Tips for Keeping Your Lawn and Garden Healthy Through the Monsoon Season in Tucson, Arizona
By Eddie Rodieck
Monsoon: Everything in the desert from plants and animals to people wait for it to arrive each year. It represents the glorious arrival of the rainy season that provides plants and animals with much-needed water and people with a break in the heat of summer. The high winds and heavy rains of monsoon can also bring destruction as well. Here’s what you need to know to help your lawn and garden weather the storms of the monsoon season in Tucson.
What is the Monsoon?
Considered the fifth season in Tucson, monsoon brings much needed rainfall along with cloud cover that is often accompanied by claps of thunder and spectacular lightning shows. Roughly about six inches of rainfall, or 50 percent of Tucson’s annual rainfall, typically occurs during the monsoon season in July and August though the National Weather Service has determined that monsoon season runs from June 15 to September 30.
These monsoon thunderstorms typically develop over the mountains surrounding Tucson early in the afternoon and move down across the city by late afternoon or evening to bring the rains. The storms generally move from east or southeast in a west or northwest direction.
Water, Water Everywhere
Rain water is a blessed thing in the Sonoran Desert where the annual rainfall is a mere 12 inches compared to the national average of 39 inches. This rain water is better for your plants as it is delivered the way Mother Nature intended without the chlorine found in the treated water that comes from your hoses and irrigation systems. Rainwater also contains nitrogen from the electrical activity in the atmosphere which feeds your plants.
Allow your plants to capture as much of this natural water as possible by planting them in sunken basin gardens instead of pots. You can also put out pots to capture water for use in your indoor plants or to store inside for later use outdoors (you don’t want to store it outside uncovered as it can evaporate quickly or become a breeding ground for mosquitoes).
You may also wish to participate in water harvesting. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is to install a barrel on your property. Simply place the barrel under the downspout of your gutter system so it can capture the water that falls on your roof. You can cover the barrel and have the downspout run directly into it so that it doesn’t become a haven for mosquitoes. Hoses attached to the bottom of the barrel can be turned on to access the water for plants, trees, and shrubs on hot, dry days. You can even receive rebates in Tucson for water harvesting and take classes through Tucson Water and the Watershed Management Group.
Point the Direction
Another way to make use of the massive water runoff during monsoon is to direct the water where you want it to go. If you have water coming off your driveway, patio, or sidewalk, you can direct it into a basin in the ground or contour the ground to direct it to a tree, shrub, groundcover, or even a vegetable garden. Just make sure you contact the proper authorities before you dig to mark underground utilities that could be dangerous or costly to repair if damaged.
Adjust Your Schedule
If you have any kind of irrigation system, you’ll most definitely want to adjust your watering schedule during monsoon. Not only will this reduce your water usage, it will save you money and keep your lawn and garden from becoming overwatered. Be sure not to turn your water off completely as you will still need to supplement the water to your plants between rainy days. If you need assistance properly adjusting your watering schedule, just contact Cherry Landscape and we will be glad to help.
The Grass is Greener
More rain means that your lawn will grow at an increasing speed which also means it will need to be mowed more often. It is best to mow the lawn when it is dry as it is easier to get the right height on the grass. If you mow when the lawn is dry, it also helps avoid the clumping of grass clippings. If you need assistance keeping up with the mowing, Cherry Landscape is here to help.
You’ll also want to avoid walking on your grass after it rains. Walking on wet blades of grass can rip it away from its roots, damaging the grass. In addition, if the soil is softened by the heavy rain, walking on it can created small indentations in the ground where water can pool which can lead to other issues.
If you wish to add a fertilizer to your lawn, an ideal time to do it is about an hour before it rains. The water will carry the fertilizer into the soil where it can reach the roots. If the rain doesn’t cooperate, just turn on the sprinklers.
Plant for the Future
When you make new additions to your garden, make sure you are adding some mulch to the soil. This will allow your plants to maintain as much moisture as possible and get the most benefit out of the natural rains when they do arrive.
Make Your Garden Grow
If you want to add a garden this time of year, corn, beans, and squash (known as the Three Sisters) do very well during the monsoon season with the extra rain. They should be planted in early July and all three can be planted together. The bean vines will grow up the corn which provides shade for the squash. Native seeds such as Pima 90-Day Corn are the best to plant as they are already adapted to the desert climate.
Monsoon is also a great time for planting butternut squash and pumpkins if you want homegrown jack-o-lanterns. Tomatoes and peppers also will do well if put into the ground during monsoon season as they will produce into the fall. Melons and herb gardens tend to do well this time of year with the rain as well.
Flower Up the Color
If you were planning to add a splash of color to your yard or garden, you can now add heat tolerant flowers. Replace your winter annuals such as petunias and pansies that wilt in the heat with moss rose, zinnias, verbena, or salvia. Start with larger plants in 4-inch to one gallon pots for the best results because their larger root system gives them better resistance to the heat.
Cacti! Aloe! Agave! Oh, My!
If you have been putting off planting your cacti, aloe, or agave in the ground, now is the time to get it done. All of these native plants, along with native shrubs, will benefit from the added rainwater. Even some trees will do well, but you must ensure you don’t overwater them. The soil around these plants does need the chance to dry out a bit between each watering. Be sure to check the soil before watering between the rains.
The Trouble with Monsoon
While summer monsoons are often welcomed, they can also cause some trouble. Monsoons can create incredibly strong winds with gusts that have been tracked up to 84 mph. This can cause problems with trees, especially those that have been more recently planted and do not yet have strong root systems. Drive around after a monsoon and you will see plenty of downed or damaged trees.
Young trees should be watered deeply and infrequently throughout the year to encourage the growth of deep roots to stabilize them through such high monsoon winds. Young trees should also be staked to help them stay upright until their root systems grow strong and deep enough to stabilize the tree. As for mature trees, they need to be watered infrequently at least three feet deep to keep roots strong and growing deep.
Native trees such as Palo Verde, Desert Willow, and Mesquite trees respond better when pruned in hot weather. They heal faster in the monsoon season and pruning this time of year can help prevent trees with heavy canopies from falling over. At Cherry Landscape, we encourage the natural look and growth of trees. As with all trees, only prune them if you need to. You should prune trees to remove dead branches, eliminate branches that are crossing and rubbing one another, or if you need to thin the canopy. Learn more about how to properly cut and prune trees from our friends at Davey Trees.
Potted Plants during Monsoon Season
Don’t forget to take potted plants off decorative pillars and hanging plants down as well. It’s best to keep them on the ground during the monsoon where they can still benefit from the rain without being blown over so easily.
The Pain of the Drain
Monsoon can also bring with it heavy downpours that lead to flash flooding. In addition, it can wash away top soil, plants, trees, and decorative rock. Flat areas can collect water, creating puddles that attract mosquitos and plant rot as well as other potential problems.
Ensure you have proper drainage in your yard to prevent overall flooding and check that your decorative rock is heavy enough to sustain the monsoon rains. Make sure your drains are kept clear to allow for the proper flow of runoff. If nothing else works, you may need to work on the grading in your yard to allow the water to run off properly. If you need help with drainage issues or anything else with your landscaping, please feel free to reach out to us here at Cherry Landscape by calling (520) 292-9776.