Southwestern Deserts

January, 2011
Regional Report

Don't Waste Leaves

Cold weather has contributed to yet more leaf drop. Rake up that terrific organic matter and spread it on your garden soil to decompose, layer it around plants as mulch, or create a compost pile. Make a pile that is at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, mixing about 3 parts "browns," such as dried leaves with one part "greens," such as grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, and coffee grounds. Wet the materials with the hose as you build the pile and keep it as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Turn periodically to add more oxygen to the mix, which will promote faster decomposition.

Plant Salad Greens

All types of greens can be sown or transplanted in cool-season gardens. Leaf lettuces perform much better than head lettuces in arid conditions. Intersperse colors such as green and red oak leaf lettuce. Add something for "tangy bite" such as arugula or mizuna. Plant in full sun in improved garden soil.

Watch for Frost Warnings

We're not out of danger yet! Monitor weather forecasts and be ready to cover citrus trees with old sheets and blankets, burlap, or frost cloth. Both fruit and the tree itself are susceptible. Wrap the trunk from the base up to its lower branches. Also drape coverage over tender plants such as annual fruits and vegetables, bougainvillea, and hibiscus. It's best if the cover doesn't touch the foliage, so provide a temporary support structure, such as PVC pipe or stakes, if possible.

Transplant Sweet Peas

Sweet peas do best sown from seed in late fall, but if you got too busy to sow, check your local garden store for transplants. Site sweet peas in an eastern exposure where they get morning sun but protection from hot afternoon sun as temperatures heat up in spring. Sweet peas are cool-season flowers, and this will extend their bloom season a bit.

Monitor Lawn Watering During Cold Weather

During cold temperatures, grass isn't growing vigorously, so don't waste water on it. Stick a long-handled screwdriver or other soil probe into the grass. It will move easily through moist soil and stop at hard, dry soil. Winter ryegrass should be moist to a depth of 4 to 6 inches, which is how deep its root system grows. Be sure each irrigation reaches that depth to help leach salts beyond the roots.

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