Originally Published: June 4, 2005 5 a.m.
I haven't been to Mexico on a big game fishing trip since March. I shared a photo with garden column readers back then, and many are still commenting on that fish. I have reliable information from San Carlos, Mexico, that the Marlin and Dorado are running strong. Ten guys from the Tri-City are heading down this weekend for the hunt. I'll let you know how the fishing is in next week's column. If I get a good photo, I'll share it with you. Either way I'm sure I'll have several good fish stories.
If you're new to town and want to meet some really nice people who happen to know something about gardening, then the Yavapai Rose Society is for you. They're just a fun group to be around. Many will be showing off roses and sharing their expertise at Watters Garden Center today Saturday. Visit the club and consider joining if you like roses.
A new rose introduction will be featured this weekend. National Park Roses will be on display. This new line of florabunda roses are breathtaking to look at, easy to grow and support our national parks system. If you like to be the first to see new items in the area, this one should be fun.
June is the second busiest gardening month, falling just short of May. You'll find the plant selection at garden centers larger in size and variety. You will notice a dramatic increase in the number of herbs and perennials at the garden center right now. Much of this is due to the perfect growing condition in the growers' greenhouses.
I have a growing operation in Chino Valley and have witnessed plants double in size within days. What that means for you, the home gardener, is that a lot more plant can be purchased for just a little more money. A bigger plant will have less transplant stress, is easier to water and faster growing because the root system is much larger. You'll find much greater success with a larger plant than a smaller six-pack size. I don't plant six packs this time of year myself. I favor a four-inch root ball size or larger for annual flowers.
Perennials, those plants that come back every year, should be purchased in a one-gallon size or larger through summer. You want to purchase these larger-sized plants or you won't have much color this year. Perennials take a long time to root and more time to produce this year's flower.
Bottom line, for the money I like to plant four-inch-size annuals or larger, and perennials should be planted in a one-gallon size or larger whenever possible. You'll find your garden success and garden beauty dramatically increase by planting this size plant.
Herbs are one of the hottest garden products right now. Every year this department gets larger at my garden center. I think of herbs in the same light as a tomato. There is nothing better than a tomato freshly picked off the vine. Old store-bought or dried herbs are no comparison to freshly grown herbs picked right out of the garden. The Tri-City area is a perfect growing region for all your favorite herbs. They don't have to be complicated. Add your favorite herbs to your flowerbeds. They have fabulous textures, many have beautiful flowers of their own and all will romance you with their fragrance.
Window boxes, hanging baskets and basic clay pots all grow savory herbs. A classic herb container would be a strawberry pot, but instead of strawberries planted in each pocket, a different herb is used. It has that classic Mediterranean look that fits our Southwest styles.
Thyme is a Mediterranean herb that thrives in poor soil. Herb selections change by the day at garden centers, but as of today I have four different types. They all have similar growing habits, but the flavor and fragrance will change. Rub the different varieties and let your nose choose the right variety for you. Here's a tip for growing thyme, use pebbles as mulch around each plant to keep the crown from rotting.
Calendula is also known as pot marigold, or poor man's saffron. Add the chopped flower petals to rice or potatoes to add a bright yellow color and a flavor reminiscent of costly saffron.
Lavender is cherished for the clean scent of its flowers and leaves. The grayish evergreen leaves are attractive any time of year. This one is a perennial favorite for its flowers alone, but also has the added benefit of that great lavender fragrance.
Sage, long believed to imbue wisdom, is an essential seasoning for turkey stuffing. It's semi-evergreen with gray-green leaves. If you've never grown herbs before, start with sage. It grows like a weed in our climate as long as you don't over water it.
I love iced tea through summer and the number of mints available to flavor tea increases every year. Chocolate, pineapple, spearmint and peppermint are all available and delicious right off the plant or brewed with your next gallon of fresh tea.
The Southwest is salsa country and no recipe is complete without fresh herbs added. My personal favorites are cilantro, parsley and basil diced and mixed with a fresh salsa. Go light on the basil, but you can never have enough parsley and cilantro for a good mix. Another name for cilantro is coriander. It can be labeled either way when you visit your garden center.
Herb vinegars are easy to make. Place the leaves or edible flowers in a clean bottle. Fill with a good-quality white wine vinegar and let it infuse for several weeks. Keep it out of the sunlight or you'll find the flowers and leaves fade.
These are just a few of my favorites. All can be grown outdoors or in a bright window box in the kitchen. Plant your favorites and try a new one this year. Indulge yourself before your next purchase. Pinch off a leaf and taste your next herb purchase. I should caution, ask the garden center if their herbs are organically grown and free of bug sprays before you taste. Some growers love to use sprays in the greenhouse. Ask a nursery professional and they can tell you if they have been sprayed. Feel free to taste any of my herbs. They are organic and free for your sniffing, tasting and enjoyment.
Until next week, I'll be fishing. I'll have fish stories for you in next week's column with photos to back them up.
Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona certified nursery professional and master gardener.