| A Master Gardener's guide to gardening in a hot dry climate
Hot Gardens Newsletter: September 2004
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Hot Footed. Fall is definitely the best
time to plant in Western gardens -- after all, that is when
Mother Nature sows seeds. In the desert southwest, however,
you should wait until the average daytime temperature drops
into the 90s F. before you plant. The soil is far too warm
now for the roots of transplants and, if the roots do not
grow quickly, the new transplant may not survive very long.
Only palms love to have "warm feet" so now is a good time to
plant palms. For more about palms, including the best way to
prune them, visit our
Cold Feet. One
useful trick to keep plant roots cool is to place a
large rock or a couple of flat stepping stones right
next to the plant on the southwest side thus shading its
roots. We used this technique to enable a
Clematis jackmanii to survive in our desert garden.
The top of this deciduous vine
climbs up an east-facing wall and endures blazing sun until
mid-afternoon. The roots, however, are in cooler shade
under flat rocks all day long. We also keep the soil at the
base of the Clematis well watered.
The Edible Garden. We have become big fans
of trees that provide both cooling shade and something to
eat. Fig trees are a great way to have your shade and eat
fruit, too. They grow fast to 30 feet and cast dark, dense
shade in summer, then lose their leaves in winter. Plant one
on the southwest side of your home and you will reduce your
summer cooling bill significantly! Better yet, most fig
trees produce two crops of figs a year. Prune the tree
lightly in winter and do not use high nitrogen fertilizer
because that will encourage leaf growth rather than fruit
growth. The yummy figs grow on the previous year's new
growth. (A quick recipe: stuff quartered ripe figs with
chevre goat cheese or cream cheese and wrap in Prosciutto.
Some chefs then bake these briefly; some serve this
Another good example of
combining food and beauty is the Nectarine
tree (Prunus persica nucipersica) which can
be kept small enough to fit right into a pretty
flower border or espaliered onto a trellis. It
creates color in the garden month after month --
flowers in the Spring, abundant red-orange fruit in
late summer, and lovely yellow leaves in autumn. The
fruit is only produced on new growth so be sure to
prune your nectarine severely in winter before the
new buds develop.
We strongly recommend that you
"Buy Local" when you invest in new fruit trees. Your local
nursery will know which varieties do well in your area. Be
sure to ask about "winter chill" requirements. For more
about fruit trees and winter chill, visit our
Fruit Trees page.
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A Thorny Issue.
Mesquites (Prosopis) are so common that we have
not devoted much attention to them on the Hot Gardens
website. These natives of the U.S. Southwest, Mexico, and
dry regions of South America, grow very fast, tolerate poor
soil and, once they are established in a garden, can often
survive with only the water that falls from the sky. On top
of that, the wood makes for a great barbeque.
It sounds like a very useful, easy-care tree -- right? Well,
30 years ago a group of international foresters thought so
and introduced the
Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora), a thorny
mesquite from South America, into Ethiopia, a country that
had lost most of its trees under the pressure of population
Initially, everything went as planned. The Mesquites grew
quickly providing wood for cooking, building, and fencing as
well as shade. In the past 10 years, however, the success of
the Mesquites has become a two-edged sword. The trees love
their new environment so well that they are spreading
rapidly into arable land, including pasture lands. In a
country where raising livestock (sheep, goats, camels,
cattle) is the primary source of income, the loss of pasture
lands could be a disaster. Worse yet, the thorns are a major
cause of injury to herdsmen -- and to tires.
The Ethiopian government has addressed this problem by now
allowing commercial harvesting of the
to create charcoal and flooring. The herdsmen, of course,
would prefer an eradication program, but the Mesquites are
there to stay in Ethiopia. We have also heard reports from
Australia that Mesquites introduced there are now beginning
to encroach on pasture lands, too.
While we are not native-plant
purists, there certainly is a lesson in all this. Consider
adding natives to your garden, rather than exotics from
other parts of the world.
You can see a photo of a thornless
(Prosopis alba) on our
Fast Growing Trees
you are going to buy one be sure to ask for a thornless
mesquite because there is also a Prosopis alba with thorns!
To complicate matters, mesquites hybridize freely so what a
grower may think is thornless will not be when the tree
matures. One further note: our favorite mesquite is the
Screw Bean Mesquite (Prosopis
pubescens) which produces spiral seedpods and is often grown
as a shrub.
We want to thank Dr. Joan Padro for bringing this news to
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Flowering plants that reliably bloom in scorching mid-summer heat.
Australian plants and trees that grow well in hot, dry climates.
Weather-proofing palms for winter; cold weather palm trees.
4. A white garden
for night time
Topiary can be easy to create
and add charm to your garden.
Techniques to combat death by heat exhaustion of plants in pots.
Cactus as security barriers
for your property.
South African aloes
brilliant late winter color in your garden.
Frugal gardening tips to save you money.
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