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Gardening Tools

January in a Desert Garden

January is one of the slow months in our desert gardens. The days are pleasant but there is a possibility of frost at night. Winter Solstice was in December and the days are short so plants are growing slowly or are in dormancy.


This is a good time to look at the infrastructure of your garden. Do you need to fix anything? Finish any projects. Check to see what rebates your local water district is offering.

Topics covered: Planting, Pruning, Flowering, Vegetables, Irrigation, Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer


If a plant is not actively growing, its water needs are much lower.  Winter is also when we get most of our rain. So between the slow growth/dormancy and rain, it may be possible to discontinue all supplemental irrigation. At the very least, reduce it considerably. Check the soil around your plants. If it’s damp a foot or two below the surface, you do not need to irrigate.


If there is any doubt about watering, do not. It is better to under water than over water, especially in cold weather. 


Remember to always turn off your irrigation system for at least 48 hours after the rain. If you don’t have a “smart” timer or rain gauge, now is the time to check with your local water district for rebates.


Not all of our plants are in dormancy and winter is their time to shine! When you are planning your wildlife habitat make sure to have plants that bloom in each season. The Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco) tree is covered in magnificent yellow flowers from fall into spring. Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and Golden Dogbane or Dysssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta) bloom year round and Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) is about to be a riot of 3-foot-tall hot pink blooms. 


If you did not sow your wildflowers this fall, do it now. Lightly rake the area first to break up the top surface, and disperse your seeds over the area. Cover with a very thin layer, 1” or less of compost or natural mulch (not rock), and lightly water.


Plant bare-root fruit trees.


You can also continue succession planting your root vegetables, leafy greens like spinach or bok choy, and loose leaf lettuces as well as the brassicas like broccoli and cabbage.


Start potato and onion slips as well as artichokes.


Herbs: chives, basil, oregano, sage, cilantro, cumin, dill, parsley

Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer

PESTS: a healthy balanced garden is your best deterrent for pests. What we consider a pest is a meal for something else. So long as this stays in balance you do not need to intervene. Any intervention, even organic ones have repercussions on the delicate ecosystems in our yards.

Before you intervene, ask yourself if there is actual harm being done to the plant. If not, allow nature time to rectify the problem.

WEEDS: weeds should not be much of an issue this month but watch late month for them to start sprouting if the temperatures warm up.

The best intervention in my experience is a thick layer of mulch and hand picking and sprouts before they flower or seed.

FERTILIZE: you are not going to be fertilizing this month. You want to wait until the weather warms a bit and you start to see new growth.

Note: native plants do not generally need added fertilizers but do appreciate a layer of compost or mulch to help the soil retain moisture and add nutrients to the soil.


In the desert, we do major pruning in October and February so now is a good time to walk around your yard to make a plan of what you need to do next month.

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