Prologue: The Five Season Year

Anyone who has lived in the upper arid lands of the Southwest for more than 365 days has probably figured out two things about our seasonal patterns. We may have historical averages for a particular season, like fall, but it is never a normal or usual fall. Secondly, and more importantly to us when trying to actually grow something, is that we enjoy a five season cycle instead of the more traditional four. Our seasons are based mainly on temperatures rather than a calendar. Here they are.

Fall is wonderful. There is relief from the long summer's heat. Days are warm enough to get some work done but the nights cool off nicely. If there is any moisture it is probably driven by tropical storms in Mexico and can be good soaking rains. Hopefully you are picking apples and chiles.

Winter, like most places, is a time of dormancy. Temperatures, especially at night, vary based on elevation and location. Very few days fail to reach at least 32 degrees so we don't worry about a freeze line for our pipes. If it snows, enjoy it. Most of it will be gone by ten o'clock the next morning anyway.

Our next season is “Company.” It is our first season of growth. Everything looks good. Fruit trees are blooming, penstemons are in flower, and all the native trees are putting on growth. This is good because it gives you something to look at and talk about with all your visitors from colder climates. The “Company” season usually falls somewhere on the calendar around late February and may continue into March and April.

“Too Hot for Company”* usually kicks in sometime in late April or May. Temperatures can approach triple digits and humidity stays below 10 percent. May is statistically our driest month. Many plants, especially the natives, stop growing. This is our second season of dormancy. The “Too Hot for Company” season can be easily identified by watching for a big increase in the number of out of state RV's heading north on the interstate.

Summer is our fifth and most exciting season. Hot days and warm nights that are cooled off by the summer rains. Everything grows and comes alive. Gardens are productive and fruit trees start to bear. The native grasses green up for a while. If you are lucky, you can be stranded someplace for a couple of hours by water rushing through generally dry washes. It doesn't get much better than this.

Now that we have correctly identified the five seasons, the rest of the book deals with how to work with them to get the most reward for the littlest effort.

*I have worked with enough plant people to be aware of lumpers and splitters. For you splitters the “Too Hot for Company” season can be divided into “Too Hot and Windy” which is followed by “Just Too Hot.”