The First Blooms in My Garden

I love the spring blooming bulbs and most of them do well in desert climates like the

Daffodils are start blooming after the crocus are open.

Daffodils are start blooming after the crocus are open.

northern Nevada desert climate where I live.  They would all do well in my garden if it were not for wildlife visiting my garden.  Fortunately, wildlife don’t find all my spring flowering bulbs tasty.

I love tulips with all the colors and variations in flowers from double to single and so do the deer, gophers and rabbits.  Those pictures in the catalogs of beds full of tulips are always tempting me, I buy them in the fall but I have learned my lesson.  Unlike me, who appreciates tulips for their visual appeal, the deer, rabbits, and gophers find them to be a very tasty meal.  In the past, I have planted tulips but the only ones that have survived are a few species tulips that one of my gardening acquaintances says are more deer resistant.

Sometimes deer like these in my field decide to come closer to the house and snack in my garden.

Sometimes deer like these in my field decide to come closer to the house and snack in my garden.

I’m disappointed I can’t get more tulips in my garden and I’ve stopped ordering them from catalogs even though their pictures are enticing.  Instead, I get my spring color from daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinths or Muscari.  This combination gives me almost as much color and it gives me a longer period of blooms from February to the end of May.

The first flowers to push their blooms out of the ground are the crocuses and they do so when morning temperatures are still freezing.  Their narrow leaves don’t even reach their full size before the flower buds open.  They come in yellow, various shades of

These yellow crocuses are usually the first to bloom in my garden.

These yellow crocuses are usually the first to bloom in my garden.

purple and white.  The first to open are the yellow ones followed by the more deeply purple ones.  The lavender, lavender striped, and white crocuses are the last to ones to bloom and their blooms have faded by the end of March.

Leaving no gap in color, the daffodils start blooming in early March.  I usually order the collection of varieties that gives me blooms from early March until late May.  Most of the daffodils are yellow with a few white.  Some have more than one shade of yellow and some, like ‘Pheasant’s Eye’, are yellow and white.  They come in a variety of sizes from the tiniest ‘Minnow’ to the large double flowered daffodils.

Crocus are usually the first bulbs to bloom in my desert garden.

Crocus are usually the first bulbs to bloom in my desert garden.

Finally, in early April, the Muscari or Grape Hyacinths start bloom with their bluish purple blossoms and they last into June when the gardens in Nevada will be at the height of their blooming before the hot desiccating months of July and August.  The catalogs usually have a number varieties of Muscari that come in shades of white to the deepest bluish purple but I always get the latter because they stand out better against a background of other flowers and bare soil that surround them in my garden.

I always leave the leaves to fade into the ground so that the bulbs can build up enough energy for next year’s blooms.  These spring flowering bulbs are one of the most carefree plants I have in my garden and by leaving the leaves to die back naturally; I’ll

These tiny daffodils are no bigger than an inch in diameter.  They are call "Minnow"

These tiny daffodils are no bigger than an inch in diameter. They are call “Minnow”

have blooms for years to come.


Sumac Provides Summer Greenery and Quail Habitat to My Desert Garden

As I write this post, daytime highs are in the 100°F+ range and most flowers if even open

Many of my trees and shrubs have taken on a dull green cast despite adequate water but skunkbush sumac is looking quite green and inviting in spite of the 100F degree heat.

Many of my trees and shrubs have taken on a dull green cast despite adequate water but skunkbush sumac is looking quite green and inviting in spite of the 100F degree heat.

are looking ragged as they dehydrate while in the bud stage.  The most interesting activity in my garden isn’t flowers in the summer but wildlife.  Recently I’ve been watching the quail scurry all over my yard.  I’ve even had a friend tell me I have the most quail she has ever seen.  Could it be something about the plants I’ve selected for my garden? They seem to like the skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) I planted in several random locations.

Skunkbush flowers in the early spring and they are not very showy so I did not plant this for it floral display.  Instead, I planted it for the greenery it would provide in summer and its extreme drought tolerance.  Of all my plants, it looks like it is suffering the least from these 100°F+ temperatures.  Besides the summer greenery, this shrub also can be quite colorful in fall when its foliage turns various shades of yellow, pink, red and orange.  In my yard, I have one that seems to turn pink and the other yellow.

What I did not expected, but have since found in the literature and observed in my yard, is

In the mornings I look out my kitchen window to see lots of quail feeding under my skunkbush sumac.

In the mornings I look out my kitchen window to see lots of quail feeding under my skunkbush sumac.

that quail love skunkbush sumac. The literature on habitat favorable to quail indicates that skunkbush sumac provide both cover and food for quail.

Many people will think poisonous when they hear or see the word sumac but not all sumacs are poisonous. In fact, the berries of skunkbush sumac have been used to make a refreshing “lemonade flavored” drink. However in my yard, the quail get these berries and instead I get to watch adult quail with their young scurrying about under the sumac and occasionally an adult flies up into the foliage to snatch some berries. What berries I do get to see are also quite ornamental.

Small clusters of small clusters of minute, light green flowers at the tips of most of the

The blossoms on the skunkbush sumac are not particularly showy but the skippers, moths and butterflies that feed on the nectar can provide a show.

The blossoms on the skunkbush sumac are not particularly showy but the skippers, moths and butterflies that feed on the nectar can provide a show.

twigs precede the appearance of the red berries. Small butterflies are attracted to these clusters of flowers in early spring.

By fall, most of the berries are gone. That is when the leaves turn lovely shades of gold, orange, pink, and red.

A good location for this shrub is the edge of your property or on slopes that are hard to maintain. It can also be a part of a screen or windbreak. Individual plants will grow to a height of 8′ and a diameter of 8′.  It needs water for establishment but once its roots go deep enough it will survive infrequent watering. Since flowering occurs at the tips of twigs, pruning reduces the display of berries so lightly prune by thinning out crossed branches.  If watching birds and butterflies that frequent this shrub, be sure to plant it where it is visible from a window.

These berries attract many birds to my garden.

These berries attract many birds to my garden.

There are several names for skunkbush sumac, including basket bush, squawbush, and three-leaf sumac. In the wild, this shrub grows under a wide range of conditions from stream banks to dry rocky slopes. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions as well from highly alkaline to acidic soils.

There are six varieties naturally occurring varieties of Rhus trilobata; anisophylla, pilosissima, quinata, racemuolosa, simplicifolia, and trilobata.  Distinguishing features between these varieties are leaf size, berry pubescence, and plant height.  Additionally, Rhus aromatica, a close cousin of Rhus trilobata is available to gardeners. The only readily apparent difference between these two species is Rhus aromatica’s leave have a nice aroma when crushed leaves and Rhus trilobata’s crushed leave have an unpleasant order.  Unless you plan to crush the leaves, Skunkbush Sumac is an excellent plant for windbreaks, wildlife, and low maintenance. The other big difference between Rhus trilobata and Rhus aromatica is the geographic range over which these two species occur. Rhus trilobata is native to the western United States and Rhus aromatica is native to the east United States. Expect Rhus trilobata to tolerate dryer conditions than Rhus aromatica.

Spring Blooming Bulbs in a Desert Garden

Spring is just around the corner as I write this post. All my labor spent planting bulbs in the

Crocus are usually the first bulbs to bloom in my desert garden.

Crocus are usually the first bulbs to bloom in my desert garden.

Daffodils are start blooming after the crocus are open.

Daffodils are start blooming after the crocus are open.

fall is now baring fruit. The crocus started blooming about two weeks ago and my daffodils are just starting to bloom. Except for putting bulbs in the ground last fall, very little care went into getting these beautiful flowers to bloom in my desert garden.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from gardeners who move to the desert from some more humid climate is “nothing grows here” but that isn’t true.  The problem is most plants sold in the conventional gardening market are not adapted to desert environments such as Turkey, Greece, Iberian Peninsula, and Northern Africa. One exception is many of the cultivars of bulb species originated from plants native to arid regions and do quite well in desert gardens. This is especially true of spring bulbs that evolved under a climate of relatively wet winter and spring weather and dry summer and fall weather.  Wet winter and spring also describes the climate in northern Nevada where my garden is located so it is no wonder that spring bulbs do well here.

More crocus. I really like these striped crocus.

More crocus. I really like these striped crocus.

Among the spring flowering bulbs that do well in my region are tulips, daffodils, crocus, Dutch iris, and Muscari. I don’t get very many tulips because I have a lot of mule deer wandering through my property and they eat tulips.  I finally gave up trying to plant tulips since I rarely get to see them after I planted their bulbs. Mostly I saw munched up tulip leaves.

Daffodils, Dutch iris, crocus, and Muscari are great in my garden since deer find them unpalatable and gophers seem to avoid them as well. In fact, I’ve had daffodils come up unscathed through a gopher hill and even come up in subsequent years in that same spot with no apparent damage. The gophers apparently ate all the roots of plants around the bulbs but avoided the bulbs.

Yes, the challenges of my desert garden are many but the spring flowering bulbs make all those efforts worthwhile and give hope that I may be able to have a beautiful garden in spite of the alkali, dry climate, and extreme temperature variations.

Golden Columbine is a Nice Native Flowering Perennial for a Shade Garden

I love having shade trees in my garden when the summer days get long and hot. The only

Golden Columbine (Aquilegia) is a shade loving flowering perennial

Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) is native to the western United States and does well in the shade.

problem with lots of shade is I also like flowers. Many flowers need full sun and do not do well in the shade. One flower that does do well in the shade and is native to my region of the United States is Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha).  I have lots of this flower in one of my shady locations and it has now gotten to the point where it has naturalized in that spot. Getting it established in that location took more than one plant and I had to start it from seed since it was not readily available in local nurseries.

Golden Columbine is perennial so it does not need replanting every year. Still it if you want it to last indefinitely you will want it to naturalize. Naturalizing is the process where the plant establishes in a manner that keeps it reproducing new plants and the new plants, once established produce more plants after the original plant has died. To achieve this with Golden Columbine I had to first acquired plants I wanted established in my shady location.

I purchased my Golden Columbine seed from a business that sells native seed. The instructions on the packet said to put the seed in the ground in the fall and barely cover it hoping for a moist winter or I need to cold stratify the seed for 30 days and plant seed in the spring. I chose the latter since winters in my garden are unpredictable and we only get a wet enough winter to germinate desirable seeds every half dozen years.

To stratify my seed I placed it on a moist paper towel in a sealed sandwich bag. Then I placed this bag in the refrigerator for 30 days. After thirty days, I spread the moist seeds on the surface of potting soil in a seedling tray in the greenhouse. I sprinkled a small amount of potting soil over the seed being careful not to put too much because columbine seed need filtered light in order to germinate.

Once germinated the seedlings are very small and delicate. They require considerable maturation before being set out in the garden. In the case of my columbine seedlings, I let them mature in my greenhouse for at least a year before setting them out in the garden.

There are two good times to transplant columbine into the garden. The first time for transplanting young columbine plants raised in a greenhouse is spring when the weather has warmed up enough that the ground is workable but before the weather gets hot and dry. The other time is in the fall after the weather has cooled and a couple of weeks before the first killing frost. Be sure to plant a large enough cluster of columbine to ensure pollination between plants and seed set.

Individual plants will last a few years and require regeneration to maintain the species in a perennial flowerbed indefinitely. To do this I let the flowers go to seed and fall naturally between the established plants. Additionally I let leaves and other plant residues pile up between these plants. This residue combined with keeping the soil moist until the first killing frost when I discontinue watering until the next growing season.   The leaves and other plant residues keep moisture in the soil thus creating a good environment for natural cold stratification of seeds.

In the spring when I clear out the previous season’s residues and leaves, I take care not to uproot the newly germinated seedlings. By following these cultural practices, I have established a naturalized perennial bed of Golden Columbine that requires very little maintenance and no replanting.

New Mexico Privet: A good tall shrub for a windbreak and wildlife

It’s been awhile since I posted. Part of the reason for this long silence has been my

New Mexico Privet

The more dense foliage in the foreground is my New Mexico Privet which stands about 15′ tall. The tree in the background is some species of cottonwood.

search for plants I really want to put in my garden that meet my criteria. My criteria are low water requirement, tolerant of alkaline soils, winter hardy to zone 5, and low maintenance. Not all the plants I want will be low maintenance but realistically I can’t manage three acres of high maintenance plants so most of what I plant will have to be low maintenance. One plant I’ve been observing that I already have in my garden is Foresteira  neomexicana and I’ve decided I want more of this large shrub or small tree.

I just got back from a trip to Albuquerque, NM where I visited the Albuquerque Biopark botanical garden. There I saw Foresteira neomexicana or New Mexico privet. This is the first time I’ve seen the berries on this plant. My own New Mexico privet does not have berries but blooms every spring. Since I only have one that is mature enough to bloom. The other New Mexico privets I’ve planted more recently and they are less mature and I have yet to see them bloom. In researching this plant on the Internet I find that you need more than one blooming because male and female flowers are on different plants. This means I’ll have to wait until my smaller New Mexico Privets mature

Berries on New Mexico Privet

Berries on the New Mexico Privet I saw at the Albuquerque Biopark botanical garden.

enough to bloom to see if mine will produce berries.

Information I found on the Internet says you can prune New Mexico Privet to be a small tree and that this is great for urban and suburban landscapes where power lines are a problem since it only reaches a mature height of about 15′; well under the standard power line height. For my property I have a few power line issues but mostly I’m interested is screening, shade, low water consumption, low maintenance, and wildlife friendly. New Mexico trims into a hedge or remove lower branches to create a small tree. Either of these forms will require regular pruning to maintain. I’m more interested in just letting it grow to be the shrub it would be in the wild. If I let them reach their full size and don’t prune them into trees I could plant them 5′ to 8′ apart to get a good sound barrier or windbreak and for me this would be useful. Additionally having more of these plants may

Immature New Mexico Privet

One of the many New Mexico Privet I’ve raised from seed that have not yet matured enough to bloom.

ensure I have some that produce berries that attract birds and I wouldn’t mind doing some bird watching on my own property.

An even more appealing fact I found on the Internet is that Foresteira neomexicana is native to arid habitats in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Oklahoma. Since I live in Nevada and it is very desert around me I’m looking for plants like this one. Although I don’t get the 9″ to 24″ of annual precipitation that is characteristic of where this plant grows wild, I do have the ability to water it and I live where the water table is high. Supplemental watering and a high water can make up for the fact my average annual precipitation is only 4″. This past winter was extremely dry here in Nevada, where we are in our fourth year of drought and still my mature New Mexico Privet looks good. I didn’t even water it over the winter but I cannot say the same for my roses that were watered over the winter.

So now, I’m starting more New Mexico Privet from seed to join the others I’ve already planted. To do this I must cold stratify seed for 30 days at a temperature around 40°F. Then I will plant the stratified in moist potting soil in a green house to get it to germinate.

Once germinated, I’ll raise them up from greenhouse seedling to potted plants in a lath

New Mexico Privet at Albuquerque Biopark

This is a picture of the New Mexico Privet I saw with all the berries at the Albuquerque Biopark.

house and finally transplant them outside in the ground.


Puncture Vine: How to reduce its presence over the long term

A friend recently asked for some quick way to rid her yard of goat heads otherwise

Puncture vine seed or "Goatheads"

Pictured is a shattered seed head of puncture vine. Not the sharp thorns and the shape of each seed is why some people refer to it as “goatheads”.

known as puncture vine (Tribulus terrestis). I cannot blame this friend for wanting a quick solution because this weed with its sharp seeds can make walking barefoot in any garden a miserable experience. Putting shoes on before going outdoors may protect your feet while in the garden. If you do not take those same shoes off before coming inside you could find walking indoors with bare feet also a painful experience. Alas, I cannot offer this friend a quick lasting fix because unless you get rid of the seed bank in the soil, anything you do is only short term. Instead, I have a solution that if consistently applied over several seasons will give you long term relief from goat heads.

Controlling this weed requires a three-pronged approach. You must deplete the seed bank in the soil and you must diligently remove all puncture vines as they appear before

Puncture vine forms a mat on the ground that becomes quite prickly one seeds set.

Puncture vine forms a mat on the ground that becomes quite prickly one seeds set.

they set seed. As you get an area cleared of this noxious weed, desirable plants or landscape structures need to be placed because bare ground is just an invitation for any weed to sprout where you do not want it.

The painful nature of the seed produced by puncture vine also makes it an easier weed to control by depleting the seed bank in the soil. To deplete the soil in your yard of puncture vine seeds put containers at all the doors to you house and a stable stool next to the contain so people can take their shoes off and pull out all the goat heads. You can also speed up the process by putting on your shoes and walking all over your garden. Take regular breaks to take your shoes off and pick out all the seeds on your soles. Do this all year regardless of the season because these seeds are present all year. If you are persistent in removing seeds from your yard, it will only take a couple of seasons.

The other part of getting rid of this weed is to hoe out every small puncture vine you see before it can produce seed. This should start as early as the weather warms up enough to work in the garden since seeds start sprouting in late spring. Once flowers

Puncture vine flowers are yellow five petaled flowers. It's best hoe puncture vine out before these yellow flowers appear because soon after flowers appear they are followed by a six segmented head of seed that has two sharp thorns on each segment.

Puncture vine flowers are yellow five petaled flowers. It’s best hoe puncture vine out before these yellow flowers appear because soon after flowers appear they are followed by a five segmented head of seed that has two sharp thorns on each segment.

appear, seed will soon follow and then you have more seeds you will have to collect in your missions to remove the seeds.

Spraying with herbicides, organic or chemical, will not offer any long term solution for getting rid of puncture vine because they do not kill the seeds which remain viable for many years. There are puncture vine seed eating weevils imported from Europe and Asia but they expensive and will not overwinter in climates with cold winters. Herbicide or weevils alone will not control puncture vine. Combining the release of seed eating weevils with properly timed herbicide applications may work just like the solution I propose. You will still have to apply the chemicals and weevils over several growing season and this could be expensive. Additionally chemicals for the breakdown of the herbicide will remain in the environment.

To achieve long-term control of puncture vine, do not leave bare ground in your yard.

Puncture vine seed head

Pictured is a puncture vine seed head before it shatters and disperses to wherever some poor unsuspecting creature gets poked by it and transported to its eventual resting spot. Once in its resting spot it waits for ideal condition to germinate and a new vine sprouts.

Avoid reintroducing puncture vine by not parking your car in puncture vine infested lots. Also, do not walk across vacant lots infested with puncture vine.

Apache Plume is Just Drought Tolerant Native Shrub to Replace My Roses

I’ve been looking at native shrubs to replace some of the roses and other not so

Apache Plume could be covered with feathery, pink seed heads resembling a Native America headdress. This picture was taken in late May. This plant will continue to have a few white flowers opening all summer and fading to feathering pink seed heads.

By summer Apache Plume could be covered with feathery, pink seed heads resembling a Native America headdress. This picture was taken in late May. This plant will continue to have a few white flowers opening all summer and fading to feathering pink seed heads.

drought tolerant plants in a portion of my garden that is exposed to drying winds and intense afternoon sun and heat.  Even in the cold winter when evaporation is less I still had a hard time keeping the soil moist around roses I had planted on that side of my house. It didn’t help that we had no snow and almost no winter rain this year. The wind still blew but the storms were dry. One plant I’ve already started planting on that west face of my house is Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).

Apache Plume is found naturally growing in piñon/juniper woodlands from Texas to California.  In Texas, southern New Mexico, Southern Arizona, and California, Apache Plume is evergreen.  Everywhere else in its native range, which can go as far north as Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, it is deciduous. In the higher elevations of the Mojave Desert where there are Joshua Trees, you will also find Apache Plume.

In the wild Apache Plume grows naturally in gravelly and well-drained soils but under cultivation, it will grow in most any soil.  My soil is sandy and droughty so it should be happy on the west side of my house. With a little supplemental water, it should be full and beautiful as long as I don’t overwater it.

Apache Plume reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet and spreads as wide as it is high.

Apache Plume Hedge

Pictured here is a hedge of Apache Plume. Notice how, even though most of the plant is covered with feathery pink seed heads, there are still a few white flower.

White, 1″ diameter flowers with five petals resembling single roses start to appear in spring. New flowers appear continually throughout the entire growing season and as they fade they are replace with pink feathery seed heads; hence the name Apache Plume.  By late summer this shrub, covered with fluffy pink seed heads looks like a cloud of pink.

I’m hoping to create clouds of pink intersperse with other plants that I have not yet selected. I don’t want a monoculture of any plant. Even Apache Plume.

Small Apache Plume Plant  Inside its Cage

Here is a better picture showing the plant inside the cage.

Cage to Protect My Apache Plume from Deer

Here is one of the Apache Plumes that I planted on the west face of my house. I put a cage around it while it is still small and tender to protect it from the occasional deer that wander into my garden. Once the plant is large enough a little graze by herbivores will not hurt it.

Planting a Vegetable Garden and Trying to Protect it From Rabbits

I realize it has been awhile since I have posted. In that time, I have been busy working on my vegetable garden. It is more than just simply digging up the soil and plunking seeds in the ground. My growing season is too short to allow many of my summer vegetable to ripen before the first killing frost in the fall. Additionally I had to devise a strategy for protecting my plants from the rabbits that have never been in my yard before and consider what to do to reduce the need for irrigating my vegetable garden.

To solve the short growing season problem I always start my seeds germinating about three to four weeks ahead of the last killing spring frost. I find a warm spot in my house to place my seedling trays. A temperature of around 68°F is ideal. Soon after the coteledons have popped out of the ground, I move them into the greenhouse where they will get more natural light. If I don’t move them soon enough the stems become etiolated or over elongated and weak.

In my area, we can usually figure on a very dry growing season. Almost all of our 4″ average annual precipitation falls in the winter in the form of snow. This winter we had no snow and only a small amount of rain. I spent some time checking my soil just to see how dry and noticed that where there was leaves and debris on the ground there was a little bit of moisture in the underlying soil. I’ve decided instead of tilling my garden soil, I will simply dig only enough soil around each plant I transplant and then push leaves and other plant debris back around the transplant. Each plant will still receive water from an emitter in my drip system.  I’m hoping this way to conserve water and still keep my vegetable garden from being stressed for water. There is the real danger in my area for domestic wells to dry up in this drought since the agricultural land around it will receive no irrigation after the end of June. It could be a very long hot dry summer and crops will likely die.

Another consequence of this drought is that wildlife is concentrating around our homes and in town. On my property, I have rabbits I’ve never seen before and more deer than usual. I decided I needed a way to protect my plants so I am constructing cages to put around each plant. A larger enclosure might not be as effective in protecting plants since rabbits can burrow. I’m hoping that individual cages around each plant will reduce the problem. Maybe they will instead find my neighbors vegetable garden easier to devour.

Pepper Starts in a cage

These pepper starts have a cage around them because my vegetable garden is infested with rabbits.

Snap Bean Starts in a Cage

Here are some snap bean starts that I have just transplanted to my vegetable garden.

Vegetable cages to keep rabbits out.

I’ve constructed these little cages to put around my vegetable plants in order to protect them from the rabbits

Again My Fruit Trees are Blooming too Soon

Officially, spring arrived March 20 but here in northern Nevada we can still get some

This apricot blossom is lovely now but a heavy freeze is forecast for tonight and will likely freeze this blossom.

This apricot blossom is lovely now but a heavy freeze is forecast for tonight and will likely freeze this blossom.

wintry weather. So far, it has stayed spring like since spring started. It even reached 79 degrees yesterday here in Fallon.

During yesterday’s inspection of my garden, I especially wanted to see how the fruit tree blossoms were doing. I’d noticed they had been opening for the last couple of weeks. I consider this to be too early but not uncommon in my high desert climate. We almost never get fruit. If we are lucky, we might get a few apples. So far based on my inspection we haven’t lost any fruit yet. Notice I say yet. We can still get a hard frost between now and the middle of May on the average. Also, notice I say average.  That means we could get a killing frost after mid May as well.

So far, the apricots and peaches are in full bloom with the apples blossoms barely starting to open. I suspect I will lose the apricots and peaches totally and about a third to half of the potential apple crop with the blooms opening this early. So much for fruit production this year from these trees since it is highly probably they will freeze before fruit can set and mature. Instead, they are landscape trees that add some nice greenery during the growing season. In fall, they usually have nice color as well.

Why are my fruit trees blooming too soon? What can I do about it? The answer to the first

These apple blooms are almost open. Unfortunately they may never fully open because a heavy freeze is predicted for the next morning. They will like freeze and fall of the plant.

These apple blooms are almost open. Unfortunately they may never fully open because a heavy freeze is predicted for the next morning. They will like freeze and fall of the plant.

is that spring temperatures arrived before March 20 warming the soil up. Since our ground has no snow or other insulation to slow the warming of the soil sap starts flowing in the vascular tissue of the trees and shrub early. An additional reason in my given situation for this early bloom is I’m located in a relative low spot where cold air sinks every night. Without breezes to stir up the air allowing cold settle in and freeze the newly forming plant tissues in the floral buds. If fruit has already set, it too will freeze.

There are a couple of practices such as turning sprinklers on in the very early morning before temperatures dip below freezing or setting out smudge pots can protect blossoms and newly forming fruit but they are only effective to a couple of degrees below freezing for a very brief time. Even setting up a very large fan to keep air circulating could help. All of the measures have their limited effectiveness. That is they are only good to a couple of degrees below freezing for a very brief time. A little more effective would be to place a thick layer of mulch over the soil near the trees in the fall. This mulch helps to both hold moisture in the soil and to moderate temperature swing between freezing and thawing throughout the dormant period. Mulch doesn’t need to go right up to the trunk of the trees and shrubs to have it effect on soil moisture and temperature moderation. In fact, it is best not to put mulch right up to the trunk because it can harbor some pests that like to enter a plant from it trunk. The reason it can still effectively moderate the temperature around the roots is that tree and shrub roots extend quite some distance from the base of the tree and the actually growing points of the roots are at the tips which are located at the furthest distance from the trunk. These tips are also, where the greatest water absorption into the root system occurs. You can expect the roots to extend as far as the perimeter of the canopy sometimes referred to as the “drip line”.

One more way to increase the chance of producing fruit in the high deserts of the American West is to choose fruit tree varieties that are later bearing. This usually means it takes more degrees of heat to initiate blossoms. That has the potential to delay blooming as much as a couple of weeks and that reduces but doesn’t not eliminate the likelihood that blooms will freeze. Depending on where you live, greatly increase your chances of get a nice crop of fruit.

Back to Mulch. Mulch has an added benefit. If applied heavy enough it will keep spring weeds down.

Preparing my Garden for the Growing Season Ahead

My garden has many ornamental grasses that I’ve planted over the years. Most of these grasses are species native to the western United States. They have done quite well in my garden and added interest in the heat of the summer when many flowers that bloom don’t last long in the hot dry heat typical of the desert I live in. One of my favorites is Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii).

Giant Sacaton is native to the American Southwest. It is usually found growing in heavy

Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) during the growing season

Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) during the growing season

soils in the relatively low lying areas or periodic wetlands. These soils are usually quite alkaline or saline because they are areas where water collects and evaporative leaving behind salts. Because my garden is a mixture of clay and sand with a pH of about 8.0 and high in salts left behind by the now dried up inland sea, Giant Sacaton does quite well in my garden. It is my substitute for Pampas Grass. In some regions of the United States, Pampas Grass is a noxious weed.

Just like Pampas Grass, Giant Sacaton gets quite tall and large over a growing season. Its growth habit is that of a clumping grass that can grow to a height of 6′-8′ and a diameter of several feet at its base.  The inflorescence differs from Pampas Grass in that it is more open and the florets are much smaller.

I use my Giant Sacaton as a screen from a major highway that borders my property. I’m quite pleased with its appearance. I think I will keep it.


Ornamental grasses require very little maintenance since you don’t want to mow or you

I'm starting to clip my ornamental grasses. Here I've clipped one of my Giant Sacatons (Sporobolus wrightii)

I’m starting to clip my ornamental grasses. Here I’ve clipped one of my Giant Sacatons (Sporobolus wrightii)

lose the most ornamental part of the grass which is the inflorescence. If you plant the grasses that are adapted or native to your climate, then very little water should be required to keep them nice looking.

Still, each late winter or early spring I must clip my ornamental grasses back so that new growth can be fully displayed and to extend the life of my grasses. I clip Giant Sacaton back to about 6″ to 8″ height. I clip my other grasses back to a height of 2″-3″ depending on the mature size of each species.

I don’t clip my grasses until late winter or early spring since they have an ornamental value through the winter and some beneficial insects such as lady beetles over winter among the blades.

When I clip my grasses, I’ve started just laying the clippings around the base to help hold moisture in the soil and keep weeds down. I’m also hoping to build up some organic matter in my soil has very little organic matter naturally.