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desert gardening basics
May, 2013, Page 118
DESERT GARDENING 101
Most herbs perform best in the low desert if transplanted in early fall during the cool-growing season. However, the herbs presented here thrive in the heat and are fun additions to culinary creations. Transplanting at this time of year will be more successful if done in an eastern exposure with morning sun and afternoon shade. If your garden area does not offer afternoon protection, plant herbs in pots and move them around for best exposure.
Whether you grow them in the garden or containers, herbs demand excellent soil drainage. Add several inches of mulch on top of the soil to reduce soil temperature and retain moisture. In summer, soil in pots heats up dramatically and dries out quickly, and daily watering is often required.
Try this trick to reduce heat build-up in pots: Set the planted pot inside a larger container and stuff insulation material, such as foam packing noodles or crumpled newspaper, in the space between
—If tomatoes are most gardeners’ favorite veggie, basil takes the prize as the favorite herb. Basil likes warm temperatures and can be sown directly in the soil or transplanted this month. When roots are established, basil takes full summer sun if in the ground, but may benefit from some afternoon shade if grown in pots. Flavors include anise, clove, cinnamon and lemon. When buying transplants, nibble a leaf to taste-test. Harvest regularly to encourage bushy growth. Basil is frost-tender, although with protection it may soldier on through winter.
Cuban oregano (
—Not a “true” oregano, this perennial herb has intense aroma and similar flavor to oregano. Some gardeners love the flavor; others find it too strong, so taste-test a leaf before purchasing. Cuban oregano’s pale-green leaves are slightly fuzzy, and like most fuzzy, variegated or pale-leafed herbs, it performs better out of direct summer sun. Although drought tolerant when established, it needs additional water in summer.
Garlic chives (
—In the onion family, garlic chives form attractive grassy clumps that spread by tuberous roots and are self-sowing. Let them sprawl as a garden groundcover if you have the space. They thrive in containers and don’t mind being pot-bound. Pretty white flowers attract butterflies. Chop up the leaves to use as a flavorful garlic substitute.
Lemon grass (
—This perennial herb grows into a dense clump 2 to 3 feet tall and wide and takes full sun once established. Using transplants or divisions from a gardening friend is an easy way to get started. Lemon grass clumps create a peaceful rustling sound in the breeze and provide an attractive backdrop for low-growing herbs. It is widely used in Asian cuisines.
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