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Gardening Tools

May in a Desert Garden


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


In the desert, we do major pruning in October and February so you shouldn't be doing any major pruning this month. 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? This keeps you from having to do as much later and corrects issues before they become major problems.


The desert will reach its full color this month! Desert Marigold, Desert Milkweed, California Poppy, Evening Primrose, Penstemon, Globemallow, everything will be in bloom!

You want to continue to deadhead some flowers to promote a prolonged bloom. I leave the majority of my spent blooms as seeds for wildlife.

Collect seeds for next year as soon as the seedpod begins to turn brown or dry out. Store in a paper bag and allow to dry out for a week or two in a dry shady spot. If you want a more natural landscape, allow the seeds to drop naturally.

Pests, Weeds, and Fertilizer

PESTS: prevention is the best method for a pest-free garden. 

Drip irrigation, watering the plants from below rather than spraying the leaves helps prevent disease keeping the plant healthy. Healthy plants equal fewer pests.


WEEDS: don't put off weeding! Regular maintenance prevents spread.

Spurge weed, (Euphorbia maculata) is popping up now that the weather is warm. Once you have an infestation of this it is difficult to get rid of it. Hand pulling, making sure to remove the tap root, and the use of thick mulch to starve the seedlings of light are the most effective removal methods in my experience. Use gloves when handling spurge. The milky sap can cause irritation in some people.

FERTILIZE: desert plants do not need regular doses of fertilizer if they are growing in the ground. But they do benefit from a 3-4 inch layer of compost or mulch. This will help keep the soil cooler, cut down on evaporation loss, and provides ample nutrients.


Do not fertilize winter growing herbs until fall.

To extend your tomato harvest, add shade, mulch, and water deeply but less frequently. You want the roots to go down deep into the cool soil where it takes longer to dry out.


Our planting season begins in September/October and ends in about March or April. Planting in the fall our plants have lots of time to establish themselves before the heat of summer hits. Up to 80% of the yearly root growth occurs in the fall when the days are shorter and the temperatures are cooler. The later in the year we plant the more water we need to use to establish them and the more care they need. Plants need at least 6-8 weeks to reestablish their roots before the extreme heat of summer hits. 


Review your irrigation system.

Increase water to accommodate warmer temperatures. Water deeply but infrequently to prevent plants from becoming overgrown, floppy, or subject to rot. Remember, desert natives, want to have deep waterings and then dry out in between.

If you leave for the summer, make sure to check your irrigation system before you go for leaks, clogged emitters, etc.

Refresh the water basins and mulch around your trees and plants before the summer heat.

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