February in a Desert Garden
We are finally coming out of the dark days of winter with the days becoming noticeably longer and the temperature generally mild.
Wildflowers are starting to bloom and plants are coming out of dormancy. Now through March, you will see a significant difference in your garden. If you are going to do any planting or pruning projects, now is the time so the plants can acclimatize and recover before the summer.
Topics covered: Planting, Pruning, Flowering, Vegetables, Irrigation, Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer
In the desert, we do major pruning in October and February.
Whenever you do it, it's best to not cut off more than one-third of the plant.
Most importantly, if you can tell it's been pruned, it was done incorrectly! Your job is to help the plant maintain its natural shape not force it to be the shape you want it.
At this time of year, you want to look for frost-damaged branches, check for leggy growth that needs pruning back, and determine if the plant is overgrown.
Don't prune while the plant is flowering. Wait until October.
If the plant is a summer grower, like a mesquite, I recommend waiting until after its growth spurt to prune.
Thoroughly water after pruning. A tip I learned a few years ago was to take the hose and spray the newly pruned tips. This is supposed to soften the wood making it easier for new growth. Whether it works, I don't know but at least my plant's leaves are getting washed off.
Be prepared to protect any new growth if the temperatures are going to stay cold for a significant amount of time.
October is the optimal time to plant with now being the second best. In February our days are noticeably longer and overall the temperatures are mild. This gives everything some time to acclimate to what we've done to it before the extreme heat of summer sets in. Freezing temperatures are possible this month though so if you have something you absolutely do not want to lose then be prepared to protect it. Especially young and newly planted plants. And you should wait another month to plant any frost-tender plants.
March is when we plant our warm season crops here in the low desert so February is when we plan for planting them.
This is the last major cool season planting for root vegetables, loose leaf lettuces, greens, Bok Choy, Peas, Spinach, Artichoke, Brassicas, Green Onion, Onion slips, Potato slips, Herbs: chives, basil, oregano, sage, cilantro, cumin, dill, parsley as well as Citrus and Stone Fruit trees
This is when the desert comes alive and starts blooming! If we've been lucky with our rain we will start seeing some wildflowers. Popcorn Flowers, Desert Dandelions, and Desert Sunflowers are pretty reliable. Desert Marigold, Gaillardia, Penstemon, Globemallow, Chuparosa, Cascalote, Sweet Acacia, Angelita Daisy, and Emu Bush are a few that are blooming in our landscapes.
Our rainy season is from December through February. This is when our local native plants are expecting to receive their water for the entire year.
We irrigate our plants year-round so they don't have to depend solely on the winter rains, but if we have not had much rain during the wet season, this is the time to give your plants a really good deep watering, preparing for rapid spring growth.
Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer
PESTS: We have many more bugs in our gardens than I've ever experienced. In the past couple of years, I've researched more bugs than I have in all the previous thirty years combined!
Aphids are most common this time of year and are very plant-specific. Certain aphids only like certain plants and won't bother others. Before you decide what to do about them, decide if they are actually causing a problem.
Example: on our milkweed, aphids are a natural part of their ecosystem along with milkweed bugs. They aren't good or bad, They just are. They attract beneficial bugs like ladybugs to the garden though which is a good thing.
When I find the aphids are causing a problem on, say, a young plant that can't handle it, I will spray them off with a strong stream of water.
You can also put on gloves and run your hand up the plant basically squishing them. Some people use q-tips with alcohol or alone. Most times if you really watch your garden and have planted appropriate plants, pests will work themselves out.
WEEDS: just like everything else, now is when weeds are germinating. Your best defense is to get them when they are young, BEFORE they flower. Keep an eye out for Sahara Mustard. It is an especially invasive weed. If you have this it's important to dispose of the flowers and seeds.
FERTILIZE: If you are going to fertilize, now is the time. If using granular fertilizer water thoroughly. Note: native plants do not generally need added fertilizers.