Although records indicate the average first date of frost in the Rim country is about Oct. 15, that date does seem to get a little later each year. Once a good frost has occurred, trees start losing their leaves, tender, warm-weather vegetable plants die back, and the real work of autumn begins.
Seed heads from annuals and perennial wildflowers should be picked and raked back into the soil. Applying seed along driveways, drainages, and the bases of landscape features such as rock walls and boulders will allow moisture to seep in and protect young plants as they emerge. Leaving grass heads and flowering heads of sedum, rosehips, Russian sage and artemisia adds winter interest and provides seed for birds.
Local gardener Vee Gooding enjoys the changes each season brings to her hillside garden. When the Goodings purchased their Alpine Village home about five years ago, plants around the foundation, several conifers, rose bushes and a lawn made up the landscape.
Today, the front lawn is gone, replaced with several inches of wood chips, and terraced rock beds. A very small grass pad surrounded by flowerbeds remains in the fenced back yard, for use by romping pets and visiting grandchildren.
Vee loves the informal look of lots of different plants working together for contrast in color, texture and season of bloom. Her goal is to get the entire property to the place that plants spread and reseed themselves, and she only has to pull out the things she doesn't want.
Miniature junipers, "wandering Jew" houseplants, lambs ears and a species of miniature phlox serve as groundcovers. Surprising bursts of Russian sage, Mexican sage, gaura and other low-water use plants emerge between clumps of day lilies, red-hot pokers, hollyhocks and chysthanthemums and giant sunflowers. Hyacinth bean vines with their intense purple seedpods dangle from fences and walls, the reminder of the flowers of summer.
Gooding's approach to gardening is to plant what she likes, observe the water requirements of each plant, and try to conserve where possible. Drip systems are installed on the entire property, and the family captures and hauls bathwater whenever possible. Vee admits she has a sizeable water bill one or two months of the summer, but feels the benefit to her neighborhood, the vegetables she harvests, and the pleasure she derives from gardening is worth the price.
Enjoying brisk fall days, preparing for winter, and looking forward to spring, she plants spring flowering bulbs, which she says can be planted any time as the soil can be worked. Her efforts will be rewarded with a magical burst of color from February through May of the following year.
Our local animal populations also have learned most bulbs make a tasty meal, but Vee refers to the animal resistant plant lists offered by the University of Arizona cooperative extension for guidelines on what to plant.
Daffodils and iris do not attract javelinas, so these types make good choices for setting out in unprotected places. Daffodils come in many types and varieties, from the giant King Alfred to tiny types only a few inches tall.
Crocus grow very well here, many naturalize easily and also are not attractive to animals. Grape hyacinth and tulips seem to be the snack of choice to the collared peccary, so planting them in beds in a fenced yard or covering the planting area a few inches above the bulb with chicken wire serves as an effective deterrent.
After installing chicken wire, cover with a couple inches of soil; apply bulb food or bone meal, and a couple inches of mulch. Javelina will try to root for the bulb, but will be discouraged by the chicken wire. Winter snow and rain will moisten the soil, and spring will arrive with a burst of color.
Vee also recommends planting bulbs in uneven clumps, staged throughout other flowerbeds for the most natural effect. Species or wildflower bulbs are the least fussy about soils, and the least affected by disease and are usually lowest in price. Most bulbs rely only on winter moisture so they are the perfect spring color choice for low water-use gardens.
Plant! Container-grown shrubs and trees will appreciate being transplanted during cooler days when the stress from heat is less. As soon as we have had a hard frost, dry-land mix grass seed can be sown, as well as any wildflower seed not yet broadcast. There's still time to plant spring flowering bulbs, and winter annuals are now available at nurseries to replace faded summer and fall color.
Protect! Apply protective spray "spinosad" according to package directions to protect against peach tree borer and other fruit tree pests. Apply "winterizer" to entire landscape now to help plants fight diseases and cold stress. Drain and cover decorative fountains and drip systems within the next week or two. Birds need water when there is no rain, so pour hot water on top of ice if birdbaths freeze over. Keep pumps running in biologically balanced ponds so fish will continue to receive oxygen, even when dormant. Do not hammer on ice that forms on top of the pond as the concussion could kill the fish. Pour a small amount of boiling water on the ice at the location of the water return so water will circulate continuously.
Water! Check soil moisture regularly, and continue to deep-water trees and shrubs if we receive less than seven inches of snow or one inch of rain per month.