Southwestern Deserts

March, 2011
Regional Report

Create a Culinary Herb Bed

Herbs are easy to grow in the desert because they do not require heavily amended soil or as much water as most vegetables do. Many of our favorite herbs are native to the Mediterranean region, which features similar soil, sun, aridity, and heat. The most important condition for success with herbs is excellent drainage to prevent root rot. If you have clay soil, amend it with plentiful organic matter and small amounts of sand and gypsum to improve drainage. Another option is to grow herbs in pots or raised beds. Herbs as landscape shrubs (such as lavender and rosemary) benefit from being planted on slight mounds, which give their roots better drainage.

Enhance Compacted Garden Soil

Turn over soil to a depth of 18 inches to promote drainage. Layer 4 to 6 inches of compost on top of the soil and dig it in thoroughly to a depth of 10 to 12 inches. The root systems of most annual plants reach no more than 1 foot deep. Rake the soil smooth and water it to allow weed seeds to germinate. Then yank them before planting!

Prevent Magnesium Deficiency in Roses

Roses may suffer from magnesium deficiency. It appears first as yellowing between the veins (similar to iron chlorosis) on foliage and eventually becomes purple or brown spots that cover the leaf. Prevent it by adding one-quarter cup of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) per bush. Scratch it into the soil around the edge of the bush and water immediately after. Water should soak 18 to 24 inches deep to reach through the root zone.

Water Wildflowers as Needed

It's unlikely wildflowers growing in your yard will need water more than once every week or two, as they are adapted to survive with infrequent rains. However, because we've had such a dry winter, make sure they aren't stressed for water so they can perform their best and prolong the bloom season. If wildflowers appear wilted or leaves are yellowing, slowly apply water to the soil with drip irrigation or a trickle from the hose. Don't sprinkle overhead. Water should soak to a depth of 10 to 12 inches.

Clean Bird Feeders

Clean and disinfect feeders with a 10 percent bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Hummingbird feeders in particular need regular cleaning because the sugar water and warm temperatures promote the growth of bacteria that can hurt these delightful birds.

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