Southwestern Deserts

December, 2008
Regional Report

Keep Christmas Trees Moist

Whether cut or container-grown, be sure trees are kept moist to maintain fresh, pliable needles through the holidays. For an easy method to water live trees, place ice cubes on top of the soil and they'll slowly melt.

Taste Citrus

Rind color is not a reliable indicator for harvesting. Rinds can be green, but the fruit may be sweet. When the temperature is cold enough, rinds start turning from green to orange. The longer citrus remains on the tree, the sweeter it becomes. Some varieties, including navel and sweet oranges, mandarins, and tangelos, ripen earlier than others and may be ready for eating and gift-giving in time for the holidays. The best time to harvest? When it tastes sweet to you!

Monitor Forecasts

Be prepared to protect frost-tender plants, such as citrus, lantana, bougainvillea, natal plum, hibiscus, and annual vegetables and flowers. Cover at sundown, trapping heat radiating up from the soil. If you use burlap or old sheets, remove the following morning before the sun heats up and cooks plants beneath. Check the manufacturer's instructions to determine how long it is safe to leave frost cloth in place.

Pull Winter Weeds

They're germinating like crazy already. Pull as soon as they appear, when root systems are small and easy to yank. Toss them into the compost for a source of nitrogen or let them lie in place to decompose, if you don't mind the "look." Never throw weeds that have gone to seed into the compost.

Thin Wildflower Seedlings

Wildflower seedlings are popping now. Crowding will reduce their vigor as they compete for sunlight, air, nutrients, and water so thin to at least a 6-inch spacing, perhaps up to 10 or 12 inches with the next go-around (after you see that all seedlings are growing and developing). Gently dig up the root systems of small seedlings and transplant into empty spots in the landscape or into containers. Another easy way to thin is to snip seedlings off at the base with scissors, rather than pulling, which will reduce disruption to nearby roots.

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