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6. Ask a Desert Gardener, Jan 2024

January marks the end of 2023’s gardening season and the commencement of a new gardening year.

2023 had long periods of excessively high temperatures and extended drought periods followed by short “damaging bursts” of torrential rainfall leading to flash flooding. This intense weather pattern led to large numbers of plants, (even natives!) to suffer and die!

In addition to plants, soil is also affected by heat, drought and flooding. High pH levels from alkali salt buildup can cause plant root systems to stop their absorption of needed nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and iron. This leads to stunted growth, yellowing of leaves, diminished flowering and increased vulnerability to insect and disease damage.  In order to prevent harm to your landscapes, there are a number of preventative steps that you can take now before the growing season begins.

To lower pH levels, apply sulfur into the soil. This can be done now so that in springtime, plant fertilizers will be properly absorbed via the plants’ root systems.  

If you lost plants last season due weather-related issues; replace them with heat/ drought tolerant native plants. Gardening centers designate which plants address your needs. You can modify your irrigation by both adding and repositioning drip emitters so that they are located near “active roots” where water can be absorbed. As your landscape plants grow, their roots spread further from stems and trunks.

In addition, you can diminish evaporation in the soil and keep ground temperatures lower in summer by replacing rock mulch with wood chips or compost.

During last year’s growing season, did the plants’ leaves look yellowish with green veins running through them? This can be caused by iron-deficiency (Chlorosis) which can be caused by poor iron absorption. Apply chelated iron directly into the soil and water thoroughly. Apply now through June. If, however, the condition appears during July-August, a special “spray-type” iron should be used directly on the leaves.  Applying iron, when needed, will accelerate photosynthesis and improve plant color and health! 

Finally, complete all pruning before any buddings mark the beginning of the new growing season. Have a gardening question? Contact me at: Theplantwhisperer28@gmail.com

Howard Galin is a University of Nevada certified Master Gardener and the Chair of the SCA Garden Club House Call Program.