Fri, Feb. 21

How does your garden grow ... in Autumn?

OK, so summer is fading into fall and the garden is looking a little long in the tooth. But, remember this is the high desert of Arizona. It is not the end of the road like it was back in the Midwest. Life goes on. It is time to get back in the soil and start that fall garden. Nurseries are filling up with color to help you out. In addition to ornamentals, there are vegetables that live easily during the Verde Valley winter.

We found out from some professionals and master gardeners who were eager to tell us how.

John Bedell, a gardener with Home Depot, says pansies are popular this time of year because they will continue to bloom throughout the winter. Other good choices are violas, Johnny jump-ups and dusty millers.

Snapdragons and stocks will last into the winter and mums will continue until December then they will return in the spring.

People in the Verde can grow lettuces all winter long and a selection of kohl plants: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, according Master Gardener Janice Montgomery. Spinach, Swiss chard and lettuce will produce into the winter, and of course plenty of root crops to put in.

Montgomery grows a small garden - 4-four-foot wide rows 20 feet long. 'It does produce abundantly. I get far more than I can use. I can the tomatoes and green beans, give some to the family." And she takes the rest to the farmer's market.

She has a head start on most of us. Montgomery was formerly in charge of the Scottsdale Community College community garden and the St. Mary's Food Bank garden before she moved to the Verde Valley. She will tell you about companion planting to improve output from compatible plants and plants that deter insects from other plants. Plant garlic with broccoli, but do not plant peas with garlic. "Neither will do well."

She doesn't like garlic anyway, but always plants onions. "I like Candy onions. They are a nice sweet onion and grow well. It may be a little late to plant root crops, but carrots, turnips, and beets do well here and last all winter long."

Janice calls herself a lazy composter. She throws vegetable trimmings together in an old blender and stirs the slurry to supplement the soil around her plants on a rotating basis every day or so.

She will start up one of her long beds each year with a mix of gypsum and soil sulfur and bags of manure "to release the natural nutrients in the soil."

Evelyn Becker, another master gardener who works with the University of Arizona Extension Office, discourages the use of additions for the soil when starting up a new shrub or tree. She cites Jeff Schalau, the agricultural agent who discourages supplements that may limit growth. Instead, she recommends watering deeply and working with the soil available. That way roots don't knot up near the surface.

Charlene Ruppert of New Beginnings Nursery in Cottonwood says her first shipment of mums is already gone. "People want the mums for Thanksgiving and fall colors." All nurseries get regular shipments during the winter.

Charlene says, "Our problem is that we are so close to being hot like Phoenix but we still get freezing temperatures. We aren't big enough for suppliers to provide the plants at the right time."

Still she has kohl plants ready to dig in for fall plantings. "There are a lot of fall gardeners," she says. "Many people are worried about produce from the store because they don't know how it has been sprayed. My plants aren't certified organic, but when they get them home they will treat them like organic produce."

"I sell a lot of organic products now, including certified organic compost. Going organic is the big thing of the future."

Bulbs will be in soon, too -- tulips, daylilies, daffodils.

With the new water restrictions in the Upper Verde Valley, everybody is thinking about plants that conserve water.

Then you can think about shrubbery for the long term. Sandee Kinnen, four years as a master gardener who formerly lived in the Midwest, says she particularly likes crepe myrtle that has a long blooming season and, once established, is drought tolerant. Russian sage is another plant that likes the desert temperatures and conditions. Delicate lavenders also are hardy. She also recommends agastaches, gaura and plum bago for color.

The Verde Valley has plenty of nuances. Temperatures along the river bottom will be about 5 to 7 degrees cooler than higher elevations. Soils adjacent to the river are also richer with sediment than those in the foothills, where a jackhammer might be needed for the hard and deep caliche soils. Camp Verde is almost a 1,000-feet below Cottonwood while Jerome is over 1,000 feet higher.

Kinnen says people forget often that they need to continue to water during the winter. Wood continues to grow during the winter months, and plants will have a much more difficult time surviving.

There are plenty of materials about growing locally in the extension office at 2657 Village Dr., Cottonwood, or phone 646-9113, ext. 14.

Time to get started.

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