faster than fowl
Pretty soon you'll be grabbing your seeds and your trowel.
Until it is done, please have patience with me;
The wait will be worth it, as you shall soon see.
October's the best of our months for planting;
You'll be working so hard that you'll be panting.
So, while you are waiting for me to finish,
Put up your legs, and eat salad of spinach,
because you'll need muscles as big as Popeye's
When you start your Fall Garden 'neath desert skies.

Monday, September 1, 2008

September Newsletter

Dear Gardeners,

Ah, those are words I haven’t written in a while! It’s good to be back. Like the end of a great vacation, it is good to get into the swing of things again! So it is with September.

Yes, we desert gardeners take summer hiatus while the rest of North America gets their hands dirty and their fresh, juicy veggies. As the growing season for others winds down, ours begins! So, throw your garden gloves through the washing machine, rinse off your trowels, unpack your saved seeds from last year, and let’s get gardening!

The fall garden is the most productive time of the year for us desert dwellers. So, you have some work cut out for you. Here is your September checklist:

1. REMOVE THE RIFRAFF. If your yard and garden have been hit with the same summer monsoons that mine has, then you probably have an abundance of vegetation… but not necessarily the kind you want. It’s time to de-weed. When weeding, try to get the root removed completely. If you let them lie, you will be repopulating your lawn and your neighbors’ when they go to seed, send up new runners, or layer themselves to propagate descendants. I don’t put my weeds in my compost, because I don’t want them to come back to haunt me. Bag ‘em and green can ‘em.

2. MOWING AND SOWING. It’s time to decide what you are going to do about a winter lawn. Are you going to plant winter grass? Are you going to let the Bermuda go yellow for the cool months? What ya gonna do? I know there are a few who receive this newsletter who are new to the desert. For you, I will mention that there are two lawn seasons here. Summer and Winter. Two types of grass, two planting times, one full year of greenness. Many choose to take a cool-season vacation from mowing. Personally, I would rather do the opposite and let the grass die in summer and mow when it is nice outside! But at our house, we opt to plant a winter lawn. I love the option of opening Christmas presents on the grass in 70 degrees!! So, decide now if you are going to overseed your lawn for winter, and if so, make arrangements to get started! *more on this under grasses in the Suggestions section*

3. SEEDS AND SWEDES. Okay, so not really Swedes. A lot of bulbs come from Holland… but it rhymed! Do I get credit for that? Either way, it is time to start planting seeds for the veggie, flower, and herb garden as well as thinking ahead for your winter bulbs. Make sure you have fresh seeds packed for this year (it usually says on the back of the packet), and when you buy new seeds, be mindful not to get them hot. This means if you stop at the grocery store on the way home from the garden center, take those babies in with you! And, it doesn’t hurt to store them in the fridge when you get home until you are ready to plant them.

4. GO WILD! It’s time to spread your spring wildflower seeds!

5. MAKE A PLAN & BUDGET WISELY. If you are a plant geek like me, this is the time of year when you have to really have some self-control to prevent yourself from buying every interesting-looking item in the garden center and ordering hundreds of dollars worth of seeds. Not to mention at the end of the month we will be seeing many bulbs available that are too breathtaking for words!! The solution? Don’t decide in the garden center what you are going to buy. Create a garden plan, account how many/what size you need, compose a shopping list, and stick to it. Additionally formulate a budget like you would for anything else. This way if you do find an irresistible plumeria at Home Depot, you can decide what items from your list will have to be scratched in order to remain within budget. Afterall, the kids won’t be as thrilled with Wandering Jew at Christmas as I would be. A true Garden Plan is not a list of things you want to grow, but a map of their placement in your space. Sometimes what we want to grow, is not the same as what we have time, space, and budget to grow.

6. THE WRITER’S MIND NEVER WHITHERS. Journal your experiences this year in the garden to remind you next year what worked and what didn’t so much. It is also great to write down, blog, or otherwise document your garden plantings to remind you later what those little green sprigs are coming out of the ground. It is surprising to me what can be forgotten in just a few short weeks!

7. MORE FUN TO COME. September is busy in the desert. Especially for vegetable and herb growers! But October is even busier because it is time to plant and prune everything else. So, get ready! You have your work cut out for you!

I am excited for the fall garden, and I hope you are, too! Please, if you have any suggestions, tips, or recommendations, send them to me at or leave me a comment on the blog. I’d also love to share pictures of your gardens’ success, so send those along, as well!

Hands dirty,

(Below you will find my monthly itemized suggestions.)

September Suggestions


It’s time to clear out your flower beds! Remove summer annuals, add a little manure to revive the soil, and plant your cool-season choices as soon as temps drop to highs below 100 and nights in the low 70’s. Mid-September ought to do it. Once the plants are established, they will tolerate a rise in temperature, but fresh plantings don’t love the blast furnace heat.

Great plants and seeds to look forward to this month: alyssum, arctotis, aster, bachelor’s buttons, bells of Ireland, black-eyed Susan, California poppies, canary creeper, candytuft, clarkia, coreopsis, cosmos, English daisies, forget-me-not, gaillardia, larkspur (a favorite of mine) lobelia, marigolds, morning glory (check for legality in your area, and mind that it is invasive), nasturtium (LOVE these, and you can eat the flowers, too), nemesia, nemophila, nicotiana, pansy, petunia, snapdragon, statice, stock, sunflowers, strawflower, sweet alyssum, sweet peas, sweet sultan, toadflax, wallflowers, zinnia.


Late this month, look for all the bulb goodies. I prefer to buy from bulb catalogs and online. Also, Costco seems to get nice bulbs in. There is just so much more variety online to choose from than what mediocre selections will be found next to the check-out line at Lowe’s.

If you want to grow hybrid tulips, crocus, or hyacinth by your front door for spring, buy them now to allow plenty of chilling time (in your fridge) before planting. These bulbs must have more cold hours in order to bloom than what we are naturally going to get here in the desert. Also, if you buy amaryllis now, you may have Christmas blooms!

Growing bulbs is not intimidating. They are some of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow. Just remember, planting depths written on the packaging is for the rest of America. Here, plant them half as deeply as what is stated.

Fun bulbs to look for in September: bugle flower, butterfly iris, cape tulip, freesia, harlequin flower, chasmanthe, Solider-in-the-box, Naples garlic, ornamental alliums. Oh, and potatoes… but I usually list those under veggies.

The list will be really long next month, so save some garden space!


Now is a great time to plant the succulents of all types and varieties! Go pick out a lovely agave or funky yucca and throw it in the mix to add stationary strength to the texture of your garden!


Time to plant strawberries! Hooray! I like the Sequoia and Chandler varieties, myself. Give them space, they spread a lot. Also, fertilize your grapevines, but no pruning, yet.


Did I mention that it is time to decide if you are planting winter grass or not? It is. Your bemudagrass lawn is going to start puttering out in October and won’t be back until the end of March. Meanwhile, it is a great time to plant perennial rye for a winter lawn. (Annual rye stains little boy’s knees, and perennial, supposedly, does not.)

Before overseeding, let your Bermuda dry out for a week (or more if you are swampy post-monsoon), then verticut (give it a buzz, not a trim) your lawn and spread rye seed. Keep your rye moist until germination is complete. Remember: a dry seed is a dead seed.


It is a good time to mulch your perennials, and late in the month you will see a variety of spring-flowering plants available in the garden centers.

It’s not too late to prune frost-sensitive perennials. Your long to-do list comes next month, so start your yoga now to get ready!

Like annuals, the list of plants is longer next month, so save room, but here are a few that can be planted from seed now: aster, carnation, columbine, feverfew, hollyhock, statice, yarrow.


It is time to take a look at your roses. Did they fare well through summer? If not, perhaps you should consider a new location for them. Take a look at your garden and decide where you would like a few more. Late this month they will start reappearing in garden centers. You don’t want to wait too long to plant container-grown roses, as they will need a chance for their root system to become established before the cold nights set in. Don’t trim your beauties yet; wait until the daytime temps are staying below 100 degrees.


Prune only summer-flowering shrubs at this time. For others, wait until October, the busiest desert-gardening month. However, if you have storm damage from the high-winds of the season, prune those puppies now! Don’t wait. Desert-native trees may need pruned in order to prevent breaking branches in the next wind, as well.

This is the month to plant desert-native trees. If it isn’t frost tender, September is a great planting month. Don’t plant deciduous trees now. Wait until they are dormant in a few months. This is the last month to fertilize palms, too.

I recently learned that one of the ways plant disease is spread among shrubs and trees is through pruning tools. I guess that makes sense. We wouldn’t go to a blood-drive where they used the same needle on all of the participants… so it should be with our pruning tools, only we don’t have to replace them after each snip. Carry a bottle of disinfecting wipes in your garden tool tray, and wipe after each cut. Great idea, huh?


This is what I’ve waited all summer for! This season is what makes desert-dwelling bearable for me. Here goes.

When choosing between the many garden varieties of veggies, select short-season varieties that will mature more quickly. This is true all year long, so remember it. For instance: A tomato that matures in 69 days will neither be fried by the heat in the spring garden nor bitten by the cold in the fall garden. Whereas, a 90 day tomato (like beefsteak) will be fried or bitten before it matures, wasting your time, resources, and garden space. Short lived is often more lived.

With the upcoming mild winter, it is a great time to plant cole crops (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, etc), greens, and veggies. Keep in mind, if you plant 15 spaces of lettuce in one day, you will have 15 heads ripe and ready the same day. I like to plant mine 3-5 spaces per week over 6 or 8 weeks, to allow continual harvest of the items that don’t keep well and can’t be dried or canned. It is called succession planting and is especially useful with greens in the desert where you can grow them all winter long.

Prune heat and sun damage herbs: geranium, rosemary, lavender, sage, and thyme.

Divide chives, oregano, marjoram, and mint.

Plant and sow in September: anise, bay, beans, beets (a great reliable grower for the kid garden), bok choy, borage, Brussels sprouts, bunching onions (late in the month), burnet, cabbage, calendula, carrots, chamomile, chervil (not to be confused with gerbil), Chinese cabbage, Chinese chives, celery, cilantro, collard, cucumber, cumin, dill (careful, it will take over the world if you let it go to seed), endive, fennel, garlic (late in the month), garlic chives, kohlrabi, lavender, leek, lettuce, marjoram, mustard greens, onions (late in the month), parsley, peas, peppers (early in the month), potatoes, radish, rosemary, sage, sorel, spinach, Swiss chard, thyme, tomatoes (early in the month), turnips

Save room for October’s plantings: close to all of the September plantings (but not tomatoes or peppers), and one of my favorites, ASPARAGUS!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

In answer to your queries: Yes, we are still alive. No, the garden newsletter hasn't been started. And, obviously, I haven't gotten around to removing the family post that I accidentally put on this blog.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I haven't been able to work on the newsletter. I'll get to it at my first opportunity. I doubt any of you are overly anxious to get out in the 110 degree days we are having anyhow. :)

I'm checking on my sick daughter and then crawling back into my comfy bed to try to rest and regain my energy... Hopefully, we'll be amongst the living soon. I've been too sick to even read Breaking Dawn!!! Now you know how serious this really is...


Thursday, June 12, 2008

June and July Newsletters

Hey all! The kids are out of school and I have opted to ignore the newsletter for the summer. If you have any questions meanwhile, post a comment here or email me!


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May 7 Garden Newsletter

Dear Gardeners,

I know what you were thinking (I read minds). You were thinking that I wasn’t going to write the May newsletter… that I had quit… that I had taken up the hobby of under water basket weaving and lost passion for passion vine… that I had decomposed under the pressure to compost… but you were wrong. Very, very wrong. I’m back and composed of garden passion and ready to newsletter you all the important things about May gardening in the desert. Here goes!

May is a glorious month in the desert garden. It’s not as work-filled as the last few months; this should be a month of enjoyment the harvest of the work of previous months. However there is always work to be done in the garden and so here is your checklist:

1. LOVE THE LADIES and TRUST THEIR SKILLS. With all the spring rain we received, comes the consequences good, bad, beautiful, and most terribly ugly. One of those consequences most terribly ugly would include dastardly white flies, irritating aphids, and skeletonizing caterpillars. Time to bring in the marines! Head to your local garden center (or and get yourself a bag of ladybugs. They are fun to release and extremely beneficial to the garden. Follow the common-sense instructions on the bag to get them to stick around your place rather than moving on to greener pastures. While you are enjoying your lesson in insects, see if you can get green lacewings, red wigglers, and praying mantis eggs. Those are fun, educational, and beneficial to the garden as well. The key to using beneficial insects is trust. Trust the good bugs to take care of the bad ones. If you spray your plants with Bt, it will indiscriminately kill all insects. Save the ladies, save the garden.

2. THAT’S MULCH BETTER! Let’s think for a moment about plants that are native to the area. Why don’t you want to plant a native tree near the pool? Why not palo brea or mesquite or desert willow? Because they are so messy. Why are they so messy? Because they shed flowers all spring and leaves all year long. Why do they shed? Because they are self-mulchers. Why would desert plants need to self mulch? To insulate the roots from extreme temperatures, and add organic matter to soil that is very low in organic matter. How can we learn from this? Mulch your plants! Mulch insulates the soil, nutrifies the soil, reduces the need to water, increases plant productivity and vitality, and decreases weed germination. What more need I say? Mulch ‘em.

3. FRESHEST IS BESTEST. Just for Mother’s Day I will throw this in. Did you ever wonder how on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day there happens to be an endless supply of roses? Isn’t it uncanny, if you think about it?! Especially Valentine’s Day. I mean, where are they growin’ those puppies? Brazil? Nope. There aren’t too many flowers that can be chemically stored for months on end, but roses are one, lasting up to 6 months! Can’t do that at home, though, so you might want to try these tips to keep the roses (or whatever flowers) looking beautiful longer: First start by filling a sink or bowl with lukewarm water and cut your stems at an angle with a sharp knife or pruners under the water (or under running water if you prefer). Prepare your very own flower preservation solution: 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons bleach, 2 tablespoons of white sugar, and 1 quart water (I keep mine in a quart jar and just use ½-1 cup per day in a vase. Trim stems and change water every day to extend the life of the blooms.

4. SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT. May is the last call for tree and shrub trimming. Trim up your trees to make room for sidewalk users and to strengthen the branches to withstand upcoming monsoon gales. Shape your shrubs the way you like them. Once temps start hitting 100˚, it stresses most trees and shrubs to be given a trim. Therefore now is the time, while the weather is still nice, to prepare them for when the weather is less friendly.

5. THE WRITER’S MIND NEVER WHITHERS. Journal your experiences this year in the garden to remind you next year what worked and didn’t so much. If you found that you planted foxglove in front of your caladium and missed seeing the colorful foliage, you can record that so that next year you can plant foxglove’s tall stalks in the background rather than center stage.

That’s your newsletter. Use it well. I know there are many things not covered (I read minds, remember?!), but I can’t be expected to type all night and day. If you would like, leave me a comment on the blog or shoot me an email and I will answer your questions if I can! Happy gardening!

Hands dirty,

Trish's May Suggestions


May is a month of change. Cool season annuals are drying and warm season annuals are in their element. Now is a good time to record in your garden journal the successes and failures from winter and spring. Summer is coming!

Sow and Plant: Ageratum, alyssum, Arizona poppy, buffalo gourd, coreopsis, cosmos, coyote gourd, four-o-clock, gaillardia, gazania, globe amaranth, impatiens, lisianthus, marigold, portulaca, sunflower, tithonia, vinca, wild poinsettia, zinnia.


This is a fantastic time to add a tropical blooming element to your landscape! Keep an eye on iris (get it? An eye on iris…!), they will be making their final show this month. After iris completes its show, reduce watering to every 10 days. Like most bulbs, watering from overhead can rot the rhizome, water the soil around the base instead. With any blooming bulb, remove spent flowers as they fade to keep new growth and blooms coming. Canna will begin its summer-long show this month bringing smiles to this gardener’s face.

It’s also time to stop or drastically reduce water to spring flowering bulbs. Their foliage will be drying and dying. If you are keeping them for another show next year, move the pot to full shade to lie dormant.

Plant: Caladium, crinum, dahlia, rain lily, spider lily.


Although we treat May as a summer month for just about everything else, May is still time for blossoms and babies in the world of succulents. If you have agave and yucca, expect the stork to bring you some new pups; maybe lots of them. It’s a great time to cut those babies outta there and share with a friend (I want some!). Before dividing, water well to soften the soil. It is also time to keep your aloe in check or it will become a grove!


It’s still not too late to plant citrus! Dwarf varieties grow well in insulated pots and provide patio interest. “June Drop” may begin this month. “June Drop” is when the citrus naturally thin their own fruit. It begins when temperatures start to hit 100˚. Blank and yellow caterpillars may show up on your citrus, but will not cause serious enough damage to fret over. These are swallowtail butterfly larvae, so leaving them there may be fun for later!

Your grape vines should be heavy with clusters now, so make sure they have adequate support. If you only planted them this year, remove clusters (I know. It really is sad.) to promote root development and establishment for a stronger, healthier plant next year. Keep an eye out for caterpillars and egg clusters laid on the back of the leaves. If found, remove. Otherwise, your vine may end up completely skeletonized. If you are the spray-em’ rather than hand-pick-em’ type, spray Bt (Bacillus thuringienses) on the back sides of the leaves liberally in the evening.

Fig trees should be full of ripening fruit right now. Leave the figs on the branches until completely ripe as they do not ripen off of the tree like many other fruits do.


Time to plant the summer lawn! Bermuda grass, St. Augustine, and Zoysia are common lawn grasses here. Winter grass will begin to decline this month in areas of full sun.

I’m going to skip writing this here, but if you want to know how to remove a Bermuda grass lawn, put your persistence cap on (I think there is a hat for everything!) and shoot me an email or leave me a comment on the blog and I will expound.


It’s time to move the perennials that often are treated like annuals if you are so inclined. These include Gerbera daisies and geraniums. They will survive in a dormant “wintering” state all summer if moved to full shade. Full shade is shade adjacent to a north facing wall or fence or beneath the canopy of a fully mature citrus or ficus tree. All other shade in the desert is pretty much filtered. Filtered shade makes most annuals and perennials happy unless they are truly desert-adapted full-sun plants.

Insulate your perennials this time of year with 2-3 inches of mulch, rock, or wood nuggets. This will help the roots stay cool in summer and keeps the water bill down with the moisture it retains.

Plant: asparagus fern, blue mist, cigar plant, coleus, four-o-clocks, gaillardia (still sounds like an infectious disease to me… but I know it is a pretty flower that comes in a wide variety of color and pattern combinations!), gloriosa daisy, impatiens, lantana (not to be confused with the guitarist, Santana), lobelia, Moses in the cradle (wandering Jew), (does anybody actually read these lists? I wonder…)


YES, YOU CAN! You can grow roses. And you can still plant container-grown roses. Avoid the clearance bare-root plants. It’s too late for those babies. It’s time to HEAVILY mulch your roses’ toeses. I don’t mean 2-3 inches like with perennials. If you want these beauties to flower an extra month into summer, give them a good 6 inches of mulch and chips. Them’s happy feet!
Keep your roses well watered this time of year and you can fertilize them one more time. Don’t fertilize them in summer, however.


It’s time to plant all of the desert adapted shrubs and trees as well palms. This list would be akin to Santa’s good and bad list, so I’m not going to go that far. If you have specific questions, feel free to email me or post it in the comments of the blog.

Prune your fall bloomers. Begin shaping your desert trees (I know I wasn’t going to list any, but that’s trees like Mesquite and Palo Verde) to strengthen and fortify them against breakage come the intense winds of monsoon season.


It’s time to harvest and make room for summer’s bounty. After your bunching and green onions flower, harvest the bulbs and let them dry in a shady place to be saved for planting in the fall. Garlic should be ready for harvest near the end of the month or early in June. It’s ready when the tops are dry and papery. Pull them up and let them sit in the garden for a day or two to finish drying. Next you can store them in a cool dry spot in your home, garage, etc. I like to store my onions and garlic in old hosiery. I’ll post a picture for it to make sense. (Give me a week or so and I’ll get it on the blog before it’s time to harvest!) Make sure you save a head or two for fall planting!

Check your watering systems. If you are going to grow veggies through the summer you will need to water daily. Herbs will need water 2-3 times a week.

Nip the side shoots on your tomatoes to promote fruit production rather than more leaves. We didn’t plant these babies so that we could look at them! They are there so we can eat Salsa Fresca! If you have basil, keep it cut back to prevent bolting. With this one you do want more leaves, and pruning does the trick.

It is time to think about shading your garden. I’m working on a shade structure for my tomatoes right now. If it works out and isn’t too terribly ugly, I’ll post pictures. Shading tomatoes and peppers extends fruit production. If your garden is planted beneath a filtering shade tree (see notes in perennials section) then you won’t need to do this. You don’t NEED to do it at all, but it is sure nice to get a few more weeks out of the garden season!

All of the items listed below are great to plant now, but please hurry if planting peppers and eggplant as they do best if planted by mid-month.

Plant: amaranth, basil, black-eyed peas, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, Jerusalem artichoke, melons, muskmelon, okra, peppers, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, watermelon.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Upcoming Belatedness

The May 1 Newsletter is likely to be late. It's a busy week throwing a BBQ for possibly 40-140 people, cleaning to get ready for it, volunteering at the school two days this week, babysitting friend's children, and three birthdays and a few mother's days to plan in the next 2 weeks, on top of the normal stuff. While I did start the newsletter last week, it is likely to be shoved under the rug until mid next week. Rest assured it will come... but if it comes on May 1st consider yourselves privy to a miracle!