An incredibly mild winter season has a lot of gardeners scratching their heads while they watch plants bloom early. Lettuce is growing at double speed, cilantro is bolting, and we’ve seen volunteer tomato plants that are three feet tall. This is not normal, even in the sunny Sonoran Desert.
On top of it all, there’s been no measurable rain for months. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that mild temperatures prevail for a period of months. A long spring.
As always, plants respond to their micro environment. So, if you have a garden that happens to be in a low-lying area and is generally cooler those plants will show different signs of growth and stress than plants in a micro climate that is warmer than normal.
In 30 years of gardening here we’ve learned one thing to be true: There is no predicting Mother Nature, so we are proceeding with planting on the established planting calendar for Maricopa County. The goal is to be flexible, plan on replanting – if necessary – and watching for signs of change.
We’re hoping for a long spring and are encouraged that the weather next week is predicted to go back to more normal temperatures. So, we’re still seeding beets, carrots and radishes, getting soil ready for tomato plants and are harvesting lots of greens. Soil temperatures are still cool due to cooler nights, so we will stick to our regular planting schedule for melons, cucumbers and squash later in the spring. We are not going to seed any more greens such as kale, mustards, leaf lettuces.
As for watering, you’ll need to watch your plants and soil. It may look dry on top so dig down and see what the moisture is two inches or more below the surface. Over watering is the most common mistake that happens with plants.
When planting tomatoes, it’s always good to look for early season varieties in Arizona (the shortest number of days possible to harvest) and this year that is especially true. Gregory Ware will be here for our Tomatopalooza Plant Sale on Sunday, March 4 from Noon to 3 p.m. While it’s always a temptation to stuff a garden with tomato plants, leave a bit of room for the Spring Plant Sale on Sunday, March 18 from Noon to 3 p.m. where you’ll find plants that really love the warm weather and heat-happy herbs.
If you’ve had basil in the garden all winter, it’s likely a bit yellowish and leggy. It may even be blooming. While you may be tempted to keep it going, we suggest you take a taste first. Even with a lack of winter frost to damage the plant, you may find that the age and short days may have made the leaves bitter. If so, sew new seeds or a transplant when the soil gets a bit warmer – Maybe late March. Basil really likes a lot of heat and reaches its best flavor in that climate.
If your lettuce is bolting, pull it out. It will become bitter. We’re at about the temperature where leafy greens are not good growers. You might want to consider switching to a Lettuce Bowl Garden in Gregory’s workshop February 25. There will be varieties that will last into Spring and ensure you have lettuce for up to three months. Plus, a container offers the chance to keep the plants in a cooler environment.
Go ahead and stay on the normal schedule for fertilizing citrus this month. Here’s a link to the UofA Citrus Fertilization Chart. It’s easy to read and figure out how much fertilizer your trees will need. It is best to use a fertilizer formulated especially for citrus or generally for fruit and nut trees. All citrus trees will benefit from a heavy nitrogen fertilizer that has some phosphorous in it. Citrus trees also like to have somewhat acidic soil, so look for that in a fertilizer, too. We have another post just for citrus here.
If you haven’t pruned roses, then do that soon. Normally roses get a fairly hard pruning in the colder months but you may want to prune a bit more lightly if new growth is prevalent. If they are still in dormancy than go ahead with that heavier pruning. Roses need care based on their type so we have put together more extensive care information for you. Click here.