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Fall Plants for the Southwest Cottage Garden

Fall is the best time of the year to plant in the Southwest Cottage garden. The temperatures are falling to a bearable level; the rains pick up, and weeds are not nearly as much of a problem. Also, my favorite vegetables are the brassicas that thrive in the fall. Even though we are still experiencing some triple digit temperatures, the weather is on a downward slide to cooler weather.  Now is the time to get your zone 9 gardens ready for fall planting. I have to admit I do a lot of my fall gardening in pots, where they not only provide fall and winter interest but offers a beautiful edible bounty by early spring. 

Fall has distinct planting benefits. Autumn's cooler air temperatures are easier on both plants and gardeners. The soil is still warm, allowing roots to grow until we experience a freeze.  Myth no. 1 Desert Southwest does not freeze. Wrong!  It is true we do not have a very long ‘winter’ season, but we do have about one may two weeks where the temperatures dip into the low 30’s, and my little fish pond will have a thin layer of ice covering it. Tender plants such as my bougainvillea have to be brought in. I made the mistake in February, and my lovely little bougainvillea suffered frostbite, and it took two months to recover.

Preparation – Before you plant, you need to get the garden ready. If you are planting in the ground, be sure to add some horse manure or aged cow manure to give the soil (if you can call what we have in the ground “soil”) extra nutrients.  I also inoculate the soil with mycorrhizae–myco means fungus and the suffix mean root, so literally root fungi, a word used to indicate a symbiotic relationship between the two buy mycorrhizae to add to the planting bed especially around the roots of little plants. Since most of the zone 9b is dry, I add fertilizers to the soil that helps retain moisture. Besides the ones already mentioned you can add other nitrogen rich additives such as rabbit manure, alfalfa, and cottonseed meal,  and for good vegetable and or flower production you also need phosphorus. I use rock phosphate. Also, don’t forget about the potassium. Potassium (or potash) helps plants use water. The best source of potassium for the organic garden is greensand. You can also add wood ash, but it is high in lime so it can lower your pH.

Planting: Don't overwater, but make sure the plants get at least 1 inch of water one time per week. If the temperatures stay hot, then water every day until cooler weather descends.

Vegetables: I usually grow Lettuce, spinach, radishes and collard greens and some kale and other greens with a short maturity time can be planted later in the season. Carrots are a must every year as they germinate quickly, and we do not have the usual pest that seems to harvest the root crops. Carrots taste sweeter when they're harvested after frost.

Perennials: In the long growing season of zone 9b the perennials get to monster size and need to be divided every season, and fall is the only time to do this successfully.
Peony, Irises, Echinacea, Shasta daisy, and mums are all best choices for hot, desert conditions. Geraniums are ideal for pots for winter blooming, but sadly go dormant or dead in the summer heat.
Petunias are the perfect basket plant, they grow quickly and are healthy and fragrant at the same time.

Spring Bulbs: Myth no.2 bulbs do not get enough cold temperatures to bloom. Wrong!  I have tulips, daffodils, lilies, crocus, and several other varieties of spring bulbs that faithfully put on a grand show for me every year.  Plant these in late October.


 Geraniums will perform best in pots for the fall and winter months. Bring them in if the temperatures dip down below 40 degrees. 

Annual Flowers: Annual flowers in zone 9b usually become perennials as they just will not die. I had petunias that lasted three years or more. The best seeds to plant are hollyhock, Bachler buttons, asters, nasturtiums, gaillardia, love lies bleeding, marigolds.  I started these seeds five years ago, and I have never replanted, and they are still going strong.  The plants I buy are stock, snapdragon, purple salvia, and petunias.  Don't forget to add Opium poppies and nicotiana.  

The stock last all summer and picks up blooming again in October

Nasturtium will self-sow and bloom every year in the fall and winter.

Tree: Even though in zone 9b you can plant all year round, fall is a better time to plant trees. The love the cooler temperature to settle in and develop their roots.  The high heat of the summer months puts them into shock, and they don’t grow they just go into survival mode (as we humans also do).

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