Summer in the Southwest

Even though you can't plant or prune, there's still plenty to do outside.


Desert Botanical Garden

Cacti thrive in the heat, but a shade cloth every now and then helps offset the heat.

Photo by: Image courtesy of the Desert Botanical Garden

Image courtesy of the Desert Botanical Garden

Cacti thrive in the heat, but a shade cloth every now and then helps offset the heat.

Everyone knows there's not a lot of rainfall in the Southwest, but Rebecca Senior makes it sound downright romantic: "In this arid region, evaporation exceeds precipitation," says Senior, the desert landscape school assistant at the Desert Botanical Garden.

According to the annual averages, the Southwest will see approximately .89 inches of rain this summer—that's as much as Portland, Oregon got in one 24-hour period in March—so planting, fertilizing and pruning are on vacation until conditions ease up a bit.

But that doesn't mean you can stay inside and lay on top of the air conditioning vent until fall; your plants still need you now. Here are a few things Senior suggests to keep plants healthy in the extreme heat: 

Mucho mulching

Soil moisture reduces stress created by heat, direct solar radiation and dry air. "Mulch to retain soil moisture and watch the timing of water so that the root zone doesn't go back and forth between dry and overly wet," Senior says. 

Be a cover model

Give their little leaves some love. "Be a plant whisperer," Senior says. "Look for changes in leaves like curling and yellowing. You may need to give them temporary shade for the hottest desert months." Drape a piece of shade cloth over them to keep them cool and protect from sunburn. For smaller cacti and succulents, Senior suggests laying a cut piece of branch on the south to west side and over the more vulnerable growing tip. 

Life guard

"You may notice hot, dry wind moves through your landscape in predictable patterns," Senior says. "If a plant in one of those areas is declining, find a way to deflect the wind from it." She suggests planting tough native trees strategically to protect larger areas from wind. 

Stand back

Use the downtime to evaluate your landscape. "Summer is a time to research and plan," Senior says. "Pay attention to the hot spots, the cool areas, the wind corridors and places where rain water collects…then map and record." 

Put the plan in planting

Search out support in the community. "Join a garden club or native plant society. Take a class. Learn what works from the local experts, then plan to plant in the fall with plants programmed for success," Senior says. "Put a sticky note on your debit card that says. 'I will not impulse buy any more pretty plants; I have a plan.'"

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