Low-Water Garden Plants An Option in Drought-Heavy Areas

Coping with drought is a way of life for many people across North America.
The National Climatic Data Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, works cooperatively with Canada and Mexico to monitor climate and drought conditions across the continent.
According to the NOAA, the globally-averaged temperature for 2013 tied as the fourth warmest year since 1880, when record-keeping began. 2013 also marked the 37th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th-century average. Warm temperatures, when paired with below-average precipitation, can quickly escalate and cause drought, making things difficult for those who make their livelihood by working the land or even just weekend gardeners.
Low-water garden plants are a smart choice for those who live in areas that often deal with drought. These resilient plants can keep gardens looking lush and beautiful regardless of water restrictions. In fact, low-water gardening has become a popular trend among eco-conscious gardeners and even is a cost-saving measure for homeowners.
Establishing a garden of drought-tolerant plants requires knowledge of hardiness zones and which plants will thrive in certain areas. Native plants, in general, will be more tolerant to fluctuations in weather than plants that are imported. Contact a garden center and speak with someone knowledgeable about plants that will do well in low-water conditions. In addition, choose plants that have a reputation for drought resistance.
Butterfly bush is very hardy and requires little water. Although it is considered an invasive plant in some areas, gardeners who keep on top of seedlings and off-shoots can keep the plant in control. This shrub will create an enormous amount of flowers that will appear in the spring and will continue to bloom throughout the summer. The butterfly bush also attracts scores of butterflies to a landscape.
A variety of sage plants, including white sage, black sage, and Cleveland sage, are drought-tolerant and do well in climates like Southern California’s. These plants produce blooms that attract insects and birds alike.
Gardeners who would like relatively low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants can opt for succulents.
Succulents, which include aloe, cacti, and jade, are characterized by thick, fleshy water-storage organs.
Succulents prefer bright light and can thrive in south-facing conditions. It’s good to concentrate the most amount of waterings for succulents during the spring growing season. Keep soil well-drained to avoid damage to shallow roots.
Heed landscape conditions when selecting plants for the garden. Drought-tolerant plants are a good idea in those regions where the weather is naturally arid or if homeowners prefer plants that can grow regardless of seasonal water restrictions.

A Bountiful, Water-Wise Herb Garden Bed.

Water conservation is built into our planting of more than a dozen herbs and other useful plants. Lavender, Santolina, and others that require excellent drainage and dry conditions occupy raised berms. The irrigated heart of the bed is filled with herbs that prefer a little more water, with front door space set aside for hand-watered culinary herbs.

Use a similar “water-zone” approach when planting your favorite herbs. A 5-by-12 footbed can be created on level ground or on a slight slope. If desired, a second soaker hose can be installed atop the berm. You also can make the garden longer to create a border along a fence.

Make the berm just a few inches high and the sunken interior area about 4 to 5 inches deep. After you plant, add a generous layer of mulch; the interior surface will be just slightly below the original surface. Do include an opening that can serve as an open floodgate should a heavy storm drench your planting of water-wise herbs.

Outer berm:

Lavender {Lavandula spp.}, 30-36 inches, Zone 4-8. All varieties adapt to dry conditions; Spanish lavender {L. stoechas} is especially heated tolerant.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}, 24-48 inches, Zones 7-10; curling leaf tips indicate a need for supplemental water.

Hens-and-chicks {Sempervivum spp.}, 6 inches, Zones 3-8; heat- and cold-tolerant succulents form robust mounds. Can be grown in a pot.

Sedums {Sedum spp.}, 4-8 inches, Zones 3-8; these hardy succulents come in a range of sizes, colors, and forms.

Sage {Salvia officinalis}, 24 inches, Zones 4-8; choose between varieties with gray-green leaves or variegated strains, which tolerate less cold.

Ice plant {Delosperma spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 4-8; heavy-blooming succulents can be grown as annuals or perennials.

Thyme {Thymus spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 5-9; all species show the high tolerance for dry conditions after they are well rooted.

Oregano {Origanum spp.}, 16 inches, Zones 5-9; small, thick leaves hold up well under dry conditions which often enhance flavor.

Gray Santolina {Santolina chamaecyparissus}, 12 inches, Zones 6-8; stiff plants form tight mounds of foliage; require dry conditions.

Echinacea {Echinacea spp.}, 36 inches, Zones 3-9; enjoy flowers in summer, and make healthful tea from the roots in the fall.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Horehound  {Marrubium vulgare}, 28 inches, Zones 4-9; most drought-tolerant member of the mint family. Leaves used for cough medicine, candy or tea.

Fern-leaf yarrow {Achillea filipendulina}, 36-48 inches, Zones 3-8; produces long-lasting yellow flower clusters in summer; finely cut foliage good for arrangements or crafts.

Russian Sage {Perovskia atriplicifolia}, 3-5 feet, Zones 6-9; arching branches clothed with luminous gray foliage all season, with lavender flowers in summer.

Borage {Borago officinalis}, 36 inches, annual, all zones; fast-growing plants produce flushes of starry blue flowers; cut back to prolong blooming time.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Anise hyssop {Agastache spp.}, 2-3 feet, Zones 4-9; fragrant foliage topped by spikes of bee-friendly flowers from mid-summer onward.

Basil {Ocimum basilicum}, annual, all zones; 12-18 inches tall.

Cilantro {Coriandrum sativum}, grow as annual; about 6 inches tall.

Parsley {Petroselinum crispum}, a biennial in Zone 6 or grow as annual; about 3-4 inches tall.

A mulched herb garden requires only half as much water as the same space kept in a bluegrass lawn.

Use X-rated Plants:

The word xeriscape always has been a mouthful, so it’s no surprise that the practice of gardening with little or no supplemental water {xeriscaping} has picked up a bit of verbal shorthand. in short, a good xeriscape plant is rated x. Depending on where you live, X-rated plants might include cacti or yucca, or perhaps native grasses or vines. Among herbs, gray Santolina, horehound, and rosemary are rated X. For more information, visit Colorado Water Wise Council at http://Xeriscape.org or Eartheasy at http://www.Eartheasy.com

A Water – Wise Herb Garden.

Combine drought-tolerant varieties with water-saving techniques for a garden that takes the dry weather in stride.
Herb gardeners are not the kind of people who give up easily. A few years ago, when we nursed our garden’s through a drought with heavy water {the type carried by hand}. We learned the value of special planting techniques borrowed from the native people of the arid southwest and gained a new appreciation for the natural drought tolerance of lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean herbs.
Those of us who grow herbs have a big advantage when it comes to water-wise gardening because we have so many beautiful drought-tolerant choices available to us.
By combining herbs that thrive under dry conditions with several time-tested strategies for reducing moisture loss, you easily can grow a herb garden that requires little or no supplemental water.

Strategy # 1:

Create Moisture Zones
In water-strapped communities across the country, gardeners have found that placing plants that share similar moisture needs together makes watering more effective and convenient. For example, you might place St. John’s wort, lovage, marshmallow and other herbs that prefer moist soil together in a spot shaded from hot afternoon sun. Should the rain clouds disappear for weeks at a time, you can efficiently water the heavy drinkers until they are satisfied. In similar fashion, herbs that need little water, such as horehound, Santolina, and all succulents, can be grouped together in hot spots that are difficult to water.

 Strategy # 2:

Water-Seeking Roots
Newly planted herbs need moist soil until they establish a functioning network of roots. But after a few weeks, you can fine-tune your watering practices to push plants to develop bigger, better root systems.
Covering the soil’s surface with any type of mulch will block weeds and slow evaporative moisture loss, but there’s a catch. In dry weather, hurried watering sessions that moisten only the mulch and top inch or so of soil encourage plants to develop roots close to the surface, where they quickly dry out. Weekly deep watering, on the other hand, encourages the growth of deeper water-seeking roots.
Using drip or soaker hoses for several hours {or overnight} is the easiest way to deeply water established herbs. Or let the water run freely from a hose laid on the ground as you do other things nearby. Avoid using sprinklers, which are inefficient and must be left on for a long time to soak roots deeply.

 Strategy # 3:

Lessons from the Past
Few places are as hot and dry as the desert southwest, where Zuni gardeners developed an ingenious method called waffle gardening. As the gardeners dug the planting beds, they shaped them into squares or rectangles. Within each one, the Zuni used their hands to mound soil into a waffle pattern. Like warm syrup in a waffle, water collects in each basin when it rains. Between rains, the berms shelter roots from drying the sun and the wind.
Most gardens receive more rain than Zuni gardens do, but you can adapt the waffle garden concept for your temperate-climate herb garden.

Gardening in Dry Climates

Gardeners in climates where summers are dry {or those in other areas who are looking for low-maintenance plants} can still have plenty of flowers. Choosing the right location for the garden will help.
Here are some tips:
* Site the garden where it will get some shade during the hottest part of the afternoon.
* Avoid planting your flowers on sloping ground that drains quickly.
* Do not choose a location with very windy conditions.
* Plant as far as possible from trees with shallow root systems, such as maples, which steal moisture and nutrients from the surrounding soil.
* Add mulch to help conserve moisture and keep the soil cool.
* Position the thirstiest plants closest to the water source.
Some plants that ordinarily grow best in full sun when the soil is rich and moist will manage in drier soil if they receive some shade during the day. The hotter the climate, the more these sun lovers will appreciate some shade, especially in the afternoon. Some of the perennials that behave this way are Lady’s mantle, Japanese anemone, bergenia, columbine, purple coneflower, peach-leaved bellflower, snakeroot, bleeding heart.
Plants for Dry Gardens:
 
Perennials especially good for dry, sunny gardens include yarrow, butterfly weed, coreopsis, globe thistle, amethyst, sea holly, gaillardia, Oriental poppy, penstemons, balloon flower, black-eyed Susan, and sedum “Autumn Joy”. Hollyhocks, golden marguerite, artemisia, baby’s breath, candytuft, rose campion, sundrops and other evening primroses, lambs ears, and yucca can also resist a fair degree of drought.
Annuals that can withstand hot, dry conditions include annual coreopsis {C. tinctorea}, bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, Dahlberg daisy {Dyssodia tenuiloba}, morning glory, portulaca, snow-in-the-mountain, sunflower, California poppy, Mexican sunflower {Tithonia rotundifolia}, strawflower, spider flower, and zinnia.

Summer Gardening.

In summer, annuals combine with perennials and summer bulbs to provide a nonstop show of color.
And this can be an almost instantaneous show if you buy annuals as nearly full-grown plants from a garden center. Many perennials flower lavishly in late spring and early summer, and some, such as coreopsis, will continue blooming sporadically through much of the summer if you regularly dead-head them {remove their spent flowers}.
Summer is the time when the cutting garden is at its height. Pots, planters, and window boxes spill over with glorious hues of easy-to-grow geraniums, marigolds, and other annuals. You can group lots of containers on a deck, patio, or other outdoor living space to create a lush garden right where you like to picnic, read, or entertain in pleasant weather.
Summer is also the season for special kinds of gardens. If you like to spend time in your garden in the evening, you can plant some flowers that open or release their fragrance when the sun goes down. Or you can create a garden for a particular location, that’s dry or shady, by planting flowers that thrive in those conditions.
Summer offers a whole palette of brilliant as well as softer colors for the garden and for fresh bouquets.
This is where we will spend some time on this blog first, we will look at summer colors and a selection of the plants that make up the color palette for outdoor plantings and indoor arrangements. We will also address special kinds of gardens in containers, for fragrance, for nighttime enjoyment, for shade.
And because annuals play a special role in the summer garden, you’ll find guidance for them, too.

Water-Wise Gardening Techniques.

You can save water and still have a beautiful garden.
All it takes is noting moist and dry areas of your property and choosing the right plant for the right place.
Think of your yard as radiating outward from your house like a bull’s eye target. The wettest areas are closest to the house particularly around outdoor faucets where water drips, and the next wettest area is within reach of a 50- or 100-foot garden hose. Beyond the reach of your hose are the driest areas.
For efficient water use and healthy plants, grow water lover’s like ferns and woodland perennials near the house, and select drought-tolerant perennials with deep roots that can reach groundwater, such as coneflower, rudbeckia, and ornamental grasses, outside the reach of your garden hose.
If you live in a mild-winter climate, consider water-conserving garden plants that are native to South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean. Or select plants that are native to your region, which is naturally adapted to your local soil and rainfall.

These Drought-Tolerant Perennials Help Save Precious Resources.

Why drought-tolerant perennials? Growers want to save time and money on watering. Garden centers and homeowners want the same. Ever worked in a garden center in July? How much fun was it to water the perennials? It was miserable, wasn’t it? Once these perennials are settled into their new growing environment — whether it’s a 50-cell tray or a new garden, you’ll see how little water they need. Many growers are capturing and reusing water for less impact on the land, and many homeowners live in areas where watering restrictions are common.
Here are 11 of my favorite drought-tolerant perennials.
Angela Treadwell-Palmer is a cofounder of Plants Nouveau, a company that introduces new plants to the market; www.plantsnouveau.com.
Sedum ternatum ‘Larinem Park’
A drought-tolerant, white flowering groundcover sedum for dry shade. What more could you ask for?
Height: 6 inches
Width: 12-18 inches
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Vernonia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’
This is one of the prettiest iron weeds on the market right now. It does not spread like the species, and the foliage has such a delicate texture. It fits right into cutting gardens, perennial borders and drought-tolerant plantings.
Height: 30-36 inches
Width: 30-26 inches
Hardiness: Zones 4-9
Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’
This is usually seen in moist, shady gardens, but once established, it can take full sun and dry shade. It’s amazingly versatile and it brightens up dry shade gardens so nicely.
Height: 10-14 inches
Width: 18 inches
Hardiness: Zones 5-9
Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed is the most wonderful, delicately textured, clumping (or tussocking) grass on the market. It blooms in June and July and the plumes smell like buttered movie popcorn. It makes such a wonderful addition to a hot, dry perennial border or roadside municipal planting.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2-3 feet
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Silphium connatum 
 This plant likes to walk around a little, but it is easy to remove. This is a pass-over-the-fence plant. Share it with your neighbors. Children love the cup plants because they can grow up to 1 foot a week in the spring. The “cups” capture water from rains for insects to drink. It’s a really cool plant, for sure.
 Height: 8-10 feet
 Width: 4-5 feet
 Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Heuchera ‘Caramel’
One of the few heucheras on the market right now that will thrive in dry shade, a terrible spot for gardeners. This caramel-colored coral bell looks nice all season. The other selection I love for dry shade is ‘Stainless Steel.’ It mixes well with ‘Caramel’ and makes for a colorful, shady spot.
Height: 1 foot
Width: 1-2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Echinacea pallida
Echinaceas are drought tolerant, but my favorite species is pallida with its wispy, pale pink ray petals. Of the new selections, my favorite is ‘Hot Papaya,’ with its amazing color, terrific drought tolerance, and the butterflies love it.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 1-1½ feet
Hardiness: Zones 3-10
Schizachyrium scoparium
The Little bluestem will grow perfectly well in a roadside ditch. It likes really awful, dry, infertile garden soil. It’s the perfect plant for highway medians — especially some of the newer, more compact selections like ‘Prairie Munchkin’ that will be out in 2013 from Plants Nouveau.
Height: 2-4 feet
Width: 1½-2 feet
Hardiness: USDA
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Lavendula x intermedia ‘Provence’
Proven hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 6, this lavender, if kept dry, will live well and perform year after year in the driest, sunniest spots. Plant this with other herbs like thyme and rosemary for a truly Mediterranean, no-water-needed garden.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2-3 feet
Hardiness: Zones 5-8
Baptisia australis ‘Purple Smoke’
Once planted, don’t move your baptisia and it will perform well in clay, infertile, dry soils for many, many years. ‘Purple Smoke’ is nice because it’s the perfect middle of the perennial border plant. The species is just as drought tolerant, but this is a nice, softer color.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Polystichum polyblepharum
One of the most drought tolerant, ornamental ferns on the market. The tassel fern looks plastic and will not skip a beat in dry shade.
Height: 1½-2 feet
Width: 1½-2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 5-8
All Gold: courtesy Thieneman’s Herbs & Perennials  /  Iron Butterfly: courtesy North Creek Nurseries  /  Provence: Park Seed  /  Silphium connatum : courtesy Indiana UniversitY, Purdue University Fort Wayne    Schizachyrium scoparium: courtesy Kansas State University  /  Sporobolus heterolepis: Julie Weisenhorn, University of Minnesota  /  FERN: courtesy Briggs  Nursery  /  Larinem Park: courtesy Secret Garden Growers  Purple Smoke: Angela Treadwell-Palmer  /  Echinacea: H. Zell

APRIL IN THE LOW DESERT

In April, the desert comes alive with colors, smells and sounds. If rains were plentiful during the fall and winter months, a dazzling array of color will have bestowed the desert floor with many annuals such as Mexican Gold Poppies (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana), Owl-clover (Castilleja exserta), Lupines (Lupinus spp.), Yellow Evening Primrose (Oenothera primiveris ssp. primiveris), Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii), Scorpionweeds (Phacelia spp.), Chia (Salvia columbariae), and Desert Pincushion (Chaenactis stevioides).

Many deciduous trees will begin to produce new leaves as the weather becomes warmer. Look for: Mesquites (Prosopis spp.), Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis), Golden Leadball Tree (Leucaena retusa), Catclaw Acacia (Senegalia greggii syn. Acacia greggii), Feather Tree (Lysiloma watsonii), Anacacho Orchid-tree (Bauhinia lunarioides), and Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa).

Leaves of the Boojum Tree (Fouquieria columnaris) and Elephant Tree (Pachycormus discolor) will begin to yellow and drop. The Boojum Tree and Elephant Tree are summer-dormant. Periods of active growth begin from about November through May. When the leaves of both succulents begin to drop, careful watering is needed.

Look upward to see the Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) flower buds forming atop the stems. The majestic Ironwood tree (Olneya tesota) will shed some of its leaves in preparation for flowering.

Plant your Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) from March through May as these are the ideal months to achieve greater transplanting success.

Karoo-roses (Adenium spp.) should be “waking” from their winter dormancy. Leaves and flowers should start appearing on the succulent stems. You can begin to fertilize and water your Karoo-rose throughout the warm-season.

Other winter-dormant succulents that should be exhibiting renewed growth with increasingly warmer weather include: Limberbushes (Jatropha spp.), Burseras (Bursera spp.), Uncarina spp., Pachypodium spp., Fockea spp., Cyphostemma juttae, and Globeberries (Ibervillea spp.). Allow your succulent plants to produce new leaves to determine whether or not any pruning of frost damaged stems will be needed. Regular and careful watering can resume for many of these warm-season growing succulents.

BLOOMING HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS, GROUNDCOVERS AND VINES CAN INCLUDE:
• Sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii)
• Angelita-daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
• Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)
• Pineleaf Milkweed (Asclepias linaria)
• Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)
• Twinberry (Menodora scabra)
• Old Man’s Beard (Clematis drummondii)
• Slender Janusia (Janusia gracilis)
• Sweetbush (Bebbia juncea)
• Palmer’s Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)
• Canyon Penstemon (Penstemon pseudospectabilis)
• Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
• Shrubby Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)
• Hill Country Penstemon (Penstemon triflorus)
• Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
• Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
• Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
• Perezia (Acourtia wrightii)
• Blue Mist (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’)
• Odora (Porophyllum gracile)
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Trailing Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii)
• Fleabane (Erigeron divergens)
• Dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta)
BLOOMING SHRUBS CAN INCLUDE: 
• Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
• Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
• Cleveland’s Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
• White Sage (Salvia apiana)
• Mexican-buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa)
• Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
• Wright’s Bee Bush (Aloysia wrightii)
• Beebrush (Aloysia gratissima)
• Flat-top Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
• Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)
• Creosote (Larrea tridentata)
• Parish’s Goldeneye (Viguiera parishii)
• Superstition Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)
• Desert-honeysuckle (Anisacanthus thurberi)
• Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)
• Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
• Desert Hackberry (Celtis ehrenbergiana syn. Celtis pallida)
• Desert-lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
Mormon-teas (Ephedra spp.) will be producing male and female cones.
BLOOMING TREES CAN INCLUDE: 
• Little-leaf Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)
• Feather Tree (Lysiloma watsonii)
• Guajillo (Senegalia berlandieri syn. Acacia berlandieri)
• Catclaw Acacia (Senegalia greggii syn. Acacia greggii)
• Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa)
• Baby Bonnets (Coursetia glandulosa)
• Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina)
• Anacacho Orchid-tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)
• Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis)
BLOOMING CACTI AND SUCCULENTS CAN INCLUDE:
• Engelmann’s Hedgehog (Echinocereus engelmannii)
• Bonker Hedgehog (Echinocereus bonkerae)
• Strawberry Hedgehog (Echinocereus fasciculatus)
• Golden Hedgehog (Echinocereus nicholii)
• Lady Finger Cactus (Echinocereus pentalophus)
• Powder Puff Pincushion (Mammillaria bocasana)
• Lady Finger Cactus (Mammillaria elongata)
Thelocactus macdowellii
• Black-spined Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra)
• Engelmann’s Prickly-pear (Opuntia engelmannii)
• Santa-Rita Prickly-pear (Opunta santa-rita)
• Indian Fig (Opuntia ficus-indica)
• Buckhorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)
• Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)
• Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)
• Diamond Cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)
• Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)
•  Senita (Pachycereus schottii)
• Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei)
• Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)
Euphorbia xantii
• Karoo-roses (Adenium spp.)
• Live Forever (Dudleya saxosa ssp. collomiae)
• Texas False-agave (Hechtia texensis)
• Blue Yucca (Yucca rigida)
• Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)
• Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)
• Mohave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)
• Eve’s Needle (Yucca faxoniana)
• Leatherstem (Jatropha dioica)

Many agaves may start or exhibit signs of blooming. Look for an inflorescence (a flower cluster with a definite arrangement of the flowers on a stalk/stem) forming at the center of plant.

Watering

If you have not turned on your irrigation timer, now is the time to do so. Test the timer to see if it is working properly and replace back-up batteries if necessary. Check for leaks and clogged emitters and flush out the poly lines.

The amount of water and watering frequency depends on many factors. These include: soil type, weather (temperature, humidity, rainfall, etc.), microclimates, cultural practices, plant size and species, and whether newly planted or established in the landscape (two years or more). Below are general guidelines to help you determine how much and how often to water your landscape and container plantings to keep them healthy when rainfall is lacking.

Established native or desert-adapted trees and shrubs should be watered at least once to twice monthly. Water at least 3 feet deep for your trees and 2 feet deep for your shrubs. Always allow soil to dry out between each irrigation cycle.

Natural rainfall may be adequate for most well-established cacti and succulents. However, if rainfall is insufficient, water may be needed at least once to twice during the month of April. Water your cacti and succulents to a depth of at least 8-12 inches. Always allow soil to dry out between each irrigation cycle.

Established herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines should be watered every two to three weeks and at least 1 foot deep. Always allow soil to dry out between each irrigation cycle.

Wait a week after planting your cacti and succulents before watering to minimize the chance of rot. After the initial irrigation of your succulents, allow the soil to dry out and water every 10-14 days. Cacti may need to be watered once more after initial watering during the month of April, but allow the soil to dry out between watering.

Newly planted native and desert-adapted trees and shrubs need to be watered more frequently until established. It can take up to 3-5 years for trees and at least 1-2 years for shrubs to become established in the landscape. After planting your trees and shrubs, they should be watered immediately and for the next few days to keep the root ball from drying out. Schedule your irrigation cycle for trees and shrubs every 7-10 days. Allow the soil to dry out between irrigations and always water deeply, 3 feet for trees and 2 feet for shrubs.

Newly planted native and desert-adapted herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines should be watered immediately and for the next few days to keep the root ball from drying out. Schedule your irrigation cycle for herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines for at least once to twice weekly and to a depth of 1 foot. Allow soil to dry out between watering.

Continue to water your annual wildflowers at least every two weeks to prolong flowering.

Agaves and other succulents (Aloe spp., Dudleya spp., Cotyledon spp., Pedilanthus macrocarpus, Euphorbia spp., Haworthia spp.) in containers should be watered at least once to twice this month. Cacti in containers should be watered at least once this month. However, cacti and succulents in small containers may need to be watered more often especially cacti and succulent seedlings.

Keep an eye on your warm-season annuals and herbaceous perennials in containers. Water them at least once to twice weekly.

What To Plant

PLANT WARM-SEASON CACTI AND SUCCULENTS INCLUDING:
• Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
• Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.)
• Chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.)
• Barrel cacti (Ferocactus spp.)
• Hedgehogs (Echinocereus spp.)
• Pincushions (Mammillaria spp.)
• Agaves (Agave spp.)
• Aloes (Aloe spp.)
• Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)
• Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
• Red-yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
• Giant Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera)
• Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)
• Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra)
• Burseras (Bursera spp.)
• Texas-tuberose (Manfreda maculosa)
• Limberbushes (Jatropha spp.)
Many Yuccas (Yucca spp.) can be planted in April with the exception of Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia).

When transplanting cacti and succulents, mark either the south or west side and plant facing the orientation you marked to avoid the burning of tender tissues. Most nurseries will mark the side of the container to help you determine proper planting orientation. However, if the original orientation is not known, newly planted cacti and succulents need to be covered with shade cloth if the plant surface appears to yellow or pale suddenly. Use a shade cloth rated between 30-60% as anything higher will block most of the sunlight and will not be suitable for your cacti and succulents. You may need to keep the shade cloth on the plant for the duration of the summer.

PLANT NATIVE AND DESERT-ADAPTED TREES INCLUDING: 
• Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
• Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)
• Little-leaf Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)
• Mesquites (Prosopis spp.)
• Golden Leadball Tree (Leucaena retusa)
• Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis)
• Palo Blanco (Mariosousa willardiana syn. Acacia willardiana)
• Catclaw Acacia (Senegalia greggii syn. Acacia greggii)
• Feather Tree (Lysiloma watsonii)
• Anacacho Orchid-tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)
• Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus)
• Baby Bonnets (Coursetia glandulosa)
PLANT WARM-SEASON SHRUBS INCLUDING: 
• Yellow Bells (Tecoma spp.)
• Texas Sages (Leucophyllum spp.)
• Creosote (Larrea tridentata)
• Superstition Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)
• San Marcos Hibiscus (Gossypium harknessii)
• Desert Cotton (Gossypium thurberi)
• Guayacán (Guaiacum coulteri)
• Sennas (Senna spp.)
• Velvet-pod Mimosa (Mimosa dysocarpa)
• Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
• Fire Bush (Hamelia patens)
• Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
• Lantana (Lantana camara)
• Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
• Silver Nightshade (Solanum hindsianum)
• Little-leaf Cordia (Cordia parvifolia)
• Showy Mendora (Menodora longiflora)
• Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)
• Bird of Paradise species (Caesalpinia spp.)
PLANT WARM-SEASON HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS AND GROUNDCOVERS INCLUDING: 
• Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)
• Desert Four O’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)
• Arizona Foldwing (Dicliptera resupinata)
• Buffalo Gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima)
• Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea)
• Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)
• Rosemallow (Hibiscus coulteri)
• Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata)
• Hummingbird Trumpet (Epilobium canum ssp. latifolium)
• Lemon Dalea (Dalea capitata)
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Desert Senna (Senna covesii)
• Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)
• White Plumbago (Plumbago scandens)
• Mist Flower (Conoclinium dissectum)
• Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes spp.)
MANY VINES CAN ALSO BE PLANTED AT THIS TIME INCLUDING: 
• Yuca (Merremia aurea)
• Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus)
• Yellow Orchid-vine (Callaeum macropterum)
• Passionflowers (Passiflora spp.)
• Arizona Canyon Grape (Vitis arizonica)
• Old Man’s Beard (Clematis drummondii)
When planting native and desert-adapted plants, it is usually unnecessary to back-fill with soil amendments and vitamins or to add rooting hormones. However, a slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorous can be added to the backfill, if necessary.

Many cacti can be started from seed at this time. Seed can be soaked overnight in water to help begin the germination process. Place seed in a well-draining soil mix (½ quality potting soil and ½ perlite or pumice) and lightly cover with potting mix or gently press the seed into the soil. Keep soil moist until germination occurs.

SOW SEED OF WARM-SEASON ANNUALS AND HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS INCLUDING:  
• Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)
• Red Sage (Salvia coccinea)
• Mexican Chia (Salvia hispanica)
• Tarahumara Chia (Salvia tiliaefolia)
• Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and the numerous cultivars
• Summer Chia (Hyptis suaveolens)
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.)
• Golden Crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides)
VEGETABLES TO TRANSPLANT INCLUDE:
• Jerusalem artichoke
• sweet potato
VEGETABLE SEEDS TO SOW INCLUDE: 
• Lima beans and summer squash
(first part of April)
• amaranth
• eggplant
• carrots
• cucumbers
• jicama
• cantaloupe
• muskmelon
• watermelon
• okra
• green onions
• peanuts
• radishes
• tomatillos
• pumpkins
• snap beans
• black-eyed peas
• yardlong beans
Try the various beans from Native Seeds/SEARCH. Gourd and squash seeds should also be sown during the month of April. Presoak gourd and squash seeds overnight for better germination. Try the many varieties from Native Seeds/SEARCH.

HERB SEEDS TO SOW INCLUDE:
• Anise
• basil
• catnip
• epazote
• feverfew
• horehound
• lemon balm
• safflower
• winter and summer savory

HERBS TO TRANSPLANT INCLUDE: 
• Mexican-oregano (Lippia graveolens)
• Cuban-oregano
• bay
• basil
• chives
• curry
• French tarragon
• garlic chives
• germander
• horehound
• hyssop
• lemon balm
• lemon grass
• lemon verbena
• marjoram
• mint
• oregano
• rue
• sage
• santolina
• winter and summer savory
• scented geraniums
• tansy
• thyme
• yarrow

 

 

PRUNING

Pruning should be done to maintain plant health (remove dead, damaged or diseased portions, cross branching, etc.), to highlight the “natural” shape of the plant, to train a young plant, and to eliminate hazards. Excessive or heavy pruning causes significant stress to trees and shrubs. The best practices are to prune the least amount necessary and prune for legitimate reasons. How much to prune depends on the size, species, age, as well as your intentions. Two pruning principles to remember–a tree or shrub can recover from several small pruning wounds faster than from a single large wound and never remove more than 25% of the canopy in a year. Visit www.treesaregood.org. for information on proper pruning of young and mature trees.

Continue to prune evergreen trees.

Lightly prune your Mesquites (Prosopis spp.) and Palo Verdes (Parkinsonia spp.) after bud break or after flowering.

Pruning newly planted trees and shrubs is not recommended and in fact can be detrimental. However, corrective pruning of broken or torn branches and/or limbs can be done at planting time. Save other pruning activities for the second or third year. For more information on developing a healthy tree visit www.treesaregood.org.

Continue to prune frost-damaged plants. If possible, finish pruning frost-damaged plants by the end of April so new growth can establish before the summer heat.

Continue to prune summer and fall flowering shrubs by mid-month including: 
• Texas Sages (Leucophyllum spp.)
• Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) and cultivars
• Lantana (Lantana camara)
• Turpentine Bush (Ericameria laricifolia)
• Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens)
• Mexican-honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)
• Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

Wait to prune your Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.) and Chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.) until after flowering. Spent stalks of aloes, agaves, and other succulents can be removed at this time.

Warm-season herbaceous perennials, groundcovers, and vines can be pruned at this time including:  
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Plumbago (Plumbago scandens)
• Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)
• Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
• Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea)
• Yellow Dot (Sphagneticola trilobata)
• Rock Verbena (Glandularia pulchella)
• Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)
• Dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta)
• Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus)
• Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.)
• Yellow Orchid-vine (Callaeum macropterum)

Prune by cutting back to emerging growth or to the basal rosette ( a group of leaves arranged from a central point).

Continue to deadhead annuals and herbaceous perennials to encourage continued flowering including Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata), Red Sage (Salvia coccinea), Angelita-daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), and Gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella).

Many herbs such as Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), French tarragon and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) may be emerging from the roots by now. Prune to new growth to remove old or frost damaged stems

FERTILIZATION

Most native and desert-adapted plants in the landscape do not generally require fertilizer as they are adapted to our soil conditions. In most cases, fertilizers are generally applied to prevent deficiencies. If fertilizers are needed, one application for the year is usually sufficient. If you did not fertilize last month, go ahead and fertilize your landscape plants if necessary.

Now is the time to fertilize your warm-season cacti, succulents, herbaceous and woody perennials, and annuals in containers if you haven’t done so already. Periodic fertilization may be needed for plants in containers as nutrients will have diminished in the soil over time. Always follow directions on the label.

Continue to fertilize your vegetable and herb garden as needed. If you have not applied a layer of composted mulch, now is a good time to add to your beds to help conserve moisture

PROBLEMS

Aphids can be found on landscape plants or on your vegetables and herbs. Allow natural predators such as lacewings, praying mantis, lady beetles, parasitic wasps, and even hummingbirds to control the aphid population. You can also spray with insecticidal soap, but check to make sure beneficial insects are not present.

If you notice a tattered appearance on your landscape plants such as Evening Primroses (Oenothera spp.), Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) and Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) it may be the flea beetle in action. A different species of flea beetle may also harm your vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, carrots, and cabbages. The flea beetle larvae and adults can be destructive and they can be difficult to control.

You may notice small, circular cuts on the leaf margins at this time. This is the handiwork of leaf-cutter bees, important pollinators. The leaf-cutter bees use the cut leaf to line their nest and then lay an egg in each cavity. The damage is cosmetic and does not harm the plant. Control methods are unnecessary.

Cochineal scale, the cottony, white substance on your Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.) and Chollas (Cylindropunita spp.) may be active now. Remove by using a fast stream of water or spray insecticidal soap.

Fine webbing between leaves or stippling on leaves may indicate the presence of spider mites. These plant mites cause damage by sucking contents from the leaves and are difficult to detect due to their small size. Plants that are water stressed may become susceptible to infestation. Dusty conditions can also lead to spider mite outbreaks. Make sure your plants are well-watered and wash off accumulated dust on plants to manage spider mite problems. You can also remove by using a fast spray of water or by spraying insecticidal soap to control populations. There are many biological controls that feed on spider mites including lacewings, predatory mites, lady bugs and big-eyed bugs. Using insecticides is not recommended as insecticides do not help manage the population, but can actually cause the population to intensify because insecticides used will often kill their natural enemies. Some insecticides can even accelerate mite reproduction.

Psyllids may be active during the month of April. Psyllids are sap feeders and many are plant specific or feed on a closely related group of plants. High populations of psyllids can cause distortion and dieback of new growth, and in some cases defoliation. To keep populations under control do not overwater or over fertilize your plants as this causes excessive growth. Yellow sticky traps can also be used to control the adult population.

A noticeable, fine web may be present on your Palo Verde trees and even from time to time on the Whitethorn Acacia (Vachellia constricta syn. Acacia constricta).  This “webbing” is produced by the Palo Verde webworms, often called Palo Verde webbers. The webworm is a small caterpillar that feeds on the leaves and occasionally the bark of the small stems.  The Palo Verde and Whitethorn Acacia are resilient to an infestation of webworms so control methods are unnecessary. The caterpillars and adult moths are an important food source for many lizards and birds.

Agave snout weevils become active during the warm months and infestation may not be apparent until it is too late.

Look for mealy bugs on your cacti and succulents. These scale insects can be difficult to control due to their ability to reproduce rapidly and they quickly acquire resistance to chemical controls. Spray mealy bugs with a 70% alcohol-water solution.

A white, frothy substance may be visible on plant stems. This is caused by spittlebugs. Manage by spraying stem off with a strong jet of water to remove the infestation.Spittle bugs generally do not cause much damage to plants.

Noticeable leaf damage may be seen on the Texas Mountain-laurel (Calia secundiflora syn. Sophora secundiflora) during the warm months. The damage is caused by the sophora pyralid caterpillars feeding on the tender new growth. These ravenous caterpillars are approximately an inch long with orange bodies and interesting black spots with white hairs.

As the weather warms, whiteflies may be present on your landscape, vegetable and herb plants. These tiny white insects have sucking mouthparts that cause leaves to yellow, wilt and drop prematurely. The immature nymph stage does more harm to the plant than the adult. Whiteflies can be difficult to control. Allow natural predators such as spiders, ladybugs, lacewings and even hummingbirds to control the population. Yellow sticky traps can also be used to control the adult population.

While sitting underneath your desert trees, you may notice a light “rain” falling. This is the smoke tree sharpshooter insect expelling sap as it draws from a variety of plants including Palo Verdes (Parkinsonia spp.), Beebrush (Aloysia gratissima), Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia spp.) and Hackberries (Celtis spp.). The smoke tree sharpshooter insects have gone virtually unnoticed until they threatened oleanders, shrubs widely used in low-desert landscapes for screening hedges. They gained notoriety because they are able to transmit a deadly bacterial disease called oleander leaf scorch. Our native plants do not appear to be adversely affected by the sharpshooter insects so no control is necessary.

If you notice a rank odor and black ooze dripping down the saguaro stem(s), the plant may have developed an infection as a result of an injury or frost damage. The infection is caused by the Erwinia bacteria, a common bacterium found in the environment.

You may notice rabbits eating new,

Weeds that germinated with the fall-winter rains will begin to flower at this time. You can manually remove by hand or for larger areas spray with glyphosate following directions on the label. Adding a small amount of marker dye in the glyphosate solution can be helpful to avoid spraying the same areas twice. When using a chemical spray use an old pair of shoes that will never be worn indoors. The glyphosate product can be used around cacti and most succulents without damaging them. It is also inactive in the soil so it will not harm the roots of other plants.

March in the Low Desert

Spring is in the air, or is it?  It still is possible to have freezing temperatures early in the month, so don’t store your frost protection cloth yet.  By mid-March chances of below, freezing temperatures have diminished for the low-desert regions and spring gardening tasks can now be initiated.

Now is a good time to divide clump-forming Agave spp., Aloe spp., Manfreda spp., Hesperaloe spp., and Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) in the landscape or in containers.

Many deciduous trees will start to produce new leaves as the weather becomes warmer including Mesquites (Prosopis spp.), Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), Golden Leadball Tree (Leucaena retusa), Feather Tree (Lysiloma watsonii), and Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa).

Stem and flower buds are forming on many cacti at this time.  Look for these buds on Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.), Chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.) and Hedgehogs (Echinocereus spp.).

Plant your Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) from March through May as these are the ideal months to achieve greater transplanting success.

November through mid-March is the ideal time to plant the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia).  If unable to plant by mid-March, wait until November for increased chance of survival.  If planted during the summer months, they are more sensitive during the transplant process either from the ground or a container.  They will exhibit more signs of stress and dehydration as well as more prone to rot if over watered.

If rainfall was plentiful during the previous fall-winter months, look for colorful wildflower displays in the desert.

BLOOMING ANNUALS CAN INCLUDE:
•    Mexican Gold Poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp. a )
•    California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp. californica)
•    Desert Bluebell (Phacelia campanularia)
•    Scorpion-weeds (Phacelia spp.)
•    Chia (Salvia columbariae)
•    Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii)
•    Lupines (Lupinus spp.)
•    Owl-clover (Castilleja exserta)
•    Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii)
•    Monkey Flower (Mimulus guttatus)
•    Desert Stork’s Bill (Erodium texanum)
•    Emory’s Rock Daisy (Perityle emoryi)
•    Fiddlenecks (Amsinckia spp.)
BLOOMING HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS CAN INCLUDE:
•    Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
•    Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
•    Superb Penstemon (Penstemon superbus)
•    Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
•    Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
•    Black-foot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
•    Paperflower (Psilostrope cooperi)
•    Desert Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)
•    Desert-marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
•    Deer Vetch (Lotus rigidus)
•    Fendler’s Bladderpod (Lesquerella fendleri)
•    Wishbone Bush (Mirabilis laevis)
•    Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
•    Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
•    Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida)
•    Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)
•    Fleabane (Erigeron divergens)
•    Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum)
•    Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum)
•    Desert Zinnia (Zinnia acerosa)
BLOOMING SHRUBS CAN INCLUDE: 
•    Creosote (Larrea tridentata)
•    Bee Brush (Aloysia gratissima)
•    Desert-honeysuckle (Anisacanthus thurberi)
•    Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
•    Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)
•    Chuparosa (Justicia californica)
•    Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
•    Mexican-honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)
•    Giant Bur-sage (Ambrosia ambrosioides)
•    Bur-sage (Ambrosia deltoidea)
•    Red Barberry (Mahonia haematocarpa)
•    Woolly Butterfly Bush (Buddleja marrubiifolia)
•    Bitter Condalia (Condalia globosa)
•    Texas Mountain-laurel (Calia secundiflora syn. Sophora secundiflora)
•    Bush Dalea (Dalea pulchra)
•    Tree Ocotillo (Fouquieria macdougalii)
•    Desert-lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
•    Ragged Rockflower (Crossosoma bigelovii)
•    Bush Germander (Teucrium fruticans)
•    Wolfberries/Thorn berries (Lycium spp.)
•    Little-leaf Sumac (Rhus microphylla)
•    Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)
•    Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
•    Desert Sage (Salvia dorrii)
•    Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa)
•    Paperbag Bush (Salazaria mexicana)
•    Feathery Senna (Senna artemisioides)
•    Parish’s Goldeneye (Viguiera parishii)
•    Trixis (Trixis californica)
BLOOMING TREES CAN INCLUDE: 
•    Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana syn. Acacia farnesiana)
•    Palo Blanco (Mariosousa willardiana syn. Acacia willardiana)
•    Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)
•    Little-leaf Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)
•    Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)
•    Mexican-ebony (Havardia mexicana)
•    El Chañar (Geoffroea decorticans)
•    Baby Bonnets (Coursetia glandulosa)
•    Blackbrush Acacia (Vachellia rigidula syn. Acacia rigidula)
•    Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)
BLOOMING CACTI AND SUCCULENTS CAN INCLUDE: 
•    Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)
•    Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)
•    Mother of Hundreds (Mammillaria compressa)
•    Mammillaria senilis
•    Viznaga Caballona (Ferocactus macrodiscus)
•    Mohave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)
•    Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)
•    Don Quixote’s Lace (Yucca treculeana)
•    Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)
•    Live Forevers (Dudleya spp.)
•    Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii)
•    Yellow Trailing Iceplant (Malephora lutea)
•    Coppery Ice Plant (Malephora crocea)
•    Ice plants (Drosanthemum spp.)
•    Kalanchoe orgyalis
•    Succulent Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.)
•    Aloes including Aloe x ‘Blue Elf’, Partridge-Breast Aloe (Aloe variegata), and Coral Aloe (Aloe striata)
 

Look for flowering Claret-cup (Echinocereus continues), Engelmann’s Hedgehog (Echinocereus engelmannii) and Green Hedgehog (Echinocereus viridiflorus) later in the mon

 

Watering

As temperatures rise during the month of March, turn on your irrigation timer.  Test the timer to see if it is working properly and replace back-up batteries if necessary. Check for leaks and clogged emitters and flush out the poly lines.

How much to water depends on many factors including: soil type, weather, rainfall, microclimates, cultural practices, plant size and species, and whether the plants is newly planted or established in the landscape (two years or more). Below are general guidelines to help you determine how much and how often to water your landscape and container plantings to keep them healthy when rainfall is lacking.

Established native or desert-adapted trees and shrubs should be watered at least once to twice monthly. Water at least three feet deep for your trees and two feet deep for your shrubs.

Natural rainfall may be adequate for most well-established cacti and succulents. However, if rainfall is insufficient, water may be needed at least once to twice during the month of March. Water your cacti and succulents to a depth of at least 8-12 inches.

Established herbaceous perennials, groundcovers, and vines should be watered every two to three weeks and at least one foot deep.

Wait a week after planting your cacti and succulents before watering to minimize the chance of rot. After the initial irrigation of your succulents, allow the soil to dry out and water every 10-14 days. Cacti may need to be watered once more after initial watering during the month of March, but allow the soil to dry out between watering.

Newly planted desert-adapted trees and shrubs need to be watered more frequently until established.  It can take up to 3-5 years for trees and at least 1-2 years for shrubs to become established in the landscape. After planting your trees and shrubs, they should be watered immediately and for the next few days to keep the root ball from drying out. Schedule your irrigation cycle for trees and shrubs every 7-10 days during the month of March. Allow the soil to dry out between irrigations and always water deeply, three feet for trees and two feet for shrubs.

Newly planted desert-adapted herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines should be watered immediately and for the next few days to keep the root ball from drying out. Schedule your irrigation cycle for herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines for at least once to twice weekly and to a depth of one foot. Allow soil to dry out between watering.

Continue to water your annual wildflowers at least every two weeks to prolong flowering.

Agaves and other succulents (Aloe spp., Dudleya spp., Cotyledon spp., Pedilanthus macrocarpus, Euphorbia spp.) in containers should be watered at least once to twice this month. Cacti in containers should be watered at least once this month. However, cacti and succulents in small containers may need to be watered more often including cacti and succulent seedlings.

Keep an eye on your warm-season annuals and herbaceous perennials in containers. Water them at least once to twice weekly.

WHAT TO PLANT

Plant warm-season cacti and succulents including:
•    Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
•    Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.)
•    Barrel Cacti (Ferocactus spp.)
•    Hedgehogs (Echinocereus spp.)
•    Pincushions (Mammillaria spp.)
•    Agaves (Agave spp.)
•    Yuccas (Yucca spp.)
•    Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)
•    Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
•    Red-yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
•    Giant Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera)
•    Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra)
•    Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)
•    native Limberbushes (Jatropha spp.)

When transplanting cacti and succulents, mark either the south or west side and plant facing the orientation you marked to avoid the burning of tender tissues. Most nurseries will mark the side of the container to help you determine proper planting orientation. However, if the original orientation is not known, newly planted cacti and succulents need to be covered with shade cloth if plant surface appears to yellow or pale suddenly. Use a shade cloth rated between 30-60%, anything higher will block most of the sunlight and will not be suitable for your cacti and succulents. You may need to keep the shade cloth on the plant for the duration of the summer.

Plant native and desert-adapted trees including: 
•    Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
•    Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)
•     Little-leaf Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)
•    Mesquites (Prosopis spp.)
•    Golden Leadball Tree (Leucaena retusa)
•    Chihuahuan-orchid Tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)
•    Texas-olive (Cordia boissieri)
•    Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis)
•    Baby Bonnets (Coursetia glandulosa)

Plant warm-season shrubs including: 
•    Yellow Bells (Tecoma spp.)
•    Desert Cotton (Gossypium thurberi)
•    Sennas (Senna spp.)
•    Velvet-pod Mimosa (Mimosa dysocarpa)
•    Fire Bush (Hamelia patens)
•    Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
•    Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
•    Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)
•    Bird of Paradise species (Caesalpinia spp.)

Plant warm-season herbaceous perennials including:
•    Datura (Datura wrightii)
•    Desert Four O’Clocks (Mirabilis multiflora)
•    Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata)
•    Arizona Foldwing (Dicliptera resupinata)
•    Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
•    Hummingbird Trumpet (Epilobium canum ssp. latifolium)
•    Plumbago (Plumbago scandens)

Many vines can also be planted at this time including: 
•    Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus)
•    Yuca (Merremia aurea)
•    Passion Flowers (Passiflora spp.)
•    Slender Janusia (Janusia gracilis)
•    Arizona Canyon Grape (Vitis arizonica)

When planting desert-adapted plants it is usually unnecessary to back-fill with soil amendments and vitamins or to add rooting hormones. However, a slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorous can be added to the back-fill, if necessary.

Many cacti can be started from seed at this time. Seed can be soaked overnight in water to help start the germination process.  Place seed in a well-draining soil mix (½ quality potting soil and ½ perlite or pumice) and lightly cover. Keep soil moist until germination occurs.

Sow seed of warm-season annuals and herbaceous perennials including:
•    Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)
•    Red Sage (Salvia coccinea)
•    Mexican Chia (Salvia hispanica)
•    Tarahumara Chia (Salvia tiliaefolia)
•    Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
•    Numerous cultivars
•    Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
•    Summer Chia (Hyptis suaveolens)
•    Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
•    Tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.)
•    Golden Crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides)

Warm-season vegetable seeds started indoors in January can now be transplanted to your garden. Vegetables to transplant include:
•    Globe and Jerusalem artichokes
•    Eggplant
•    Peppers
•    Tomatoes
•    Tomatillos
•    Sweet potato slips

Try the many varieties of chiles such as Del arbol, Chiletepin, Mirasol, and Tabasco.

Vegetable seeds to sow include:
•    Beets (early half of the month)
•    Carrots
•    Sweet corn
•    Flour corn
•    Popcorn
•    Cucumbers
•    Jicama
•    Cantaloupe
•    Watermelon
•    Tomatillos
•    Muskmelon
•    Green onions
•    Pumpkins
•    Radishes
•    Summer squash
•    Winter squash
•    Gourds
•    Sunflowers
•    Black-eyed peas

By mid-month plant amaranth, Lima bean, snap bean, okra, and peanut. Try the many types of native beans such as Chihuahua Canario, O’odham Pink, Tohono O’odham Vayo Amarillo, and Yoeme Purple String from Native Seeds/SEARCH.

HERB SEEDS TO SOW INCLUDE:
•    Anise
•    Basil
•    Catnip
•    Chives
•    Epazote
•    Fennel
•    Feverfew
•    Horehound
•    Hyssop
•    Lemon balm
•    Salad cress
•    Parsley
•    Safflower
•    Salad burnet
•    Santolina
•    Fenugreek
•    Winter & summer savory
•    Thyme
•    Yarrow
•    Sesame

 

 

HERBS TO TRANSPLANT INCLUDE:
•    Basil
•    Bay
•    Cuban-oregano
•    Lemon grass
•    Lemon verbena
•    Mexican-oregano
•    Chives
•    Curry
•    Feverfew
•    French tarragon
•    Garlic chives
•    Germander
•    Horehound
•    Lavender
•    Lemon balm
•    Marjoram
•    Mint
•    Oregano
•    Parsley
•    Rue
•    Sage
•    Santolina
•    Winter & summer savory
•    Scented geraniums
•    Tansy
•    Thyme
•    Yarrow

 

 

PRUNING

Pruning should be done to maintain plant health (remove dead, damaged or diseased portions, cross branching, etc.), to highlight the “natural” shape of the plant, to train a young plant, and to eliminate hazards.  Excessive or heavy pruning causes significant stress to trees and shrubs.  The best practices are to prune the least amount necessary and prune for legitimate reasons.  How much to prune depends on the size, species, age, as well as your intentions.  A few good principles to remember–a tree or shrub can recover from several small pruning wounds faster than from a single large wound and never remove more than 25% of the canopy in a year.  For more information register for a Garden class offered on pruning that will teach you the proper pruning techniques for trees and shrubs or visit www.treesaregood.org for information on proper pruning of young and mature trees.

By mid-month frost damaged plants can be safely pruned. Prune evergreen trees and shrubs.

Pruning newly planted trees and shrubs is not recommended and in fact can be detrimental. However, corrective pruning off broken or torn branches and/or limbs can be done at planting time. Save other pruning activities for the second or third year. For more information on developing a healthy tree visit www.treesaregood.org

Now is a good time to prune summer and fall flowering shrubs including:
•    Texas Sages (Leucophyllum spp.)
•    Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans)
•    Lantana (Lantana camara)
•    Turpentine Bush (Ericameria laricifolia)
•    Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens)
•    Mexican-honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)
•    Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

Wait to prune your prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.) and chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.) until after flowering. Spent stalks of aloes, agaves and other succulents can be removed at this time.

Warm-season herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines can be pruned at this time including:
•    Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
•    Plumbago (Plumbago scandens)
•    Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)
•    Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
•    Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea)
•    Rock Verbena (Glandularia pulchella)
•    Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)
•    Dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta)
•    Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus)
•    Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.)
•    Yellow Orchid-vine (Callaeum macropterum)

Prune by cutting back to emerging growth or to the basal rosette (group of leaves arranged from a central point).

Continue to deadhead annuals and herbaceous perennials to encourage continued flowering including Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata), Red Sage (Salvia coccinea), Angelita-daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), and Gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella).

FERTILIZATION

Most native and desert-adapted plants in the landscape do not generally require fertilizer as they are adapted to our soil conditions. In most cases, fertilizers are generally applied to prevent deficiencies. If fertilizers are needed, one application for the year is usually sufficient.

Now is the time to fertilize your warm-season cacti, succulents, herbaceous and woody perennials, and annuals in containers. Periodic fertilization may be needed for plants in containers as nutrients will have diminished in the soil over time. Depending on the type of fertilizer used, follow directions on the label.

Continue to fertilize your vegetable and herb garden as needed.  March is also a good time to apply a layer of composted mulch to your vegetable and herb beds.

PROBLEMS

Aphids can be found on landscape plants or on your vegetables. Allow natural predators such as lacewings, praying mantis, lady beetles and even hummingbirds to control the aphid population. You can also spray with insecticidal soap, but check to make sure beneficial insects are not presently working.

If you notice a tattered appearance on your landscape plants such as Evening Primroses (Oenothera spp.), Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) and Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) it may be the flea beetle in action. A different species of flea beetle may also harm your vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, carrots, and cabbages. The flea beetle larvae and adults can be destructive and they can be difficult to control.

You may notice small, circular cuts on the leaf margins at this time. This is the handiwork of leaf-cutter bees, important pollinators. The leaf-cutter bees use the cut leaf to line their nest and then lay an egg in each cavity. The damage is cosmetic and does not harm the plant. Control methods are unnecessary.

Look for mealybugs on your cacti and succulents. These scale insects can be difficult to control due to their ability to reproduce rapidly and they quickly acquire resistance to chemical controls. Spray mealybugs with a 70% alcohol-water solution.

Fine webbing between leaves or stippling on leaves may indicate the presence of spider mites. These plant mites cause damage by sucking contents from the leaves and are difficult to detect due to their small size. Plants that are water stressed may become susceptible to infestation. Dusty conditions can also lead to spider mite outbreaks. Make sure your plants are well-watered and wash off accumulated dust on plants to manage spider mite problems. You can also remove by using a fast spray of water or by spraying insecticidal soap to control populations. There are many biological controls that feed on spider mites including lacewings, predatory mites and big-eyed bugs. Using pesticides is not recommended as pesticides do not help manage the population, but can actually cause the population to intensify.

Cochineal scale, the cottony, white substance on your prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.) and chollas (Cylindropunita spp.) may be active now. Remove by using a fast stream of water or spray insecticidal soap.

Agave snout weevils become active during the warm months and infestation may not be apparent until it is too late.

Psyllids may be active during the month of March. Psyllids are sap feeders and many are plant specific or feed on a closely related group of plants. High populations of psyllids can cause distortion and die back of new growth, and in some cases defoliation. To keep populations under control do not overwater or over fertilize your plants as this causes excessive growth.  Yellow sticky traps can also be used to control the adult population.

A white, frothy substance may be visible on plant stems. This is caused by spittle bugs. Manage by spraying stem off with a strong jet of water to remove infestation. Spittle bugs generally do not cause much damage to plants.

Weeds that germinated with the fall-winter rains will begin to flower at this time. You can manually remove by hand. To manage weeds in larger areas, spray with glyphosate following directions on the label. Adding a small amount of marker dye in the glyphosate solution can be helpful to avoid spraying the same areas twice. When using a chemical spray use an old pair of shoes that will never be worn indoors.  The glyphosate product can be used around cacti and most succulents without damaging them.  It is also inactive in the soil, so it will not harm the roots of other plants.

You may notice rabbits eating new, tender growth on your plants or flowers. It may be necessary to cage plants temporarily, or spray Liquid Fence TM to help deter these animals.

February in the Low Desert

In February, continue to prepare for frost events and take necessary frost protection measures. Don’t let a warm week in February fool you into believing spring has arrived. The low-desert can still have periods of freezing temperatures during the month.

Mesquites may ooze an amber-colored resin; this can be normal or released as a result of an injury. The exudates are often sweet smelling and tasting. If the exudates are dark in color, sticky and odiferous it is caused by a bacterial infection called slime flux.  You can prune affected branches, but once it has been established the tree will remain diseased and take years to die.

February is still a good time to prepare a new vegetable garden bed for spring planting. Prepare your vegetable bed by using a digging fork or rototilling to approximately 12-18 inches deep. Do not work soil if it is too wet as it can permanently damage the soil structure. Apply compost generously (several inches) and incorporate it into the loosened soil. If you have an existing vegetable garden this is also a good time to add compost.

Think about constructing a compost pile for your vegetable and/or flower garden.

Sudden warm spells during the month of February can cause many of your winter vegetables to bolt into flowering such as cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and bok choy. Harvest these vegetables before flowering as many of these vegetables may become bitter and inedible.

Blooming plants can include:
•    Red Barberry (Mahonia haematocarpa syn. Berberis haematocarpa)
•    Desert Holly (Atriplex hymenelytra)
•    Bur-sage (Ambrosia deltoidea)
•    Giant bur-sage (Ambrosia ambrosioides)
•    White bur-sage (Ambrosia dumosa)
•    Fremont’s Wolfberry (Lycium fremontii)
•    Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisioides ssp. filifolia syn. Senna nemophila)
•    Baja Senna (Senna purpusii)
•    Spotted Emu Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’TM)
•    Indigo Bush (Dalea bicolor)
•    Emu Bush (Eremophila laanii ‘Pink Beauty’)
•    Emu Bush (Eremophila hygrophana)
•    Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana syn. Acacia farnesiana)
•    Succulent Geranium (Pelargonium magenteum x echinatum)
•    Succulent Geranium (Pelargonium klinghardtense)
•    Aloe ‘Rudikoppe’
•    Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’
•    Cape Aloe (Aloe  ferox)
•    Gariep River Aloe (Aloe gariepensis)
•    Aloe aculeata
•    Coral Aloe (Aloe striata)
•    Aloe x ‘Hercules’
•    Partridge Breast Aloe (Aloe variegata)

Some annual wildflowers may commence blooming at the end of the month.  Early-blooming annuals can include   Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii), Mexican Gold Poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana), Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia) and Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus).

WATERING

Your irrigation timer should be turned off.  Consider an overall watering of landscape plants at the end of the month if rainfall is insufficient.  Remember to follow the 1, 2, 3 rule:  water mature trees to a depth of 3 feet, shrubs to a depth of 2 feet, and herbaceous perennials, agaves, vines, and groundcovers to a depth of 1 foot.

Young and newly transplanted plants need to be watered more frequently than established plants.  Watering deeply encourages roots to extend deeper into the soil and thus, helps the plant become established over time.

Annual wildflowers may need to be watered at least once to twice during the month of February if rainfall is insufficient.

Agaves and other succulents (Aloe spp., Dudleya spp., Cotyledon spp., Echeveria spp.) in containers should be watered at least once to twice this month.  Cacti in containers should be watered at least once this month.  However, cacti and succulents in small containers may need to be watered more often including cacti and succulent seedlings.

WHAT TO PLANT

Continue to plant cold-hardy and fall-winter growers:
•    Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
•    Penstemons (Penstemon spp.)
•    Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
•    Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
•    Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)
•    Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)
•    Red Justicia (Justicia candicans)
•    Fragrant Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
•    Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
•    Trixis (Trixis californica)
•    Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
•    White Sage (Salvia apiana)
•    Aloes (Aloe spp.)

Vegetables to transplant include Jerusalem and globe artichokes, leaf lettuce, potato, and watermelon.  Swiss chard, kohlrabi, and head lettuce should be planted the first part of the month. Plant tomatoes and peppers during the second half of February. Be prepared to cover your tomatoes and peppers with frost cloth if we get periods of freezing temperatures.

Vegetable seeds to sow include:
•    beets
•    bok choy
•    carrots
•    collard greens
•    eggplant
•    lentils
•    leaf lettuce
•    mustard greens
•    green onions
•    Irish potatoes
•    radishes
•    turnips

Spinach, mesclun, garbanzo beans, peas (English, snap, snow), and dry onion seeds should be planted before mid-February.

Vegetable seeds to sow the second part of February include:
•    sweet corn
•    cantaloupe
•    cucumbers
•    muskmelon
•    summer squash
•    watermelon

Seedlings will need to be covered with frost cloth to prevent freeze damage.

Herb seeds to sow include:
•    anise
•    basil
•    caraway
•    catnip
•    chamomile
•    cumin
•    epazote
•    fennel
•    feverfew
•    horehound
•    hyssop
•    lemon balm
•    oregano
•    parsley
•    safflower
•    salad burnet
•    summer and winter savory
•    thyme
•    sesame

 

Herbs to transplant include:
•    bay
•    catnip
•    chives
•    garlic chives
•    germander
•    horehound
•    lavender
•    lemon balm
•    lemon grass
•    marjoram
•    mint
•    oregano
•    rue
•    sage
•    santolina
•    scented geraniums
•    thyme
•    tansy
•    yarrow
•    French tarragon

 

Divide overgrown plantings of chives, garlic chives, mint, and lemon grass.

PRUNING

As tempting as it may be, do not prune any plants damaged by an earlier frost.  Frost-damaged plants should be pruned in the springtime.

Prune bunch and ornamental grasses such as Muhley (Muhlenbergia spp.), Purple Three-Awn (Aristida purpurea) and Grama Grass (Bouteloua spp.) to rejuvenate.  These bunch and ornamental grasses can be pruned within a couple inches to the ground.

Deciduous trees should be thinned and reduced by mid-month.

Continue to deadhead flowering annuals and perennials to encourage additional blooms.

FERTILIZATION

Landscape plants will not need to be fertilized until spring.

Do not fertilize warm-season plants in containers.  However, cool-season plants in containers may need to be fertilized.

Continue to fertilize your vegetable garden as needed.

PROBLEMS

Aphids can be found on landscape plants or on your winter vegetables.  Allow natural predators such as lacewings, praying mantis and lady beetles to control the aphid population.

Cabbage loopers (small, pale green caterpillars with light-colored stripes along their bodies) may be present in your vegetable garden.  Look for small, irregular holes on the leaf surface of your vegetable plants.   Damage is common on broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, beets, lettuce, peas and many other garden vegetables.  Control by hand removal or allow natural predators to keep the population in check.  An application of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) can also be used as a biological alternative to pesticides.

A ‘Greener Garden’

One of the greatest benefits of having a garden is controlling how your food is grown. Growing organically ensures your food is free of commercial pesticides—pollutants that seep into the ground or atmosphere. Starting an organic garden is the perfect way to ensure you are giving healthful eats to your family, and protecting the earth.

 

1. Right plant in right place. Don’t fight your site, but rather, embrace your sunlight levels, climate, and soil type, and choose varieties that will naturally thrive in your gardens’ conditions, reducing the need for excess water or amendment.

 

2. Compost. Reduce landfill waste by composting yard scraps and food waste. These organic products create methane in a landfill environment which, unharnessed, is a pollutant.

 

3. Water wisely. Conserve water by watering deeply and less frequently, encouraging plants to build deeper, water-mining roots. You can also improve your soil’s ability to hold water by adding organic material. Water in the evening or morning to prevent excessive evaporation. Mulch will insulate and protect soils, further slowing evaporation. Finally, make sure you are watering with just the right amount; under- or over-watering can cause plant stress, which acts like an open invitation to pest and disease.

 

4. Prevention is key to a healthy garden. Rotate plant families (see inside of packets) annually, so they are not grown in the same space but once every three years, reducing debris build-up and a potential for disease. Clean up the garden at the end of the season and avoid composting any disease or pest-infested material. Invite beneficial insects into the garden by sowing flowering varieties they are attracted to (like borage, alyssum, and dill). This way, when pests arrive, you already have a hungry, resident army waiting in the “wings”. Scout for pests, diseases, and natural predators weekly so you can identify problems early, and decide if action is needed. Use organic pesticide as a last option, to avoid harming bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. If you must spray, do so in the early morning or evening when most bees are less active, and avoid spraying flowers.

 

5. Sow a cover crop! Cover crop enriches the soil, fights weeds, and breaks up compacted soil naturally. Cover crops can also be used to create an insectory (a dedicated area that provides habitat for beneficial insects).

 

6. Know your strengths. Submit a soil test for analysis. By understanding your unique garden site you can know exactly what amendments are needed, avoiding pests, diseases, and pollution, which can be caused by over-fertilizing. Improving soil by reaching the ideal, 5–6% organic matter also helps conserve water and prevent run-off.

Why Heirlooms Matter

For hundreds of generations, humans all over the planet have been growing crops and saving seeds from their best plants to sow the following season. Seeds have a rich history and are very important to agriculture.

For hundreds of generations, humans all over the planet have been growing crops and saving seeds from their best plants to sow the following season. No one had a degree in horticulture, and it’s safe to say the vast majority of them couldn’t even read or write since most of the work was done before the invention of the written word!

What’s important is that these gardeners knew what they liked and needed and, over millennia, domesticated crop plants emerged. With each new season, these crops became a little earlier, a little more productive, a little more suited to the local conditions.

Heirloom seed types are thus products of their environment and of their growers’ selection. They are often superbly adapted to the conditions under which they were developed — as, for example, the drought-tolerant varieties native to Southwestern agriculture.

Such is the immense work that had already gone into creating these precious crop plants when scientific breeding work began, slightly over a century ago, and this irreplaceable heritage furnished the building blocks of modern breeding.

Modern science, giddy with its initial achievements, was quick to tout the alleged superiority of modern lines, which were often only a few generations removed from the original types received from various native peoples around the globe. A credulous public bought into these claims and within the space of a couple of generations, the old varieties were cast aside in favor of “progress.”

Today, something like 90 percent of the varieties that existed at the beginning of the 20th century is extinct — just gone, never more to return. So it falls to the generations living today to try to salvage the tiny fraction that remains, and then pass along, renewed, to our posterity. Hence the designation “heirlooms.” What another legacy could possibly be more precious?

The fact that heirloom plants are open-pollinated means that all individuals within a variety share a fairly uniform genetic makeup. This, in turn, means the entire population “breeds true,” so long as no outside genetics are introduced into the population. That’s a fancy way of saying: “You can save seed from heirloom types, generation after generation, just as growers have done for centuries.” You can’t do that with hybrids!

There are lots of great reasons to save seed. If you save seed, you have the comfort of knowing that you have a secure supply of treasured varieties, no matter whether they remain commercially available or disappear. If pure food is important to you, you know just how the seed was grown, because you grew it. If you make careful selections of the best-performing individuals to parent the next generation of plants, over the years you’ll actually be creating a distinct strain, uniquely adapted to your own climate and growing conditions.

Saving seed adds a new dimension to gardening because it allows the closing and repetition of a natural cycle right in your own garden. It puts you in the driver’s seat — you get to select for whatever traits and qualities that are important to you. You might also save some money over time, yes, but what’s more important is you’ll be stepping up to the plate and taking your turn in the endless chain of generations of growers and generations of crop varieties.

Lots of excellent books and articles have been written about the ins and outs of saving your own home-grown seed, including many in this publication. No very comprehensive instructions can be given in this article. There are plenty of details to be considered, and a little advance study can save years of trial and error. Fortunately, with just a bit of attention and planning, saving seed from most veggies is ultimately very easy. After all, your plants are all set up to make their seeds — you just need to know how to step out of the way and let it happen.

Seeds are produced within flowers. It’s surprising how often experienced gardeners have missed this one crucial point. Some flowers, like roses or squashes, are very obvious, even showy. Others may be inconspicuous, barely noticeable at all. But in higher plants, the basic process is the same: Flowers are the plant’s reproductive organs, and seed is produced only after an exchange of genetic material. The medium for this natural transfer is pollen. Pollen is produced within the flower and gets distributed by wind, insects or many other means.

Pollination has to occur for seeds to develop. Exactly how pollen is transferred makes all the difference in planning seed saving. The reason is simple: For true seed, the pollen needs to come from a parent of the same variety. If a flower receives pollen from a flower of some other variety, the seed will be “crossed,” that is, it will not come out a uniform to either parent. So you need to make sure that chance pollination is reduced or eliminated. This is most readily accomplished by isolating the parent plants by a sufficient distance that chance crosses with other types are unlikely.

The usual way is to isolate by distance; you simply plant your parent plants far enough away from other types so that chance pollination is unlikely. The distance varies from crop to crop — some crops, like common beans or lettuce, are almost always self-pollinating and chance crossing almost never occurs even when many varieties are growing in close proximity. Other types need more distance. Wind-pollinated crops like corn, amaranth, and beets need the greatest isolation distance, as wind-borne pollen can travel a mile or more!

Once you’ve protected your plants from accidental crossing, wait for the seeds to mature. Everyone knows what mature bean or pea seeds look like, but with some other types, you have to let the fruit mature longer than you would for eating. Cucumbers and eggplants, for example, are usually harvested in an immature stage for eating. To get seeds, you must let cukes mature until they are very big, plump, and usually soft. Eggplants need to undergo a final color change — purple-fruited types will turn brown, white types will turn yellow and so on. It cannot be overstated: To get good viable seed, you need to allow full maturity before harvesting.

Harvesting consists of collecting mature fruits and extracting and drying the seeds. Some crops will yield dry pods or seed heads containing dry seeds. Beans, corn, okra, peas, and lettuce are examples. You simply pick the dried pods and shell out the seeds, or with lettuce, gently pluck the loose dry seeds from the dandelion-like seed head.

Other types are mature while contained in moist structures like tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and so on. With these, seed can be individually removed from the fruits by hand. Or, to get larger quantities, whole fruits may be crushed or scooped and fermented briefly to allow the seeds to easily rinse free of the pulp.

In either case, be sure to allow your seeds to dry fully before storage. Beans and peas should be too hard to be dented with your fingernail. Squash and melon seed should snap when bent sharply — if they only bend without breaking, they are probably too moist. Allow drying to continue. A small fan can keep air moving around the seeds, securing the quick dry-down that is preferred for good viability.

Obviously, most seeds will be stored at least until the right planting time the following season. Successful seed storage is crucial because often you can save far more than enough seed to plant in one or two years’ gardening. Storing the seeds frees you from having to save seed of a particular variety every season. Instead, you can save seeds from other varieties, which over time allow you to build up a very valuable home seed bank.

The best storage conditions for most common types is cool and dry. A common guideline is to add the temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) plus the relative humidity. The lower the number you derive, the better. But so long as the total is under 100, you have adequate storage conditions. The figures given at right reflect average times that various crop seed may be stored, retaining good viability, in ordinary conditions figured according to the above equation. Often, seeds will store much longer than this, and with correct freezer storage, most seeds will be viable for decades.

Because so many crops need to be isolated for long distances, not all crops are suitable for seed saving in all locations. But what you cannot accomplish in your garden, someone else can manage in hers, and the converse is also often true. The solution is simple: trade!

The original and, to some, quintessential organization to distribute seeds is Seed Savers Exchange. A modest annual membership fee covers publication of the annual Yearbook, where hundreds of members list varieties whose seed they have grown and saved. Other members pore over the Yearbook and order fascinating seeds. You don’t need to list anything to join and order from the Yearbook, and it contains thousands of incredible varieties, many of which are available nowhere else.

Seed swaps are becoming very common. They are often hosted by local garden clubs, university ag programs, FFA groups, homesteading groups — the list is almost endless. Home seed savers gather their carefully saved seeds and head to the swap, in keen anticipation of the horticultural treasures they hope to encounter. The excitement is palpable as gardeners talk shop. How bad was this year’s weather? How much isolation do you need to protect peas? Why did my squash seeds mold? Other local and regional gardeners are your best resource, and you come away from a swap with so much more than new varieties of seed!

Online gardening forums have recently begun to enjoy huge popularity. There are dozens of them — some general, others specific to a single crop, like tomatoes, a particular region, and so on. But one thing they virtually all have in common is they all have a board for seed trading. Trading is usually done on the honor system, but gardeners tend to be good people and the vast majority of online trades go off without a hitch. Here are a few to get you started (but there are plenty of others): www.IDigMyGarden.com, www.Forums.SeedSavers.org, www.TomatoDepot.ProBoards.com, and www.Tomatoville.com.

More recently, seed libraries have emerged. A centralized seed bank is developed, and patrons borrow seeds instead of books. When the season ends, they are expected to return a new generation of the seeds they borrowed, preferably in larger quantities than they received. This offsets the occasional failure to make a return, allowing the seed bank to increase. Here are a few: www.SeedLibrary.org, www.WestcliffeGrows.Weebly.com, and www.RichmondGrowsSeeds.org.

Every region of the country has a history of growing and saving seed of unique, locally-adapted varieties. In fact, until the advent of the mail-order seed industry in the late 19th century, almost everyone grew and saved their own seed, trading it locally. Though much has been lost, there are lots of types still out there, waiting to be re-discovered and shared with gardeners the world over.

Such local heirlooms are most likely to be still grown and nurtured in rural areas, especially those where per capita incomes are low, often being cultivated and renewed by folks who’ve never heard of “heirloom seeds.” Growers like these maintain their treasured lines because they are often better than one-size-fits-all, store-bought varieties. You are apt to find them at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. Or perhaps an elder in your own family has been carefully maintaining a family-held type for time out of mind.

Savvy home seed-savers keep a watchful eye because there’s no telling where or when something unusual will turn up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — original variety names may be lost in the mists of time, but often these seed-keepers will know that a family member brought the seeds with them when they emigrated from somewhere else or at least will have some idea how long the variety has been in the family or the area.

Be sure to document as much information as you can, because people move or pass on, and a single chance encounter may be the only opportunity to learn the history of your “new” heirloom. Take notes, because memory sometimes plays tricks.

And if you are lucky enough to chance upon a local heirloom type, cherish it, nurture it and share it.

Here are some helpful definitions and tables that could help you increase your seed knowledge.


Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO

Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that have been around 50 years or more—sometimes, a lot more.

Hybrids are usually first- or second-generation crosses of inbred parent lines. For example, an F1 hybrid is not open-pollinated. That means that if you save seed from F1 hybrid parents, the plants grown from the saved seed will not breed true. Often they’ll be nothing at all like the parents, and usually will be markedly inferior.

Genetically engineered varieties (GE or GMOs) could be open-pollinated or hybrid but all have had their genes tinkered with, with genes added artificially, often from some highly unrelated life form, including animals or even people! In nature, such genes virtually never mix, so GMO varieties are entirely artificial, new forms of life.


Crop Isolation for Beginners

Amaranth — Wind-pollinated, isolate by 1 mile (but few gardeners grow it); may cross with wild amaranth (pigweed).

Beans — Self-pollinated, isolate common beans by 50 feet; limas, favas, and runner beans need ½ mile.

Cucumbers — Insect-pollinated, isolate by one-half mile, fruits should be fully ripe; they will be large, yellow or russeted, and usually very soft. Will not cross with melons or watermelons.

Eggplant — Self-pollinated, isolate by 50 feet, red varieties need 500 feet; allow final color change (full ripeness).

Lettuce — Self-pollinated, isolate by 12 feet, don’t save seed from early bolters; may cross freely with wild lettuce, pluck dandelion-like seed before it scatters.

Melons — Insect-pollinated, isolate by a one-half mile; seeds are ready when fruit is at the prime eating stage, will not cross with cukes or watermelons.

Peppers — Self-pollinated, isolate by 500 feet; allow final color change (full ripeness).

Squash — Insect-pollinated, isolate by a one-half mile; squash comes in four species, and the species rarely crosses with other species so you can do one each of up to four species in one isolated garden.

Tomato — Self-pollinated, isolate by 50 feet; potato-leaf varieties like Brandywine need 500 feet.

Watermelons — Insect-pollinated, isolate by a one-half mile; seeds are ready when fruit is at the prime eating stage, will not cross with cukes or true melons.


Seed Storage Times

Here are some common seed varieties separated into appropriate average storage times.

1 Year: Lettuce, onion, parsley, and parsnips.

2 Years: leek, okra, pepper, and sweet corn.

3 Years: Asparagus, beans, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrot, celeriac, celery, and pea.

4 Years: Beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chicory, eggplant, kale, and pumpkin.

5 Years: Cucumber, endive, and muskmelon.


Read of Seed

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Depp

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Organic Seed Production and Saving by Bryan Connolly

The Heirloom Life Gardener by Jere and Emilee Gettle

Get Ahead of Your Garden: Start Seedlings

With a plan, some simple supplies, and the right care, you can get a head start on your spring garden by growing seedlings indoors.

Heirloom enthusiasts interested in rare varieties will love the benefits of start seeds early.

Every gardener has particular moments that are his or her absolute favorites of a growing season — moments like receiving a much-anticipated seed order in the mail, harvesting the first of the spinach in spring, cutting into a ripe melon, or talking with fellow gardeners about successes and failures.

Me? I love the moment when my tomato seeds turn into strong seedlings, and I can brush my hand across the tops of the plants growing indoors and smell that glorious fresh tomato smell. It feels like a wonderful form of cheating getting to breathe in that lovely smell long before the heat of summer.

Seed-starting is an enjoyable process that affords many benefits to the home gardener. Here are 10 reasons to start your own garden seeds and 10 tips to help you achieve seed-starting success.

Why start your own seeds?

Endless Varieties. OK, maybe not endless. But your variety options will exponentially increase when you decide to start seeds at home. When shopping for starts at a garden center (or, more limiting yet, the garden section of a big-box store), you’ll typically find the same boring varieties over and over again: Big Boy tomatoes, Early Girl tomatoes, California Wonder peppers, maybe some hybrid broccoli. But in home seed-starting, the sky’s the limit. You can try all kinds of unique varieties, and match your seed starting to your gardening goals, such as wanting compact plants, out-of-this-world flavor, high yields, or disease resistance.

More Heirlooms. This goes hand-in-hand with No. 1, but it’s worth noting: Heirloom enthusiasts interested in trying all kinds of cool, rare varieties will love the advantages of having an efficient seed-starting setup at home.

Save Money. Purchased transplants aren’t cheap. One packet of seeds generally costs less than a single start at a garden center. To take that a step further, if you save your own seeds from open-pollinated varieties you start yourself, the next generation of seeds will be free to you. It’s true that to start seeds you’ll need to spend a bit of money upfront on supplies such as seed-starting mix and grow lights. But in the long run, you’ll save big bucks by not having to purchase your transplants.

Achieve Greater Success with Regionally Adapted Seed. Not every variety of every crop will thrive in every region. When you start your own seeds, you can choose varieties that are regionally adapted to your area, leading to healthier plants and better yields.

Give Crops a Head Start. You can start certain crops such as lettuces indoors, set out the seedlings as winter comes to a close, and then harvest heads weeks before you would have been able to if you’d direct-sown seeds in spring. (Bring a row cover into the mix, and you’ll be even further ahead of the game.) In many regions, the only way to grow certain slow-maturing crops is to give them a head start via indoor seed starting.

More Control Over Sustainability. The more self-sufficient you are in the realm of growing food, the more control you have over the sustainability of all activities involved. When it comes to seed starting, you can make a difference in several small but meaningful ways.

Consume fewer resources by reusing and recycling materials for seed pots. Use seed-starting mixes that don’t contain peat, which — even though it’s ubiquitous in the gardening world — is being harvested from bogs at an alarmingly unsustainable rate. Coconut coir made from coconut husks is a better option that retains moisture just as well. Finally, support seed companies using sustainable practices.

Nudges You to Plan Ahead. We all know that moment when life’s busyness gets away from us and we think, “Yikes — I need to start spring planting soon!” We’re thinking of compost, bed prep, seed ordering we should have done weeks ago, and on and on. If you get in the habit of starting seeds at home, you’re forced (in a good way) to think ahead, decide what you want to plant and what you’re going to start indoors, and order the seeds you need.

Goes Hand-in-Hand with Seed-Saving. If you save your own seeds — a worthy, wonderful pursuit for the self-reliant gardener — it makes sense that you would want to grow your own transplants. And, vice versa, if you’ve made the initial investment in a nice seed-starting setup, it’s that much easier and more inviting to dive into the science of seed saving.

Save Space in Your Garden. If you’re really tight on growing space, starting some crops indoors can help you take strategic advantage of every square foot of soil. For instance, let’s say you have a nice big patch of spinach you’re still harvesting from at the same time that you’re thinking of planting a couple of hills of cucumbers. Instead of choosing one or the other, start your cucumber seeds indoors. Keep harvesting from your spinach during the weeks when your cukes are growing into strong little plants indoors, and then, about the time your spinach will be thinking about going to seed anyway, you can hoe under that crop and pop in your cuke seedlings on the same day. (Choose a vining variety of cucumber and give it something to climb up to save even more space.)

Have Way More Fun at Seed Swaps. If you’ve ever been to a seed swap — or even just flipped through a lovely seed catalog — you’ve probably seen all kinds of intriguing, beautiful seeds for crops that don’t direct-sow well. Get the hang of seed starting, and you’ll never be held back again! I’m being a bit silly here, but it is truly nice to be able to swap or try seeds of all types.

10 Seed-Starting Tips

Create a Plan. One of my favorite aspects of growing my own seedlings is the wintertime planning. Just when I’m longing for days outside in the dirt, I can sketch out what I want to plant during the next growing season, read about new varieties I want to try, and create a calendar of when to start my seeds. Tomatoes, peppers (hot, bell and sweet), eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, basil, parsley, and onions are all perfect candidates for seed starting. These crops tend to do much better if planted as transplants and don’t direct-sow as easily.

If you have plenty of space in your seed-starting setup and/or if you have limited space in your garden, you can start lettuce, cucumbers, melons and squash, too. You’ll need to decide ahead of time what crops you’re going to start indoors and how many of each plant you want to grow (and have room for). Make a list, order seeds early, and map out a simple planting calendar.

Make Your Own Mix. Seed-starting mix needs to be a light-medium that holds moisture well. There are a lot of seed-starting mixes available at garden centers, but you can save even more money by creating your own at home (plus, mixing your own allows you to ditch peat and use coir instead). If you’d like to make your own mix, try this well-balanced, coir-based recipe:

• 18 quarts vermiculite
• 12 quarts coir
• 12 quarts mature,
• disease-free compost
• 3/4 cup blood meal
• 1/2 cup limestone
• 1-2/3 cups greensand

(Note: Coir comes in dehydrated bricks from garden centers and pet stores; the measurement here refers to the moistened, expanded material.)

Use Top-Quality, Regional Seed. To ensure the strongest, healthiest plants that will grow best in your micro-climate, choose high-quality, local seed. Purchase from local seed companies whose growing methods and business practices you trust. Look for those that do their own variety trials. Also, attend and get seed at local seed swaps, talking to growers about their varieties and seed selection practices.

Don’t Be Picky About Pots. While the grid-like seed-starting trays you’ve probably seen in stores work well, you can use all kinds of small containers to start your seeds: empty yogurt containers with a few holes punched in the bottom, seed-starting cups made out of old newspaper (plant the whole thing and the paper decomposes), and small pots you’ve saved from purchased flowers and plants. Also try making pots from eggshells, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, or even a seed blocker, a neat contraption that allows you to stamp out a block of soil that acts as a “pot.”

Do start in individual containers (or individual seed blocks) rather than planting multiple seeds in, say, a large, shallow tub; this will ensure that you don’t disturb plants’ root systems when it’s time to transplant them. In addition to individual containers, you’ll need a shallow tray in which to place your containers and hold water. You can use darn near anything for a tray — I’ve borrowed baking dishes from the kitchen for this purpose.

Get Your Timing Right. This tip, of course, harkens back to No. 1: If you sketch out what you want to grow ahead of time, you can create a quick calendar of when you actually need to start each type of seed. In general, start tomato seeds six to eight weeks before your average last frost date, start peppers eight to 10 weeks before this date, and start most brassicas such as broccoli four to six weeks before your last frost. Start a second round of brassicas for your fall garden about 12 to 14 weeks before your first fall frost. Check seed packets for specific varieties and for other crops to see recommended times for planting seeds indoors.

Plant Two, & Use a Pencil. I always plant two seeds per container and then thin the seedlings later. If I’ve made a careful plan and I’m giving the real estate in my seed-starting setup to grow, say, 10 broccoli plants, I want to be sure I actually end up with that many. So planting two seeds is insurance. When you thin seedlings, never pull the seedling completely out of soil mix. Instead, just use scissors and cut the weaker of the two seedlings at the soil surface so you don’t disturb the delicate root system of the seedling you are keeping.

When you plant your seeds, use a pencil to do so. Dump out some seeds onto a flat, dry surface, and then dip the tip of a pencil in water and touch the pencil tip to a seed. The seed will stick to the pencil, and then you can easily poke the seed into your pot of mix. Trust me — it’s like magic, and is so much easier than using your fingers for planting, especially if you’re dealing with tiny seeds.

Water Well. Be sure to keep your seed-starting mix moist as your seeds germinate and as your seedlings grow. Don’t water tiny seedlings with a watering can, as the force of the water coming out of the spout can damage the delicate plants. Instead, water by spraying seedlings well with a spray bottle or, better yet, by adding water to the bottom trays holding individual containers.

Lots of Light. You have three options when it comes to lighting up the lives of your growing plants: natural sunlight, fluorescent light bulbs and specialized “grow lights.” There are pros and cons to each. Sunlight is, of course, cheapest and least energy-intensive — but you need really strong light in a south-facing window to make it feasible. If your seedlings don’t get enough light, they’ll quickly become “leggy” (spindly and weak) as they put all their energy into reaching more light.

If you use fluorescent lights or grow lights, keep the tops of the growing plants no more than an inch away from the lights. I start my trays out propped up on several books, and then slowly take the books away to lower the trays as the plants get taller. Keep your lights on the seedlings for 14 to 18 hours daily; an inexpensive timer hooked up to your lights can help you ensure this range.

Cozy and Warm. To ensure good germination and strong plants, keeping your seeds and seedlings at a consistent, warm temperature. They shouldn’t get too cold, but they also shouldn’t get too warm — about 70 to 80 degrees is a good range. Some gardeners use an electric heat mat underneath each seed-starting tray, but I don’t think mats are worth the extra expense if there’s another easy way to keep the seedlings warm. Try placing your seed-starting setup next to a heat source, like a heater vent or radiator — and if you do start seeds in a sunny window, always place a curtain or blanket between the seedlings and the window during nighttime.

Always Harden Off. At least a week before you transplant your starts, start getting them used to their new home: the great outdoors. It’s essential to put young plants through this hardening-off period. Set plants out for a couple of hours the first day, in a protected location where they won’t experience rain or strong winds. Build up from there, letting your plants stay outside for a longer period of time each day. At first, limit the amount of time the seedlings spend in the direct sun because they can get sunburned. After they adjust to their new environment, they’ll be ready to live in the garden and provide you with delicious, healthy food.

 

Connecting Children with Nature

We love seeing a child’s eyes light up with a sense of wonder. It’s there when they find a strange bug in the garden or learn how to climb a tree. Or when they’re asking an endless stream of questions that leave us curious about our own responses. Connection to nature often starts with this sense of wonder. And when we say nature, we don’t mean to imply something separate from ourselves. We are a part of nature.
As a society, we’ve grown far from feeling one with our environment. Nature is not out there. Whether you’re in picturesque wild lands or on a city street with nothing in sight but a dandelion flower, you’re in nature. While our relationship with the Earth has changed, we’re still standing on sacred ground. We believe in infusing the idea of plant power into our children, wherever they’re living.
We support dandelion eating, flower picking and getting little hands into the garden. We encourage you to nurture the curiosity that feeds a child’s relationship with the world of plants and to be open to adventure and new ideas. You’ll learn new things too!
There are many ways to incorporate plants into your child’s play time. You could create a plant scavenger hunt, play nature bingo create a flower mandala. You might also try your hand at creating a butterfly garden, growing medicinal herbs, or creating an herbal sanctuary with your child for species that are rare or at risk. If growing plants aren’t your cup of tea, you could try hiking together or visiting a local botanical garden. During these activities, it might be an excellent time to teach (or learn together) what plants are medicinal, native, endangered or toxic. Once a child learns to name these plants, their relationship with them will likely deepen.
Some parents have even committed to one green hour a day. This ensures a time when children can have uninterrupted time outside each day. If this isn’t possible, you can bring the essence of the plants indoors. Read plant-based stories, play a plant wildcrafting board game, create lavender play dough or try making an herbal salve together.
Being outdoors is medicine for the spirit, so it’s important that we make time to connect with the world around us. Author Richard Louv once said, “The health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.” To revive our soil, water, plants, communities and planet, we believe in fostering a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature. Let’s set aside time to play and enjoy the beauty of this world. And with that said, we’re ready to go outdoors! Hope to see you out there.

Sustainable Wild Collection Protects People, Plants, and Animals

Chances are, you’re deeply connected with wild plants and don’t even realize it.

All of us in countless ways, whether we recognize it or not, are deeply connected to wild collecting.

Wild plants, as the term suggests, aren’t grown on farms. Instead, they’re collected in meadows, forests and deserts. Since ancient times, they’ve served as natural and essential ingredients in foods, fibers, dyes, cosmetics and traditional medicines.
Consider the açai berries in your super smoothie. They’re wild collected in the Brazilian Amazon. The pure maple syrup you save for special breakfasts most likely comes from the forests of Canada or the northern regions of the United States. The candelilla wax in your favorite skin care products originates in the deserts of northern Mexico. The licorice root used in candies and lozenges could be wild collected in many places — Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. And at Wildwood Enterprises, more than 40 percent of the botanical species we use are wild collected. All of us in countless ways, whether we recognize it or not, are deeply connected to wild collecting.
The fact is many medicinal plant species are still, for the most part, wild collected and probably always will be. The ones that are easy to the farm were domesticated long ago. Wild plants that have survived and thrived in a particular habitat for eons possess a unique fingerprint that indicates a quality unmatched by domesticated varieties.
When there’s a choice to get a herb from a farm or the wild, Modern Botanicals generally prefers the “genuine article,” herbs wild collected in native habitats instead of farms. It’s the same for food connoisseurs who prefer the quality of wild salmon prepared with freshly harvested wild porcini mushrooms instead of farm raised salmon served with white button mushrooms.
It’s no coincidence that many of the same places where the best herbs are found are also rich in biodiversity.
  • The Minshan Mountains, at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, are home to the last of the wild giant pandas and where southern Schisandra also grows wild. Schisandra berries are used in an extract and are sustainably wild collected by members of a cooperative in Pingwu County, which has the highest density of wild pandas.
  • American black bears live in the forests of Appalachia where bark from slippery elm and wild cherry trees, is sustainably wild collected each spring when the sap rises.
  • A quarter of the world’s population of white storks makes their nests in Poland. The Białowieża Forest, one of the last and largest remaining primeval forests in Europe, exists in the northeastern part of the country where local harvesters collect dandelion roots each autumn for use.
Great care must be taken by the local collectors to protect and preserve sensitive habitats while earning a livelihood for their families. This means sustainably managing the entire herb collection area to ensure the long-term survival of people, plants, and animals.
Wild plant collectors are stewards of vital natural ecosystems where some of the highest quality herbs grow. Many of these areas are now threatened due to changing land uses. Agricultural expansion and livestock grazing cause the greatest changes to wild areas, and expanding cropland is a leading contributor to biodiversity loss on the planet.
However, wild plants continue to play an important role in rural economies everywhere. People living in remote rural areas have a long tradition of earning some or all of their household income by collecting wild plants.
At Wildwood Enterprises, we have great respect for the local, rural and indigenous communities that we depend on for access to quality herbs. The partnerships we maintain with these stewards help us fulfill our mission of preserving medicinal plants and supporting the communities that collect them. It’s why we strongly support the work of the nonprofit FairWild® Foundation. To learn more, visit: http://www.fairwild.org/