| A Master Gardener's
guide to gardening in a hot dry climate
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Water Here, Water There,
But Not Everywhere. There were days last winter
when rain seemed to fall endlessly in some parts of the
desert West. In other areas the long-running drought
continued. But summer's return has brought us all back to
the realities of living and gardening in a hot, dry
climate. Keeping plants alive and thriving through the
summer months in the desert takes strategic watering and
some careful work. Here are some suggestions for preventing
plant dehydration during scorching hot summer weather.
Polymers In. Polymers
Out. Polymers, those water-retaining gel
crystals, are usually used in flower pots to help cut
down on watering and retain water in the soil for the
plants' use. Recently, however, we heard a gardener
advocate using water-retaining polymers in flower beds
and in the soil around trees. It sounded like a good
idea -- particularly in a climate where water evaporates
out of the soil so rapidly that it leads to plant death
But a little online research
revealed a preliminary study which indicates that polymers
may break down in our native soil into chemical components
which may not be all that good for plants and people. So
while polymers may be a great solution for plants in pots,
stick with adding organic amendments, such as crushed pecan
hulls or finely ground wood chips, to your garden's natural
soil to increase its water-retaining ability. Moreover,
organic amendments add nutrients to the soil, which polymers
don't. If you would like to review the research yourself,
to go Google and search for: "Polymers Gardening."
Double Pot For Summer.
Another way to help your potted plants survive on the patio
in summer is to set each pot in a second, larger container.
Then put an insulating layer of dried moss or coarse organic
mulch between the two pots. This will keep the inner pot
cooler and protect plant roots from sizzling heat. Consider
using one of the newer plastic pots as your outer pot. They
are far more attractive than they used to be and conduct far
less heat than terra cotta pots. The insulation may also be
helpful in winter, if you live in an area where it freezes
Lily of the Nile
(Agapanthus africanus) and hybrid
Canna lilies bloom in the South
Coast Botanic Garden in Los Angeles.
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The Beauty of a
Microclimate. During a recent tour of Southern
California gardens, we visited the South Coast Botanic
Garden, about a mile from the ocean's edge on the Palos
Verde Peninsula, and -- oh sigh -- it was gloriously abloom
with Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus) and
Canna lilies in full sunlight.
In our Mojave garden we also
have vigorous Agapanthus and Canna lilies -- but definitely
not in full sunlight. The harsh desert sun will burn them.
These mid-summer bloomers thrive in two sheltered, shaded
corners of the garden with slightly cooler microclimates.
We have also planted an amaryllis bulb, left over from
Christmas, and had it bloom in a deeply shaded and sheltered
corner. The lesson in all this is that microclimates can be
home to non-traditional desert plants.
Reliable Summer Color.
If you want plants that you can count on for colorful blooms
all summer long--even in scorching hot weather--go to our
July 2004 newsletter.
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