Southern Arizona is blessed in many ways. We have spectacular sunsets, majestic mountains, and a most salubrious winter climate. Despite the occasional cold front that touches down, withering tender plants, winters are, on the whole, great for growing.
Grow some winter color. There are a number of annual plants that prefer cooler weather, withering once it warms up in April. This late in the season, get the transplants at the nursery. The soil is now too cold for seeds to sprout. My three favorites for winter are calendula, stock and Johnny-jump-ups. They are colorful, stock is fragrant, and they do not need deadheading to look good.
Also pretty are the ornamental cabbages, dusty millers and pansies, plus they survive down to about 25 degrees. If you have a protected area, snapdragon, lobelia, and dianthus can also be planted now.
Poppies are colorful and in the nurseries now but place them in a slightly protected area. Partially under a tree is good or in a large pot on a patio.
If there is a freeze, plants will recover best if the early morning sun shines on them. Remember that all nursery stock has been pampered before you get it. It may get zapped by cold if placed out in an unprotected area. All these colorful winter annuals add such a cheerful note to the garden, especially when the days are gray and cloudy.
If you overseeded your Bermuda lawn with winter rye, now is a good time to fertilize. Since grass is grown for its leaves, all the lawn really needs is some nitrogen. Look for a “lawn” fertilizer like plain ammonium sulfate. Follow label directions, and do not over water.
January is the best time to get rid of weeds. Since you have just filled your yard with colorful annuals, it is a pleasure to do this little task. The best time to eliminate weeds is long before flowers and seeds. A hoe or spade will also chop the top from the root, and the plants are small enough yet that they should not resprout. Yanking them out by the roots after the rain we had works well too.
Catch your weeds before they seed. The old saying is, “One year weeding equals seven years seeding.” Save yourself seven years of playing catch-up!
It is not too late, nor too early, to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Tender plants like bougainvillea should not be planted now, nor should palms or succulent cacti and agaves, but virtually any other native Sonoran desert plant can take winter planting.
If it warms up early this spring, like the weather folks predict, then your plants will be in good shape for surviving the heat of summer. Don’t overwater your transplant; cold soils combined with the inevitable transplant micro-damage to roots can cause rot.
There is plenty to do in the yard in winter. This is a great excuse to get outside, soak up a little vitamin D, and relish the blessings a southern Arizona winter provides.
Jacqueline is offering classes on gardening and landscaping at Oasis this spring. You can register online at: oasisnet.org/Cities/TucsonAZ.aspx