We plant summer flowers in our desert pots in late April. At least those of you who are willing to wait that long. Over the years I have harped on this. Wait!
You are expecting the flowers you plant in the spring to last until late October, which is six months. Half a year is long for these plants to consistently to thrive and provide you with constant blooms. Their demise will make you crankier in the incessant heat of this hot and dry season.
That is until the monsoons come. And with these unpredictable storms, comes humidity. Now, the northerners would say, “pish tosh, get over yourselves.” But the monsoon and accompanying humidity will jack up the temperatures even more. And when we’re accustomed to humidity levels under 15% eighty percent of the year, we struggle with the heavy air added to the relentless heat.
If we’re feeling like this, don’t you think your plants have a similar experience?
Don’t wait for winter flowers
During monsoon season, some of your plants take off while others are on their last hurrah. The perfect time to trim some things back is during monsoon season. Watch the forecast because pruning is best to do when you see you are going to have cloudy afternoons. If you look at the 10-day outlook and it shows another dry spell, hold off until the dewpoint rises and the clouds start to build again.
If you have some plants that are dead, don’t hesitate to throw them into your compost pile. Unless they look sickly that is, rather than dead. If there is any chance they have a disease, throw them into the garbage.
Enter Shoulder Season
Hot and dry climates usually have two seasons, hot and chilly. Respectively, summer and winter. Tropical climates can only site one season unless you count warm, hot, cool. But don’t take me away from our discussion on the desert climate.
There is a period between summer and winter and vice versa, where fall and spring come in. I don’t know where I first heard this, but I call these, Shoulder Seasons. They ride on the edges of summer and winter similar to the shoulder on the side of the road.
Sometimes you blink and miss these lovely temperatures, but typically your plants see them as a full season of at least six weeks.
Nighttime temperatures dictate the length of fall and spring’s shoulder seasons.
Hang On Now – this is important
Nighttime temperatures – Summer into Winter
You want the night temps to get down into the ’50s before you plant winter flowers,
Especially Pansies, Violas, Lobelia and Ornamental Kale. And, you want the night temperatures to stay low consistently. I mention these four annual flowers as the worse to plant early because the first three, Pansies, Violas and Lobelia will stretch and get leggy plus when the night temps don’t cool off the way they need, they get weak and spindly. Planting earlier than I recommend is not setting them up to thrive through a long and chilly winter in the desert.
Kale, planted in the heat, will bolt. Bolting means it sends up its flower long before it is time and once it does, you might as well toss it. Remember, plants bloom to create seed which creates flowers (the bolting ugliness in Kale.) Annuals are ‘done’ after they spread their seeds. They have completed their job.
Don’t be lulled into thinking that you are out of the (hot) woods when you see a night or two forecasted at 59F. That’s not enough. I can guarantee in the middle desert, that Indian Summer will come with a vengeance and you will be back into the ’90s for 7 to 10 days.
Therefore, I always recommend to homeowners to wait to plant your winter flowers in the last week of October or even in November.
But I Can’t Wait Until October!
I hear you! I often feel the same in August and September. And, when I go to the nursery, I find nothing. Very disappointing. As I list in my book, “Getting Potted in the Desert,” as soon as the growers have them ready, these flowers and more will be in delivered to the nurseries.