Sunday, August 2, 2009

Extreme Weather Gardening

Newly Pruned Mesquite--thinned and the canopy raised

Luckily, there are not many gardening chores necessary during the intense heat of Arizona desert summers, at least not in my landscape, which consists mostly of desert adapted trees and shrubs. I said mostly because I do have some roses and a few other plants that do take some extra care, and a lot of potted cacti and succulents that require extra watering.

This year has been especially rough for even the desert adapted plants. Little rain, the hottest July on record, and sun intensity has been stronger than ever due to little cloud cover. So far, the monsoon season is a bust. That's good in one sense--no violent wind or dust storms or downed trees to contend with, but supplemental watering and shade cloth on some things is a must.

I don't get up early, so any gardening I do is accomplished just around sunset, and I'll work outside for awhile each day until it's late dusk. Unlike my husband, I can't take the heat for any period of time, even in the evening. Pretty wimpy for an Arizona native--but I'm just not acclimated to summer sun exposure anymore because of home and car air conditioning.

Recently, a reader named Bonnie left a comment asking what kind of garden chores I do this time of year. She felt she should be doing something despite the heat. My answer is--do as little as possible, but I have listed a few things that I do accomplish.

I usually mix up cactus potting soil so that it will be ready for any October potting that I do. The mix I use is 1/3 river wash sand, 1/3 pumice, and 1/3 native soil. I also use an alternative--mixing native soil and potting soil in equal proportions to make one part, then one part pumice and one part river wash sand. Proportions should be adjusted depending on whether the native soil is clay heavy.

Contrary to information provided by many sources that say not to prune desert trees in their growth period because it causes undue stress and weak wood from the rapid growth, the hottest months are actually an ideal time prune. According to a recent study by the University of Arizona, desert trees recover from pruning better in the summer because of the fact they grow quickly and they heal better in the heat. I usually water the trees right after a heavy pruning to lessen stress. It's always worked for me, so I was happy to read that studies support my practices.

It seems there's always a few dead perennials, cacti and succulents to dispose of this time of year. Once I clean up the debris, I plug the irrigation emitters and put a small landscape flag in the gravel to mark the spot for replacement planting in the fall.

Add required shade cloth protection. I have only four plants in my garden that require this protection, which I put down in early June. I use 35 percent and 50 percent shade cloth, depending on the plant. Once the shade cloth is in place, I don't need to do much more except make sure it's adjusted as the sun changes angles the rest of the summer. I remove it, gradually, in mid September. Many other cacti and succulents receive some sun scorch each year, but it's not permanent and they'll recover in fall. The plants I cover are ones that will be permanently injured if they didn't have shade cloth protection.

 Summer is the time to decide on wildflower mix purchases
because September and October are the ideal months for wildflower seed distribution in desert landscapes. Wild Seed, a company in Tempe, Arizona, has great wildflower mixes. They do not have a web site or take credit cards, so you have to order the old fashioned way--with a form and pay with a check or money order.

Roses need extra watering this time of year, and regular foliage spraying helps them with heat stress in early morning (not me) or late afternoon. Other than that, the only other chore is dead heading and making sure the mulch in their planting beds remains evenly distributed and thick enough.

One other thing I do in summer is paint one rock to add to my collection. This is a long standing, enjoyable ritual that I save for summer and wrote about last year.


Claude said...

Your seasons are so different from ours... Here in mid-Texas, there are things that we try to do in the heat of the summer, but summer is so different every year... while we often go weeks or sometimes months without a single drop of rain, this week it rained, in some way, every day. So we have heat and extremely high humidity (about 70 to 80%) right now, that makes breathing a chore when you're outside.

Bonnie said...

Thank you for the ideas! I will be getting to work in my yard this week.

Julie said...

Have you done this summers rock yet??? I must get that tradition started here! Once a year I can afford it since a smooth rock like that can cost a lot here!!!

Nice to read about your summer chores and your soil mixes!

I say you are right about doing as little as possible out in that heat...we can not tolerate what we are having here...the heat an humidity are unbearable!

Phoenix C. said...

How very different your garden jobs are at this time of year to ours! I've hardly had to do any watering this summer, only some tubs that are under the eaves so don't catch much rain. Snatched dry minutes have been spent catching up on weeding and lawn-mowing - and sitting in the sun with a book!!

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

I'm still amazed by how green your garden looks eventhough it has been so very, record breaking, hot. Like you I'm not much good when it's hot, I just don't like it, so I quite agree with the do as little as possible motto. ;-)

Jenn said...

Nice post!

GardenJoy4Me said...

Aiyana .. some other gardeners call our change extreme and abrupt from snow and dead looking gardens to suddenly green every where and growth rates shooting up like crazy.
Seriously .. I find your desert garden soothing like a zen garden .. if I had to choose another type of garden it would be yours .. the big catch is I am too heat sensitive to believe as well .. so I understand your plight.

nikkipolani said...

Excellent round up of your summer (in)activities, Aiyana. I was just reading that one of our area garden writers does summer pruning for December roses.

Dee said...

I loved this post! I've been trying to do cleanup of dead weeds- I've got so many wild parts of the yard that I haven't planted yet and the weeds are just crazy! I've found that under many of the clumps of weeds are huge ant colonies that go crazy when I disturb their homes.

mosaicqueen said...

Hi Aiyana!

Because I don't do cactus, I have so many chores during this time of year. My Ruellia is out of control! The bermuda grass is constantly creeping into my flower beds (grrrrr).
I'm not a native, but have lived here for about 15 years. I'm always out in the heat. I find that the more time I spend outside, the shorter the summer seems. My kids, however, (almost native) never spend any time out in the heat.
I hope our monsoon comes back soon. My yard could use the rain. Even my hens-and-chicks burned up!


Polly said...

Hi... Just found your blog in a Google search for "pumice".. You mention using it in your soil mix for cactus/succulents. I live in Glendale AZ and have in the past used pumice for container plants as recommended by Master Gardener Cheryl on a garden tour 4-5 years ago. Where do you find the pumice you use?


Aiyana said...

I get my pumice from a fellow Cactus and Succulent Society member. He has tons of it. It is not as fine as can be found in cactus nurseries, but it works for my needs. You can check out the newsletter and on the last page, it has the contact info. I'm not sure if he sells to non-members, but it's worth a try. I would also try finding a nursery near Glendale that sells cactus, and see if they have it in stock. I know most of the Tucson cactus nurseries carry it.