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Desert Garden Maintenance Ideas for October

Desert gardeners, rejoice! October has arrived, bringing with it the perfect amalgamation of favorable conditions. The days are warm, the nights are refreshingly cool, and we find ourselves nestled between the summer and winter solstices, blessed with ideal daylight hours.

In nurseries, new plants call our names, promising the potential for vibrant transformations. After spending the summer contemplating and dreaming about our gardens, this is the moment to breathe life into those visions.

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

Pruning

In the desert, we do major pruning in the fall, preferably in October.

 

  1. Observation is Key: Spend time observing your plants closely. Look for branches obstructing pathways or dead limbs that need removal. By addressing these issues now, you prevent them from escalating into more significant problems later.

  2. Targeted Trimming: Desert plants, especially legumes like Mesquite and Palo Verdes, can exhibit rapid growth during the summer. Address minor issues this month by trimming away unwanted suckers, thinning out an overgrown crown, or shaping young trees. Pruning with precision ensures healthy growth patterns and maintains the plant's structural integrity.

  3. Preventative Measures: Proactive pruning can prevent future complications. By eliminating potentially problematic branches early, you reduce the risk of diseases spreading and enhance the overall appearance of your landscape.

  4. Reduced Need for Major Pruning: Addressing issues promptly reduces the likelihood of major pruning requirements later on. By keeping growth patterns in check, you minimize the chances of plants becoming overgrown or misshapen, thereby reducing the need for extensive corrective measures in the future.

  5. Most trees and shrubs do not need major pruning yearly. Over-maintenance is one of the most common ways native plants are killed. By pruning only what is needed you extend the life of the plant, lessen your maintenance, and have a healthier plant with more blooms.

Flowering

There is always something in bloom in the desert! In my garden, I see blooms from Chuparosa, Globe Mallow, Desert Marigold, Indian Blanket, Golden Dogbane, Evening Primrose, Angelita Daisy, Datura, Milkweed, and more. 

The art of prolonging their bloom lies in mindful deadheading. While I selectively remove spent blooms to encourage continuous flowering, I leave most to transform into seeds, providing essential sustenance for local wildlife.

For those considering a more hands-on approach, seed collection is another approach. As soon as seedpods begin to brown or dry, gather them and store them in a paper bag. Allow them to air dry for a week or two in a cool, shady spot. Alternatively, for a more natural touch, let the seeds fall organically. 

 

This is the best month to sow wildflower seeds.  You can purchase a premade mix adapted to the low desert, plant individual species or make your own combinations with the seeds you have collected.

1. Prepare your area by first clearing any weeds.

2. Lightly rake the area to create a seedbed

3. Soak the seedbed to moisten the soil 1 foot deep.

4. Broadcast seeds with either a handheld sprayer or by hand. I prefer mixing the seeds with sand to get a more even distribution.

5. After seeding, rake lightly again in a criss-cross pattern. Do not cover the seeds too deeply!

6. Water with a fine mist to not wash seeds away.

7. Water seedbed regularly - usually every day until germination. Germination times can vary greatly with soil temperature and seed type.

8. Once germinated, water seedlings deeply every few days.

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.

3. 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.

4. Weed Management: Weeds are insidious foes, so regular weeding is essential to prevent their spread. Don't delay; proactive maintenance saves you from hours of labor later on.

5. Fertilizing Strategy: While desert plants don't require regular fertilization, they can benefit from a generous layer of mulch (about 3-4 inches). This not only keeps the soil cool but also reduces water evaporation while providing essential nutrients.

For non-native plants in need of a nutrient boost, we fertilize again in February when plants are actively growing again and there is no more chance of frost.

Vegetables

Our planting season is in full swing! By the end of October, you should have all of your cool-season crops planted.

  1. Time for Tomatoes: If you're starting tomatoes from seeds, now is the time. Warm soil temperatures are crucial for germination. Ensure the top inch of soil stays consistently moist during this process. Mulching around the plants will not only conserve moisture but also keep the soil cool.

  2. Herbs in the Spotlight: October is perfect for starting most herbs. Their hardy nature makes them well-suited for this transitional period. Get ready to enjoy fresh, homegrown flavors in your culinary creations.

  3. Mindful Fertilization: One key to successful gardening is understanding your plants' needs. Root vegetables, for instance, require fertilization at the beginning and midway through their growth cycle. Overfertilizing can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of the roots. On the other hand, fast-growing plants like those you harvest for their leaves or flowers can benefit from regular feeding every 2-4 weeks. Consider natural options like fish emulsion or sea kelp for a healthy, organic boost.

  4. Winter Herb Care: Don’t forget about your winter-growing herbs. These hardy plants also benefit from a balanced, timely fertilizer. Nourish them properly, and they will reward you with robust growth even in the colder months.

Planting

  1. Assess and Swap: Take a leisurely walk through your garden. Observe what plants have weathered the summer successfully and note those that struggled. Use this assessment to decide what to replace. Sometimes, a fresh start with resilient, heat-tolerant varieties can breathe new life into your garden.

  2. Go Native: If you love annuals for bursts of color, consider replacing them with native plants. Natives not only add beauty but also support local ecosystems and wildlife. They are often better adapted to the local climate, requiring less maintenance and resources.

  3. Optimal Planting Time: October is the optimal time to plant. This allows the root system plenty of time to acclimate and grow before summer.

Irrigation

  1. Adjust Watering Levels: Decrease the amount of water to align with the cooler weather and shorter days. Remember, desert natives thrive with deep, infrequent waterings, allowing the soil to dry out between sessions.

  2. Deep and Infrequent Watering: Ensure your irrigation system delivers deep watering, encouraging plants to establish deep root systems. Infrequent watering intervals promote healthier, more drought-resistant plants.

  3. Inspect Water Basins and Mulch: Regularly check the water basins around your trees and plants. Refresh any mulch that may have eroded or thinned out. Adequate mulching conserves moisture, regulates soil temperature, and minimizes weed growth, ensuring your garden remains vibrant and well-nourished.

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