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December 2021/January 2022 Garden Checklist

What to Plant: All Elevations


Celebrate the season and liven up your space with colorful, indoor holiday foliage and flowers. Beside the standard red, poinsettias are now available in a range of colors from cream to pink to bright orange. Check the soil moisture before purchasing. If it’s bone-dry, the plants may be already critically stressed. If most of the leaves are yellow, it may have been waterlogged and suffering root decay. Don’t worry if a few of the lower leaves are yellow—that’s probably a sign of normal aging. Christmas cacti bloom around the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, where the plants are native. A well-tended Christmas cactus can live for decades. Ensure the plant has good drainage, water only when the soil is dry, and place where there is a lot of indirect light. Cacti will get sunburn if too close to a bright window.

What to Plant: Low Elevations


Carrot, beet, radish, turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, leaf lettuce, spinach, chard, arugula, kale, sugar snap pea and snow pea can all be planted from seed now. Transplant head cabbage, head lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. Before planting, enrich garden soil with 3 inches of well-aged compost that is free of weed seeds. Compost will release nutrients into the soil to feed your crops and the billions of bacteria and fungi that live there too.

What to Plant: Low and Middle Elevations


Start tomato seeds indoors for transplanting outdoors in February or March. Try some adventurous heirloom varieties such as ‘Chocolate Cherry,’ a slicing type with red and brown skin or ‘Orange Jazz,’ which produces huge fruits that taste a bit like peaches. If you prefer the tried-and-true varieties, it’s hard to go wrong with ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Sweet 100’ and ‘Pearson.’ When starting tomatoes indoors from seed, use a sterile seed-starting mix to avoid seed rot.

Garden Maintenance: All Elevations


Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to adopt new habits to improve our health. This year, consider resolving to make small changes in your garden to improve the health of your soil and surrounding ecosystem. Stop pruning shrubs into unnatural shapes; this practice is usually carried out with gas-powered hedge trimmers. Constant pruning also stresses plants and increases their water-use requirements. Don’t use blowers to “clean up” your yard. Fallen leaves are a valuable source of mulch, which feeds the soil and slows erosion. Blowers also stir a lot of dust into the air, which is bad for people with respiratory issues. Install a low-volume irrigation system that places plants with different irrigation requirements on different zones. For example, native trees should be on a separate irrigation valve than citrus, which requires more frequent watering. Purchase an irrigation timer that is easy to seasonally adjust. Finally, dedicate time and attention to learning about the various creatures you may find in your garden. Understanding the interconnectedness of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms in your environment make you less likely to apply chemicals that may kill harmless or even beneficial living things. Dive into the book “Earth-Friendly Desert Gardening” by Cathy Cromwell to get started.


Most municipalities in Arizona recycle fresh Christmas trees and wreaths. Remove all ornaments, lights, tinsel, wire and the stand before taking your unbagged items to one of your city’s designated drop-off sites. Alternatively, if you have access to a chipper/shredder, you can chip up your items and spread them in your own landscape. The same rule applies when taking the DIY approach: Remove all decorations so they don’t get caught in the machinery and contaminate the mulch.


The air can be very dry inside our homes, especially in winter. Low humidity can be rough on tropical houseplants, so quench their thirst with a monthly deep soak. Fill a tub with a few inches of water and place plant pots in the tub for three to four hours, until the soil is thoroughly wet and has had a chance to leach accumulated salts into the bath. Make sure the pots have ample drainage—otherwise, the water won’t get in. To really show them how much you care, spray them down with purified water daily to at least temporarily increase the humidity in their immediate vicinity. But don’t spray African violets, as their leaves can be damaged by water droplets.


Give evergreen and dormant deciduous woody plants a monthly, deep irrigation in winter. Shrubs should be watered to a depth of at least 2 feet and trees to 3 feet. Apply water around the entire canopy of the tree, where the majority of absorbing roots are found, and away from the trunk, which is prone to rot from damp soil.


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