In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
November, 2000
Regional Report

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Lamb's ears is a soft fuzzy herb that's also grown as a perennial flower. It grows well during our mild winters.

Herbs in the Desert

I admit that I'm behind on some of my gardening. I love to sow seeds (especially of herbs) in early fall, because the soil temperature is warm enough for prompt germination but the weather isn't so hot that tender seedlings gasp and groan when they pop out of the soil. But I was having trouble with an aging irrigation timer, so I delayed sowing herb, vegetable, and flower seeds while I was trying to revive it. I ended up replacing the recalcitrant thing but lost precious time in the process.

Readying the Bed

My small mixed bed didn't get planted during this maintenance delay since it's in front of the timer box and I didn't want to trample any seedlings. I plant this particular area each season with some combination of herbs, flowers, and vegetables. Luckily, I had spread several inches of compost over the bed some time ago, and the frequent rains we've had lately gave the soil a good soaking. To jump-start the process, instead of seeding, I bought some small pots of herbs to plant.

Planting Herbs

Herbs do well in the Southwest. Many of them originated in the Mediterranean region, which also has hot sun, soil that is low in organic matter, and drying winds. Since I plant a combination of my favorite flowers and herbs in this bed, I add compost to it. If I wanted to grow just herbs, I wouldn't add compost as often. Most herbs don't like a heavily organic soil and will actually have more pronounced scents and flavors without it.

Ease Off Watering

Many regions in the Southwest have clay soils that drain water poorly. If that's what's in your garden, don't overwater your herbs, as they don't like wet roots. If roots stay wet, herbs sometimes look wilted, so our first response is to apply more water. Push a stick into the soil and make sure it's dry before watering.

Favorite Herbs

Most herbs will thrive in the low desert, although French tarragon is difficult for almost every herb grower I know. Start with some easy ones first, so you'll be proud of your success, and move on from there. Chives, parsley, and cilantro are all incredibly easy to grow this time of year. Choose what you'd like to use in cooking or what attracts your eye.

One of my favorites is lemon thyme, whose tiny green leaves are edged in yellow for a stunning color contrast. Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) is a favorite in herb gardens for its incredibly soft, plush leaves. Although not edible, it provides color and texture to any garden.


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