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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Springtime Gardening Upon Us

Spring is upon us once again. Everywhere in the Valley and beyond you can see various trees and shrubs blooming. Some of the earliest bloomers include: Spotted Emu Bush (Eremophila maculata), Bougainvillea, Lantana, Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), Sweet Acacia (Acacia smallii), Bradford Flowering Pear (Pyrus calleryana), as well as various fruit and citrus trees.  Soon, you’ll see Hibiscus, Orange Bells (Tecoma stans) and Roses began to bloom.
Spring & Summer
Annual Flowers
The time to plant spring and summer flowers is at hand. But, before you decide just what to plant, it is essential that you prepare the soil. The soil provides an anchor for roots, serves as a reservoir for moisture and stores the nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth. Unless you are a newcomer to Arizona gardening, you know that our arid soil is extremely alkaline and contains little organic matter. Yet, with the proper soil preparation these problems are easily overcome.
Our high alkalinity frequently gives us pH values of 8.0 or above. Nutrients needed for plant growth are more readily available when the soil pH is neutral, or 7.0. The previously accepted method of lowering the pH was to add gypsum to the soil. However, I recommend First Step Soil Acidifier. It is composed of water soluble sulfur that also contains iron and manganese. It rapidly breaks apart the heavy clay and caliche particles and allows for the drainage of salts. Once these salts are beyond the root zone, the plant takes up the nutrients and has a far better chance of staying healthy. Typical application rate is .5 to one pound per 100 square feet of planting area, but a laboratory soil test (available at your local nursery) will tell you exactly what and how much your soil needs.
We can solve the problem of too-little organic matter by the simple process of adding mulch to our beds. In sandy soils, mulch helps in retaining moisture and in clay soils, it aids in aeration. As a top dressing, it helps to retard weed growth, cools the soil in hot weather and helps to prevent evaporation. In most cases, I recommend the use of wood and bark mulch.  Peat moss is expensive and slow to break down. Composted leaves (“green waste”) are adequate if properly composted, but decompose rapidly. Manure is usually too high in salts. However, if it’s leached of salts, it’s beneficial.
After planting, topically apply Flower Power 14-14-14.  This fertilizer is a balanced slow-release blend of essential nutrients. The typical application rate is .5 to one pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden space.  Many of today’s flower varieties perform better with regular feeding. The nutrients will ensure healthy growth and heavy bloom and will last from 60-90 days before you next need to fertilize. 
Once your beds are prepared, your next step is to choose beautiful spring and summer flowers.  Some of the most popular for the Valley include:
Celosia: Also known as “Cockscomb,” these plants can grow in size from six inches to 24 inches depending on the variety you select. Vigorous and heat loving, these plants require very little water. Available in red, orange, yellow, and fuchsia.
Cosmos: Tall plants in pastel colors make this an excellent backdrop plant. A good cut flower.
Gomphrena: The variety known as ‘Purple Buddy’ has proven itself best for our area. Dark purple button-type flowers on a hardy heat-loving plant.
Lisianthus: A favorite of Valley gardeners, this striking plant is available in many colors including blue, white, pink and purple, and makes a tremendous cut flower. It thrives in the heat and sun and is available in dwarf or taller growing varieties. Keep old flowers pruned off for best results.
Marigolds: Bright splashes of yellow, orange and red make this a popular choice for spring color. Plant after all danger of frost is past and choose a location that gives a little afternoon shade and marigold will last into the monsoons.
Nierembergia: Its purple and white flowers are great for borders and it needs low to moderate water. Plant in full sun.
Pentas: One of the most popular and hardy plants for light shade or partial sun. Free blooming red, pink, rose, violet and lavender flowers. 
Portulaca: Known also as “Moss Rose,” this ground-hugging plant loves the heat and takes very little water.  Flower colors come in scarlet, fuchsia, gold, orange, pink and yellow.
Salvia: “Lady in Red” and  “Victoria Blue” add color and durability to almost any garden setting. These are proven winners.
Vinca: One of the hardiest and most heat-loving plants available. White, pink, grape, orchid, and lilac are some of the colors available this summer. For best results acidify with First Step, avoid overhead watering, and grow in a raised bed if possible.

Zinnia: A favorite of nearly everyone these come in a variety of colors from red, rose, pink, gold, orange and scarlet in dwarf or tall-sized plants. Ample water and light afternoon shade are needed.


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