October marks the beginning of the fall gardening season. Everything in your garden will need some attention, and flower and vegetable gardens will be started.
Turn your attention first to fertilizing and acidifying your citrus trees and other plants. Salt has been slowly building in the soil each time you water and plants depleted the available nutrients to make it through a tough summer. Acidification and fertilization will give all your plants a much-needed boost that will be rewarded with a flush of growth, green, and blooms. Be sure to do this task early this month, especially for frost sensitive plants that shouldn't be fertilized closer to frost.
Annual flower and vegetable gardens should be prepared for planting in much the same way. Start with the soil. Because our soils naturally lack the organic matter, acidity and nutrients that produce the truly tasty vegetables and prolific blooms that we love. We recommend using soil amendments. If you are an organic grower, amend the vegetable garden with a 1-inch layer of acidified, nitrolized mulch, and 1 pound each per 100 square feet of First Step, blood meal, bone meal, and greensand. Then, spade to a depth of about 8 inches. In my opinion a less costly, faster and more effective approach also uses a 1-inch layer of mulch, but instead uses 1 pound each per 100 square feet of First Step and 6-24-24 fertilizer, then spade to a depth of 8 inches as before.
If you have a dedicated area for your vegetable garden, raised or otherwise, make furrows about 2 feet apart. Of course you can also plant vegetables throughout your garden interspersed with your perennial shrubs and annual flowers. Just keep in mind how much space the plant needs and that all vegetables need eight-plus hours of sun daily.
For annual flowers, free form or geometric designs with big splashes of color make the most impact. Choose colors that you like, that compliment or contract to other colors in the garden area. Use height and leaf texture and color to add interest. The key is to do what pleases you.
Dig holes big enough for the plant's root ball. Carefully remove the plant from the container and gently loosen the roots. Place the plant in a hole, being careful not to bury the stem any deeper than it was in the pot, and firmly pack the soil around the root ball. Spacing between holes depends on what is being planted. Then, water the plants thoroughly.
For ongoing watering of flowers and vegetables we prefer to use a product called T-Tape. It is a flat plastic tube that connects together in varying configurations that has pinholes every 6 to 12 inches. Just run the T-Tape down the middle of the vegetable bed, right along the line of plants. Water pre-started vegetables two to three times per week for two to three hours, making sure that the watering rate is no greater than 2 gallons per hour. If planting seeds, keep them moist until sprouted, watering every other day until germinated. Once established, cut back the watering frequency to one to two times per week. Other less efficient watering methods like furrow irrigation and bubbler heads are also fine, but avoid methods that overhead water, i.e. spray water onto the leaves and flowers. This method can affect bloom set and fruit.
Begin planting seeds for fall vegetable crops once weather cools under 100 degrees. Also, you have time for a repeat crop of short season bush beans, cucumbers and summer squash if you act now. You can plant tomatoes from starts if you cover for frost.
Fall vegetables are: asparagus, kohlrabi, beets, leeks, broccoli, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, onions, cabbage, pak choi, carrots, parsnip, cauliflower, peppers (short season varieties), celery, peas, cucumber, radishes, green beans, spinach, gourds, Swiss chard, herbs, tomatoes (short season varieties), Jicama, turnips, and kale.
You're probably thinking there's no way you're going to start your fall annuals now. After all, your summer flowers are looking so full and lush. Rip them out! Fall flowers need to establish their roots in warm soils. So, starting them now gets a healthy root system developed before the cool fall and cooler winter slows their development. Seed hollyhocks now for color next summer, nasturtiums for big winter color, and African daisies and sweet peas. Plant seed or plant 4-inch pots and six packs of the following flowers. We grow the flowers here so they are acclimated to our weather.
• Alyssum: A low growing border plant in white, pink or purple. Full sun to light partial shade.
• Begonia: Gives masses of color in shady spots, red, pink or white in dark leafed varieties, or a mixture of colors in green leafed types.
• Calendula: Yellow or orange flowers with dark centers, makes excellent cut flowers. Needs sun.
• Chrysanthemum paludosum: Miniature daisy flowers cover this low growing annual in a cloud of white. Use for sunny borders.
• Dianthus: An array of reds, pinks, violets and white adorn these specially selected Sweet Williams. Compact plants to about 12 inches for sun or partial shade.
• Dusty Miller: A foliage plant with silver colored leaves. Full sun to partial shade.
• Geranium: Available in a rainbow of colors. Full sun to partial shade.
• Linaria: Covered in mini snapdragon-shaped flowers of blue, yellow or red. Full sun.
• Lobelia: Arizona's favorite border plant for sun or partial shade. Deep purple, blue, rose, lilac and mixed colors.
• Ornamental Kale: Great foliage color in predominately purple or white. Full sun.
• Pansy and Viola: The most popular flower for fall and winter, these hardy free blooming plants are available in a wide variety of colors to suit any décor. Pick a sunny spot for best results. Violas will take light shade.
• Petunia: Reds, pinks, whites, burgundy and blues. Full sun.
• Poppies and Primroses: These favorites will be ready for you when the weather starts to turn cold. Iceland poppies for bright sunny spots and traditional primrose for shady areas.
• Snapdragons: Taller mid-sized varieties are great for cut flowers or colorful backgrounds. Dwarf types make fantastic borders. Either way, you can't go wrong with their rainbow of colors for sunny spots.
• Stock: Harmony and Trisomic varieties are very fragrant and make tremendous cut flowers. Midgets make excellent border plants. Full sun.
• Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener's World and Gardener's Eden Landscaping in Phoenix. Reach them at (602) 437-0700. For the nursery, call (602) 437-2233 or visit www.gardenpro.net, and for landscaping, visit www.gardenersedenaz.com.