Connecting Greater Phoenix gardeners with information that helps put xeriscape principles into action.

Gardening Tip: Using a Rain Gauge

Chaney Rain GaugeOne of the challenges to gardening in Phoenix is applying enough supplemental water so that our desert gardens and landscapes don’t shrivel up and die…especially in the intense heat of late spring through early fall.  That’s why our drip and sprinkler systems are so important.

I’m reminded of this because we’ve had a nice gentle rain falling for the last few hours…a much welcomed gift here in the Phoenix desert…and I turned off my drip system to save a little water.  But how do you know when you’ve got enough rain to skip a cycle or two?

I just use one of these easy-to-read magnifying rain gauge.  You can either stick it into the ground or tie it off to a fence post.  Just make sure there’s nothing overhead to interfere with rain collection.

The general rule is that you can skip a cycle if your rain gauge shows 1/2″ or more of rain.  But this is one of those “use your best judgment” things.  I’ll skip watering my veggies tomorrow, but probably not the following day.  Xeriscape plants, on the other hand, might be fine if I skip two cycles.

Check your irrigation timer, too.  Newer models have rain and humidity sensors built into them, so they’ll automatically shut off if they detect moisture and turn back on again as it dries out.   There are also more sophisticated rain gauges that work the same way that rain sensors do.


Gardening Tip: Care for Phoenix Desert Gardens in Summer

Artichoke choked by the Phoenix desert heatWell, my artichoke…um…choked.  I think we’re on Day 8 of temps over 110 degrees, and I figure this is my punishment for not checking in on my garden every couple of days or so.  You see, it’s Phoenix and in the summer temps can get deadly hot, making our desert gardens excellent prey for the unrelenting heat.  And, apparently, me too.

I thought perhaps it was a watering problem, but it’s not that.  It apparently just couldn’t take it anymore.  I totally get that.

So, if nothing else, make sure you take a trip out to your garden every day or two just to make sure the Phoenix desert heat hasn’t taken another victim.  Sigh…I need ice…

Gardening Tip: Plant Now for Halloween Pumpkins

Want to delight the kids with Halloween pumpkins…just in time for Halloween?  Here’s a good gardening tip:  sow those seeds now!

Even in our desert gardens and landscapes, we can grow pumpkins…with a little care.  I planted my pumpkin seeds — Lumina (a ghostly white pumpkin that’s excellent for cooking) and Big Max, a giant variety — and, in just 5 days, they sprouted!  Best choices for Phoenix desert gardens are the smaller varieties like Baby Bear, Spooktacular, Jack ‘o-Lantern, just to name a few.  But it’s hard to resist those big boys for carving!

Big Max PumpkinJust find some good quality seeds from growers like Seeds of Change or Botanical Interests.  (If you’re going to be using them for pumpkin pie, do a little research to see which varieties are best and make sure to get organic seeds.)  Then dig a hole about a foot or so deep and a couple of feet wide.  Backfill it with compost and then fill it in with dirt to make a mound.  Plant seeds about an inch down and a couple of inches apart.  Cover with mulch and, like Linus and Sally, wait for the Great Pumpkin!

After the sprouts get to about 3-4″, thin to about 3-4 plants per mound.  Make sure they get plenty of water (water the soil around the plant, not the plant itself) and fertilize with fish emulsion every couple of weeks.

Depending on the variety, they’ll take about 100-120 days to mature (lop off a week or so if you’re starting with transplants). Remove them from the vine when the vine starts to die, but be sure to leave some of them stem. Give them a few days to cure in the sun, and then you can keep them for a few months after that if they’re in a cool place.  Christmas Pumpkins, anyone?

These guys are heavy-duty sprawlers so make sure you have a good amount of space for your pumpkin patch…about 6 feet or so per mound. Good luck!

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