Garden Shelf

Useful Tips



Water Conservation

I must admit I missed spring in New Mexico. By now all gardens are planted, flowers should be up, tomatoes growing on the vines and beets and lettuce harvested. The major concern this year across the entire southern United States is be water conservation. No matter who I talk to or email with I get the same answer "Everything is burning up". It is still possible to have a lovely garden, beautiful flowers, and fresh veggies and conserve water.

There are two parts to good water consecration. One is getting the water in the soil and the second is holding the water in the soil. It takes effort on your part but the results can be so rewarding.

First is getting water into the soil. Rain is best but when that is not available than it must come from bucket or hose. Most cities, including Atlanta, Georgia, have days when you can't water and times of day when you can't water. The restrictions need to be followed of course. It really does make sense not to water in the heat of the day. Evaporation steals most of the water so it isn't going into the ground anyway. Watering in the early evening, night and early morning is best. Plants that are going to get their leaves wet with sprinklers should be watered so that they will have time for their leaves to dry prior to full dark or early in the morning when water won't be on them very long. This reduces the chance for powdery mildew or fungus. Flower beds and vegetable gardens that are flooded or watered with soakers can be water during the night. If you don't want to stay up all night invest in several of the small water times that can fit on each faucet. These are readily available and not too expensive. Soaking flowers and vegetables at night also allow the roots to be in contact with the water longer so they can absorb more. This is especially true of pots. Terra Cotta pots should be watered every evening without fail.

Second is keeping the water in the soil. The first consideration should have been given during soil preparation. The more mulch and compost put into the soil before planting will help hold water. In the past such items as cotton seed hulls, sheep's wool, compost and vermiculite have been discussed in details. A good time to work these into your soil is late February or early March. After planting a good mulch is essential. Before mulch is put down you might consider covering the soil with several layers os newspaper and then covering with wood chips, pecan hulls or even grass clippings. The newspaper really does help hold the moisture in. It also keeps weeds from popping up and it decomposes by next year into a nice humus to be mixed into your soil. What could be more perfect. Conserve water, prevent weeds, and compost all at the same time.

If you haven't given your trees a good deep drink of water yet this year it is essential to do so. A good deep drink of water doesn't mean putting the sprinkler at the base of the tree and watering for an hour, The best way is to put a sprinkler under the tree and turning it on very low and letting it water in that spot for a couple of hours and than moving it to a different spot under the same tree. All the area under under the tree should be similarly watered. The water needs to get down three to four feet. This is a big time investment but then it doesn't have to be done but a couple of times a year. New trees should be watered more often their first three years. Water your tree in this method helps the tree to grow deep roots and denser roots. Deep roots and dense roots keep trees from blowing over in the wind.

Potted plants need to have a mulch also. Bark is good but sheep's wool pads from is an excellent way to keep pots from drying out.


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Fall Is Here Again? So Soon?

Fall is here! We are off daylight savings time. How many New Mexico Gardeners have started cleaning their yards and gardens yet? Probably very few, yet is something we all know we should do. Would it make the task a bit more fun if you were planting for winter and early color right now? I have some ideas for you.

A lot depends on the what the nurseries have available right now. Pansies are plentiful at nurseries and the dark blue ones grow all winter unless it gets really cold. The whites and yellows with the large flowers usually over winter well. When spring comes they will have a magnificent start. Petunias do well in cool weather also. Plant a few of those if you can find them. Colorful kale and cabbage are also generally available this time of the year. They will get established in the fall and give you a delight of spring color. For veggies, you might try lettuce, spinach, cabbage and carrots. If a major freeze is coming cover them with a heavy mulch. In March when you uncover those should just about be ready to harvest. One thing to remember is don't forget to water your plants once in awhile. They don't have a thick blanket of snow to provide them with slow moisture and weather protection like our neighbors in the north.

While you are considering spring flowers put out more daffodils. You can never have too many and they do really great in the sandy soil. They also don't have to be divided. Daffodils just put on a better show every year. Varieties bloom from early spring to early summer so you really can have a long season of these beauties. Tulips are nice, but, they are at there best the first year they are planted. They prefer cold winters.

Take a peak at all the beautiful Mums blooming everywhere. Have you ordered you King's Mum Catalog. They have the huge, magnificent mums and the prices are very reasonable. The farther south you live in New Mexico the larger, showier mums you can grow because they tend to bloom later in the season. The earlier varieties are nothing to sneeze at however. They are definitely worth checking into.

As you rake your flower beds try sprinkling some spring seeds into the soil. California and shirley poppies, larkspur, bachelor button are good for a start. Share your favorites in the forum!

Keep in mind not to compost rose or tomato leaves. That can spread disease to next years crop. Anything else, toss it into the pile. Be sure to clean your tools, oil them, and put them up before winter gets here. You will be ready to enjoy a beautiful spring flower show and maybe some winter wonders.


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Spring Has Sprung And So Early

What a delightful surprise. We have has spring weather since January. Most of us have been cautious about putting out those summer annual like tomatoes and peppers. The nights are so warm now it is easy to forget this is still March. The nurseries have all those wonderful veggies and summer annuals. It must be okay.

I urge you to wait. The last frost date is still April 15. That's almost a month away. We could still have a freeze. It snowed in Santa Fe and Albuquerque last week. I also thought I saw some snow on the Organ Mountains. I doubt that we will have a hard freeze and there is a large variety of veggies and flowers to choose from. Plant some lettuce in a shady area. Loose leaf does best in Las Cruces. Spinach, beets, and radishes will do well right now. My lettuce popped up in three days and is growing fast. If you purchase cabbage at the nursery put it in a very shady cool place. The cabbages put in earlier in the year are starting to molt and I have seen that cute little white butterfly that is the forerunner of cabbage lopers flitting about. Petunias can take cool weather; in fact they enjoy cool weather. They can survive a mild freeze. Pansies in a shady place are always a good bet.

So you have some things planted and feel pretty good about that. Use this lovely weather to work compost into your soil. If you work the soil and then water, a few weeds most likely will pop up. Pull them and they are gone for good (be sure to get the roots on those dandelions and London rockets). Watering weeds before pulling them up really helps get the roots. Be sure and seed weeds with flower heads to the landfill. Those heads will continue to mature and ripen on weed even if it's just laying in the sun. Clean up any area of your yard that has gotten junky and filled with weeds and trash. Admit it. You have a hiding place for stuff. Since we have had two very mild winters the insects will be even worse this summer. Cleaning up is a good way to decrease insects.

This is the best time of season to start slow drips on your trees and shrubs. Those roots should be fairly deep and a big tree can use a good long drink occasionally. Before the summer water rates start is a good time to do that.



Tips For Longer Lasting Flowers

1. Place cut flowers (fresh cut or purchased) in a bucket of water and recut stems an inch above the original cut. This will allow the stem to absorb water more readily.
2. Place the cut flower in clean, fresh, warm water.
3. Cut flowers will last longer if placed in a cut-flower preservative. Follow the directions on the package.
4. Never place leaves in water. They only decay and shorten the life of the flowers.
5. During evening hours remove flowers to a cool area. Flowers benefit from a lower thermostat setting.
6. Do not place cut flowers in direct sunlight.
7. Keep adding fresh water to the vase as needed.
8. The professional florists do not recut daffodils. They secret a compound which other flowers do not like. Thus, do not recut them when combining with other flowers.
9. Lilacs and woody stemmed plants can be made to last longer by crushing the ends and removing the bark about 2" from the cut.
10. When picking flowers from your own garden pick them in the A.M. using a sharp knife rather than scissors or clippers. Place, immediately in tepid water.
11. When back in the house remove leaves that would be in water, place tops back in tepid tap water and let stand at least 12 hours. Mist flower tops or blossoms with cool water several times during the hardening off process.


Tips for Even Longer Lasting Flowers

Many fall and winter floral arrangements use dried flowers and leaves. One of the pitfalls of using dried materials is they break so easily. Here is a recipe that will help overcome that problem and enable you to enjoy your beautiful fall flowers until the spring ones pop up.
In a vase mix 1 part glycerine with 4 parts water. Glycerine is available at any pharmacy. Cut your flowers and leaves following the examples mentioned above. Place stem in the glycerine water. It is best if roses and most flowers are just starting to open when you do this. The stem will suck up the water and the glycerine.When the liquid has evaporated to a point below the stems allow the stems to finish drying. They will retain flexibility and will not be nearly as brittle to use in arrangements. The color will be maintained even more.

Another tip is to mist dried flowers once in awhile. This will allow their colors to stay beautiful and vibrant for several years.

AUGUST 2, 1998

Wonderful, beautiful, cool rain is so lovely. It provides much needed moisture for our arid environment. Along with that wonderful rain comes some problems. The rain we have been having this year has not been sufficient to provide enough water for your grass and plants. You will need to keep up with your watering schedule unless we have a long deluge or a long day's rain. The rain falling in the late evening and night does not allow the grass to dry and that's what causes the problem. The problem is a mildew that appears on your grass. Your grass looks like it is getting dry and starting to turn brown in large patches. Pluck a piece of grass and look at it under bright light or a magnifying glass is possible. If you notice a gray fuzz then you have mildew. The easiest, cheapest, and a very organic way to get rid of the mildew is to treat it with beer and soap. Use the cheapest beer you can get. The first year I did this I used Bud and my neighbors ganged up on my yard. Put a half of can in your Roundup fertilizer feeder and 2 Tablespoons of Ivory dishwashing soap. Spray this on your grass using water for in the feeder. The alcohol in the beer kills the mildew and the soap washes it off. Soap is made from ammonia which is a form of nitrogen. It helps green grass green up fast. One caution, don't use a detergent.

May 21, 1998

Gardening The Arid Land A thoughtful look at dryland gardening, this work contains a tapestry of techniques that can improve the gardener's art.

>From the soil and the water to the plant, Gardening The Arid Land is a comprehensive book about growing plants in a unique and magnificent corner of the earth.

This book covers some general aspects of gardening biology, then moves through an array of thoughts and techniques meant to promote innovation. This text is written from the point of view that protection of native plants and animals is an integral part of gardening.

A fascinating book for gardeners in the southwestern part of the United States.

May 13, 1998

Now is the time to be training your plants to be drought tolerant. The deeper you can force your roots to grow the better chance they have to withstand our hot summer sun and high winds. After you first put in a new plant watering everyday is wise. As time passes however you want to train those roots to go as deep into the ground as possible. The way to do this is to water deeply for a few days, then every other day, then every third day. Plants that are naturally drought tolerant should be able to be watered once a week. More tender plants need watering twice as week. Now would be a good time to review the information on watering that I presented last year. Go to Watering

Before the water rates go up for the summer is a good time to deep water your trees too. Their roots need to go down at least three feet so you need to get the water at least three feet. Turn on the water to a slow drip from your garden hose and place it along the drip line of your tree. Leave it for several hours and then move to a different spot, working your way around the tree. If you have just been watering your tree when you water your grass you will need to repeat this again in a week, then in two weeks and then in a month. if the tree starts looking wilted during the training period and it is not yet time for water, go ahead and give the deep watering early and then restart your schedule. There are exceptions. Palo Verde and Pinion don't want water. Desert Willow can do without the deep watering but it produces more flowers with the watering. Mexican Elders are not a desert tree. They do need the deep watering.

One other point to keep in mind is that cactus do need some water. Consider, in the desert they get only the small amount of rain nature provides. In town, however, they have pavement, concrete, rocks, and brick buildings which raises the temperature surrounding them. Cactus do not need a deep watering. Every two - three weeks let in rain on them for a few minutes. Cactus inside need a misting once in awhile. Cactus store water. If they don't get enough they can implode. I have a Star Cactus that I purchased at the Living Desert State Park several years ago. I noticed that it was looking brownish and the sides were shrinking in. I have been misting it lightly once a week and it is filling out and green once again.



March 27, 1998

With all this wind your garden is going to be very dry, especially pots. Start watering again ASAP. It is also time to really deep water your trees. Under the Information section of these pages is a watering guide. Take a minute to refresh your watering skills.

In addition, it almost time for daffodils to be finished with their blooming. They are so pretty this year. Daffodils sure seem to enjoy our climate and soil. As soon as the bloom fades on a daffodil remove it. Don't let it go to seed. That uses too much energy from the bulb. As long as the leaves are green they are storing energy in the bulb for next years flowers. They would appreciate a side dressing of bonemeal. The primary nutrient in bonemeal is Phosphorus. It is more readily released to plants than most phosphates. It is more expensive so I buy a small bag and use it only on my spring bulbs. Phosphates are the nutrients that make that make those beautiful, large flowers. Plant with iris and daylilies and you won't notice as the leaves start to droop and turn brown. Remove the leaves when they come away from the bulb with a gentle tug.

March 9, 1998

In case anyone is in the mood for gardening after all those cold, windy days I am passing along a Recipe for Fertilizing Your Roses. I got this recipe from one of the Rose Societies newsletters in Albuquerque several years ago. I have used it ever since and have had magnificent roses ever since.

1. Water your rose bushes thoroughly the day before you fertilize.

2.Apply 1/2 to 1 cup fertilizer (16-8-8) depending on the size and age of the bush.

3. Apply 2-3 cups of alfalfa meal per bush depending on the size of the bush. I use rabbit food. If you have rabbits in your area dig the alfalfa into the soil. ( maybe they will eat the rabbit food instead of your roses?) The alfalfa is an inexpensive form of nitrogen. Other forms of nitrogen are available.

4. Apply several trowels of compost.

5. Apply 1/2 cup of Epsom salts to supply magnesium. This helps the rose bush produce new canes. This is an inexpensive form of magnesium.

6. Water throughly again.

One last thing. Don't just sit back and watch your roses grow. They need lots of water and an early morning washing with a strong spray from your water hose will wash off aphids and thrips.

February 2, 1998

Don't you just love this beautiful spring weather? Spring? Better check your calendar, it's early February and we haven't had a hard freeze yet. El Nino may be changing the weather patterns but this gardener won't be betting her rose bushes on it just yet. I'm waiting awhile for pruning roses until the end of February and most plantings until the first of April. There is still plenty of work to be done in the garden during this beautiful weather that should keep that "Spring Fever" in check.

Watering is essential in the Las Cruces area in the winter especially with this warm weather. Since we do not get the moisture from snow cover and our soil doesn't stay frozen for long periods the plants don't ever go dormant. They need some watering all winter long. If the top two inches of soil are dry it's time to water. An excellent hint is that a well watered tender plant will stand a freeze much better than a dry plant. This works for palm trees, hardy annuals and tender perennials. So if a hard freeze is forecast water those tender plants and a blanket won't hurt. Just make sure to remove the covering early the next morning before the sun gets to it. If you are planning on putting in a new flower bed this is an excellent time to prepare the soil. Remove several inches of top soil. Put in compost and manure from a reliable source (a non-reliable source just might give you lots of weed seeds). Add some fertilizer and sulfur. If you had the soil tested you will know just how much of what nutrients are needed. Till several times until the soil is mixed really well. Then water. Watering washes all the salts from the manure that would be damaging to your new plants. Prepare your vegetable garden in the same manner. After our avg. last freeze date which is in April you can start planting.

My flower beds and lawn have lots of weeds in them. I have been watering a bed really well one day and then pulling the weeds the next day. If you get the roots up on the London Rocket (the one that looks like a dandelion with small yellow flowers) it won't come back. The other weeds are easy to pull also and you will have a clear conscience about using chemicals. This gets me outside a little each day and I get rid of a good deal of stress yanking those weeds.

I have lots of annuals from seeds coming up already. If we get a freeze they will be gone. Hopefully not all the seeds are germinated. My chrysanthemums are starting to come up but a hard freeze will just knock them back a bit. I'm a bit worried about my daffodils. The freeze won't hurt the plant but it sure damages the flower.

Enjoy the pretty weather, play in the dirt, just don't forget - It's still winter.


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