Gardening – Winter Garden in the Desert

When we transitioned from the northeast to the southwest, it was a dramatic change on a number of levels. We left many of our friends and relatives behind and there was a huge void in our lives because of this.

While most noticeable, friends and family were not our only loss. We also lost our gardens and plants that we relied on for our three seasons of flower-filled joy. There are a number of plants we grew easily in the Northeast (Hunterdon County, New Jersey) such as hostas, astilbes, hydrangeas, morning glories, dahlias, etc. that either struggle in the Sonoran Desert or just downright die.

We have learned, of course, that there are trade offs. We have come to love gazanias which grace us with their bouquet of striking colors throughout the year and we are likewise able to grow geraniums in the spring through early summer and then again from late fall through the winter and spring if we avoid a hard freeze.

Here are some of our gazanias growing strong in January when football on television shows snowstorms in the northeast.





It is a bit unusual to have the alyssum (above) so full and lush this time of year, but we nursed them along. It is so delightful to experience that honey-like smell during a winter’s afternoon.

We have had a couple of light frosts which leave our gardens looking funky when festooned with frost cloths. These are only temporary for a day or two and then they are removed and kept at the ready should we need them again. We haven’t had a significant frost in quite a few years. Last year there were no frost days in our particular area, but we stood ready to take action if necessary!



Our mid-fall planting of geraniums on either side of our front door are still doing well.



In a previous photo, we took a peek at the alyssum currently in bloom, but what wasn’t obvious was their potted companions; pink geraniums.



They really make a great team especially during those chilly winter days when we are glad to be reminded of the inevitable spring.



Here is wider view of the “companions” putting on quite a performance.



It isn’t always fun having these delicate plants “out-of-season.” In the middle of the covered array below are the same plants pictured above during one of our light frost days.



Another geranium giving us significant winter color is a pink trailer situated between two very large pots of twisted myrtle creating a floral exclamation point.



Whenever we pine for our morning glories and dahlias under the blazing 110 degree heat we recall these winter scenes and we are grateful and happy!

NOTE – Fresh plantings of gazanias and alyssum will continue to do fairly well through the summer with ample water and some shade. The geraniums struggle through the heat and are often treated as annuals.



If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability.

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Gardening – My Favorite Homemade Tool

Gardening can be a very personal endeavor. There are some who love the joy and satisfaction of growing vegetables in our desert environment. There are others who focus on ornamentals and the beauty of flowering cacti. Most gardeners not only focus on particular plants, but over the years, they collect a bevy of favorite gardening tools.

This is one of my favorite gardening tools and time savers.



Wherever I have gardened, one of the first things I have done was build a dirt sifter. I use it many times each season. Perhaps my workflow differs from yours so let me explain…

Our agave collection, for example, gifts us with pups and after they are potted up and cared for a while, they grow their own set of “offspring” and need to be separated and shared.



The rootball is often dense and needs to be dismantled.



We first separate as many of the viable plants and roots as possible for replanting and/or sharing.



The next step is to place the densest part of the root ball on top of the sifter, break it up with a trowel and then rub it back and forth so the soil is released in to a garden cart or cement mixing bin (which we use to mix soil).





In the end we are left with a yield of reusable soil mix. The old roots and debris are discarded. More about the soil mix in a bit.



If the soil is wet or damp, it is placed on the side of our house where the afternoon sun warms and dries it.



Once the soil is dry, we place it in a large covered trash can to be used in our planting medium for new plants. Once again, if you speak to a dozen gardeners, you will probably get thirteen recipes for various plant mixes. This is a very individual preference, but since you ask, here is one I use for non-succulent plants.

Planting Mix
– A five gallon bucket is used as the basic unit –

  • 1/3 – old plant mix that has been sifted
  • 2/3 – new plant mix – I use the Natural & Organic Potting Soil purchased from Summer Winds Nurseries.
  • 2/3 – of a large coffee can of gravel 1/4″ +/- which I purchase in bulk from MDI (2815 E. RoseGarden LN, Phoenix , AZ 85050). This increases drainage and provides a small buffer against over watering. *Adjust as necessary
  • 1 – Large coffee can of used coffee grounds (when available).
  • Mix all the ingredients very well until it appears even in texture and color. Don’t stint on this step. I use a large cement mixing bin and a standard shovel or in the large garden cart.
  • For flowering plants I use a dose of super bloom fertilizer following the recommended amount on the container UNLESS experience has dictated otherwise. This is added after the plant is potted and just before watering-in.





Let’s talk about the sifter. We are not building a piece of furniture here so it doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. Good enough will be just fine for this project.

As you can see, the frame is made from simple 2 x 4’s. One will probably do, but decide how large you want it. Place the pieces of the frame on a flat surface and use L-brackets to fasten the sides.

NOTE – Our sifter is 35″ by 20″ after assembly and accounting for the width of the wood. The sifting surface is relatively smaller. Just decide how large you want it and purchase the appropriate amount of wood.



I then take one longer screw and screw it into each corner of the frame. Drill a pilot hole to assure alignment and to help keep the wood from splitting.



I purchased a roll of 1/2″ hardware cloth that we use for several different gardening tasks and cut it so there was an overlap around all of the sides of the frame. Be careful to trim off any pieces that stick out beyond the grid or you will be creating needles that will puncture gloves and fingers alike.



I then secured the hardware cloth using 3/4″ hot dipped, galvanized poultry net staples. Tap them in as far as they will go. It is OK if they stick out a bit as long as they don’t snag debris, gloves, etc. If you prefer, just hammer them flat so they don’t stick out as much.



Use a wire snip to cut the corners and fold them over similar to wrapping a present and secure the corners well with the staples mentioned above.



NOTE – In one iteration of building a sifter, I erroneously thought that if one layer of hardware cloth was good, two would be better so I assembled the frame using two layers of hardware cloth. That was a big mistake because debris was caught between the two layers. One layer is more than sufficient.



Of course, the sifter isn’t used only for breaking root balls, it is also great for sifting native soil and/or removing large rocks from a pile of dirt. It can even be turned upside down and used to protect seeds from birds or small rodents. Just be sure to place rocks on each corner so the rabbits and squirrels have less of a chance of moving the barrier.



NOTE – This procedure would be the same no matter where you garden. The only modification you would need to make would be in the planting mix and I am sure that you probably have your own favorite variation.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability.

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Garden Video: Live Capture of Critters in a Bottle Mousetrap

If you have followed JBRish.com for a while, you may have read one of my posts where I describe the difficulty we have with a variety of rodents (and other critters) in our desert garden.

I try to appreciate and respect all of nature and I don’t like to kill any animals if it can be avoided. I was intrigued by the EL GATO live-capture Bottle Mousetrap which may help with some of our smaller vermin.

Watch the video below and let me know what you think.

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Sunflowers in the Valley of the Sun – Part 1

There is no doubt about it, gardening in the Sonoran Desert during the summer is a challenge. It is similar to other areas of the country which have on season, mainly winter, that is not too hospitable to a wide assortment of plants that would be otherwise easy to grow in spring, summer and into the fall.

Unlike those areas where winter prevents almost all outside gardening, there are some plants and varieties that can tolerate our summers given the appropriate environment; and therein lies the rub!

As I travel the highways and byways of the desert regions of the southwest, I notice that there is one variety of wild sunflower that seems to survive the summer most years and even thrive when there are ample showers. Keeping that in mind, and not being able to nail down the exact variety (my bad), I decided to try a package of mixed sunflower seeds to see what it would yield in my desert garden. This was to be my gardening experiment for the summer of 2018.

Package of Sunflower Seeds

I always check the back of the package to see the “Packed for” date. Obviously the fresher the seeds, the better so I always make sure they are the current year’s seeds. I also like the fact that these seeds are organic and are not treated with chemicals. Our bees are struggling enough as it is.

Notice organic and sell-by date

An inexpensive turkey baster is used in this process to control the flow of water. It is good for delicate seedlings and at times when I need to wet a plant with a controlled, low flow of water.

Turkey baster for gentle watering

To keep everything corraled on the counter, I work inside a container lid. The lip of the lid keeps the water and other debris under control.

Coffee lid container for working

Of course we could plant the seeds directly in the ground, but I considered several factors:

  • We have numerous desert critters that would love to take a bite out of a luscious sprout.
  • There is no guarantee that every seed in a package will be viable.
  • I have limited time and space so I want to make sure any seed has the best start possible.

Considering the above, I decided to pre-sprout the seeds. Here are the three seeds I selected. [NOTE: One cannot tell from the seeds which sunflower will be “born” from any specific seed. This is a mix so it is a random choice.]

Three sunflower seeds-mixed varieties

My process for pre-sprouting the seeds is to wet a piece of paper towel to the point where it is uniformally wet, but not soaked.

Wet paper towel

Once the towel has been wet, the seeds are then placed at intervals on the sheet leaving ample space between, but not too much. I like to make a compact packet.

Seeds on wet towel

After the seeds have been carefully placed, the towel is folded over them so they are enveloped in the moist towel. This will be a good environment for sprouting.

Towel folded over seeds

The towel is folded into an envelope-type form to provide the best chance of staying moist.

Towel folded into envelope/packet

I always make a label just in case I want to keep track of sprouting times, time from sprout to flower, etc., but I didn’t use that information for tracking in this instance.

Sunflower seed label

Once this process is complete, probably less than thirty minutes, the seeds are placed inside a plastic bag, label and all and set aside. I check them every day to …

    – make sure the seeds remain uniformally damp, but not soaking

    – see if they have sprouted (because at that point further action is needed)

Packet in baggie with label

To be continued…

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Desert Broom – New Cultivar Discovered**

There is a desert plant in the Sonoran Desert that has the distinction of being one of the few native plants that is considered invasive. It can become a problem during the very hot, dry summers when fires are a real possibility.

Here is a picture of the native Desert Broom.

Desert Broom Plant

Picture courtesy of Sierra Vista Growers

On the way to a shopping mall recently, I noticed what may potentially be a new cultivar or sport of the native desert broom. It was just off to the side of the road. Can you find it in the picture below?

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport closeup

If you are having difficulty, here is a closeup!

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport

What do you think?

 

 

**This post is a tongue and cheek bit of humor related to desert gardening! (wink, wink)

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Sore Thumb, Green Thumb – Desert Bloom

Red blooming desert cactus at a distance

Can you see it?

Red blooming desert cactus at a distance

It stood out like a sore thumb; at least to me. The desert landscape doesn’t usually have a significant number of blooms this time of year with temperatures between 90-110 degrees. This particular cactus was given to me a couple of years ago as a broken piece from a much larger plant.

We hardened it off a bit and placed it in the landscape. Over the first year, I babied it a bit with extra water, but it only receives scant water now in its second full year.

Red blooming desert cactus portrait

Here is a close up

Closeup

The bees were taking advantage of the abundant pollen being made available.

Closeup with bees

I must say, they burrowed way down into the base of the flower and appeared to be “rolling around” in all their glory. We have to feel sorry for the bees nowadays.

I believe this is a torch cactus variety, but I do not have the exact botanical name. It might be a Trichocereus huascha (Echinopsis), but I will let you decide by checking the link.

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



JBRish reaches a milestone!

Admittedly JBRish is a very “small” website. The traffic has grown very slowly, but I do receive an average of 50 views a day. There are some days that far exceed that number and others that go down as low as the 30’s.


Early in the morning JBRish had 49999 views

It was exciting to see that JBRish.com was approaching the 50,000 view threshold and I caught the screen shot just in time!

This site is not monetized and is strictly a labor of love. The impetus for JBRish was my enjoyment of quotes, quips, photography, hiking and gardening.

Then one day I was trying to explain pickleball to a woman who was recovering from knee surgery. Pickleball does have some “unusual” rules and components and it was very difficult to give a complete description. The idea to include a pickleball page on my website was born. Not only do I use that page (and website) for general pickleball information, but it helps me to be a better USAPA pickleball ambassador.

I am happy to announce to JBRish readers that yesterday was a “red letter day” for us. We reached the 50,000 view benchmark. I know there are websites that have this many views every day or every few days, but this is a nice step for a personal blog like JBRish.


Arriving home from a variety of tasks, the 50,000 view threshold had been reached!

Arriving home from a variety of tasks, the 50,000 view threshold had been reached!

On the day I wrote about editing photographs taken with my Fuji X-T2 camera, the site received the most views, but I hope I can write another article soon that will top even that one. It will be hard, but it’s a worthy goal!

Thanks to all of JBRish readers, visitors, etc. I hope to continue to provide interesting information, quotes, quips, photography posts and of course, information about pickleball.


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 — JBRish.com



Agave Farms – An Urban Desert Experience – Part 1

In Phoenix, AZ (the Sonoran Desert) gardening is unlike most other places. One thing more difficult than gardening in the desert is creating a successful garden retail business and that is why it is always exciting when a new option appears.

As part of the Maricopa County Master Gardener program, we took a field trip to visit Agave Farms in central Phoenix.

    4300 N Central Ave,
    Phoenix, AZ 85012
    (602) 374-6553

Agave Farm picture

What renders Agave Farms somewhat different is that it is a cross between a community farm and garden center. It is landlocked by urban landscape and serves as a welcome oasis for those in the immediate area.

Agave Farm picture

When visitors enter the center, they are first struck by the vastness of the farm. Although it appears as one city block, it is a big one.

Agave Farm picture

At times there can be a flurry of activity taking place so naturally, there needs to be some guidelines for the safety of the visitors and the care of the plants and other items for sale..

Agave Farm picture

Here is an artistic signpost explaining where most areas of interest are located.

Agave Farm picture

Gardeners should take their time to look around and study the displays and floral groupings. These can spur creative gardening thoughts for home use.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farms (AF) appears to invite group visits such as ours. They have a small picnic table and barbecue area just behind the office building near the parking lot.

Agave Farm picture

For inspiration, there are small and large displays to get guests into that gardening mood.

Agave Farm picture

AF even offers plants that are impossible to kill, i.e. metal sculptures. (Note – I am not sure these particular specimens are for sale, but if interested, I think AF can provide the contact information of a supplier).

Agave Farm picture

Many people who have desert gardens like to use rebar, metal objects, etc. in their garden design. I have learned to appreciate rebar and rust as a featured element of a Sonoran Desert garden design. This portion of a rebar gate focuses attention on flowers on the picnic area’s patio.

Agave Farm picture

Below is a picture of a nice, artsy petunia display. Keep in mind that these photographs were taken the second week in January at a time when there are still cool-to-cold temperatures and danger of frost. This is our early spring in the Valley of the Sun. This season is not a time to find, full lush gardens in the desert. It is however, a good time to begin thinking about plans and planting for the upcoming season.

Agave Farm picture

There are some interesting, some may say humorous, touches at AF such as this doctor statue standing in the middle of a future planting area.

Agave Farm picture

We cannot forget that this is a desert-based farm and landscape center and as such there are desert plants for sale. These cactus plants have cups covering their sensitive growing tips should a frost occur. It does look a bit unusual to those from other areas, but quite common in the desert.

Agave Farm picture

In a previous JBRish post, I depicted another unusual aspect to winter protection of sensitive desert plants. You can check out the post, Cactus Ghosts in the Desert.

Large specimens are often sold in planting boxes. These are a bit tricky to use for those who are uninitiated and usually require a specialist or someone who has developed the appropriate skills. There is a definite technique to releasing a plant from one of these wooden planting boxes and keeping the root ball intact.

Agave Farm picture

There are live agaves to be seen at AF, but this particular fountain sculpture can serve as a signature for this post and a fine end to Part 1 of our visit to Agave Farms.

Agave Farm picture

 

JBRish.com originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

 
See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.

Streets of Gold in the Phoenix Desert (Gardening)

Palo Verde Tree in flower

As you can see from the photograph above, the desert is decked in gold this time of year. The Palo Verdes (along with some other flowering trees snd shrubs) produce an abundance of yellow blooms. There are streets that are lined with these trees and they build a seasonal hallway of gold.

Streets of gold

The ground is carpeted with spent yellow flower petals adding even more color to the street. While the neighborhoods aren’t paved with gold, they are covered with pretty yellow hues.

Below is a picture of the branches of the Palo Verde tree laden with its delightful burden of yellow flowers.

Palo Verde Tree flowers


JBRish.com originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Opuntia (Paddle Cacti) – Phoenix, Arizona

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

“Opuntia is the most widespread of all genera in the cactus family. The genus occurs naturally throughout North and South America from as far north as Canada, through the Caribbean, and down into Argentina. With man’s help, however, this species can now be found world-wide where it has escaped cultivation and become naturalized even to the point of being classified as a noxious weed.”
Source: – https://cactiguide.com/cactus/?genus=Opuntia

While much of the country is still in early spring, the desert is moving quickly through its yearly spring and toward what most would consider summer. As of this writing, we are still in the sweet spot of a bumper crop of blooms. The native desert plants are taking their turns in showing off.

Most of the year our cacti look like a pincushion holding onto its requisite supply of pins, but hidden in the DNA of each of these organisms is the promise of blooming beauty. Some of the blooms like our pink Opuntia (see photos above and below) look as though they would be more at home floating in a tropical drink.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

As pretty as these are, many of the cactus flowers have a prime bloom duration of only one day, but what a bloom it is!

You may know Opuntia cacti. They are the “paddle” cactus family. They have large, flat paddle-like growths that look similar to the ears of a number of Walt Disney characters. The picture below better shows the paddles with the pink bloom atop.

To the left of the bloom are “ladies in waiting,” so to speak. The buds will plump until nature tells them it is their turn to open and show off.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

A more common Opuntia would be the yellow variety. We have several specimens in our front landscape.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

The pile of paddles above is more than five feet tall and if the truth be told, it would probably benefit from a pruning.

This is a closeup of the flower. Note the buds in the corners of the photo.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

Some of the paddles have a cascade of blooms that open on the same day and form an amazing vertical line.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

While I am enjoying the wonderful blooms in our landscape, I hope to share more of them with JBRish readers.

You can read more about Opuntias and Paddle Cacti at the link above.


JBRish.com originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE