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Plant care includes knowing about area


Long before it is time to panic, I would love for all my readers to take a quick inventory of what is growing in their yards that might need to be protected this winter.

If this is the same old stuff you deal with every year – not to worry. If you are new to gardening in Tucson, or you are in a new home, or you have added new plants – NOW is the time to take stock. Many times people worry when they don’t have to and, many times, they neglect to act until they already have damage.

For those of you who don’t know, I don’t mean this in a mean way, but Tucson is NOT the tropics. No doubt it felt like the tropics in the summer, but the desert is notorious for allowing its heat to escape at night. Desert plants are really tough characters that have evolved ways of preventing themselves from sustaining damage from freezing, tricks that our tropical plant cousins don’t know.

This isn’t a trick question, but it does have a several part answer: Do you live in a part of Tucson where you have to worry about extra-cold nights? Contrary to a common thought of many, living at a higher elevation does not mean it will be colder. You would have to get much, much higher – like half way up to Mount Lemmon, for that to happen. Those who live down on the flat edges along the Tanque Verde and Pantano washes and Rillito River and such are just about now thinking, “I’ll show you some cold.” And they are serious. There are neighborhoods where there are no citrus trees to be found; no bougainvillaea after that first “surprise” winter. These folks definitely know!

So being the low spot is a problem. Even if there are lower places in town, it is being the low spot in your neighborhood that is the problem. Cold air is heavier than warm air and it sinks. Cold air rolling down from the surrounding area and being trapped in your yard is the problem.

So take a look at the general lay of the land and where you are in relation to that.

There are also warm zones. One of the best bets for a warm spot is where large areas of concrete, asphalt and buildings are gathered. Another is where there is a large mass of earth or rock is heated and releases that stored heat at night.

After your first winter in a new home, you already know this. There are temperature changes from year to year, but whether you are in a cold or warm area will be more important in this regard than yearly changes.

That brings us to what kind of plants you have. If you planted tropical plants this year and aren’t sure whether you live in a warm or cold spot – now is the time to find out the answer to that question. Once you do, you will know whether you need to bother reading next week’s column about protecting tropicals from the cold of winter.

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.


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