Southwestern Deserts

October, 2011
Regional Report

Transplant Just About Everything in the Landscape

October is a great month for low desert gardeners to transplant desert-adapted trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, perennials, cacti, and succulents. Fall planting provides many months of moderate temperatures, allowing plants to establish and grow a strong root system before summer. Do not plant palms, which prefer warm soil. Citrus can be planted now but will require frost protection. If you cannot monitor temperatures and provide cover when it gets cold, it is better to plant citrus in spring.

Prune Blackberry Canes

If you didn't get to it earlier in the year when temperatures seemed too hot and uninviting for tackling thorny brambles, get out there now and prune back blackberry canes that bore fruit this year. Cut back all the way to the ground. Canes only flower and fruit once, so get rid of them or else the thorny brambles will develop into an impenetrable thicket. This year's new shoots will be the canes that bear fruit next year.

Thin and/or Transplant Flower and Vegetable Seedlings

Overcrowded seedlings fight with each other for sunlight, nutrients, water, and even air circulation. As needed, thin crowded seedlings in the garden and the wildflower patch. Most seed packets provide the appropriate spacing. If you have patience and take a bit of care, you can transplant thinned seedlings. Perhaps pot them up as gifts for friends or fill in bare spots where seeds didn't germinate. It helps to water the soil a few hours in advance to lift the roots with less damage. Also, transplant late in the day to reduce stress from sun and heat. Handle seedlings gently by the leaves, not the stems. Be sure to keep the root system consistently moist while the transplants get established.

Sow Penstemon

This wildflower is easy to grow from seed, comes in various flower colors, and self-sows readily if allowed to go to seed. Hummingbirds love the flowers. Low and mid desert gardeners can mix and match canyon penstemon (Penstemon pseudospectabilis), coral penstemon (P. superbus), firecracker penstemon (P. eatonii), Parry's penstemon (P. parryi), and rock penstemon (P. baccarifolius). High elevation gardeners also have success with P. barbatus, P. palmeri, and P. pinifolious.

Plant Cool-Season Herbs

Sow seeds for chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, and parsley. Set out transplants for lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. If soil drainage is poor, plant herbs in containers, raised beds, or build up mounds of soil and plant on top. Poor drainage and wet roots is the death of most herbs!

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