Sat, March 28

Five tips for your fall garden: Keep your landscape blooming year-round in Verde Valley

Lindsey Cure of Verde River Growers says chrysanthemums are good choice for fall planting. (VVN/Tom Tracey)

Lindsey Cure of Verde River Growers says chrysanthemums are good choice for fall planting. (VVN/Tom Tracey)

COTTONWOOD - Lindsey Cure is a horticulturalist who earned her degree from the University of Arizona. But she has also earned "dirt time" working the 15 acres of trees, shrubs, flowers, fruit, vegetables and native plants at Verde River Growers in Cottonwood.

Meanwhile, Richard Sidy is an educator and president of Gardens for Humanity. Sidy helps homeowners, communities and schools throughout the Verde Valley establish sustainable garden projects. He was also one of the catalysts behind the highly-successful Verde Valley Seed Library in Cottonwood.

With the arrival of fall, we asked Cure and Sidy to share five tips with gardeners on what to do now to help ensure a thriving landscape later.

1. Plant now

"Before the first frost is the time to plant cool weather crops in the vegetable garden-peas, salad greens, the cabbage family (brassicas), root vegetables, cilantro and garlic," said Sidy.

"Some of the vegetables planted last spring are biennials and will over-winter -- parsley, chard," Sidy said.

"For perennials, you can enjoy a bit of bloom and then it dies back. But the roots grow all winter. When they come back in the spring, you'll get bigger and better blooms," Cure said.

"Some good perennials to plant this time of year are Russian sage and chrysanthemums," said Cure.

"Annuals like pansies, flowering kale and violas will bloom all winter," Cure said. "Pansies can have foot of snow on top and they are still fine."

2. Prepare soil and protect roots

"If starting a new wildflower garden, prepare the soil," said Sidy. "Prepare soil for bulbs and plant them in early fall."

"Some seeds can be sown now because frost is part of their natural cycle for propagation. Or they can be planted in early spring," Sidy said.

"Bulk-up soil around plants for more insulation. A lot of gets washed away by rain," said Cure.

"Keep exposed roots covered with fine soil-not potting soil-but composted mulch with no big chunks," Cure said.

"If you compost, fall is the time to stockpile leaves and the remnants of warm weather annual plants," said Sidy. "Composting can be done either in a pile or leaves can be spread and layered for sheet composting."

3. Trim-up, prune-up, shape-up and clean-up

"Trim-up and prune fruit trees and roses about two inches, before winter gets really cold and the stem dies back. Prune small branches so they're not crossing over each other," said Cure.

"When shaping shrubs, don't cut back more than 30 percent. With ornamental grasses, cut back a bunch after the first freeze turns them brown," Cure said.

"If you have a wildflower garden let them go to seed before clean-up so they can naturalize," Sidy said.

"The best thing for lawns in our climate is not to mow them too short," said Sidy. "Keeping grass fairly long in the hot months helps them shade themselves and not burn up."

"Mow without a grass catcher so the cuttings naturally mulch the turf," Sidy said.

4. What to bring in, what to bring out

"If you have citrus, bring them inside. They don't like temperatures below 32," said Cure.

"You need to put them out again in the spring when they start budding -- about March -- so they can be pollinated," Cure said. "Most people keep them inside the house in pots and then complain about a lack of fruit."

"Dwarf fruit trees like peaches and cherries can stay outside," said Cure.

5. Keep watering, stop feeding

"Don't forget to water. If we're not getting rain, roots dry out and die in winter, even if not hot. Light watering probably once a week is good," Cure said.

"It's a delicate balance because it's easy to overwater in winter. Kind of check the soil because it depends on soil type. You've got to get your hands into the soil," said Cure.

"Winter can be an active gardening time in our region, but at a slower pace than at the demanding time of the hot season," said Sidy. "The garden doesn't completely rest; it just slows down."

Gardens for Humanity is a Sedona-based non-profit that assists in establishing home, community and school gardens. Current projects include:

Community gardens:

• Peace Garden at Creative Life Center in Sedona

• St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Sedona

• The Harmony area of West Sedona

• The Sedona Winds Assisted Living

School gardens:

• Big Park Butterfly Garden in Sedona

• Head Start in Cottonwood

• Desert Star School in Cornville

• Red Rock High School in Sedona

• West Sedona School

According to Gardens for Humanity, some of the side benefits of gardening include ecological education, food security and artistic expression.

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