Instructions with plants often wrong for Tucson

2012-08-19T00:00:00Z Instructions with plants often wrong for TucsonElena Acoba Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Transplanted and new gardeners hear the mantra pretty early: Gardening in Tucson is different.

That means the instructions that you get with plants and seeds may not apply here.

The reason: Our desert climate is a small market, says Bill Harlow, co-owner of Harlow Gardens. Wholesale nurseries and seed producers that ship all over the country provide instructions that work for most of their customers.

Sun exposure is a glaring example.

Patti Vance, a garden associate at the Home Depot near the Tucson Mall, uses an avocado tree shipped from California as an example.

Its tag suggests full sun exposure. "It'll burn up," Vance says. Instead, she recommends morning sun and afternoon partial sun.

Harlow says that camellias from Monrovia, a wholesale nursery giant headquartered in California, need full shade locally, not the recommended full sun.

But California-grown Japanese privet will thrive in local full sun as the tag recommends.

Sam Wymer, who owns a Gardening in Tucson website, often sees exposure confusion with seed packets.

"They don't make different instructions for the area that they're being shipped to," says the Community Gardens of Tucson volunteer.

The former Pennsylvanian has learned that knowing seasonal exposure is important.

"Full-sun planting directions on a packet for what would normally be spring planting in the rest of the country could actually mean full sun (in Tucson), but not in April and May," Wymer says.

Tags and packets confuse in other ways if you're not an experienced Tucson gardener.

Wymer ignores packet recommendations on when to plant seeds. For instance, he has seed packets that say corn and beans should be planted in spring. He knows that in Tucson they can be sown in March and in late July or early August.

"So many things have two planting seasons," he says of desert conditions. "Seed packets don't address this."

Tomato seed packets offer another example. A packet of heirloom seeds at Home Depot says to sow in late February through July for a harvest about 100 days later.

Locally, the spring season for growing tomatoes is much shorter, says Vance, since early summer heat will stop them from producing.

All three garden experts agree that learning a little about Tucson gardening before buying can lead to success. They suggest these resources:

• Ask the garden center staff how the planting instructions differ from local requirements.

• Look at what grows well in your neighborhood.

• Refer to locally focused gardening reference materials such as "10 Steps to a Successful Vegetable Garden" from the Pima County Cooperative Extension or "Sunset Western Garden Book."

• Look to experienced gardeners for advice. "Use the knowledge of others," Wymer encourages. "I rely on them all the time."

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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