Southwestern Deserts

December, 2010
Regional Report

Cut Back on Food and Water for Houseplants

Houseplants slow down their growth during winter's cooler temperatures and low light conditions indoors. Be careful not to overwater, which will promote root rot. Stick your finger into the soil. If it's dry to one-inch depth, apply water. Monthly feeding is probably sufficient. If you prefer to feed with each watering, reduce the fertilizer strength by half.

Feed Winter Vegetables

Salad greens and cole crops are heavy feeders during winter, but nutrients are sometimes less available when soils are cold. If your your soil is not terrible fertile, apply a side-dressing of fertilizer with a low NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) ratio, such as 3-1-2 every month. Time it to coincide with a scheduled watering.

Don't Drown Holiday Plants

Most poinsettia, Christmas cactus and other holiday plants come with a bright foil wrap around the pot. When ready to water, take the plant to the sink, remove the wrap and let water soak thoroughly through the entire root ball. Let the pot drain for a half hour or so in the sink before replacing the wrap. Otherwise, water will accumulate in the wrap and be reabsorbed, causing salt burn and/or root rot.

Waste Not, Want Not

Deciduous trees, such as ash and Chinese pistache, are turning color and dropping their leaves now in the low desert. (I know, it's December, but that's the way it is.) Leaves store a tremendous amount of the nutrients that the tree absorbs during its growing season. Don't let it go to waste. Rake up leaves and spread them as mulch around plants, on top of garden beds, or add them to the compost pile as an excellent source of carbon. Dried leaves are one of the few ingredients that can be composted on their own, if you don't have the desire to do more.

Harvest Your Own Decor

Look around your yard for potential ingredients such as evergreen juniper boughs, branches of pyracantha berries or bay laurel. Tie in ruby red pomegranates, orange and yellow citrus or interesting seed pods and pine cones for one-of-a-kind holiday decorations.

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