June 2013 To-Do List: Southwestern Deserts

Susan Wells

saguaro cactus bloomsOnce saguaro cacti are established, the best thing we can do is to leave them alone. Do not fertilize them as they are quite comfortable with the desert soils. As a saguaro ages, the base becomes brown and woody-looking. This is natural. Inspect your saguaro, especially during summer months, watching for black ooze dripping from any split. This will indicate bacterial rot, which can quickly kill the plant. Some experts suggest removing the rot with a spoon. Use care to sterilize any implement before and during use. After removing the rot, disinfect the hole with a weak bleach solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) in a spray bottle for several days in a row. Leave the hole open for good air circulation.

Vegetables

•    Choose heat loving tomatoes for the desert garden: Early Girl, Roma, Celebrity, Sweet 100, and Yellow Pear. All are hybrids created to stand the heat and keep producing. Some heirloom varieties that will also do well in our high temps are Ceylon, Fence Row, and Heidi.

•    Eggplants love the heat. They do very well when grown as a companion plant for tomatoes.

•    Pole and bush varieties of beans do well in this climate. Have trellises set up for the vining varieties. Choose for disease resistant beans. Blue Lake and Kentucky Blue are two great pole varieties, while Rolando and Tri-Color work very well in the bush varieties. Harvest often for continued crop production.

•    Both summer and winter squash grow very well here, loving the heat, producing throughout all the hot months. Try crookneck, zucchini, and Pattypan. Pick fruit at 6 or 7 inches for best flavor.

•    Plant a diverse garden to attract pollinators. This is another way to make sure fertilization occurs. Planting flowers such as alyssum and nasturtium in the vegetable garden attracts beneficial insects. Flowering herbs also work as  pollinator attractors as well as tasty additions to the garden.

•    Mediterranean and Garden Oasis are good cucumber varieties for the desert climate.

•    The tall stalks of heat-loving okra produce beautiful yellow flowers and delicious pods to use throughout the summer. The tall plants can be used to shade more delicate and smaller plants in the garden, such as buttercrunch lettuce. Keep soil evenly moist by mulching around the base of the plants.

Flowers

•    A low, round, bushy plant, the native black foot daisy has flower heads of 8-10 broad, white rays surrounding a small yellow central disk.  When planted in the sun, they smell like honey. The plant’s long blooming period starts in early spring and runs through winter.  It likes rocky soil and thrives on neglect a. They can tolerate reflective heat from buildings/concrete.

•    Excellent plant choices for attracting hummingbirds are the perennials/wildflowers such as agastache, penstemon, and hummingbird trumpet vine.

Trees / Shrubs

•    The green leaf Manzanita is a spreading, multi-branched shrub that can grow as much as six feet tall.  With evergreen leaves and pink bell-shaped flowers, it can be used as erosion control. It is also fire resistant and makes a useful landscape plant.

•    Excellent flowering trees such as desert willow and shrubs such as chuparosa, Baja red fairy duster, and orange bells, also attract hummingbirds.

Lawns

•    If you have a lawn, keep it long during the summer months – four inches or so. The blades will shade the roots and conserve water.

•    Mow often, never cutting more than a third of the grass height. Let the clippings fall to re-nourish the soil.

Image: Shutterstock/Bill Florence

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