Newsletter December

Hot Gardens Newsletter – December 2004

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Cold and Thirsty.  Do not neglect to water your garden during these colder months. Your plants, in particular, trees, need occasional deep watering in winter.  During this season it is not the heat, but the wind sweeping across the desert, that dries plants out.  And their roots are still growing during much of the winter.

Salvia Leucantha SageWinter Color. Days may be short, blooms have withered, leaves have fallen, but you could still have color in your garden in winter. If you had planted a Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia Leucantha) earlier this year, you would have tall purple spires blooming now and hummingbirds flocking to them from dawn to dusk in many areas of the Southwest.


Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica

And, of course, there are the brilliant red-orange berries of the pyracantha, as well as the brilliant red-orange leaves of Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica), shown right. Both are great sources for color outdoors during the darkest months.  And our friends, the birds, love the pyracantha berries.

pomegranate fruit blooms


If you had planted a Pomegranate (Punicacae) last Spring you would now have big red fruit, looking like Christmas ornaments, either on the shrub or on your table. In this photo, taken in May, both the mature fruit and new blooms are on the plant. The pomegranate will thrive even in cold winter/hot summer climates if planted in a sheltered place–for example, next to a wall–and survive with almost total neglect. It is a big shrub that can grow to 8 or 10 feet tall and is one of many fruit trees for hot dry gardens.

In the warmer winter areas of the desert, Phoenix and Palm Springs for example, the Pink Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) is already in bloom. This South American native, another favorite of hummingbirds, is an excellent plant to espalier against a south-facing wall.

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Indoor plants for winter. Keep in mind that it is incredibly easy to force bulbs to grow indoors this winter. Two of the best — low priced and readily available–are Amaryllis and Paperwhite Narcissus. In recent years, commercial bulb growers seem to have developed hybrids that take a much shorter time from planting to blooming. If you plant today — December 1st — you could have Amaryllis blooms by Christmas week.

After your Amaryllis has blossomed and faded, set it aside until Spring when you should plant the bulb outdoors in a sheltered corner. It may take a couple of years, but it will bloom again — in early Spring or summer. Alas, the delicate Paperwhites are unlikely to survive outdoors in our hot, dry climate. Since writing this, we have heard from a reader in Tucson that her neighbor has Paperwhites blooming in a herb garden as of December 1st!! It is wonderful and amazing what will grow in a garden microclimate! For your indoor winter garden we suggest that you pick one single color theme. Add other flowering plants with similar color blooms — cyclamens or orchids– from your local garden shop.

We recommend Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) as an excellent addition to an indoor garden. On top of being fast-growers, this big-leafed plant produces lovely white “flowers” and puts out the most oxygen of any indoor plant.

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