Month-by-Month: Chores for Desert Gardeners at Extreme Altitudes

The Southwest deserts encompass mild-winter climates of the low-elevation deserts of Arizona and California. (The mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as west Texas, have a more typical cold-winter, summer-only season for growing annuals.) Glory time for annuals is late winter and early spring in low-desert Arizona, primarily around Phoenix and Tucson, and California’s Coachella Valley. This calendar starts in September to reflect the true beginning of the planting season:

If you live in a temperate, high-altitude climate, follow the calendar for the Northern gardeners. recommendations.

  • September: Prepare planting beds. Midmonth or later, set out nursery transplants for winter and spring bloom — maybe even by Christmas. Provide temporary shade during the hottest weather. Early in the month, you still have time to start annual flower seeds in flats or pots to transplant into the ground later in the fall. If summer annuals are still going strong, keep them watered thoroughly and fertilize every two or four weeks.

  • October: Continue to set out annuals for blooms before the end of the year. Water thoroughly after planting and provide temporary shade during extra-hot spells. Sow seeds of low-spreading annuals to cover bare spots in bulb beds. If your timing is good, everything will bloom all at once. Start regular feeding a few weeks after planting annuals.

  • November: You still have time to plant for winter and spring bloom. Cooler weather encourages a new crop of aphids, plus slugs and snails.

  • December: You still have time to plant seedlings. Watch your soil for signs of dryness, and water as needed.

  • January: After the holidays, nurseries stock up with blooming annuals in small pots. Shop for color that you can use right away in pots or in gaps in planting beds. Watch for aphids and take steps to control them. Pull or hoe seasonal weeds, or mulch beds with a layer of organic matter to smother weeds and weed seeds.

  • February: Cool-season annuals are peaking this month in the low desert. Maintain top performance by removing dead flowers, watering thoroughly, and feeding regularly. Start seeds of warm-season annuals indoors to transplant into the garden in four to six weeks. Prepare beds for spring planting.

  • March: In the low desert, transplant warm-season annuals. Pinch back at planting time and snip off flowers to encourage bushier growth. A few weeks after planting, fertilize young annuals and begin a regular (bi-weekly or monthly) fertilizing schedule.

  • April: Plant heat-loving annuals, such as marigolds and zinnias. Adjust the frequency of sprinkler systems as the weather heats up.

  • May: Spring flowers are winding down. Pull them out and replace them with heat-lovers. Pinch tips of young annuals for bushier growth.

  • June: This is your last chance to plant for summer blooms. Make sure that you choose from among the true heat-lovers: globe amaranth, salvia, and the most reliable of all, vinca rosea.

  • July and August: Water and mulch. You don’t do any planting at this time of year. Feed summer annuals regularly. Remove faded flowers.

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