A quiet and chilly month for Tucson gardens.


Tip of the Month

To attract birds to your garden, be sure to provide for their basic needs: food, water and shelter. Add native plants that provide food for many bird species. Birds are attracted to water for drinking and bathing. Provide a small water container or fountain with a circulating waterfall. In addition to providing plants for protection, birds also need nesting sites. Small trees and shrubs work best.

There’s one more reason for attracting birds to your garden: pest control. Garden pests usually are at their peak in late spring and early summer, when birds are busy foraging for whiteflies, aphids, earwigs, grasshoppers, beetles and grubs!

If you have bird feeders, don’t put them away once warm weather arrives. Even birds that spend most of their time eating insects enjoy an occasional snack. Fill your feeder with a quality seed blend that will appeal to finches, grosbeaks, cardinals and sparrows.


Sow seeds of beets, bok choy, carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach and Swiss chard. Start seeds of peppers, eggplant and tomatoes indoors.


Cover frost-tender plants with burlap, sheets or frost cloth.


Prune roses by removing dead and crossing canes. Leave five or six canes, cutting them to 18 inches.

Dab ends with wood glue to discourage insects.

Trim non-native deciduous shade trees. Wait to prune native trees and shrubs after they bloom.

Prune citrus only to remove dead wood, crossed branches, suckers rising from below the graft point and vertical sprouts from the top of the tree.


If winter rains are sparse, water trees and shrubs every two or three weeks.

Do not water succulents if forecast calls for a freeze.

Water fall-planted wildflower seeds if there is little rainfall.


Set out transplants of sweet alyssum, candy tuft, baby’s breath, daisy, bacopa, bachelor’s button, pansy, calendula, snapdragon, wallflower, nasturtium, ornamental kale, Iceland poppy and stock.

Set out winter vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, Chinese cabbage and cauliflower.


Fertilize bearded iris toward the end of the month, then water thoroughly.

Fertilize citrus in January or February. Use one-third of the total nitrogen requirement.

Scatter granular fertilizer along the canopy and water deeply.

Do not feed dormant Bermuda grass.


Continue citrus harvest of grapefruits, mandarins, tangelos, lemons, kumquats, navels and blood oranges.

Live help


Prepare gardens for the cooler temperatures of winter.



Plant winter color annuals such as cyclamen, primrose, pansies, violas, lobelia, snapdragon, petunia, gazania, nasturtium and sweet pea.


Sow seeds for beets, bok choy, bulb and green onions, collards, endive, kale, leaf lettuce, leeks, mustard greens, peas, radishes and spinach. Plant colorful perennials such as angelita daisy, gaura, hummingbird trumpet sage and Mount Lemmon marigold.

Sow wildflower seeds by mid-month to take advantage of winter rains. Choose a location that receives full sun in winter.


Continue transplanting desert adapted trees and shrubs, ground covers, vines, cacti, succulents and grasses.

Transplant culinary herbs such as cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, marjoram, mint, chives, rosemary, catnip, oregano, society garlic and sorrel. Also, transplant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and chard.

Set out rain lily bulbs now. Plant them under trees or among rocks.


Move tender potted plants to sunnier locations or in protected spots under porches, eaves or tree canopies. Don’t water cacti and succulents before frosts.

Place polystyrene cups over the tops of columnar cacti.

Drape small trees with frost cloth; wrap young citrus trunks with burlap.


Adjust automatic irrigation timers to reduce water.

Irrigate citrus trees about every three weeks to a depth of three feet. As weather cools, less water helps prepare plants for dormancy.


The first of the winter vegetables will include radishes, spinach, arugula and leaf lettuce.

Test citrus to determine ripeness. Tangerines ripen first, followed by navel oranges, tangelos, lemons and limes.



No outdoor plant is guaranteed to be safe from rabbits — they will eat almost anything except poisonous ones, especially during a drought. But desert-adapted specimens tend to be less palatable to them, including brittlebush, lantana, euphorbia, salvia, rosemary, vinca, yellow bells, penstemon and Mexican Bird of Paradise, which often are found in local gardens.

Rabbits prefer plants that are over-watered or over-fertilized. New transplants from the nursery are very tender, and therefore attractive to them, so they may need temporary protection for 4-6 months until they toughen up a bit. Barricading strategies such as encircling young plants with chicken wire may help. Bury the wire 4-6 inches to deter them from burrowing. Invisible shields or rabbit repellants in spray and powder forms also are available at nurseries.

Live help

Sunny days still bring the heat, but cooler nights hint of things to come. It’s time to dig out your gardening tools!


Plant citrus while the weather is still warm. Choose varieties that are better adapted to desert conditions.

Plant strawberry varieties that perform in low-desert conditions. Choose a location that has protection from afternoon sun.

Plant fall herbs such as chives, thyme, catmint, cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel and parsley.

Transplant herbs such as lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme.


Dig compost into vegetable beds. Rearrange container plants to sunnier locations as the sun’s arc slips southward.

Chill tulip, crocus, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator for eight weeks prior to planting.


Cut back tomatoes and peppers that made it through the summer to promote a new bloom before frost.

Trim roses and remove dead twigs to promote a second bloom in the fall.

Prune shrubs such as oleander, privet, xylosma, Texas ranger and Arizona rosewood that have become overgrown.





Cut back on water for deciduous fruit trees, grape vines and citrus to slow growth and get ready for cooler temperatures.

Water citrus deeply out to the plant’s canopy every two weeks.



Hose off dusty plants to control spider mites.

Divide iris this month. Dig up large clumps and cut rhizomes into small pieces.

Pull and compost the last of the summer annuals.

Refresh garden beds by incorporating four to six inches of organic matter. FERTILIZE

Fertilize with nitrogen in early September to provide nutrients to summer-stressed plants. Water the day before and after applications to prevent burn.

Feed roses with a slow-release fertilizer that will last through fall. Fertilize citrus with the third and final application of nitrogen for the year.

Add organic nitrogen sources to the soil, including alfalfa meal, blood meal, coffee grounds, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion and guano.


Chile peppers are available in many colors, shapes, sizes and degrees of heat. The key factor affecting how fruit set is night temperature, which ideally should be between 65 and 80 degree. Bell pepper varieties do not set fruit when temperatures are over 90 degrees, but may begin to do so once the weather is cooler. If bell-type peppers are desired, consider the smaller pod “Carmen Sweet Pepper.”

Chiles need six hours or more of sunlight. Provide full sun in the morning and 50 percent afternoon shade. In the fall, fewer blossoms will appear as the weather turns cooler.

Monsoon rains help quench the thirst of summer plants.

Santa Rita


Plant native and low-water-use species now, when summer rains make digging easier.

Plant palms, whose root systems thrive when planted in the heat.

Plant bougainvillea, yellow bells, oleanders, acacias, cassias, mesquites and palo verdes.


Prune back any surviving tomato plants.

Deadhead bedding flowers.

Vincas that wilt but do not recover with a deep watering should be discarded.


Pick okra and squash regularly to keep plants producing until frost.

Dinner Plate


Fertilize citrus toward the end of the month.

Avoid fertilizing frost-tender shrubs now, as this will encourage new growth that may freeze later.

Look for plants with chlorosis — yellow leaves and green veins. Treat plants with an application of chelated iron.

Give roses a late-summer application of specially formulated rose food.


Water citrus deeply once a week or more. Too much water can result in chlorosis.

Water summer-blooming flowers and shrubs.

Water large, established cacti and succulents every 5 weeks if rains have been scarce.

Small specimens benefit from watering every 3-4 weeks.

Ocotillo canes cover themselves with green leaves during the monsoon season. Adding extra watering in between storms can stimulate new growth.

Cow’s Tongue


Red bird of paradise produces showy clusters of brilliant red and orange blossoms until frost. The fern-like foliage adds a tropical look to desert gardens.


Set out transplants of basil, chives, lemon verbena and nasturtiums.


Engelmann prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii) easily are identified by their broad, flat green pads and vivid yellow or red-orange blooms. Both drought- and coldtolerant, they can reach five feet tall, and grow to a width of 10-15 feet.

There are more than 18 species of prickly pear in several shapes and sizes. All are known for their sculptural form — series of flat pads connected by joints. They provide shelter and a food source for native birds, insects and mammals.

When they reach an unwieldy size, the pads can be transplanted. Use caution and wear thick gloves, as the pads are covered with tiny, barbed hairs. Use a sharp knife to remove a pad from the end of a jointed segment. Let the cut end dry for a few days. Bury the lower 1/3 of the pad in an upright position. Prop up with soil or rocks. Water until roots appear, then back off on the watering — you don’t want root rot!

Live help

Monsoon rains help quench the thirst of summer plants.


Set out heat-tolerant seasonal color blooms such as cosmos, gaillardia, gazania, globe amaranth, lisianthus, periwinkle and zinnia.

Put in warm-season vegetables such as Armenian cucumbers, black-eyes peas, corn, tepary beans, gourds, melon, okra and summer squash.


Harvest basil often and prune at least 1/3 of the growth to ensure an early fall harvest. Use steel tongs to remove the juicy fruit from the prickly pear cacti.


Feed blooming plants often during the wet season with high-phosphorous fertilizer. Fertilize palms during this rainy season.

Frequent irrigation leaches nutrients, so feed with a slow-release fertilizer.


Prune mesquite and palo verde trees during summer. These trees heal more quickly during hot weather.


Water deepl

y early in the morning, when it’s not raining. Soak the entire root area of trees and shrubs weekly. Adjust your irrigation as needed through the monsoon season.

Summer annuals in pots may dry out quickly, so check irrigation systems often.


Protect container plantings from intense reflected heat and sun. Non-native cacti and succulents prefer some shade. Use 50-75 percent shade cloth over peppers and tomatoes.


Heat-loving tecoma shrubs such as red bird of paradise, fairy duster, Texas ranger, palms, portulaca and perennial sunflowers can be planted now.


Make use of the summer rains by harvesting the water. That may include building a collection system or simply using the runoff and carrying it to specific planting spaces.

Watch for insect infestation on plants. Heat- and drought-stressed plants are especially vulnerable to disease.

Watch for cochineal scale on prickly pear cacti and wash off any that appears.

Avoid standing water that might harbor mosquitoes.


Summer vegetables can become stressed from the heat this month, with wilted leaves in the morning an obvious signal. Late-afternoon wilting also may be heat stress, but as evening approaches the plants may perk up again.

To keep soil moist, water slowly and deeply. Add fertilizer to moist soil only, then add more water to move it to the roots.

Eggplant, corn, squash, beans, melons, black-eyed peas, cucumbers, peppers and okra are some of the best warm-season crops. As melons ripen, place a board beneath them to prevent insect damage.

Corn, squash and beans are known as “the three sisters,” and usually are planted together. The corn plants provide shade, the beans add nitrogen to the soil, and the squash foliage shades the ground, preventing evaporation of the monsoon rains.

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