Gardening in Nevada can often be a crapshoot, with an unpredictable outcome. As gardeners, each year we gamble on our landscape and garden success. Rarely is it a sure thing, because we have to deal with a short growing season, dry winds, low humidity, intense sun, poor soils, hungry critters, insect pests, noxious weeds and so much more. However, with some relatively simple practices, we can improve our chance of success.
One tip is to harden off plants before the first freeze. On average, this occurs about September 27. Hardening off means to slow growth to get plants prepared for the upcoming cold weather. This reduces shock and stress. The best way to do this is to gradually decrease the amount of water a plant receives. I start cutting back my irrigation in late August as temperatures begin to cool down. When I water, I water deeply, but less often. A little drought stress slowly over time is easier on plants, particularly trees, than a sudden snap of cold weather that kills tender new growth.
Another tip is to avoid fertilizing trees, shrubs and flowers at this time. We don’t want them to be actively growing anymore. Instead, plants should be preparing for dormancy. However, lawns can be fertilized with a nitrogen-based fertilizer sometime between late September and early November to provide nutrients for winter food storage in roots that will encourage strong spring growth.
Don’t deadhead or prune roses now. Leave the flowers on the plants to develop into rose hips. This signals the rose that it’s time to slow growth and get ready for winter. Otherwise, they keep trying to produce new flowers, which sooner or later will be zapped by a sudden freeze, putting the plant at risk for disease. Wait to prune roses until around tax day, April 15.
Many of us have tomatoes and other cold-sensitive veggies still growing in our gardens. Be diligent in watching the weather for overnight freezing temperatures. Even if the weather report says no freeze is expected, if the sky is clear at night with no wind, it is wise to cover your tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, eggplants, melons and pumpkins to protect them from the cold.
To better your odds for plant success next spring, take care of your plants now.
If you would like more information on gardening in Nevada, attend University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s “Grow Your Own” series on Wednesdays, 6 to 8 p.m. beginning September 5 through October 24. Call 784-4848 for a list of topics or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.