Transition to September planting season
Many of us have gardened in places where the soil is rich, its pH perfectly balanced, the climate blessed with consistent rainfall, gentle sun, and plant-coddling humidity. Mountain soil and climate present the opposites of such ideal gardening conditions!
Here’s an encapsulated definition of the characteristics of mountain gardening and how to contend with them:
The local USDA garden zone is 6b with a definite influence from zone 7. This defines our area as mild, but with a definite winter and possible subzero temperatures.
Never, but never, underestimate the Arizona sun, wind, and dry air. They are major influences in determining which plants do well in our landscapes, and which ones won’t. Local soils are typically heavy clay with very little organic material. Therefore, soil preparation for planting is of extreme importance. It demands the addition of composted premium mulch to your soil to either hold in the moisture for granite soils or to prevent clay soils from compacting.
Our soil is alkaline and usually doesn’t need the addition of either lime or wood ashes, which would increase its already high pH. When selecting plants for mountain landscapes look for those with thick, leathery leaves; they allow plants to retain a high degree of moisture and to be less prone to tearing in the area’s fierce windstorms.
This is where it pays to talk to a gardening expert with some experience in local landscapes. It can save you a whole lot of time, energy, and expense in creating your landscape.
Mild winter temperatures provide enough of the chilling necessary for all the deciduous fruits and perennials to thrive in the region. They include apples, peaches, cherries, grapes and berries.
This climate also is conducive to blooming deciduous shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, hardy camellia, rose of Sharon, butterfly bush and Russian sage. Some of the loveliest roses in the country thrive here without the tedious demands of constant tending necessary in more humid climates. Thanks to the low humidity and mild winters, mountain roses experience few problems with bugs, mildew and virtually no black spot.
The climate is so mild that we garden and design landscapes 12 months of the year. The average last frost date in spring is Mother’s Day. However, spring is so mild that our cool season gardens can be planted as early as March 1. These can include lettuces, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, onions, radishes and more.
The first light frost happens on or about Halloween, depending on your garden’s specific elevation, but all mountain gardens look great through Thanksgiving. This makes the average frost-free growing season in our region approximately 150 days long.
The area is surrounded by National Forest lands so plant-eating mammals can be threats to all gardening efforts. Javelinas, deer, antelope, rabbits, squirrels and gophers all have the potential to devour portions of a carefully planned landscape. It is essential to be very selective of the plants used for landscaping in these critter-populated areas. This is another case where professional advice can save you many headaches and costly errors. Labor Day is the official start time of fall planting in the region, so that means there are two months left to our warm-weather growing season. If you’ve been considering a landscape addition to create more seasonal excitement in the garden, now is the time to take action. Whether planting some of the past season’s stock or new arrivals, the plants have plenty of time to develop extensive root systems before winter. Garden success definitely increases when plants are put in during the monsoon season. Many that bloom in late summer and autumn are especially happy when planted this time of year.
Until next week, I’ll be helping “transitioning ”local gardeners here at Watters Garden Center.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through his website at wattersgardencenter.com.