Nov. 2013 To-Do List: Southwestern Deserts

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pansies-barrel-SS-300x300While gardeners at high desert elevations can sow wildflower seeds now, and wait for them to germinate in winter rains, those at lower elevations can still plant cool-season crops like kale, cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, turnips, peas, and leafy greens. For bright autumn color, plant violas, snapdragons, calendulas, and petunias; try planting pansies of just one color in a garden barrel to make a  big impact. Keep cool-season annuals deadheaded so they continue to flower.

  • Good news: we don’t have to water as frequently now that the temperatures are changing. Non-native plants may be able to go a week to 10 days, while desert trees and shrubs can wait as much as 14 to 30 days for a deep, refreshing drink.
  • Be ready for an unexpected cold snap. Have floating row cover or other frost protection on hand to extend your harvest a bit longer.
  • Have you been following our stretch gardening series? If so, get a jump on the holidays, and start using your dried or preserved flowers now to make seasonal gifts and decor. If you didn’t save any flowers, no worries. Substitute commercially dried blosssoms or silk ones instead.
  • Many herbs originated in the Mediterranean area, which means they are adapted to the hot sun, wind, and soils in our region. Easy to grow choices include parsley, chives, and cilantro. When you harvest, tie the stems together in loose bundles and hang upside down in a well-ventilated spot to dry. Crumble the dried leaves and store in airtight containers.
  • Try ornamental grasses for autumn color. Their autumn flower plumes are especially beautiful when silhouetted by the sun.
  • At high elevations, dig and store gladioli, dahlias, and other summer flowering bulbs before the ground freezes.
  • Desert soils contain less than one percent of organic matter. Improve yours by adding four to six inches of compost on top of garden beds, and add nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer. Use gypsum or soil sulfur to improve heavy clay soils.
  • Wildflowers are available in mixes blended especially for this region. Choose a mix for sun or shade, depending on your location.
  • Take some time to maintain your garden tools. Sharpen blades on shovels and other hand tools, and coat handles with one part linseed oil to one part turpentine.
  • Low desert gardeners can keep planting bulbs this month. Add lots of good organic material to improve drainage, so the bulbs won’t rot in wet soil. Add bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the beds or holes. Deter gophers by encircling bulbs with wire mesh.

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