Garden Helpers

There are some helpers that as high desert gardeners we need to use seasonally and some may be needed when our plants are struggling with uninvited guests.  These are my favorites.



Whether you make your own compost or buy it high desert soil needs lots of it on a regular basis. I add it to all of my beds every spring as well as adding a generous amount every time I add a new plant.

This is what I use.

Find it at


Whatever color or style you prefer using mulch on your beds is a necessity in the high desert. It will help retain moisture and keep the roots of your plants cooler.

I prefer a “bark” style mulch. It will all break down quickly in our environment but much of it will last for years when a new top dressing is added in the spring.

Find it at


I used to use Ironite as a soil amendment to lower the  PH in my gardens. High desert soil is more alkaline than acidic. Most plants thrive in slightly acidic soil because that pH affords them good access to all nutrients. 

Unfortunately along with quality control issues and changes in formulation, Ironite has been shown to contain high levels of arsenic and lead.

I am researching alternatives and will keep you updated. I’d love for you to weigh in on this in the comments!

Dawn dish soap

Seeing little webs on plants? Find a plant that seems to be struggling and there are tiny eggs or critters on the underneath side of the leaves? Just dilute 2 Tablespoons of Dawn in 1 gallon of water and put it in a spray bottle. In the majority of cases spraying with this concoction will take care of the problem.

I have also read that it will kill ants and weeds when mixed with other liquids – have tried them all with no luck.

Neem oil

Neem oil is a botanical insecticide derived from toxins extracted from the seeds of a neem tree. It is a multipurpose solution as it serves as an insecticide, fungicide, and miticide. It has low toxicity and is safe to use on fruits and vegetables since its insecticidal properties do not harm humans when ingested.

If the Dawn does not do the trick this is my next choice.

Gardening Myths – ?

Vitamin B1, “root-boosters”, bonemeal, high phosphate fertilizer

All of these are additives that claim to be the secret ingredient in transplanting, blooming and plant health. While they will certainly take some money out of your pocket will they really help your plants? As usual, it depends one whose advice you choose to follow.

Rather than repeating or summarizing Robert Pavlis who certainly has the credentials and experience to know I would recommend reading his post:

Practical advice from a home gardener

I am Deborah Valiquet – artist and obsessive gardener. Here you will find my advice for creating a garden oasis in the high desert. I’ll share my experiences – successes and failures over the last 10+ years. 

Even if your garden isn’t in the high desert you will find lots of valuable information here. Let’s dig in!