Wintertime Gardening Tasks

Wintertime gardening tasks in the Prescott AZ area can help your spring and summer gardens flourish.

  • Order your seeds for your vegetable, herb and flower gardens
    • I like to buy local if possible, so for my edible annuals I use Terroir Seeds Underwood Gardens in Chino Valley, AZ.   Steve and Cindy Scott are committed to saving heirloom seeds and providing seeds for plants that are well adapted to our climate and soils.
  • Rose care:
    • Remove old leaves from your roses and clean up all fallen leaves to prevent over-wintering of diseases.  Put all old leaves into trash other than composting them for the same reason.
    • Deeply mulch around crown of roses to protect roots through the winter.
    • Do not yet prune the canes as there will most likely be future damage to the canes from cold weather which necessitates more pruning later.
  • If you have not already done so, clean up your vegetable and annual beds and compost them deeply to feed the beneficial soil organisms and prevent drying of the soil.  Cover drip irrigation to protect from UV damage.
  • If you would like Mother Nature to work the soil for you, simply loosen garden bed soil with a garden fork and allow the expansion of water via the freeze thaw process to further loosen dense soils.
  • Mulching your garden soils can be done at any time of year.  wintertime gardening tasksNote that carbon rich brown mulches such as bark, hay and straw feed the soil organisms that best support perennial growth.  Nitrogen rich green mulches such as compost, manures, and freshly cut plant materials feed soil organisms that support annual growth.
  • Avoid pruning at this time for a variety of reasons:
    • Birds enjoy the seed heads all winter long, saving you money on bird food.
    • Top growth helps insulate the lower leaves and roots of plants for protection from winter cold.
    • The sap is running in conifers, especially pines, during the winter months.  Wait until spring to prune for safety and health of the plant.

Contact us to learn more about wintertime gardening tasks!

Compost Improves Annual Gardens

Compost improves annual gardens in the Prescott area.  When growing annual flowers and vegetables, compost is a beneficial source of organic material for our poor soils.  Compost improves soil fertility by feeding the microbes within the soil.  It also boosts the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water moisture.

Compost is created by the decay of organic plant-based materials in the compost improves annual gardenspresence of oxygen and water.  When you combine nitrogen rich plant-based food scraps, leaves, and grass clippings with carbon rich materials such as twigs, straw and hay in a 20:1 ratio, then microbial action breaks down the materials into usable soil amendment.

Read an informative article about the science and the art, by Jeff Schalau, Yavapai County Agent here.

You can incorporate finished compost into the soil or top dress it as a mulch on the soil surface.  Both shovel and rototiller are effective tools for digging into the soil.  Whether soil amendment or top dressing,  compost provide demonstrable benefits to the soil for annual flowers and crops.

The process of above ground composting does require physical effort on your part!  You must regularly turn and water the composting materials.  Another less energy intensive method is to bury plant-based kitchen scraps directly into your garden beds and let the soil microbes and earthworms break the materials down.  I use this technique during the winter and early spring so that decomposition is complete by the time I plant in May.  Note that cutting the kitchen scraps into small pieces increases the surface area and hastens the break down of materials.

Composting has the added benefits of sustainability, of keeping plant materials out of our landfills, of reducing the organic matter put into septic systems via garbage disposals, and even sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

Contact us to learn more about how compost improves annual gardens.

Inorganic Mulch in Landscapes and Gardens

Inorganic mulch in landscapes and gardens is widely used in the Prescott area. As defined in our prior post,  mulch is material put on the soil surface and around plants to help prevent weed growth, to decrease water loss through evaporation, to insulate the roots of plants by regulating soil temperature, to minimize erosion, to enrich the soil, and for purely aesthetic purposes.

Inorganic mulches include rocks and gravel, rubber chips, landscape fabric, and plastic sheeting.  They can stabilize soil and  originally help prevent weeds, though there is no improvement of the soil.  They can be relatively costly and labor intensive to apply.

Let’s consider the pros and cons of each type.

GRAVEL:  Applications of gravel are frequently Inorganic mulch in landscapes and gardens in Prescott areaused in sparsely planted areas in the landscape.  Heavy and labor intensive to apply, gravel helps to soften the torrential monsoon rains, encouraging water to soak into the ground and stabilizing the soil. However, gravel can also absorb heat, raising the temperature in your garden areas, so the best application may be away from your home.  Native plants and succulents do not prefer rich soils and high soil moisture content, so gravel mulch is appropriate for those plant types.

Plastic sheeting as an underlayment for mulch prevents water from soaking into the soil, robbing the landscape of precious water.  The exchange of oxygen with the soil is also diminished which impacts the soil organisms that create healthy soil.  Plastic also breaks down if exposed to sun, creating an unsightly and difficult to clean landscape.

Landscaping fabric as an underlayment does allow some water and oxygen to penetrate through the membrane.  It is costly and makes future planting or installation of additional irrigation lines difficult.

With both plastic sheeting and landscape fabric debris will accumulate on the surface over time, allowing weeds to sprout on the surface.

Rubber Mulch:  I have never been intrigued by rubber mulch as it is a petroleum product.  Linda Chalker-Scott, associate professor and extension horticulturist at the Washington State University Puyallup Research and Extension Center, has nixed the efficacy and safety of rubber mulch.  Read her comments here.

Contact us to discuss the best option for your garden, whether it be organic or inorganic mulch in landscapes and gardens.

Organic Mulch in Landscapes and Gardens

The importance of organic mulch in landscapes and gardens is significant given our climate and elevation here in the Arizona high country. The lack of precipitation in spring and fall, the torrential character of monsoon rains in the summer, and the heat of our summer sun radically influence our soil and plant growth.

Mulch can be defined as material put on the soil surface and around plants to help prevent weed growth, to decrease water loss through evaporation, to insulate the roots of plants by regulating soil temperature, to minimize erosion, to enrich the soil, and for purely aesthetic purposes.  In this post we will address organic mulches.  Look for inorganic mulches in a future post.

Organic MulchOrganic mulches derive from living things and include compost, bark, chipped wood, leaves, straw or hay, grass clippings, pine straw, and even newspaper, cardboard and shredded paper.  These organic materials break down over time, enriching the soil by feeding soil microbes, yet require periodic reapplication.

Considerations include:

  • Thick layers of leaves or grass clippings may mat together, preventing water from passing through to the soil.
  • Nitrogen rich compost (decomposed plant materials) and grass clippings are used in vegetable and flower gardens to enrich the soil.
  • Use dry grass clippings to side dress vegetable crops for added nitrogen.
  • Wet grass clippings should be used sparingly, 1/4″ deep, as greater amounts tend to smell from the decomposition process.
  • Whole dry leaves blow away in the wind.  Shredding leaves encourages them to stay put longer and break down more readily to feed soil microbes.
  • Freshly chipped wood, straw and hay rob the soil of nitrogen as the decay process consumes nitrates.
  • Use wood chippings around trees and shrubs.  They are free and locally available from tree trimmers and at the City of Prescott transfer station.
  • Nitrogen rich compost and grass clippings are beneficial in vegetable and flower gardens to enrich the soil.
  • When using straw or hay around annuals, use a higher nitrogen fertilizer to balance the nitrogen loss from the decay process.  Or, you can use it as a topdressing over rich compost.

Contact us to learn more about the importance of  organic mulch in landscapes and gardens.

 

Prescott Area Winter Garden Maintenance

Prescott Area Winter Garden Maintenance tasks are not well understood, especially by those who come here from more temperate climates and lower elevations.  Because we live and garden in the high country of Arizona with elevations 4,000 – 6,000 feet above sea level, there are dos and don’ts for landscape and garden maintenance.

Winter Garden Maintenance Tasks:Prescott Area Winter Garden Maintenance

  • Clean up the garden of accumulations of fall leaves which cover plants, shrubs and turf as well as remnants of your vegetable , flower, and annual flower gardens and compost the plant materials.
  • Exceptions to composting:
    • Rose leaves frequently carry disease, so they should be removed from the plant and ground and thrown away to minimize overwintering of pests and diseases.
    • Any diseased plant material should by thrown away rather than composted.
  • Water twice monthly unless winter snow and rain help out with .25″ of precipitation or more.  A rain gauge is a valuable tool.  Note that snow contains about 1″ of water for every 12″ of depth.
  • Winterize your irrigation system by draining the lines and insulate in-ground valves.
  • Disconnect irrigation lines connnected to outdoor spigots, as they may prevent water from draining from the water pipe, leading to possible freezing. Store the timer in the garage with the battery removed for longevity.
  • Prune dead, damaged and diseased tree limbs at any time.
    • Avoid pruning into live material of pine trees as sap will run.
  • Prune fruit trees to encourage greater production in January or February.
  • Do not prune spring blooming perennials and shrubs as you may remove much of the flowering material.
  • Deadhead flowering plants if you wish a more refined look, although there are many reasons not to deadhead:
    • Allowing rose blossoms to morph into rose hips signals the plant to hunker down for the winter and save its energy.
    • Small birds, especially gold finches, enjoy the seeds from Mexican Hat, Coneflowers and perennial gaillardia.
  • Clean, sharpen and oil tools before storing out of the elements.
  • Order seeds for next year’s flower, wildflower or vegetable garden.
  • Relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of longer nights and shorter days.  Spring will be here before you know it and life in the garden will begin again.

Garden Landscape Design Considerations

Garden Landscape Design Considerations include analyzing your natural environment to understand how land forms, climate, soil, water, and organisms interact to impact your property.  In this post we will consider land forms and micro climate in terms of the orientation of your home and garden spaces.

In the Prescott area, both land forms and elevation influence your micro climate.  This includes exterior temperature and how much sunlight, shade, or exposure to wind there is on your specific property area.  Consider:

  • Will sunlight or lack thereof be an issue for comfort and plant selection?
  • Do you need to block the intense western sun in the summer?
  • Will you want the warming of the western sun in the winter?
  • Do you wish to encourage the low winter sun into your home?
  • Will wind be an issue for patio areas or vegetable gardens?
  • How will morning or afternoon shade alter your choice of appropriate plants?

Obviously the physical attributes of your property greatly influence your garden landscape considerations.  The slope and direction of slope of your property and the orientation of your home need consideration:

  • How does the orientation of your home influence the gardens and landscape around it?
    • Southern and western sloping aspects are hot and most subject to our prevailing spring winds.
    • Southern spaces near your home are welcoming to humans and most plants during the summer, fall and winter.
    • Eastern facing garden spaces near the home receive wonderful morning sun.
    • Eastern patios and vegetable gardens are shaded from the harsh western sun and protected from strong prevailing spring winds.
    • Northern spaces near the house are cooler and shaded during the spring and fall and downright cold during the winter!
    • Western spaces receive our hot and strong sun year round. Garden Landscape Design Considerations by AZ Garden Gals
      • Patios are welcoming in the early spring (prior to the seasonal winds), summer and fall during the morning and mid-day hours.
      • Patios are not welcoming in the afternoon and early evening due to the low, bright sun which even creeps under overhead shade structures.
      • Vegetables suffer in the hot, late afternoon sun.

Contact the AZ Garden Gals to explore these and other Garden Landscape Design Considerations.

The Purpose of Your Garden and Landscape?

 purpose of your garden or landscape for AZ Garden GalsWhat  is the purpose of your garden and landscape? This is the first thing to consider when designing or renovating a garden space.  You as homeowner can help the AZ Garden Gals to help you by looking at each area and being able to share your thoughts.

To help you along this path of discovery, consider the following questions to flesh out the purpose of your garden spaces:

  • Will you be IN the garden space or will it be designed principally for visual appeal from the street or inside the house looking out?
  • Do you have children who will be sharing the spaces?
  • Are there views you wish to accentuate or views you need to block?
  • Do you want an entertainment area, sitting area, or patio to linger in?
  • Will you need a shade structure?
  • Are there pets who will be sharing the space?
  • Do you want to maximize passive solar heating of your home during the winter and minimize heat collection in the winter?
  • Will you want to grow flowers for cutting, herbs for seasoning, vegetables for eating?
  • Do you dream of creating a habitat space welcoming to birds, insects and small mammals?
  • Or, do you prefer to keep critters out of your garden spaces?
  • How will you be watering the plants?  (Note that ALL plants, even those that are native and drought-tolerant, need regular watering for the first 2-3 growing seasons.)
  • Who will be maintaining the garden and at what frequency?
  • What is your budget for installation?
  • What is your budget for maintenance?

With this information in hand, we will sit down with you to discuss how to best  help you accomplish your goals. Creating a landscape or garden space that welcomes you outside and brings you joy is a collaboration!  We will help guide you through the process with your vision and budget in mind.

Remember, take your time in considering the purpose of your garden and landscape.

Landscape and Garden Design as Collaboration

Landscape and Garden Design as Collaboration with the AZ Garden Gals! There are many ways you as homeowner can help us to help you!  Consider the following aspects about each exterior space around your home so you are best able to take advantage of our knowledge and expertise.

PURPOSE OF YOUR OUTDOOR SPACE:

Determining the purpose of each space will enable us to work with you to satisfy that purpose and design an appropriate garden or patio space.

THE ECOSYSTEM:

Consider what plants, animals, and other organisms, as well as weather, topography and water, combine to form the life around you.  Specifics to consider about your ecosystem include:

  • SUNLIGHT AND WIND:  Our high country elevation offers 4 mild seasons.  There are seasonal changes in sun positions in the daytime sky, impacting the amount of sunlight and shade received.  There are also periods of prevailing winds here in the greater Prescott area, with the spring bringing the most consistent directional wind patterns.
  • WATER:  The availability, quality and quantity of water influences the growth and survival of your landscape plants. Will you be watering via an irrigation system, manually, or via rain water harvesting techniques?  A plan is necessary to provide water to existing and new plantings during our typically dry spring and fall seasons and to augment nature’s rain and snow during the winter and summer.
  • TOPOGRAPHY:  Topography is the arrangement of the natural and artificial or man-made physical features of an area.  Altitude, slope of a property, direction of slope, and type of native vegetation influences the soil and plant selection.
  • HABITAT WILDLIFE:  Who do you wish to invite into your garden and who Habitat garden, butterflies in gardendo you wish to keep out?  Attracting butterflies, birds and pollinators may be beneficial while mammals may be less welcome.

To get the most out of our partnership,  consider these various aspects.  We will go into greater detail about each aspect in future blogs. Think of Landscape and Garden Design as Collaboration with the AZ Garden Gals.