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Desert Garden Maintenance Ideas for March

March is one of the most beautiful times in our desert. This is the time to go on hikes or leisurely drives. Look around and see how nature designs her landscapes. Pay attention to things like how the flowers are tucked into the rocks. The boulders and rocks act as natural nurseries for young plants. Seeds are blown into the base where debris has gathered making the soil more fertile and able to hold moisture. The soil is insulated keeping the plant's roots warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Recreate this in your own gardens!

Spring is also when you can find local garden tours. Take advantage to get ideas for your own garden and see plants you might not have thought about before.

If we've had winter rain, the wildflowers are blooming!

 

Warm mild weather promotes rapid growth. You should be seeing a significant difference in your garden in both the plants and wildlife.

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

Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer

1. Preventative Pest Control: Embrace drip irrigation, a method that keeps plants healthy by watering them from below, minimizing disease by avoiding wet leaves. Healthy plants are naturally more resilient, hosting fewer pests. 

2. Understand Your Foes: Identifying your garden's foes is essential. Not every bug is a threat, and understanding the natural life cycles of both plants and animals in your garden helps differentiate between normal processes and actual threats.

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 insects like ladybugs to the garden which is a good thing.

Another common thing we start to see this time of year is perfect circles cut in the leaves of plants. This is usually caused by one of our native bees the Megachilidae or leaf-cutting bee.  We start to see them when the temperature is consistently above 75 degrees. This is not a pest but one of our native pollinators! The leaf-cutting bee uses its legs to cut the circles in the leaves - they do not eat it. So when you spray an insecticide on your plant to stop this behavior you are not doing anything but needlessly spraying chemicals on your plant and potentially harming things you are trying to attract.

3. Timing: The good news is that most "bad" bugs don't like the summer heat and will soon be gone. In my opinion, the best thing to do in most cases is to wait and let nature take care of itself.

4. Gentle Intervention: At the first signs of infestation, opt for the least invasive control methods. A powerful jet from your hose or a soapy water solution can work wonders and is gentle on your garden's ecosystem. Timing matters too; treat infestations at dusk when bees and butterflies are at rest, ensuring their safety.

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.

5. Weed Management: Weeds are insidious foes, so regular weeding is essential to prevent their spread. As the weather warms and days get longer, weed growth speeds up so be vigilant. If you pull the weeds BEFORE they flower, this proactive maintenance saves you from hours of labor later on. Flowers = seeds. Again, adjusting your irrigation and checking for leaks will decrease the amount of extra water available for weeds to germinate.

Continue to keep an eye out for Sahara Mustard. It is an incredibly invasive weed. If you have this it's important to dispose of the flowers and seeds.

6. Fertilizing Strategy: While desert plants don't require regular fertilization, they can benefit from a generous layer of mulch (about 3-4 inches). This keeps the soil cool and reduces water evaporation while providing essential nutrients. Consider allowing your leaves to fall and collect naturally. Various sized rubble is another excellent natural looking mulch. The many-faceted sides reflect the sun's rays keeping the ground cool.

For non-native plants in need of a nutrient boost, now is the time to fertilize when plants are actively growing. If using granular fertilizer water thoroughly. 

Planting

Early fall is the optimal planting time in our desert but we can still plant in spring. Plants as soon as possible this month. Your goal is to get your plants established before the summer heat.

Consider adding ground covers to mitigate heat and retain moisture in your soil.

Vegetables

March is when we plant our warm-season crops as well as citrus here in the low desert. Melons, Pumpkins, Squash, Beans

 

Keep up with harvesting. You should see a rapid increase in the growth of your plants

Pruning

In the desert, we used to plan for our major pruning in October and  February. As we learn we've realized that it is best to not do major jobs in the spring. Spring is when our wildlife is most active and nesting. By pruning our trees and shrubs we are removing their nesting sites and shelter.

You always want to be looking at your plants though and only trimming problem areas. Is there a branch in your pathway or do you have a dead branch that needs to be taken out? 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. This keeps you from having to do as much in the fall and corrects issues before they become major problems. If you have to regularly prune your plants you should look at why. Trees should not need to be pruned yearly. Shrubs left in their natural shape only need an occasional snip here or there. Are you watering too much? Is the plant in the wrong place? And most importantly, you want to always check for nesting animals before you prune!

 

If the plant is actively flowering, wait until October. If I need to "clean up" an area I don't trim all the flowering plants in that section. I will make sure to leave blooms for the animals.

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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.

 

If the plant is a summer grower, like a mesquite, I recommend waiting until after its growth spurt and prune in October. 

Flowering

This time of year, everything seems to be blooming at once! It is truly one of the most exquisite times in our desert.

 

Most all of your nectar plants are blooming

If we've had winter rain, the wildflowers should be in full force by the end of the month. 

Irrigation

Continue to increase your water as the temperatures rise. If you do not already have one, consider a smart timer. Most local water agencies offer incentives or even free ones!

If you are not on automatic irrigation and are hand watering, now is when you want to do deep watering in preparation for the rapid spring growth. Fill your basins and allow the water to slowly soak in. You want a minimum of 2-3 feet deep saturation for most plants.

Spring is when we can get our winds. Strong drying winds will cause plants to need more water. Get to know your plants and check them after windy days.

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The rest of the year

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