Hot Gardens Newsletter: January 2005
Previous newsletters by month and topic
Gorgeous Grasses. We have added a new page about beautiful ornamental grasses to this website. These are carefree and versatile perennials that survive in a hot, dry climate with little water and fertilizer. You can go away for a week or two in the summer and come back to find that your grasses will still be alive and growing vigorously. Because they bow and bounce in the wind, they add visual movement to a garden.
January is the one month of the year when you need to care for ornamental grasses in your desert garden by cutting them back severely. Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) should be cut back to 18 inches tall. In this photo the pampas grass has been used as a hedge and stands over 10 feet tall in mid-summer. Do not plant Cortaderia jubata. It is highly invasive.
Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and Japanese Blood grass (Imperata cylindrical ‘Rubra’) do best when cut back annually to about 4-6 inches or less in mid-winter. All these will regrow to mature height and size in Spring and early Summer. Other ornamental grasses, such as Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’), maintain their color year round and do not need to be cut back.
In Praise of Geraniums — er, Pelargoniums. Another group of very sturdy plants that survive with considerable neglect are the Pelargoniums, or as they are commonly known, Geraniums. (The plants, botanically named Geraniums and commonly known as Cranesbill, are not what we are talking about here.) Many Pelargoniums/Geraniums are native of South Africa where the climate is similar to the Mediterranean region and they are definitely drought-tolerant.
The ordinary Garden Geranium (Pelargonium hortorum) will bloom for months on end, even on a patio, with a moderate amount of care. One couple told us that they have been able to keep their geraniums blooming all winter long in a corner of their Mojave desert garden. Another gardener reports that he has planted geraniums extensively because gophers will not eat them. In our experience the scented geranium hybrids which have fuzzy leaves, in particular, the Chocolate scented variety, do not do well in the desert. Lemon and rose scented geraniums grow beautifully and last for years.
A Geranium Tale: Three years ago we purchased some lovely and rare scented geraniums at a nursery one block from the beach in Southern California and took them back to our desert garden. They turned crisp and died within two days — even though we kept them in the shade and watered and watered them. The moral to this story is to buy from nurseries which sell plants originally grown close to your home so the plants will already be acclimatized.
A densely planted herb garden maintains its shades of green and gray at the peak of summer. Includes scented geraniums, lemon verbena, lambs ears and other herbs.
A Taste of Summer in Winter. Many herbs we commonly use as seasonings — oregano, thyme, majoram, coriander, cilantro — grow wild around the Mediterranean and are vigorous growers in our hot, dry desert climate. You can get a head start on summer herbs by planting them now in small starter pots in your home and use snips from them as they grow. Once the weather warms, transplant them to a perennial border or a patio pot garden. Basil, another culinary favorite, is a native of the tropics and needs more water and shelter from the direct sun than the Mediterranean herbs.
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