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October 2013 Gardening Checklist for Arizona’s Low and Mid Elevation

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: October, 2013, Page 116
Now is the time to plant such trees as blue palo verde

October is the prime planting month for low-desert gardens. Seven to eight months of moderate temperatures stretch before us, allowing plants to establish before summer’s heat returns. So forget garden maintenance chores this month and dig in!

Landscape plants—Transplant native or desert-adapted trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, ornamental grasses, perennials, cacti and succulents. Match the plant’s sun exposure needs to what your landscape offers. Also, determine each plant’s mature height and width and compare to the space in your landscape where it will grow. Getting the right size plant will save you time and money in the years ahead because it eliminates otherwise unnecessary pruning just to keep a plant from encroaching where it doesn’t belong.

Hummingbird trees—The trumpet-shape flowers of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) fuel hummers with nectar from spring through fall. Flower color options include ‘Bi-color’ (burgundy and pale pink), ‘Desert Amethyst’ (dark lavender) and ‘Warren Jones’ (pale pink). Varieties with fewer seedpods include ‘Bubba’ (dark burgundy) and ‘Dora’s Desert Rose’ (pink). If you prefer a tree without seedpods, consider ‘Art’s Seedless’ (pink-rose). In winter, cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco) trees provide yellow sprays of blooms for hummingbirds that dwell year-round. ‘Smoothie’ is a thornless cascalote. Blue palo verde, foothills palo verde, palo brea and thornless ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde provide nesting and perching sites.

Herbs—Sow: anise • borage • caraway •  chamomile • chervil • chicory • chives •  cilantro •  dill •  fennel •  horehound •  lemon balm •  parsley •  salad burnet  •  sorrel. Transplant: bay tree •  comfrey •  curry •  feverfew •  germander •  lavender •  lemon grass •  lemon verbena •  marjoram •  mint •  oregano •  rosemary •  rue •  sage •  santolina •  society garlic •  scented geraniums  •  thyme.

Bulbs—Bulbs that perform well in our warm growing climate without the need to pre-chill include: amaryllis • babiana • bearded iris • crinum • crocosmia • Dutch iris • freesia • glory-of-the-snow • ixia • lycoris • oxalis • rain lily • scilla • sparaxis • tithonia • watsonia. Purchase bulbs at Baker Nursery in Phoenix,, or at

Wildflowers—Sow seeds all month. See Desert Gardening 101, Page 118, for details.

Cool-season vegetables—Sow seeds or set out transplants from the cabbage family, including: bok choy •  broccoli •  Brussels sprouts •  cabbage •  cauliflower •  Chinese cabbage  •  kale. Sow seeds for leafy greens • peas  •  root crops.

Seed mixes—One seed packet with a mesclun mix of salad ingredients offers economical variety. Renee’s Garden Seeds features ‘Garden Wine Country Mesclun’, which includes seeds for arugula, spinach, two chards, three Asian greens and eight lettuces; and USDA Organic ‘5 Variety Blend Mesclun’, containing ‘Blush Butter Cos’, ‘Red Devil’s Tongue’, ‘Red Ruffled Oak’, ‘Sucrine’ and ‘Troutback’ lettuces. Find them in Phoenix at Southwest Gardener,, or order from

Now is the time to plant such plants as desert willow ‘Warren Jones’ (above left) and heat-hardy rosemary (above right).

(Mid Elevations)

Hummingbird mint—Agastache cana’s raspberry-red flowers provide intense color late summer to fall. Foliage offers a minty or licorice aroma. Also called hyssop, many species and named cultivars with varied foliage textures and flower colors are available. Most thrive in gravely soils with minimal organic matter and good drainage.

Pots of cool-season flowers—Pansies, primrose, snapdragons and stock provide cheerful color with long blooming seasons.

(Mid and High Elevations)
Scarlet globe mallow—Sow seeds for Sphaeralcea coccinea, a drought-tolerant native perennial that provides for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and even grazing goats. Other globe mallow flower colors include apricot, orange, pink, purple, and white.

Native bulbs—Blue dicks produces dainty blue funnel-shape flowers. It may be sold as Brodiaea pulchella, as well as under the general name Dichelostemma or Triteleia. Also, seek ‘Queen Fabiola,’ a named variety that performs well in pots. Unusual bulbs native to the western U.S. can be found at

Garlic—In loose, well-drained soil, plant individual garlic cloves in the soil, pointy side up. You can use garlic from the grocery store; for greater variety, check out

(Mid and High Elevations)

Harvest pumpkins—When cutting pumpkins from the vine, leave 2 inches of stem attached to help prevent rot. Pumpkins can be stored two to five months in a cool, dry location but should not be colder than 45 degrees F.

Leave stems and seed heads—Wait to cut back perennials and grasses until late winter/early spring, just as new growth begins. Perennial stems offer energy to the root system over winter and catch snow for insulation and extra moisture. Butterflies and other beneficial insects lay eggs on perennial stems, so if you cut them down, you reduce these populations. Seed heads on ornamental grasses remain for many months, adding visual interest to the winter garden and providing food for birds.

Tend wildflowers—Water infrequently as seedlings establish to prevent them from drying out; taper off as cooler weather approaches. Small plants will over-winter (survive the cold) and be ready to grow again next spring. Some species need a period of cold (called stratification) to sprout, so don’t worry if some of your plants don’t germinate. They will pop up next spring when conditions are to their liking.

Cathy Cromell is a Master Gardener and co-author of Earth-Friendly Desert Gardening (Arizona Master Gardener Press).
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