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Iris pumila

Iris pumila

March is, of course, an exciting and busy gardening time. Seedlings under the grow lights are getting larger and taking on a more adult appearance. Outdoors, the irises and many other perennials are sending up new growth. In a sheltered bed by the house, daffodils followed the reticulata irises into bloom. In the open garden, it is crocus time, and the first Iris pumila opened on March 22.

I cleaned up the pond and restarted the pump. Dianthus seedlings I had started last summer and overwintered indoors were hardened off and transplanted into the garden.

Iris paradoxa seedlings

Iris paradoxa seedlings

Nine seedlings of the exotic oncocyclus species Iris paradoxa, now one year old but small because I neglected to transplant them last year, now have a new home in a planter.









One-year-old hardy cactus seedlings have been moved from the plastic seedling inserts into a tray that will be kept outdoors on the deck until next spring, when they should be ready to plant out. The planting medium is a mixture of commercial cactus mix, sand, and garden soil.











The main activities in March are resuming watering and clearing away last year’s dead foliage and pulling up the cool-season weeds.

On the last day of the month, I planted the blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) in the “restoration” area in the back yard. I scattered some native blue flax (Linum perenne lewisii) and California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in along with the grass seed for good measure.

blue grama grass seed

blue grama grass seed


watering in the grass and wildflower seeds


rets2013February has given us almost “normal” weather this year – consistently cold (although never extreme), and a bit of precipitation (although not as much as we could use). The first of the spring bulbs (Iris danfordiae and other reticulata irises) are coming into bloom now, a few weeks later than in previous years. Outdoors, I’ve prepared the area for the blue grama grass restoration, and burned some weeds and clutter from last year to clean out some areas.

coldframe2013I’m trying something new with the hardy perennial seeds I received from the NARGS seed exchange or purchased locally at Plants of the Southwest. These enjoy a period of cold treatment to stimulate them to germinate in the spring, so I’ve planted them in plastic inserts and set them in an open, unheated cold frame outside. Curious to see if this treatment suits them.

sdlgs_lightsIndoors, seedlings of vegetables, herbs, flowers, succulents and hardy cacti are thriving under the grow lights. A few of the cactus and succulents have not germinated. Perhaps they are waiting for warmer nights?

I’ve noticed just this week that the one- and three-year-old cacti that I’m growing inside are starting their spring growth spurt, getting a little plumper and greener. I’ll resume watering them weekly now.

My new Meyer lemon tree was attacked by gray aphids. A vigorous hosing off outside seems to have addressed the problem, at least for the time being.

Winter is a good time to enjoy some garden reading. I’ve been on an iris history binge this month, working through the American Iris Society bulletins from the 1920s, which are available on line to e-members. I’ve also had the good fortune to acquire a complete set of publications of the Dwarf Iris Society, and have been reading Walter Welch’s DIS portfolios from the 1950s.

The garden in January

The garden in January

January is in many ways the beginning of the gardening year for me. This is when I plant most of my seeds for growing under lights indoors. It is also when seeds from seed exchanges (mostly irises, in my case) tend to arrive. These get planted outdoors in pots sunk in the ground. The exposure to winter cold and varying moisture helps them germinate.

We moved into winter steadily and gradually this year. Snowfall early in January was followed by a week or so when temperatures never rose above freezing and lows were near 0 Fahrenheit. Things are warming some now (highs in the 40s), and the snow is melting…very slowly.

succulent seedlings

succulent seedlings

Two weeks ago, I planted succulent and cactus seedlings for growing indoors under the lights. I got many more of these than in previous years. The cacti are all hardy species native to New Mexico. After growing them on for a few years, they will be planted outside. The seeds all came from Mesa Gardens in Belen. Echinocereus coccineus, Escobaria vivipara neomexicana, Escobaria missouriensis, Mammillaria grahamii, Mammillaria meiacantha, Mammillaria wrightii, Pediocactus simpsonii, Sclerocactus mesa-verdae, and Sclerocactus parviflorus. The succulents are indoor plants that looked like they would be fun and interesting to grow: lithops, conophytums, Adenium obesum, Euphorbia obesa, Haworthia margaritifera (I think this means it will bring me margaritas), and Talinum caffrum. Except for the adenium, these came from in Phoenix. Most of these have already sprouted, as have some of the cacti. I was quite surprised at the spindly appearance of the Euphorbia obesa seedlings. From the look of the mature plants, I expected the seedlings to be more cactus-like.

This weekend I planted tomatoes and peppers of several different sorts, herbs, hollyhocks, and Shenandoah petunias. I also planted some seeds I had harvested from my Mammillaria prolifera cactus and my Meyer lemon tree. This is earlier than the usual recommendations for starting the transplants, since our average last frost is not until the beginning of May. However, conditions are so harsh here in spring that I find it is better to set out larger plants and give them plenty of time to harden off and acclimate to the outdoors before planting.

grow lights

grow lights

The grow lights have proven to be one of my best gardening investments ever. Being able to grow plants from seeds not only saves money, but is a very satisfying and fun process. Furthermore, it allows me to try things that would be difficult to obtain any other way. And I sometimes end up with extra seedlings to share with friends.

snowday1It’s mid-December now. We’ve actually gotten a bit of snow, providing the garden with some welcome moisture. There’s nothing blooming or even very green any more, after temperatures dropped down into the low teens earlier in the month. Some of the plants add a little bit of “structural” interest, however, such as the red-twig dogwood and a gone-to-seed parsley plant I left standing.


red-twig dogwood, still clinging to its leaves

I did some clean-up last weekend, burning two enormous piles of dry weeds (mostly tumbleweeds and chenopods).

My cactus and succulent seed orders have arrived, and the NARGS seed exchange opened earlier today. I found a few irises there that I can use, so put in an order and filled it out with “surprise me” requests in my favorite genera.

Seed catalogs have been arriving, and some of those I haven’t received yet have their 2013 offerings on their web sites. So now I’m planning in earnest for next year, going through the seed inventory I have left from last year, and deciding what new things to try.

snowday2I’ve slowed down the watering on the cactuses indoors, as they like to have a sleepy season in the winter.

While reading Laura Springer Ogden’s The Undaunted Garden, I became inspired to restore a section of the backyard with native blue grama grass. It was once the dominant vegetation in this locality, before farming and overgrazing took their toll. I’m hoping that it will eventually supplant the unpleasant weeds and lend a natural look to the space. I’m planning on underplanting with spring-flowering bulbs for extra color and fun. I’ll post on this project as it goes along next year.

What? Did he say November gardening? Odd as it no doubt sounds to some, for those who love gardening there is a lot to do at the onset of winter.

The garden today, November 9, 2012.

I’ve been neglecting this blog, so I decided to start a series of monthly gardening posts to share what I’m doing as the calendar pages turn. Will I keep up with this? We’ll see.

The first frost here was a month ago, so the vegetable garden and tender plants are a thing of the past. There are still things blooming, though: Crocus speciosus, sweet alyssum (Lobularia), violas, and Shenandoah petunias.

Although the frost was a month ago, it hasn’t really been very cold yet: nightly lows around 30 degrees F. There’s a storm coming through this weekend, with temperatures expected to get down to 20 or below, so it’s time to attend to some winter preparations: turn off the solar pump for the pond and bring in the dianthus seedlings still out on the back deck. They are hardy perennials, of course, but they are young plants and will do better indoors during the cold of winter.

Some flowers blooming now.

Last month I brought some things indoors to overwinter: pond plants, and cuttings from Ipomoea vines that I grow in containers during the summer. The cuttings have rooted in a jar of water and are now ready for potting up.

November is also a good time for removing cool-weather weeds: they are unlikely to come back in force this late

in the season.

seedlings from garden-collected seeds of Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ and ‘Arctic Fire’, started late this summer.

On weeks when the weather is relatively mild, November is also a good time for digging new beds and taking on small projects outdoors. I have an old sagging table that I want to replace with a home-made potting bench of cinderblocks and particle board. In preparation, I’ll be taking some bricks from an area where they aren’t wanted and making a sort of foundation for the new work bench.

Overwintering pondplants and Ipomoea cuttings.

This is also the month of the Scottish Rock Garden Club’s seed exchange. The list should be posted soon now, and I can’t wait to dive in and see what’s available. I’ve already received and planted seeds from the Aril Society International seed exchange, and am looking forward to the exchanges of the North American Rock Garden Society, Species Iris Group of North America, and British Iris Society, which take place around Christmas.

I’m also pondering what plants I want to start next year. The Thompson & Morgan seed catalog has arrived, and others will follow in December and January. A friend on an iris discussion group suggested planting sweet peas in flower beds, as they are nitrogren fixers. I think I will try that, so have been poking around catalogs and web sites to check out different varieties.

I also seem to be developing a fondness for growing cactus and succulents from seed. Among the cacti, I’m mostly interested in hardy kinds I can grow outdoors here, particularly New Mexico natives. Contemplating succulents, I want to grow more Lithops, try some Conophytum, and maybe Adenium obesum and Pachypodium saundersii. Oh, and Euphorbia obesa. Did I mention Haworthias? Well then. Spending some time at and the website of Mesa Garden in Belen, trying to converge on a shopping list.

I’m mulling over a few things I learned this year. When starting seedlings, it seems to be better to start early: January and early February. I’m confident I can raise husky plants that way, better able to survive transplanting in New Mexico’s dry and windy spring weather. I also had success this year in planting new irises in pots–just the ones with very small rhizomes that need a more controlled environment than they can get in the open garden. I did this with a few dwarf species and some very small aril rhizomes this year, and it seems to have been good for them.

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