Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs March 2002
PENSTEMONS, BRITTLE BUSH, GLOBE MALLOWS & GOURDS

MARCH

It's March! Go for it! Plant trees, shrubs, cactus, tomato plants, herbs, etc. before the heat is on.  Winter visitors take heed: ALL PLANTS INCLUDING CACTUS REQUIRE REGULAR WATERINGS FOR SURVIVAL THROUGH THE SUMMER.  If you don't have an irrigation system or someone reliable to water your plants when you're away you'll have a landscape of corpses when you return.

Lack of rainfall last fall and this winter has meant a punk year for the blooming of annual wildflowers such as Poppies, Lupines, Owl Clover etc.  The desert perennials will still produce some flowers and the following ones are excellent for a desert landscape.

PENSTEMON

These plants get oohs and aahs from everybody, especially hummingbirds when they produce their spectacular spikes of pink, red, or coral flowers in March, April and sometimes into May.  From about May through February, they don't do much of anything, except for Penstemon eatonii and Penstemon baccharifolius which may produce an occasional flower.  In fact, most species are semi-dormant during summer when they can look pretty raunchy and easily rot from overwatering.  Most Penstemon pictures you see in publications show them in their spring glory but fail to mention that glory is a transient condition.  Of course, if you truly like native and desert plants you will appreciate all their seasonal aspects.  Really the best time to plant Penstemons is in the fall, although no one will ever do this because they are not flowering then.  The best varieties for the low desert include Penstemon parryi(pink), Penstemon eatonii(red), Penstemon superbus(coral) and Penstemon baccharifolius(shrubby form with red flowers).

BRITTLEBUSH

Brittle Bush(Encelia farinosa) This shrubby gray to whitish leafed plant is very common on desert hilsides and is especially noticeable in March with its yellow, daisy like flowers.  This tough native plant can survive with very little water once established and, in fact, will become too lush and floppy if overwatered.  Light trimming or pinching in winter and spring will keep the plant compact.  Aphids love this plant.

GLOBE MALLOW

(Sphaeralcea ambigua). This perennial shrub is a rewarding native plant to have since it is not too difficult to keep alive and needs little water once established.  Also it has a long flowering period if it's given extra water and the spent flowers are trimmed back.  The flowers come in an array of colors from pure white through shades of lavender, salmon, pink, orange, and deep rose.  Orange is the most common color in the wild.  Trim back to keep compact.

All of the above plants have the capability of reseeding themselves, so if you want this to occur, hide the pruning shears from the plant neatnik in the family.  Dead flower stalks may look ugly but they harbor within the potential for lots of new little seedlings.  Seeds wait until cool weather to germinate and only do so if nature or you and your hose provide sufficient moisture.  Some seeds lie dormant for years waiting for the right sprouting conditions.

GOURDS

Go out of your gourd with  Gourds!! March is time to plant Gourd seed as well as Squash, Melon, Cucumber and Sunflower seed.  We had a lot of fun with and comments about our Gourds on the fence.  Some of the things we learned are that the vines get huge, require copius amounts of water, sometimes croak without warning, get aphids, leaf miners, whiteflies and powdery mildew, need constant guidance, take forever to set fruit which in turn take forever to ripen.  Whew!!  Even with all these problems, Barbara, the Shady Way garden lady is chomping' at the bit to plant even more this year!  We've got a good selection of seeds so that you too can have some of these problems!  Your reward is green vines with pretty flowers during the hot summer months and lots of cool Gourds hanging around.

SEEDLINGS

Don't forget to protect emerging seedlings and young plants from crafty birds and the ever present mad March hares that can lay waste to any green thing in the click of a jaw!  A chicken wire or mesh enclosure is your best defense. 

CITRUS

Also remember not to fertilize Citrus when flowering or after fruits have set as this can sometimes cause them to drop.  Fertilizer can be applied more safely later when fruits are golf ball size.

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Web Comments george@mswn.com September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004