Most gardeners cherish the chilly, dark days of January. Those days bring with them the chance to sit by the fire and devour the delicious pictures and descriptions contained within the pages of seed catalogs arriving daily by mail.
Unfortunately, most seed and plant catalogs originate in places with climates and soils much different than the Rim country. Terms such as "easy to grow" or "ready self-seeder" might well describe a flowering plant that flourishes in the Midwest, but could be a great disappointment in the high desert.
Fortunately, growers who specialize in southwest arid land plants are beginning to appear, and by following their shipping and planting date advice, Rim country gardeners can enjoy growing plants best suited to this area.
High Country Gardens in Santa Fe, (www.highcountrygardens.com) 800-925-9387 and Plants of the Southwest, (www.plantsofthesouthwest.com) 800-788-7333 are two reliable sources to contact for catalogs. Western Native Seed (www.westernnativeseed.com or 719-942-3935) which specializes in native plant seeds for the Rocky Mountains and Western Plains has an exceptional website, and also a print catalog.
For vegetable seeds, Territorial Seed Company (www.territorialseed.com or 541-942-9547) is an excellent source of seeds of flowers, herbs, and vegetables that do well in our hot day, cold night climate of summer.
Contact Wildseed Farms (www.wildseedfarms.com or 800-848-0078). For wildflower seeds and comprehensive information on how to grow them, their catalog is an extremely useful resource on what seedlings look like.
Once in awhile, January brings 60 degree sunshine, just about perfect for a little digging, and the best time of the year to transplant small natives. Little trees and shrubs that have popped up in undesirable spots can be used to better advantage elsewhere. Oak, juniper, pine, manzanita, and other native shrubs can be dug and replanted with a little care. The ground must be moist, and not frozen. Dig the new hole before removing the plant from it's growing spot. A good rule of thumb for hole size would be 6 inches beyond the drip line of the tree or shrub.
Most shrubs are shallower rooted than trees, which can have a root as long as the tree is tall. Once the transplant hole is dug, gently dig out the plant to be moved, carefully place it in the new hole, and tamp soil firmly around the roots.
Some plants are fussy about the direction they face, so tagging the plant on the north side, and resetting it facing that direction is beneficial. Transplants need regular moisture to establish their roots, taking care to allow the top 4 inches of soil to dry out between watering. Mulching with the same sort of material found on the surface where the plant was growing previously also helps.
Native plants may be available in containers at a local nursery, and if planted now will get a head start on establishing their roots before the growing season begins. Apache plume, cliffrose, manzanita, nolina, yucca, agave, big leaf sage, rabbitbrush and other deciduous shrubs will be better off in the ground than in plastic pots.
A visit to the low-water use demonstration garden at the Gila Community College Campus will offer ideas on how to use natives and other low water use plants in a landscape.
Other Garden Chores
MULCH: Mix some manure with straw or oak leaves and pine needles or wood chips and spread around the base of trees, shrubs and perennials. Winter rain and snow will break down these materials and feed the soil, while the bulk will protect roots from freezing and will hold in moisture.
WATER: Keep a garden journal and when Mother Nature has not provided rain or snow for 3 weeks, start checking soil moisture. When top three or four inches of soil are dry, use a soaker hose at mid-day to water trees and shrubs. Buy a moisture meter and rain gauge to gain accuracy as to how much water is really necessary.
PLANT: Visit a nursery and look at low water-use plants with good "bones" to provide winter interest. If now is not the time to plant those selected, enter their names in a garden journal, for later reference.