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Gardening success just a few steps away
The Yuma Garden Club meets Sept. 17, 1 p.m., Main Library, and thereafter the second Monday of each month. Pecan Grove Garden Club meets the third Tuesday, 6 p.m., Main Library. MGM Garden Club meets each Tuesday morning to maintain the Robert J. Moody Demonstration Garden, 2200 W. 28th St. Yuma Orchid Society meets the second Thursday, 1 p.m., Foothills Library.
Last week, a friend of mine said her gardening skills were so bad that four rocks died in her rock garden. With this summer's high heat and humidity, I can see why even rocks rolled over and died.
Many people new to Yuma think this is a location where plants just won't grow. It does take more care and effort to grow a garden here, but we can grow a nice variety of drought-resistant perennials and a multitude of annuals, vegetables and herbs each winter.
To make gardening in Yuma successful, a few steps need to be followed.
First, choose plants that are zoned for Yuma. Yuma is USDA zone 10b and Sunset climate zone 12-13. Many times, nurseries will get plants in that look great but die the minute you take them home and put them in the ground. In many instances, the plants were meant to grow in a cooler zone and not in 10b.
Often, nurseries receive shipments of plants with no say as to what varieties they are getting. This can cause problems. Before purchasing a plant, check the Sunset Western Garden Book or Google the plant to see what USDA zones it will grow in. Plants listed as USDA zones 10a-b grow well here.
Second, prepare your garden soil properly. Cacti require a completely different soil mix than annuals and vegetables. Veteran cactus grower Cal Kelley says, “I use a mixture of 75 percent potting soil, 5 percent sand, 5 percent peat moss, 5 percent vermiculite and 10 percent pea gravel for in-ground planting. If cacti are grown in pots, I replace some of the pea gravel with perlite to keep the pots lighter.
“Cuttings in pots require more pea gravel to give faster drainage until they root. Once rooted, plant the cuttings in the ground. Keeping cacti in pots requires a lot more work to keep the water and soil conditions correct. I have to repot my cacti in containers every two years because of the build-up of salts from the water.
“If you create your own mix, you save money and have a better soil than commercial mixes offer. Of course, every person who grows cacti has their own special soil mix. If my mix doesn't work for you, try different percentages of the ingredients until you find a formula you like.”
For annuals, amend the soil with aged steer manure and organic compost. Fred Duncan, garden club member, prefers Kellogg Gromulch for his compost material. Osmocote time-release fertilizer may also be added to the soil to supply extra nutrients for about six months.
Some plants, such as gardenias, require an acidic soil and can be fed a liquid fertilizer that will decrease the pH level. Many plants do not tolerate alkaline soil, which is common in this area. Raised beds containing a mixture of fresh top soil, aged steer manure and organic compost will help alleviate the problem. Annual soil amendments will ensure your garden contains proper nutrients for satisfactory plant growth.
Third, choose the right location. Check the plant's label or Google the plant online to learn whether it grows best in shade or direct sun. The wrong location can spell doom for a new plant.
Fourth, learn the water requirements of newly purchased plants and group them according to water needs. Some plants prefer a damp soil while others need to have the soil dry out between watering. Cacti require even less water and can be killed by a conscientious gardener who overwaters. Adding a drip system to perennial beds will help them survive our dry summer weather and relieve you of having to water in the heat.
Fifth, consider the current temperature before starting your garden. Because of Yuma's extended summer temperatures, gardeners need to check the thermometer before planting. As long as daytime temperatures are in the high 80s and 90s, don't plant transplants in your garden.
Wait until temperatures cool down to the low 80s. This usually occurs in late September, early October. Nothing is more discouraging than preparing your soil, purchasing plants, planting them and watching them shrivel up because of excessive heat. A patient gardener is often the most successful one. Seeds, on the other hand, can be planted as soon as temperatures drop below 90 degrees.
A great reference tool for choosing plants and preparing your garden area is the Sunset Western Garden Book. It gives detailed information on all facets of gardening and has a list of plants that grow well in our area, along with information about each plant and how to care for it.
Sixth, join a local garden club to learn what grows in Yuma and how to grow it. Gardening programs are presented at each meeting, and members enjoy sharing their gardening successes and failures with fellow members.
An understanding of the steps necessary to prepare and plant your garden will make your gardening experience successful and productive.
Our long growing season, September-April, provides great conditions for growing a multitude of plants. A few annuals to consider planting this fall are stock, petunias, alyssum, snapdragons, California poppies, pansies, geraniums, African daisies, stock, marigolds, lobelia, sunflowers, sweet peas, calendulas and nasturtiums. If you would like trying something different, plant baby's breath, Bells of Ireland, clarkia, coreopsis, cosmos, bachelor's buttons, salvia and larkspur.
Herbs to plant include chives, cilantro, dill, mints, oregano, thyme, Mexican tarragon, rosemary and parsley.
Bulbs that grow well include the daylily, crinum, narcissus and gladiola. Daffodils, hyacinths and tulips need to be purchased now and placed in paper bags and pre-chilled. Plant them in mid-October for pretty spring blooms.
For those of you feeling the urge to get your vegetable garden growing, plant Swiss chard, onions, carrots, spinach, leaf lettuce, broccoli, peas, beans, collards, cabbage, bell peppers, chili peppers, egg plant, tomatoes and beets.
Groundcovers include gazania, moss rose, verbena, vinca and gloriosa daisy. Vines to plant include Black-Eyed Susan, morning glory, Queen's Wreath, ivy and Arabian Jasmine. Succulents include elephant's food, ice plant, aloes and agaves.
Shrubs include lantana, datura, myrtle, butterfly bush, cape honeysuckle, chinese hibiscus, crape myrtle, desert ruellia, firebush, natal plum, oleander, red bird of paradise, rose of sharon, spotted emu bush, Valentine emu bush, Texas sage and Mexican bird of paradise.
In remembrance of Sept. 11, the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma would like to salute our armed forces and veterans. We commend you for a job well done. Lest we forget, our military keeps our democracy secure.
Karen Bowen is a master gardener and member of Yuma Garden Club. This column is sponsored by the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma.