Prescott AZ Area Gardening Challenges

Prescott AZ area gardening challenges are many when creating landscapes and gardens.  However, once main challenging factors are understood, it is not difficult to address them.

In this post I will discuss the greatest limiting factor and give you some solutions to minimize it in your garden:  alkalinity.

Our soil and ground water is alkaline in nature with pH well above neutral.  pH is a scientific measurement based on neutral being 7.0.   Numbers above are alkaline and numbers below are acidic.  As the chemical makeup of our soil and water moves away from neutral, soil organisms and plants are less able to utilize necessary elements within the soil.  This is true whether there naturally or introduced as fertilizers and amendments.

Prescott AZ area gardener’s solutions to soil and water alkalinity:

Select native plants tolerant of and well-adapted to alkaline soils.  Simply accept that many annuals and perennials will not thrive in alkaline soils.  This is  especially true for fruit trees, vegetables, annual flowers and container plants.

Collect rainwater for irrigation of plants which are less  adapted to alkalinityPrescott AZ area gardening challenges alkaline soil and water.  Rainwater is neutral in pH and in some areas slightly acidic due to air pollution.  Rainwater  helps to leach out some of the salts which hinder soil organisms and a plant’s use of elements in the soil, moving the soil pH ever so slightly toward neutral.  I am sure you have all noticed how landscape plants perk up after a rain!  This is why!

Acidify the soil and water by the introduction of organic matter and other acidic amendments.  These move the pH toward neutral.  Loosen your soil to encourage good drainage and then you can regularly add:

  • Compost and small amounts of manures
  • Soil sulfur:  caution, there will be a slight rotten egg aroma!
  • Liquid acidifiers:  caution not to burn roots with too high a concentration!
  • Acidic fertilizers and amendments such as cotton seed meal and ammonia-based fertilizers
  • Mulch with pine needles, pine bark, and  composted oak leaves

Contact us to learn more about alkalinity and other Prescott AZ Area gardening challenges.

Attracting Garden Pollinators by Creating Habitat

Attracting Garden Pollinators is vital for both native plants and vegetable plots to increase flowering and fruiting.  Pollinators visit the plants in your landscape, sharing pollen from plant to plant and aiding in the reproductive cycle.

In this post about attracting pollinators to your garden I will summarize information from and my own knowledge about the best way to attract pollinators to your garden, be they bees, butterflies, birds, flies, or moths.  Future posts will suggest specific plants to attract your pollinators of choice here in the greater Prescott area.

As with all living organisms, pollinators need food sources, shelter, and water to survive in any habitat.  Your garden habitat will be most attractive toAZ Gardens Gals suggest Attracting garden pollinators by creating habitat pollinators if you consider:

  • Food Sources should include nectar, pollen and host plants upon which larvae feed.  Incorporating a wide variety of plants with differing bloom seasons, sizes, shapes, flower colors and flower structures helps to:
    • Ensure food sources from early spring to late fall
    • Attract and support the greatest variety of pollinators
    • Ensure pollination efficiency
  • Shelter should be available which provides protection from predators and the elements, and which offers nesting sites and materials.
    • A natural canopy of trees, taller shrubs and perennials provide protection
    • Dead snags and plants as well as leaf litter provide homes for many insects
    • Bee boxes attract solitary bees
  • Water should be available at different heights throughout the garden.
    • Supply clean water at reliable intervals so pollinators develop the habit of returning to your garden habitat
    • Provide shallow water containers with sloping sides or with pebbles or marbles which provide perching surfaces for pollinators preventing the drowning typical in deeper bird baths
    • Provide shallow mud puddles or “muddles” for butterflies to safely land upon to extract moisture from the mud

For greatest positive impact on the pollinators you attract, eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden.

It’s easy and fun to enjoy Attracting Garden Pollinators!

Prepare Now for New Planting

Prepare now for new planting in your annual and perennial gardens in the greater Prescott area. Whether creating a new garden plot or preparing current spaces for future planting, you can get to work!

  1. If your garden soil is too hard or too wet to work,  you can simply mulch areas with organic mulch.  This will help by maintaining soil moisture and feeding soil organisms to assist in enriching the soil.  Remember to use “green” mulches higher in nitrogen content such as compost, manure, and freshly cut green foliage for annual plantings.  Use “brown” mulches high in carbon such as bark, wood chippings, and brown dry leaves for perennial plantings.
  2. If you will be growing plant starts from seeds, make sure to purchase youraz garden gals' advice to prepare now for planting seeds now.  Also, clean your seed starting supplies well to reduce the possibility of spreading disease.  And, purchase seed starting medium or make your own.  Start your annual plants 6-8 weeks prior to planting and place under grow lights or in a sunny south facing window.
  3. Repair any obvious above ground damage to your irrigation system.  You should not turn on the system unless you are prepared to drain the lines afterward to prevent frost damage.  And, you should already have removed irrigation timers attached to hose bibs and spigots.  Leaving them attached prevents the water from draining out, leaving the hose bib and piping subject to freeze damage.  Drain the timer, remove batteries and store in an above freezing environment.  If your hose bib does not have anti-siphon capacity, insulate it with store bought or homemade insulation.
  4. Have insulating materials at the ready to extend your growing season.   Row covers, walls-of-water, cold frames, cloches, greenhouses all serve to protect newly planted from frost damage.

Follow the AZ Garden Gals’ advice to prepare now for new planting!

Habitat Gardens Attract and Sustain Wildlife

Habitat gardens attract and sustain wildlife, insects, pollinators, birds, AZ garden gals design habitat gardensbutterflies, and reptiles.  Intentional use of native and well-adapted plants provide food, shelter, nest building materials and structures. And, the addition of water at different elevations within your garden is critical to attract and support a diversity of critters.

The concept of habit gardening also encourages sustainable practices which conserve water, improve the soil, control non-native or invasive species, and utilize organic methods.

Why plant for habitat creation?  Here’s just a few reasons:

  • For pure enjoyment of bounteous life in your garden!habitat gardens attract and sustain wildife
  • Reduced maintenance and expense associated with native plants.
  • Flowering plants attract pollinators to help in pollinating your vegetables for increased yields.
  • Plant foliage and flowers provides food sources for insects whose populations are dwindling, such as monarch butterflies, as open space which supports wild flowers is rapidly diminishing.
  • Rebuild your soil for healthier plants.
  • Reset your intention to live and garden in a sustainable fashion.

The National Wildlife Federation explains:  “You can invite wildlife back to your own yard and neighborhood by planting a simple garden that provides habitat. Imagine your garden teeming with singing songbirds, colorful butterflies, flitting hummingbirds, and other small wildlife.”  The NWF will certify your garden as a habitat garden if it meets minimum standards.  A checklist for certification of your garden as a Habitat Garden can be found here.

While much of my property is undisturbed native vegetation, I created a fenced habitat garden where I also grow vegetables.  I have plants which attract birds, bees, moths, and hummingbirds, song birds, jays, an occasional quail family, and lizards and the occasional snake.  Rainwater collection provides water for non-native, thirstier plants.  I use compost and drip irrigation and mulch to build the soil and conserve water.  There are several bird baths and basins of water on the ground and on columns for drinking and bathing.    A habitat garden brings life into your garden for everyone’s benefit.

Contact us to learn more about how habitat gardens attract and sustain wildlife.


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.