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

Phoenix Gardening Tip: It’s Freezing!

Freezing in Phoenix Desert GardensWell, I’m hoping your desert gardens survived the Phoenix Freeze of 2013.  I’m also hoping it’s the last one we have for the season!

If you didn’t cover your plants, you probably have some freeze damage, particularly if you live in the outlying areas of Phoenix.  But before you run to your desert gardens with a pruning tool in hand (the crazed look is a dead giveaway), STOP!

For most plants, you’ll want to wait until any threat of frost has passed — typically early to mid-March in Phoenix — before heading out to prune away the freeze damage and to do any corrective pruning.  Some plants — such as Bougainvillea, Tecoma stans, and other xeriscape plants — can be cut back to 8-12″ and they’ll grow back beautifully.

(If you do cut back a frozen bougainvillea or Tecoma stans that had leaf tier damage, let Kelly Young at the U of A Cooperative Extension office know how it fares.  She is studying whether the pests will be killed off by frost or pruning so that they can figure out some controls for the problem.  Oh, and dispose of those infected plants in the trash, not your compost bin.)

If you had tender, non-native plants that froze, they’re likely excellent candidates for your compost bin.  I have a couple of tropicals in containers that were shocked by the non-tropical conditions.  They probably won’t return.

By the way, the photo is of my Callaeum macropterum (Yellow Orchid Vine).  I finally covered it on the last night of the freeze, so it fared pretty well.  But in the Year of the Three Freezes (2010-2011), it froze nearly to the ground.  I just cut it back in the early spring and it really flourished!

Phoenix Gardening Tip: The Garden Tiller/Cultivator

Earthworks Tiller/CultivatorIn a previous post, I went all ga-ga for my new Earthwise tiller/cultivator…and for good reason.  A few days after our purchase, we went to town on our garden and tilled up almost 300 sq ft of garden in just a little over an hour!  (Seriously?  And I was gonna do this with a shovel???)

Some tips…as you know, our Phoenix desert soils are not like the blowing sands of the great Sahara Desert.  Far from it.  We run the gamut from clay to caliche, making the soil hard, dry and compacted. While our native and desert-adapted xeriscape plants love it, our shovels do not.  So unless you’ve prepared your soil by wetting it first, you might as well start digging into your sidewalk.

To use this tiller, and probably others, your best bet is to get the soil good and damp first.  I like to use soaker hoses and leave them on overnight.  After wetting it, make sure to test the soil first.  If it’s too wet, it’ll just gum up the blades.

I also like that this little tiller is pretty light and there’s a sturdy handle which makes it easy to pick up and tote around.  But because it’s so lightweight, it can also get a little jumpy and pop up if you run into something underground.  It’s a little disconcerting at first, but just apply some weight to it and it should be fine.  (I have a bad habit of gardening in flip-flops, so make sure to wear shoes and safety gear.)


Spiral Gardening for Small Phoenix Spaces

Spiral GardenFor most of us, Phoenix offers the wide open spaces the West is known for, so staking out a plot and gardening isn’t that big a deal.  But for those who live in condos, townhomes, or patio homes — where space can sometimes be a precious commodity — a spiral garden solves the problem of limited space.

Instead of building out, build up.  You can use pavers, block, old concrete or rocks and just spiral your way up to the top.  Then just add in your xeriscape plants (it would make an awesome herb garden!) and wait.  You can run a small irrigation system from your hose bib to the top, or it’s easy enough to water by hand.  Just don’t forget!

Besides it being an efficient use of small spaces, a spiral garden also allows you to tend your garden without having to do a lot of bending.  Plus, they’re great conversation starters!