Southwestern Deserts

May, 2012
Regional Report

Plant Basil

Sow seeds or install transplants from 4-inch containers of this delicious warm-season herb. 'Genovese' is popular all-purpose basil that works for all types of cuisine. Add zip to your taste buds by also trying Thai basil and flavors such as cinnamon, lemon, and lime. Basil varieties planted near each other will cross-pollinate, so if you save seeds, the next generation may not grow true to the parent.

Transplant Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes thrive in warm soil in full sun and their vines will quickly scramble and spread over the garden, covering the soil with pretty green foliage and flowers. Transplant "slips", which are sections of the vine about 6 inches long. Bury the base of the vine in well-drained soil enriched with compost. Leave the top few inches of vine above the ground in sun. Keep soil consistently moist for a week or two while roots develop. Layer mulch on top of the soil to maintain moisture.

Protect Seedlings from Pests with Floating Row Cover

If leafhoppers, flea beetles, whiteflies, or other pests that attack vegetables are a problem in your garden, try a physical barrier with floating row cover. This thin synthetic fabric allows sunlight, water, and air to penetrate and circulate, but pests can't get through. For vining veggies that require pollinators but are plagued by pests like the squash vine borer, try using the row cover early in the season to keep the adult females from laying eggs. Remove the cover after plants are established and flowering starts.

Move and Protect Containers

When temperatures hit triple digits, soil temperatures in containers heat up so much that they can basically "cook" roots. If you have a plant in a black nursery pot, nest the pot inside a larger pot, so that the sun does not hit it directly. Stuffing the empty space between the two pots with crumpled newspaper or Styrofoam peanuts adds a bit of insulation. If possible, move pots to a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade, erect a temporary shade structure, or place the container beneath the filtered light of a tree's canopy.

Hand Pollinate Tomatoes

Tomato pollen isn't viable much over 90 degrees, and many low desert gardeners have been hit with triple digits early in the season. Gently tap tomato flowers early in the morning to help transfer pollen and encourage fruit set.

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