Southwestern Deserts

May, 2012
Regional Report

Prepare to Harvest Garlic, Onions, and Shallots

When foliage starts to yellow, brown, and dry naturally as temperatures heat up, stop watering. This helps the outer layers of dry skin to form on the bulbs, which allows for better storage. To hasten the drying process, many gardeners bend the remaining tops over when the foliage of about half of of the plants has flopped over on its own. Dig and harvest the bulbs when foliage is completely dry. Brush off soil and let the bulbs dry a day or two in a protected place out of the sun. Clean off the remainder of the soil before storing.

Transplant at Dusk

Cooler air and soil temperatures through the night allow plants a bit of respite to get established, as opposed to planting in the heat of the day. Transplanting on an overcast day is also good, although the Southwest does not experience many overcast days! You might also consider erecting a temporary shade structure over new transplants to help them establish with less stress.

Plant Butterfly Landing Pads

Butterflies land on flat flower surfaces to sip nectar. Easy-to-grow warm-season annuals with butterfly-friendly flowers include blanket flower, sunflower, tithonia and zinnia.

Inhibit Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot appears as a water-soaked or dark, rotten-looking bruise on the end of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It is caused by an imbalance of calcium in the fruit, which is often aggravated by inconsistent watering. Several factors are thought to contribute to blossom end rot: insufficient available calcium in the soil; rapid early season growth followed by an extended dry period; excessive soil salts which "lock up" calcium uptake (in addition to naturally high salt levels in many desert soils, excessive salt build-up can be a result of adding too much nitrogen fertilizer); and cultivating too close to the plant, which kills feeder roots. To keep blossom end rot at bay, provide consistent soil moisture through the growing season; avoid adding excess nitrogen fertilizer (follow application rates carefully), plant in well drained soil, and don't cultivate deeper than 1 inch within 1 foot of the plant. Use a fertilizer product that contains calcium. Next year, a month or so before planting, work gypsum (calcium sulfate), a soil amendment, into the soil.

Refresh Mulch

Before the real heat hits, replenish a 3-inch layer of compost or other organic mulch around plants or on top of garden beds. Mulch moderates soil temperatures, maintains consistent moisture, and inhibits weeds. As it breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil. It also adds an attractive uniform appearance to an area. Keep mulch a couple inches away from plant trunks or stems because wet moist mulch rubbing against plants tissues creates an environment conducive to pests and diseases.

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