In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2000
Regional Report

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Red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is well adapted to the desert, producing colorful blooms during warm temperatures.

It's Planting Time!

October is a prime planting month in the low desert. The heat has abated (we hope), but there's still plenty of time to install trees and shrubs and allow their root systems to develop before winter cold arrives.

Benefits of Native Plants

I'm a big fan of native and desert-adapted plants. They take less care and maintenance than non-natives because they're already conditioned to accept sun, alkaline soil, low rainfall, and humidity, as well as our temperature extremes that can bounce from "baking" to "freezing" in no time. Because natives are less stressed in these demanding conditions, they're less likely to have pest and disease problems. Pests seek out stressed plants.

My Plant Desires

I admit that I'm a plantaholic, and there's all too many plants I like to take home from the nursery or order from a catalog. Even if I know a plant is totally unsuitable to our climate, I still find myself coveting it. If you have the same trouble restraining yourself around plants, try my standard "want too many plants" withdrawal tips.

Choose the Right Plant

First figure out what plant you need before you buy it. It's most important to determine how much space you have for it to grow. Check out references and plant descriptions to determine how big the mature plant will be. Those scrawny-looking sticks in the one-gallon pots can turn into enormous trees and shrubs in a few years. Choose plants based on their mature size so that you don't have to constantly prune to keep them from encroaching on sidewalks and patios. The same holds for the height of trees. Don't put a tall tree underneath utility wires.

Best Plants for Your Exposure

A second thing to check is a plant's exposure needs. Most native and desert-adapted plants will take full sun, but some do better with protection from afternoon shade. Others may have originated in warmer deserts that don't get freezing temperatures. If you live in an area that regularly freezes, stay away from cold-tender plants that will need regular protection.

There are many plant sales at the botanical gardens this month. I'm going to try to remember these pointers myself, but the only thing that will really save me is if I go without my wallet!


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