No, the title is not a typographic error. We do things a little differently in the Southwest, as you folks who have moved here from back East realize by now. In the East, spring cleaning is done after the long winter months of confinement. In Tucson, we do our "spring cleaning" after the long - summer - months of confinement. East or West, spring cleaning is a time to clean everything, air out the house, and turn over the garden for planting. The clutter inside is cleaned up, and the clutter outside needs to be cleaned up too.
With cooler weather, Tucsonans emerge from summer hibernation. Fall through spring is the time that Tucsonans get out and about. Manana (Spanish for "tomorrow") is no longer the motto. We flock outdoors to enjoy cool temperatures, blue skies, and myriad events. There are outdoor concerts, shows, fairs, fiestas, garden parties and more. The recent, excellent, Jazz Festival in Oro Valley, Chili Fiesta at the Botanic Gardens, and the upcoming Koi Show on Nov. 9 and 10 are just a few examples of fun to be had. If entertaining at home is more your style, you will need to do your fall "spring cleaning" before the guests arrive.
Summer annual flowers that have been in beds or pots need to be replaced with winter blooming flowers. Go through the soil and make sure you remove any clumps of dead roots. Dead roots in the soil will rot and can cause problems for the next batch of plants. If you plant in pots, replace the potting soil or at least remove a third of the old and replenish with new. You could also add a slow release fertilizer to the soil.
Consider including herbs with your winter flowers, especially if you are a novice gardener. Herbs such as dill, cilantro and chives are tough plants and can resist the usual novice mistakes (too much water or too little). These herbs are great winter growers and provide a decorative backdrop to flowers such as pansies or calendula. The best part is that you are also growing a plant you can cook with.
Summer perennial flowers and shrubs need to be dead headed, the dead flowering stalks removed. Use clean, sharp, bypass-type prunners. Autumn sage and other salvias need spent stalks removed, as do many varieties of verbena and lantana. The Mexican bird of paradise, a shrub or small tree, will reward removal of dead stalks with a better show of bloom during the next month or so.
Herbs used for landscaping, rosemary, lavender, and their mint family cousins such as basil, lemon balm, oregano, and horehound need some care too. Lavender and horehound, with genes from northern Europe, may bloom again, and may bloom with impunity through the winter. Their Southern cousins, rosemary, basil, and oregano should be discouraged from blooming by a removing any flowering stalks. Go lightly -- severe pruning is best done in early spring or late winter to encourage lush new growth. You can dry herb flower stalks on a flattened paper sack on a shelf out of sunlight. Use them to add scent to a dried floral arrangement.
Glorious grasses and marvelous Mountain Marigolds are starting to come into their own in the fall. Mountain marigolds and other winter blooming perennials can get a half strength application of flowering fertilizer (high in phosphorous). This will keep them healthy and encourage them to flower for a long time. It is too late now to fertilize any shrubs and trees that are not winter-flowering. We usually have a frost around Nov. 21. Fertilizing would encourage new stem and leaf growth, which would get hurt by frost.
Like spring wildflowers? Last call to get them into the ground! Sow the seed, cover with a quarter inch soil, and keep evenly moist but not soaking for seven to 10 days. If you planted earlier and still do not have sprouts, did you keep it moist enough? Keep watering, or maybe the birds got your seeds. Add more seed to bare spots, and cover it a little deeper, 1/3 inch instead of 1/4, to discourage the seed eating birds. At this point, cover seed with topdressing or even use potting soil. These soils have a darker color than sand or desert soil and should help warm and nurture your tiny seedlings.
Flowering bulbs can still be planted outdoors for spring color. Select the largest, blemish-free bulbs you can buy. If you would like holiday flowers indoors, start forcing the bulbs now. Amaryllis and the Galilee paperwhite generally survive forcing for later planting in Arizona soils. Mine have bloomed for several years now in the neglected corner of the garden where I put them.
Very few trees or shrubs should be pruned now. Citrus especially should not be pruned now. Citrus trees are putting their energy into producing luscious, juice-filled fruits right now, and pruning will hurt the crop. Likewise, it is not ideal to prune trees that are in the process of becoming winter dormant. An excellent resource for further information on what to prune and when is "Pruning, Planting and Care," Eric A. Johnson's book all about caring for the plants used in southwest landscapes. The book is available at most area nurseries and botanical gardens or from the publisher, Ironwood Press here in northwest Tucson (www.ironwoodpress.com).
One last garden clean up to be done. Decide now if you are willing to commit to keeping your hummingbird feeders full of fresh nectar all day, every day, all winter long. If you will be gone for a few days or weeks, will someone fill them for you? Hummingbirds naturally fly south at this time of year as the flowers available diminish. If your feeder is out, they will linger.
Hummingbirds can overwinter in Tucson, they can even survive a light freeze. Hummingbirds survive freezing by going into a state called torpor. They need food as soon as they come out of torpor in the morning. Hummingbirds are naturally very territorial, and do not like to share "their" feeder with other birds. Thus, if you stop feeding in the middle of the winter, you may be dooming "your" hummingbirds to starvation. As a devoted watcher of these flying jewels, I ask that if you cannot feed the hummingbirds all winter long, please take the feeders down now.
In your garden or not, I hope you do get out and enjoy the lovely fall weather we are having this year. Take time to smell the flowers, and plant some too!
Do you need help with your landscape? To plan your planting, or to sign up for the next Gifts From The Garden class, call me at 292-0504. Please feel free to leave a voice message.