Humidity In The Desert

Texas sage

     As I mentioned in my last post, so many plants that had been dormant for weeks in the summer heat have started blooming again now that we are having "cooler" weather.  My Texas sage bushes have all burst into bloom this week.  And the Red Bird of Paradise bushes (also known as Pride of Barbados) suddenly have many more and brighter blooms instead of an anemic few.

     But another way I can tell fall is on its way here in the desert southwest is that my skin is becoming very dry and starting to itch because dew points and humidity are rapidly falling.  Until I moved here, I never knew that there was any humidity in the desert.  But when the monsoon season starts here in mid June, dew points begin to rise into the 50's.  Humidity from the moist southerly winds routinely will be in the 30 to 60 percent range.Both are a welcome relief from the parching dryness.

Mexican Bird of Paradise
     In the fall, winter, and spring here humidity runs from 2 to 12 percent, and dew points plunge.  I never knew that minus dew point temperatures  existed.  However, in the winter here, with single digit humidity, minus dew points occur.  I have seen a dew point temperature as low as -34  last winter.  The concept of moisture in the atmosphere, how it is measured, and how it changes is fairly complex.  As I understand it, dew point is the Fahrenheit measure of humidity (the absolute measure of water vapor in the air).  So if the Fahrenheit (or absolute) measure of humidity is in the minus column (below zero), you can imagine how dry that feels.  It can feel cold even if the temperature is 60 degrees F (16 C).

     Just this week dew points have fallen from the 50's to the mid 30's.  And we've had a few days where the humidity has fallen into the single digits.  So bring out the heavy duty moisture creams, and if this fails to take away the itch, grab the benadryl cream.

A Hint of Fall

     Many fellow gardeners have mentioned that it is feeling like fall in their area.  I can finally say that we are having a hint of fall here in the desert southwest.  The night time temperature finally fell below 80 F (27C) this week.  And we had a few days below 100 F (38C).  We had the hottest August on record here, and now, relief.

     My yard and flower garden appreciate the lower temperatures.  The lantana are all starting to bloom again after not flowering for six weeks.  The ruellia plants are full of flowers again after weeks of producing an anemic bloom or two per week.  My palms are looking fresher, the yellow bell bushes are blossoming profusely, and my purple fountain grasses are growing purple seed heads again.  Hopefully the grass stalks on the plants will turn green again.
purple seed heads on fountain grass
     The citrus is looking good, with the oranges and grapefruits getting larger and starting to turn color.  The lime tree is shooting up its branches and getting taller suddenly this week.

grapefruit tree
     The one petunia in the garden I kept alive by watering generously is now flowering again as well as the roses which haven't bloomed much this August.


Honor rose
     It is like everything woke up from summer hibernation and realized it is not going to be blazing hot anymore.  I'm sure the amount and angle of the sunlight played a part.  We understand here in the desert southwest that it is not going to really cool off until October.  By then it won't go above 100 F (38 C) anymore.  By mid-November we are home free.  The hot weather will be gone until next May.

Remembering 9/11 and My Garden Club

     So many memories come seeping into my consciousness on this tenth anniversary of 9/11.  As many people do, I remember exactly where I was on the morning of September 9, 2001.  I had just arrived with two other women for a garden club board meeting at a member's house.  As we walked in, the TV was on, and others already there asked if we'd heard what happened.  The first plane had struck the world trade center.

plane hitting the second tower

     We all sat down to watch the news, riveted to the TV.  We forgot about the meeting.  We watched in horror as the second plane struck the second tower.  Many members, including myself, immediately got on cell phones to call loved ones.

     Then the Pentagon was struck.  At that time I lived in Virginia, 13 miles from the Pentagon.  Three people who lived in my neighborhood who worked at the Pentagon died that morning.

Pentagon burning after being struck by a plane

     As time passed, my garden club, in its own way, helped members heal and bring some closure to the emotions and shock of that day.  We had as speakers at one of our meetings, the architects that had been chosen to build the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon.  The architects discussed the design, explained why paper bark maple trees were chosen to be planted throughout the memorial, and told us about the grasses, black-eyed susans, echinacea, and sage that would be planted around the perimeter.  They talked about how each victim would be memorialized by a stainless steel bench over a shallow basin of circulating water.

Pentagon 9/11 memorial

     At another meeting, my garden club had as a speaker a woman whose husband had died in the Pentagon on 9/11.  She explained how getting up every morning and going out to her garden to sit and then to work had saved her sanity and helped her process her grief. That garden had saved her life, she said.

     Our gardens bestow satisfaction, joy, exercise, good food, and beauty.  But, as I and other fellow gardeners know, they also bring peace.

Pentagon 9/11 memorial lighted at night

Garden Problems

     While I was gone on vacation for a week, my zinnias developed a problem.  The leaves and stems have turned brown.  When I inspected them, I found small white insects.  I have been very lucky that I have had very few problems during all my gardening years, so I am not familiar with many pests.  I researched several pests on the internet, and my best guess is mealy bugs.  I used a hard water spray to dislodge them, and if that is not enough, I may use a rubbing alcohol and water spray, or a dish detergent and alcohol spray. 
mealy bugs?

     A second problem is that my purple fountain grasses are not looking their best.  They were planted last summer and did well.  I pruned them to 8 inches at the beginning of spring.  They grew nicely.  But sometime in July the seed heads turned completely white.  And then a few weeks later, half of them lost their seed heads and all of them lost their purple color and are now completely green.  So now I have these 4 foot clumps of green grass.  Help!  I have no idea what has happened.  What can I do to get their purple color back, and why did half of them lose their seed heads?

purple fountain grass last summer

seed heads turned white

lost seed heads and turned green