In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Compost improves garden soil and has a rich earthy smell.

Gardening Resolutions

Exercise more and eat healthy. Most of us make some version of those basic New Year's resolutions. However, gardening-specific resolutions are more entertaining and help us achieve the first two by burning calories while tending nutritious, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables. Consider the following resolutions or create your own for the New Year.

Track Temperatures
If Santa did not deliver a thermometer that registers the lowest and highest daily temperatures in your garden, buy one for yourself. Keep a daily journal comparing your temperatures with official temperatures for your area. This helps you make an educated guess on how much variance your particular microclimate will experience from the weather predictions. If frost is predicted and you know that your landscape is typically two degrees cooler or four degrees warmer, it helps you decide whether to provide protection for frost tender plants.

Work with Sharp Tools
Well-honed pruning blades create a smooth cut without tearing plant tissue. This helps the wound seal quickly. Sharp tools are also much easier on the gardener's wrists and hands. If you are in too much of a rush to sharpen tools when you are out in the garden during winter's shorter daylight hours, bring tools indoors with you to work on instead of watching television!

Attract Birds, Bees, and Butterflies
Milkweeds and passion vines are perfect for many butterflies. Build or buy a bee habitat to encourage native solitary bees to nest in your garden. They are excellent pollinators and have no interest in stinging humans. Hummingbirds love any trumpet shaped red or orange flowers. Guess who is attracted to quail bush?

Watch Where Rain Flows
Winter rains are pouring down as I write this article, and it is easy to see where water flows naturally. Make notes on a diagram of your property or snap a few photos from all the windows of your house. Use the information to incorporate rainwater harvesting techniques into your landscape. Many native and desert-adapted plants will survive on rainfall alone (after their root systems are established) if they can benefit from nearby swales. These are slight depressions, either natural or manmade, where rainwater collects and soaks into the ground, supplying nearby roots with ready moisture.

Start a Compost Pile
It can be as easy as a mix of fallen leaves (carbon) and lawn clippings (nitrogen) piled in an out-of-the-way corner. From time to time, remoisten the material as you turn it with a pitchfork. Check with your city waste department about obtaining free or low-cost bins made of repurposed garbage containers.

Sniff Some Soil
Various research studies show that contact with nature helps keep us healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, maybe just healthy, but digging into dark rich soil and inhaling its earthy scent is a stress-buster. Make a resolution to spend time working the soil in your garden in 2012!

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