Originally Published: July 28, 2007 6:54 a.m.
Although it feels like it in June, you'll never convince me that we live in a desert. As of this column deadline, my yard has had well over 2 inches of rain and some of my customers report having received twice that amount. In their attempts to convince me that we live in a desert climate, some headstrong individuals have actually manipulated pertinent data to make their points, but I rely on nature to speak the truth: Pines, oaks, and junipers do not grow in deserts.
Look closely at the cross section of an old tree cut down from our area and you will find wide ring bands indicating years of much rain. Conversely, that tree's narrow bands are testimony to stretches of drought. Talk to some of our area's longtime ranching families and they can tell great stories of past droughts, major snows, and years of intense rain. Weather extremes are part of our gardening heritage at high altitude.
One of our best growing seasons is as the monsoon rains hit. This is when, with their root zones saturated with water, our plants take off with new root growth. In our rocky alkaline soil, native trees do not form tap roots; instead they send roots down to 2-3 feet where they then grow parallel to the soil's surface. They keep their roots close to the surface to take advantage of any seasonal moisture and food that comes their way.
Unfortunately, not only our cultivated plants thrive with abundant rain; weeds also agree that this is a great time to grow. Everything grows so fast now that even weeds will double in size in just a couple of days. Knowing that this year's weed crop will be bountiful, I have been recommending the use of Hi-Yield "Weed & Grass Preventer" for the last few weeks. This easy-to-spread granular kills unwanted seeds as they germinate. Use it directly on your flowerbeds and around trees; Weed & Grass Preventer only affects seeds, it never affects fully-rooted plants. This simple product takes minutes to put down, but saves hours worth of tedious weeding.
Because of the increased humidity and saturating monsoon rains, plants are poised for some exuberant growth. This is a good time to help them along with application of a good fertilizer. Just as we humans do, plants need to eat. Just as most of us eat three times a day, I recommend feeding the entire yard three times per year: One feeding at the beginning of spring, once in the fall when leaves turn color, and right now with the monsoon rains.
Feeding now will bring out the color in your landscape, promote more flowers, and push new growth from the smaller plants to get them up to a mature size in a hurry. Just this week I fed my entire yard with Fertilome 'Start-N-Grow'. Not only is this granular plant food tasty to plants but, it's a beautiful turquoise color. It's so pretty you'll feel like adding a little cream and sugar to a bowl of these granules and trying some yourself. Just kidding, of course.
For plants that have been stressed by the summer heat I also add "Soil Activator' by Natural Guard. This all natural product promotes new root hairs to grow deep within the soil creating a stronger plant. I have brought fragile plants back to life with this single soil additive. It's especially effective on shallow-rooted plants like lawns, flowers and perennials; but it's important to get it applied before a good rain.
I use a bag of each of these products in my front yard and another bag of each in the back yard. After I figure out the ratio of food-to-plants, I like to race to see how quickly I can get the job done. This week it took 10 minutes in the front yard and another 15 minutes in the back yard; and because I am motivated by competing with myself in my yard work, I'm sure that at the next feeding I can shave off even more from those times.
At this point my customers frequently come up with a pair of important questions: "Ken, do I need to work Start-N-Grow or Soil Activator into the soil, and will they go through the weed fabric under my rock?" My answer has surprised many of my gardening friends, because I never rake foods into the soil. I simply put them down and walk away. I let the rains work everything through the rocks and into the soil. Lazy, I know, but highly effective.
If you aren't sure how much to feed a plant, I suggest you adopt my "If in doubt, leave it out" approach to plant foods. If you put it on too heavily or spill food on a plant, you can burn the foliage. Remember: "If in doubt, leave it out." You can always apply more later, but it's hard to remove an overdose! Remember to read all labels carefully and follow the directions.
If you accidentally scatter plant food on the foliage, I recommend washing off the granules. On sunny days, plant food can spot the leaves. In my flower and lawn areas, I run a short irrigation cycle to rinse off the leaves and flowers.
For more specific gardening info, contact me via e-mail through 'The Personal Gardener Newsletter" found only on my web site at www.wattersonline.com. If you prefer to call me with your questions, you can reach me at 541-1016 every Saturday from 7 to 8 a.m. on Gardening in Granite at KYCA 1490AM. It's my radio show with local gardening news and the best gardening how-to unique to the mountain gardens of Arizona.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.