Southwestern Deserts

February, 2004
Regional Report

Start a Compost Pile

Use equal parts "green" nitrogen material and "brown" carbon material. If you have a winter ryegrass lawn, put the clippings in the pile as an excellent nitrogen source. Other nitrogen materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, spent plants, manure, and coffee and tea grounds. Carbon materials include dried leaves, shredded paper, straw, and woody landscape trimmings. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will decompose. Spray with water as you mix the materials so everything is as damp as a wet sponge. For faster decomposition, turn and remoisten regularly.

Transplant Tomato and Pepper Plants

Tomatoes and peppers need sufficient time to develop roots, bloom, and set fruit before summer heat hits in late May/early June. Last frost dates vary considerably depending on your particular microclimate, including sun exposure and elevation. If you set out transplants now, be prepared to cover them if frost is predicted. Amend soil with plenty of organic matter and a fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus before planting. Add a layer of organic mulch around the plant. Keep soil moist, but not wet, while roots establish.

Start Basil Seeds

Sow basil indoors for transplanting outside when temperatures warm. Use a sterile potting soil to prevent damping off disease, which causes seedlings to tip over and die very quickly. Keep soil moist, but not wet. If using natural light, turn pots one-quarter turn daily to prevent seedlings from leaning towards the light.

Finish Pruning

Complete any necessary pruning by the end of the month for roses, non-native deciduous shade trees, deciduous fruit trees, and grapes. Wait to prune tender tropicals until the last frost. Prune native trees after they bloom. Use sharp tools and sterilize with rubbing alcohol between plants to prevent the spread of disease.

Fertilize Deciduous Fruit Trees

Apply nitrogen fertilizer after the last chance of frost and as the trees start to leaf out. Apply at the edge of the canopy and slightly beyond, where the feeder roots actively absorb water and nutrients. Water slowly and deeply after applying, to a depth of 3 feet. Use a soil probe to determine how far water has penetrated. Any long, pointed object will work. It will move readily through moist soil but stop when it reaches dry, hard soil.

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