In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2011
Regional Report

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Improve pollination by planting corn in a grid rather than a long row.

Monsoon Mania

Summer monsoon thunderstorms continue this month, bringing much-needed precipitation and less-welcome dust, along with varied opportunities and chores for the gardener. Summer is sometimes considered the off-season for low desert gardening, much like winter is for other regions, but actually there are quite a few things happening. Here are a few monsoon related projects to keep you busy until prime gardening starts again in fall.

Grow Corn
In the low desert, native peoples planted warm-season crops such as corn from mid-July through August to take advantage of the rainy season. Modern-day growers do the same. Choose a corn variety that matures quickly, no more than 65 to 80 days. Be aware that modern hybrid corn varieties require plentiful water, fertile soil, and nitrogen. If that does not suit your gardening style, consider native corn varieties that are better acclimated to our growing conditions.

Corn is categorized into five groups based on the sugar and starch content of the kernels. In addition to sweet corn, which we like to eat boiled and slathered with butter, other corn types are dent, flint, flour, and popcorn. Traditional Hopi blue cornmeal is ground from a flour corn. Dent and flint dry into very hard kernels, which helps prevent pest problems during storage. Native Seeds/SEARCH (www.nativeseeds.org) in Tucson offers tried and true varieties. Look for some of their striking blue corns such as 'Escondida Blue', 'Hernandez Blue', and 'Navajo Mix', which produces blue, white and speckled ears.

Water Carefully
When rains are adequate, adjust irrigation timers to prevent saturated soil, which promotes root rot and iron chlorosis. Roots need oxygen in the soil to absorb iron. When soil is overly wet, there is insufficient oxygen and chlorosis appears as yellow leaves with obvious green veins. This condition typically affects nonnative plants and often corrects itself as soil moisture returns to normal. If not, apply chelated iron or ferrous sulfate, both of which are readily absorbed by plants.

Repair Storm Damage
After monsoon thunderstorms, remove broken tree branches immediately, using proper pruning cuts that allow the tree to seal the wound from pests and diseases. For severe damage or dangerous conditions, consult a certified arborist.

Take Advantage of Easy Digging
Keep in mind that digging is easier when soil is moist. Take advantage of the monsoon rains to remove weeds, which pull up readily with roots attached from moist soil. Now is the time to do battle with the invasive Bermuda grass that encroached into the garden from the lawn. It might be a good time to break ground on a new garden bed (if you can stand the heat).

Dust Your Plants
Spider mites thrive on dusty plant foliage. Hose off plants early in the morning before the sun hits to reduce the chance of foliar burn.

Take Off the Tarp
If you covered the compost pile with a tarp to prevent drying out during summer (good idea!), try to remember to take it off before an expected thundershower so it can soak up some needed moisture. The process of decomposition slows down when organic matter dries out.


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