March 4, 2012

Spring Clean-up: The Battle of the Backyard Begins

It is only early March so winter still has a few weeks to go on the calendar, and in reality, several months in colder parts of the country. But, here in the desert southwest we are entering prime cleanup and replanting time. From now until late March is the time to get the yard ready for a springtime of satisfying retirement outdoor activities. By early June we enter summer heat hibernation mode when we want things to look pretty, even if we never leave the air conditioning to actually experience it. Silly, I know, but it is what we do.

So, the backyard is showing the ravages of what passes for winter in Scottsdale. The lantanas have all turned brown. They must be cut back to within 3 or 4 inches of the soil so the new growth and flowers can be seen as they start to emerge in the next few weeks. At last count we had 25 lantanas waiting for the clippers. Amazingly, by mid-late March these plants will be green with purple, yellow, and white blooms.

The pyracanthas do well in the winter, producing little berries that turn from orange to red. Those bushes need some shaping and trimming as well. They have sharp stickers which always get me, no matter how thick the gloves or how careful I am. But, up against a white wall they are killers.

In the far corner is a large pepper tree in desperate need of shaping. It is looking a bit ragged and growing over the wall and into the neighbor's yard. With the top at least 30 feet high I may have to hire a professional to properly trim  and shape it.

Two other small trees growing just outside the dining room picture window had looked less than healthy for the past few years. I keep saying they should go, but year after year they stay.  Finally, this week I have yanked them out by their rather hardy root systems and sent them to tree heaven.

The pots on the porch, Ramada, and various locations around the yard have winter blooms in them: petunias and pansies. Those plants will not survive the spring and summer temperatures so soon they must be replaced. Vincas and Zinnias do best in the heat and can be planted as early as the end of March.

The lawn is a major disaster area. During the winter we do not over-seed with winter rye (the stuff you see on golf courses). It takes too much water and must be cut and trimmed every 7 days to look its best. So, starting in November the Bermuda grass and all the assorted weeds turn brown until March when they begin to show signs of life.

For several years I have used various combinations of weed and feed products to eliminate the assorted weeds and clovers that are slowly crowding out the grasses. I have even tried pulling them all by hand. But, every spring there seem to be just as many as the year before. I swear I can hear them laughing at my attempts to control them. So, I have decided they win. I water and fertilize the grass, and hire someone to cut and trim it. The fact that the weeds benefit is something i have learned to accept.

As mentioned in earlier posts, I have cut way back on the number of pots I try to maintain through a summer of 100+ degrees. But, the view out the dining room and kitchen windows really benefits from colorful pots and plants all summer. Part of my satisfying retirement is having pretty views outside. For that to happen, the clock is ticking...and I need to get into the garden now.

10 comments:

  1. What no cactus? Wouldn't it be more ecological to have cactus instead of a lawn? Just saying?

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    1. Of course you are right, Roberta. But, in our defense: we tore out about 1/3 of the lawn 7 years ago. We replaced all the plants, bushes, and trees with low water, low maintenance desert/heat-tolerant ones. We have no pool (unusual for our neighborhood) which is a huge water-waster from evaporation.

      The lawn is a major attraction for our grandkids, actually keeps the backyard a bit cooler than just rocks and dirt, and for our new puppy (getting soon!) will be a place to exercise without burning her feet.

      The grass does need to be watered, trimmed, and cut. But, so far the advantages outweigh the alternatives.

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  2. Ah, if only our gardening dreams of March and April could survive the reality of July and August heat. Anyhow, when I was in Phoenix I saw a number of "pebble" yards. Guess they're easy to maintain, but they're kinda ugly. I'm with you -- a lawn is worth the trouble, as long as you keep it small and managable.

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    1. It has taken years, but I no longer try to maintain much in the dead of summer. Minimal pot maintenance and leave the lawn cutting to a service.

      I couldn't live with one of those pebble yards in the back. Our front yard is kind of like that..a few trees and bushes, but mainly rock.Since everything in Phoenix takes place in backyards, that's where we concentrate our efforts.

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  3. My dream, when and if we are able to move to Tucson, is to model our yard after Tohono Chul Park. I could live in that garden..........sigh.

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    1. I know the park you are referring to. When we lived in Tucson we were just a few miles from it.

      Tucson is radically different from Phoenix. There are very few lawns and lots of cacti. It is definitely desert landscaping.

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  4. Down here in TN we are also in lawn and garden mode. Right now my wife and I are picking up concrete statues and copper whirlygigs for placement in the gardens, and I am also picking up some 2 and 3-tier water fountains (inventory is great right now so it is and ideal time to shop for bargains). I need to slice back the overgrowth from last year now that the winter is likely over, and try to get down some grass seed. We live in an area that gets about 45" of moisture per year. Unfortunately almost all of it comes during the fall and winter so it is difficult to maintain lawns down our way as well. I couldn't imagine trying to do it with 100 degree temps.

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    1. Yes, it is a challenge, Chuck. Phoenix averages 7" of rain a year, most of which falls in January and February and again in August. Bermuda takes about 1" of water every 3 days in the summer to look it's best. I give it about half that so the lawn is never plush, but better than rock.

      The amount of water, fertilizer, and time to keep over 200 golf courses looking good in the summer is hard to imagine. Many have converted to a target style course: only the green landing spots for most balls in the freeway and the actual putting green are in grass. Everything else is small rock and dirt.

      I didn't hear, but I gather TN escaped the devastating storms of the last few days?

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    2. Bob, tough on the water. We have the added problem of expensive water rates in my immediate area, so we hit the bushes and trees, and let the lawn go on its own.

      We had two people killed about five miles from our home last Wed. Then on Friday we thought we were going to be hit directly by the tornadoes, especially when we heard the freight train-sounding wind, but they skirted to the north and south of us. No one perished in TN Friday, only on Wednesday of last week. Thanks very much for asking.

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    3. Glad to hear you dodged the storms, but it sounded too close for comfort. We just had lunch with friends who live most of the year in Chattanooga. The nearest tornado was about 20 miles from their place.

      Phoenix undercharges for water. If the rates went up there would be fewer yards and golf courses.

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