In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2007
Regional Report

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Firecracker penstemon perseveres growing out of this rock face.

Plant Perseverance

Every gardener I talked to this week continues to lament their loss of plants caused by January's exceptionally cold weather. Species and landscapes that had not experienced frost damage before took a hit this year. Flowering has been set back as aloe bloom stalks got nipped and tropical plants like bougainvillea resemble burnt toast. Even so, other plants came through unscathed or are reviving nicely. Well-adapted plants will persevere!

Wildflower seedlings are creating carpets of green in some landscapes, responding to recent rains. I notice lupine, California poppies, and toadflax in prolific numbers. Wildflowers develop stronger root systems and above-ground foliage with regular rains throughout the winter, rather than a late downpour or two as we experienced this year. However, it's still possible to have a respectable showing of spring wildflower color.

Think Thin
Thin latecomers to allow seedlings to obtain sufficient sunlight and nutrients. Do as I say, not as I do: I'm a terrible thinner! I'm reluctant to pull something that had the gumption to sprout under adverse conditions. Even so, I intend to get busy thinning poppies and calendula in the bulb garden in the next day or so. Although a few of these plants fill in gaps nicely, offering long stretches of spring color as bulbs rise and fall, I tend to let these volunteer numbers get out of hand. Two years ago, poppies engulfed the bulbs and I promised I'd never let that happen again (although the color was gorgeous). So last year I morphed into the Brutal Thinner, pulling out dozens and dozens (probably hundreds) of seedlings.

I transplanted some of the poppies elsewhere with a fairly good success rate. The trick is to do it before their roots get too big; otherwise, the plants wilt easily and don't recover readily. I found that poppy seedlings about 2 inches tall transplanted nicely, responding fast enough to produce blossoms. I also put a few into containers with loose, not-particularly-rich soil, and even plunked a few into a friend's yard where I knew they'd get no care whatsoever. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about "bright orange flowers that came out of nowhere" a couple months later. A seedling that can survive a non-plant-weenie's yard has perseverance to burn.

Right next to one of my now Slushie-like aloe plants, Parry's penstemon (P. parryi) are unscathed with new growth appearing. These tough native wildflowers are cold hardy to 15 degrees F. Firecracker and canyon penstemon (P. eatonii, P. pseudospectabilis) can survive through cold dives to 0 degrees. Many of our native plants can put up with whatever Mother Nature sends us.


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