December is a great month to take advantage of mild winter weather and tackle major garden projects. Here’s what the new revised edition of “Lush & Efficient: Desert –Friendly Landscaping in the Coachella Valley” says desert gardeners could do this month.
- Install a drip irrigation system complete with smart irrigation controller. With the water you save, it will pay for itself.
- Plant perennials and accent plants such as cacti, succulents and ornamental grasses in place of beds of annuals.
- Develop a wildlife garden in corner of the yard to attract birds, hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and small critters.
- Grow plants in colorful pots you decorate yourself to give as holiday gifts.
- If your landscape has drainage problems, create a drainage swale, and if possible, a retention basin. Or build a simulated creek bed with rocks and boulders to channel and disperse runoff.
- Make a rock garden on a natural-shaped flowing mound to serve as a landscape feature. Plant nooks and crannies with flowering perennials, groundcovers, ornamental grasses and accent plants.
- Reduce the size of large lawns, especially in front yards. Install a border for the smaller lawn area. Plant the remaining perimeter with water-efficient shrubs, grasses and groundcovers.
- Build a raised bed garden to grow a vegetable, herb or color garden. Incorporate ample amounts of organic matter into the soil to provide your plants with optimum growing conditions.
- If you have an old garden with woody hedges and overgrown plants, give it a face lift. Remove old, tired plants and bring new ideas into play with colorful, water-efficient, low-maintenance plants.
- If you have a large expanse of gravel or other inorganic groundcover surrounding your home, replace some areas with low-water use groundcovers and shrubs. Position plants at the base of structures to cut down on reflected heat and light, reducing cooling costs inside.
In “Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert and Dry Times” author and desert resident Maureen Gilmer has a suggestion for December. First, she reminds us that the “low desert has its own unique seasons that stymie gardeners from other regions because the winters are so mild. Areas such as Palm Springs and Tucson are technically tropical desert without much cold and only a few mornings of brief dawn frost.
Tip: December is the best time to start warm-season crops indoors to prepare for late January or February outdoor planting opportunities.