Garden Calendar | April

As the weather warms, we Tucsonans get busy in our gardens.

Tip of the Month

Vines add an interesting vertical element to your landscape. They can act as a divider, barrier or privacy screen. Climbing over an arbor, they also create shade. Vines have a wide variety of leaf shapes and textures. Many have bright flowers that add color and aroma — all these benefits without taking up much ground space! There are four main types: self-climbing (which attach to masonry, like creeping fig), non-climbing shrub vines (need support, such as bougainvillea), twining (stems twist for support, i.e., honeysuckle) and tendril-climbing (tendrils act as support, like passion flower). Vines are said to sleep the first year, creep the second year and leap the third year.

Clockwise from above: Passion Flower, Orange Trumpet, Honeysuckle, Bougainvillea, Creeping Fig.

Planting Plant color annuals such as pansies, petunias, larkspur and primrose. Plant warm-season flowering bulbs such as canna, dahlia, daylily and gladiolus.

Set out warm-season annuals such as cosmos, four o’clock, globe amaranth, gloriosa daisy, lisianthus, marigold, portulaca, vinca, zinnia, celosia, salvia, sunflower, gaillardia, beans, okra, cucumber, peanut, pumpkin, melon and squash.

Plant seedlings of pepper, tomatoes, squash, eggplant and green onion. Sow seeds for warm-season flowers such as hollyhock, salvia, sunflowers, tithonia and zinnia in garden beds.


Look for new growth on native and desert-adapted plants.

Prune winter-damaged plant parts. Allow flower stalks on spring bulbs to brown and die back naturally. When spent, clip off at the base.


Watch for iron deficiency on citrus, pyracantha, gardenia, nandina and bottlebrush. Look for yellow leaves with green veins, which signal gardeners to apply chelated iron according to package directions.

Always water before and after applying any fertilizer.

Feed Bermuda grass with high nitrogen fertilizer.

Feed roses every two weeks or use a slow-release fertilizer for longer season intervals during spring’s peak bloom.


Reap flower seeds. Allow wildflowers and cool-season annual flowers to dry and scatter seed; or collect dry seed and store to sow next fall.


Adjust drip-irrigation systems to accommodate new plants and the warming temperatures.


Plant red bird of paradise, ageratum, eupatorium, passion vine, desert hackberry and datura to attract butterflies.

Plant container-grown roses. Plant new citrus and protect trunks from sunburn.

Plant desert landscape shrubs, cacti and succulents so that the roots reestablish before the summer heat.


Garden Calendar | March

It’s time to get your garden ready for the burst of spring growth.

Tip of the Month

The genus Helianthus includes the muchloved annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus), as well as several perennial species that make great, long-blooming garden plants.

The annual sunflower produces flowers that measure from 5 to 12 inches across. These bright beauties will grow well in the low desert. Seed can be sown or transplants set out anytime after early March. Another time to plant would be in early August. Once established, water deeply to encourage a strong root system for support. Good soil drainage is very important. Sunflowers need a minimum of six hours of sun daily. A light application of fertilizer can be used at planting and during the growing season. Sunflowers will bloom about 55-75 days after planting. They come in an array of sizes. Small varieties, such as “Teddy Bear” and “Music Box,” grow to just two to three feet tall, while “Mammoth” or “Russian Giant,” can reach heights of eight feet or more.


Plant color annuals after mid-month such as zinnia, periwinkle, globe amaranth, verbena and portulaca. Sow seeds for warm-season vegetables: okra, melon, squash, corn and cucumbers. Plant desert-adapted trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, cacti and succulents. Plant container-grown roses and citrus.


As temps warm, adjust irrigation systems for new plants. Water citrus every 10-14 days. Watch container plantings for drying out in March winds.


Apply nitrogen to fruit trees when buds begin to swell. Add compost and well-composted manure to vegetable beds. Give established plants a dose of balanced organic fertilizer. Fertilize roses every six weeks to prepare for spring bloom. Fertilize established fig trees now.


Transplant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and globe artichokes. Propagate from existing succulent cuttings. Divide and plant agave, yucca and aloe offshoots. Set out strawberries, which grow best in raised beds to help prevent salt accumulation. Transplant basil, chamomile, chives, epazote, feverfew, lavender, oregano, lemon grass, rosemary, sage and santolina.


Deadhead the winter annuals. Prune frost-damaged foliage from bougainvillea, dalea, hibiscus, lantana, oleander and other shrubs. Prune perennial herbs by one-third after mid-March. Prune Texas Ranger, red bird of paradise, mountain marigold and chuparosa to encourage new growth. Cut back ornamental grasses. Remove side-buds on hybrid roses and center buds on floribundas to promote larger flowers.

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Garden Calendar | February

It’s time to get your garden ready for the burst of spring growth.

Tip of the Month

The secret to producing good tomatoes and peppers in the desert is to get them planted early. Set out six-inch transplants of peppers and tomatoes between mid-February and mid- March. Cover plants if late frost is predicted. Early planting encourages fruit set. This occurs when night temperatures are above 55 degrees and daytime temperatures do not exceed 90 degrees. After 90 degrees, pollen is no longer viable and fruit set stops. Choose varieties that produce fruit in less than 70 days. Cherry tomato varieties and Early Girl are good examples of short-season cultivars. Peppers and tomatoes are heavy feeders, so add organic food monthly. Water deeply every three to four days, and add mulch to retain soil moisture. Grow basil next to peppers and tomatoes to help to repel garden pests.


Plant color annuals such as pansies, petunias, larkspur, primrose, poppy, stock, violas, alyssum, snapdragon and marigolds. Plant native or desert-adapted plants such as desert marigold, penstemon, sage and evening primrose, which are hardy enough to withstand the cold nights but benefit from extra time in the ground to establish roots. Start a new crop of cool-season vegetables, such as root vegetables, peas, leafy greens, kale and bunching onions.


Fertilize citrus, lawns, grapes and deciduous trees. Citrus fertilizers are formulated especially to provide a source of nitrogen. Fertilize roses with a slow-release fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorous around mid-month to encourage blooms by April. Fertilize non-native plants just as they begin active growth. Wait to fertilize tender tropicals until danger of frost is over. Natives generally do not need fertilizer.


Tomatoes must be transplanted early enough to develop roots, flower and set fruit before hot weather arrives. Plant mid-month but watch for frost and cover for protection until mid-March.


Water citrus deeply every three weeks. Watch shallow-rooted newly planted annuals, which can quickly dry out with spring winds. Adjust watering schedule according to winter rains.


Continue to harvest citrus. However, Valencia oranges are just starting to sweeten and grapefruit continues to sweeten for several months.


Wait until new shoots emerge on frost-damaged plants. Cut back ornamental grasses.

Garden Calendar | January

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.

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November 2019

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.

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