DESERT GARDENING IN BORREGO SPRINGS


Fall Vegetable Gardening        Late Spring Gardening       Flowers of the Desert Garden


Desert Living  LATE SPRING GARDENING
By Joan Putney and Betsy Knaak
The Borrego Springs low desert has two distinct gardening seasons, the fall when many winter vegetables can be planted, and the hot summer season beginning in late March and into April, when melons, basil, squash, zinnias, marigolds, cactus, and new citrus trees can be planted.

APRIL

• Citrus: New citrus trees can be planted this month, and established trees should be fertilized.
• Landscape trees, shrubs, cacti and succulents can still go in, early in the month, so that roots get established before summer.


• Seeds or transplants of cantaloupe, jicama, lima beans, okra, basil and oregano can be set out in the warm-season garden.

• Taken from Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners: On marigolds, “Both the aroma and the excretions from the roots are invaluable, whether in flower or vegetable garden or in the greenhouse.”  Two packets of seeds are currently in the sprout stage amongst my vegetables!
• Around town in landscape: Desert gardens bloom this month with lush roses, sunny palo verde trees, and brilliant cactus blossoms. Watch for the deep purple-blue of the indigo bush.


Photo of Indigo Bush, Betsy’s Garden.


MAY
• Time to mulch. A two- or three-inch layer will conserve water, keep roots cooler during summer, deter weeds, and looks good, too. Use compost, chopped bark, pebbles, gravel, even straw. Remember to keep mulch away from stems and trunk, however. Don’t forget to mulch tomato plants.
• Now is the time to adjust irrigation in preparation for the warmer months ahead.
• If you have established palm trees, feed them this month.
• Start an Ocotillo by simply cutting off a branch and planting. Water until you are sure it is a living plant and taper off gradually. Water recently transplanted Ocotillos weekly until established.

• Let some of your cool season flowers and vegetable go to seed. Collect by tapping the heads inside a paper bag. A favorite is Fennel. Use the seeds for planting and for seasoning potato or slaw salads.
• Around town in landscape: Look for the lovely blue-gray blooms of Smoke Trees and the orchid-like blossoms of  Desert Willow to be coming in along with the heat of early summer.
 

Photo of Desert Willow, Betsy’s Garden.

 

FALL VEGETABLE GARDENING IN THE DESERT
By Betsy Knaak

October is the prime month to begin thinking about planting a vegetable garden in Borrego Springs. A vegetable garden makes sense, especially during a time of ever-rising gasoline and food prices. It pays to shop in your own garden!
If you had a garden last season, the soil has rested over the summer period—irrigation to the vegetable garden has been turned off, the soil enhanced, watered, and then covered with plastic to sterilize under the desert’s hot summer sun.

Late August-September: Often the tendency is to plant too early in our low desert (Zone 13) garden. We may experience a late hot spell that destroys tender shoots of seeds planted too early. Rather than starting seeds in the garden bed, use flats or used six-pac containers to start seeds. Leave these outside, lightly covered, in the shade, and keep them moist. Soon the seedlings will appear. By the time October comes, you will have a nice selection of little vegetable plants to put into raised beds. Remember, vegetables need six to eight hours of sunlight per day, so choose your location carefully.

This is the time to plant herbs: chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, sage, or lavender. Herbs can be started from seed in small containers or flats.  Now is also the time to plant beets, carrots, turnips, and radishes. Be cautious with radishes. Plant a few seeds each week as they grow rapidly. Plant these seeds in the main vegetable plot. (Don’t start them in flats.) As soon as your flat seedlings are about four inches tall and look vigorous, transplant them into the bed (Nov). 

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Swiss chard grows great! It’s delicious and many prefer it over spinach. It is packed with nutrients, has gorgeous shiny leaves, which now come in many colors, and it is a clean, insect-free plant. The leaves keep growing after each cutting. Harvest the first leaves last December and still be picking into early summer! We encourage you to try Swiss chard in your Borrego Springs or other low desert garden! Arugula and kale are additional options for greens that grow here.

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Bok choy is another excellent fall plant that is delicious in salads and stir-fry dishes. It can be expensive and exotic in the grocery store, but is an easy, fast grower in Borrego’s sandy soil. Left to flower, the yellow blooms are attractive to pollinating bees and other beneficial insects. 

Green onions can be started in flats or sown directly into the garden in October or November. Be patient, they take time, but are well worth it. They are a good “beginner” crop for new gardeners and are one of the more rabbit-resistant food crops in the desert. Bulb onions do well also. We put in sets in fall, just be patient; they take about five months.
These vegetables can be attractive to insects: cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli to a lesser extent. We are not proponents of using insecticide in the garden, so include only a few of these plants and see how you do. We’ve found broccoli to be more resistant to insects here than cabbage. Even so, we’ve had good luck with both red and green cabbage, several varieties of broccoli, and cauliflower. We have started these both from seed in late summer or September, and have also gone the way of purchasing starts if we didn’t get going with seeds in time. The latest we have planted cabbage, cauliflower, or broccoli starts here wasJanuary 4, with gave us harvests in mid-March. This is a little late, but can be done successfully!

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