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Plant Cool-Season Annuals for Winter Color5 November 2013
There's still time to transplant cool-season annuals in the low desert, for months of lovely color. Most cool-season flowers prefer 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily to bloom their best. If possible, provide an eastern exposure that gets morning sun but protection from hot afternoon sun. This will give plants and flowers protection when the heat arrives in late spring, and they may continue blooming a bit longer.
Most annuals have root systems that reach 12 inches deep, so provide at least that depth of loosened, improved soil to promote strong root development. If your soil and muscles allow digging even deeper, dig down 18 inches. If your soil is too hard and rocky for such soil prep, build raised beds. It's still a good idea to loosen the ground somewhat before putting raised beds on top, unless the beds are at least 2 feet high.
After loosening soil, layer 4 to 6 inches of compost on top. Organic matter improves drainage in clay soils, aids water retention in sandy soils, and improves fertility in all soils. In our desert gardens it's almost impossible to add too much compost.
At this point, if you have clay soil, you can add sulfur or gypsum according to package instructions. Either one will improve drainage in clay soil, but both of these effects are temporary and slight. Soil sulfur also will lower pH levels. Like organic matter, they must be reapplied before each planting season. You also can spread a fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus. Desert soils generally contain sufficient potassium so you don't need to pay for that nutrient in your fertilizer. Turn it all under to a depth of 12 inches. If you're not in a hurry to plant, apply water and let some of those lurking weed seeds germinate so you can pull them before planting.
There are lots of flowers to choose that grow well in cooler temperatures, such as calendula, cornflower, dianthus, geranium, Iceland poppy, Johnny-jump-up, pansy, petunia, snapdragon, and sweet alyssum. Fragrant stock has a clove-like scent and comes in pastel shades of pink, mauves, lavender, and cream. Try planting a container full and set it on your patio so you can enjoy its heady fragrance as you bask in the winter sun.
Read more here at National Gardening Association.