Hot Gardens Newsletter: September 2003
Cool It. You may be eager to start Fall planting, but it is still too hot. Wait a week or two until the temperature drops below 90F for best results. New plants really struggle when it is over 100 degrees F. It is not too early, however, to add 2 or 3 inches of organic mulch to your planting beds. Work it in gently, being careful not to disturb the roots of plants already installed. If the mulch has a high shredded bark content, you may wish to add fertilizer to offset the nitrogen that the bark will use as it decomposes.
The Fruit Bowl Garden. We have added a page about the best fruit trees and nut trees for our hot desert climate. Peaches, apricots, plums, as well as almonds, pecans and pistachios love our hot weather and can produce abundantly with the right care. Nectarines, in fact, will probably produce more fruit than your entire neighborhood can eat. Another benefit of these fruit and nut trees is the shade they add to a garden. As for apples – buy them in the store. They do not do particularly well in the desert. Most varieties need long hours of winter chill.
Then there are wonderful Pomegranates. A row of pomegranate bushes make a lovely “edible hedge” with its brilliant orange blossoms followed by dark red fruit that looks almost like a Christmas ornament. Pomegranates can also take the sun all day and thrive in alkaline soil with very little watering.
The Awkward Strip. If you have a set-back between your home and your property line that is less than 10 feet wide, consider stripping out any lawn you have in the space. You could replace it with red flagstone stepping stones surrounded by Korean Grass (Zoysia tenuifolia ‘Emerald’). This short grass loves the sun, never needs mowing and will stand up to some foot traffic. From a distance it looks like soft moss, but is, in fact, slightly prickly.
Another solution for that narrow strip, if you do not plan to walk in the area at all, is large, dark, rounded river rocks with a couple of very hardy desert plants such as the red or yellow Mexican Bird of Paradise (Poinciana gilliessii or P. pulcherrima) or a Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens). We recently saw one garden where the river rocks have been coated and they shine as if just removed from a stream. Very pretty! A word about the Texas Ranger –please don’t prune it into a “lollypop”. It is naturally a beautiful, loose shrub with those gorgeous purple and lavender flowers in late summer when the humidity gets high.
Hiring a Pro. If you are planning to have a professional completely redo your garden because of the drought, make sure that person starts off by asking you questions about what you want your garden to look like and what you use your garden for. If the first words out of his/her mouth is: “I can do your back yard for $10,000” – go on to someone else. Your garden should be beautiful and useful to you, your family and friends – not just covered with super hot rock mulch and filled up higgledy-piggledy with whatever is on sale at the nursery. (And when we say “super hot rock”, be aware that rock mulch can reach temperatures of over 150 degrees F. when in full sun.)
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