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.