Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs Jan-Feb 2005
Ok, it rained....now why am I sneezing

JANUARY

After the much needed winter rains, our desert is sporting a look we havenít seen for awhile Ö.GREEN!  One of the smaller native shrubs contributing to the lush look is the abundant and widespread Triangle Leaf Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea). This gray leafed shrub is now being used extensively to revegetate desert areas denuded for construction, along freeways, in common areas, and in drought resistant landscaping. After establishment, this plant will survive with little or no supplemental water.  Indeed, many times it is overwatered with irrigation systems and becomes rank and sprawling.  In its native habitat Triangle Leaf Bursage goes dormant and even leafless during rainless periods and like other truly drought tolerant plants it looks pretty raunchy during times of stress.  It often appears beyond redemption, only to spring to life with a shot of moisture. Along with its drought resistant feature, other desirable points are its small size (a couple of feet high and around Ė if not overwatered!), low maintenance requirements, and dense silvery gray foliage.  The un-assuming, greenish yellow flowers  that appear in late winter and spring are nothing to write home about, unless youíre one of the lucky people with allergies! Yes, unfortunately this is a premier hayfever plant, being a kissing cousin of the ubiquitous Ragweed.  So, is you nose itching?  Your eyes watering?  Are you sneezing uncontrollably??  Donít be too quick to blame the most colorful or most obvious flowers around you, it could be that unassuming but sneaky Bursage!  Colorful flowers depend on insects for pollination and so oftentimes have a heavier pollen that is not as air-borne as the pollen of less obvious flowers such as those of grasses and the  trees and shrubs that depend on wind for pollination.  Those are the ones that get up your nose and in your lungs.  Since Bursage is such a common desert plant, putting some in your yard wonít change the situation much.

Another larger shrub is the Giant Bursage  or Canyon Ragweed
(Am
brosia ambrosioides).  The leaves of this plant are larger and greener and although the greenish flower spikes are inconspicuous to the eye,  the nose knows when they are in bloom!  This plant haunts the desert washes and is occasionally used in revegetation programs.  A smaller, but we think more interesting, Bursage  for your desert landscape is White Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa).  The little whitish leaves are lacey  and the branches dense. Old plants develop the gnarled look prized by bonsai enthusiasts.  In fact they make an excellent subject for a container bonsai. This is also a plant that needs little or no supplemental water once itís established in the landscape. It looks good near boulders and among cactus.   
 
 One of the colorful plants youíll see now is the Valentine
(TM)  Emu Bush (Eremophila maculata).  You wonít see this one on the desert as itís an Australian introduction.  Not many downsides to this plant!  It can be kept to a desirable size with a light trimming after flowering, has no thorns, is frost and drought tolerant, has cute little purplish evergreen leaves, isnít very messy and produces a striking show of carmine flowers in late winter.  One minor downside is that the striking flowers occur pretty much only during this time, with the plant looking fairly unremarkable the rest of the year.

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea) is another Australian plant that is very colorful in late winter only.  This tough vine produces cascades of bright purple flowers. Its twining stems  with dense, dark green leaves will cover sunny walls, trellises and arbors fairly quickly. It will tolerate poor soils but must have good drainage. And as far as vines go itís not exceptionally messy.

February is a Tomato planting month in the low desert areas, and you can enjoy homegrown fruits if you remember a few things. One is that the varieties that get huge and luscious  in other parts of the country donít usually have enough time to properly ripen here before the heat sets in. Try to use varieties that ripen in 70-75days.  Some of the most successful medium fruited varieties here include but are not limited to Early Girl, Celebrity, Beefmaster, Lemon Boy, Champion, Betterboy.

The cherry types do very well here and will produce fruits later into the summer.  Sweet 100 and Yellow Pear are good varieties.  In the desert the skins of Tomatoes are often tough and tend to crack due to the dry air and will sunburn if not shaded by leaves. When planting now, put plants in rich soil and where they get the most sun. Be sure to protect from frost. Also remember that you can take off the lower leaves and plant very deep into the soil to get a more extensive root system which will support growth and fruit production.  Using a large and portable container or pot full of rich commercial soil  for your Tomato crop is sometimes a lot easier than trying to prepare a proper bed in our hard desert soils.

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Web Comments george@mswn.com February 20, 2005 © Shady Way Nursery 2004