Notes From Master Gardeners


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The five essays below were written by members of Coconino Master Gardeners, a dedicated group of volunteers who want to share their love and knowledge of gardening and horticulture with you. The Master Gardener program, sponsored by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, provides home horticulture training to individuals who then volunteer to pass on their knowledge to our community. Master Gardeners give lectures, create gardens, write articles, and answer many gardening questions. The program is offered in all fifty states with many programs offering education specific to counties within the state.

 Because Flagstaff has unique gardening issues due to its high elevation, the Master Gardener class provide information specific to our often challenging conditions. This allows our volunteers to provide the best, regional gardening advice. Master Gardeners also become experts in the microclimates of their neighborhood. We hope that these pieces of neighborhood advice can take some of the mystery out of gardening in the high country.

 For more information on becoming a Coconino Master Gardener, contact Hattie Braun at or 928-774-1868 ext. 170.

Click for map of City of Flagstaff neighborhoods.

Note: Local realtor Eileen Schreiber offers descriptions of neighborhoods outside the city limits on her website.

Lower Greenlaw
by Susan Holiday

Hi! I am a retired FUSD teacher who lives ‘below the banana belt’ in lower Greenlaw. Our family has lived in the same house since 1985. Because cold air drains down, we are a bit cooler here than our neighbors higher in altitude  nearer Mt. Elden, but also warmer than some of the other places in Flagstaff.

Skyline—Gardening in the Banana Belt
by Loni Shapiro
I am a retired occupational therapist who moved here from Oregon in 1997. In Eugene I lived in a condo and grew a few plants on my patio including roses and columbines, and had a community garden to grow vegetables. Little did I know how difficult gardening could be in Flagstaff, but later learned I live in the Banana Belt! Living here is a mix of intense sun, strong winds in the spring and fall, cold winters, and killer hail storms just before the monsoons.
I moved into a house with a yard that was a mix of natives (ponderosa, aspen, cliff rose, wood’s rose, buckbush) and some other cold hardy plants (boxwood, pyracantha, cotoneaster, and euonymus). The previous owners had built a small raised bed for vegetables and left a rhubarb and ornamental onions.

I moved here in July and the first season just planted a few annuals on my south facing deck. They quickly died from the intense sun or the flowers were chewed off by Abert squirrels living in two nests in my back yard ponderosas. After many failures that first year I decided to take the master gardener class that following spring. Between the class and my volunteer work at the Arboretum I learned much more about native plants and growing in Flagstaff.

The second year I set-up my first vegetable garden in the plot that was already there. The soil was a bit rocky, but I did well with mostly squashes, beans, broccoli, and snow peas and tomatoes in containers on my deck. My corn was a total failure. The tomatoes did OK but my crop was much smaller than I was used to, and I had to water every day, sometimes twice. I also began to add herbs, and mostly native plants in the rest of the garden. I had a small plot on the north end of the house where I created a herb garden, another where I put in shade tolerant plants, and many penstemons in south facing beds on the north end of the house. At the end of that season I found a source for composted manure and added it to most of my beds except the penstemons.

tomato greenI ditched my walls of water for tomatoes because they cooked them on my south facing deck. Instead I purchased some self watering containers for them, and added cages covered with frost cloth until the threat of frost was gone in mid June. I was actually able to get them planted about the third week of May and they thrived. I had so many tomatoes that I took many to the local food kitchen. Each year I now plant maybe 8-10 heirloom tomatoes. I have taken them to the county fair and won many ribbons. My biggest problem over the last two years has been hail.

tomato hail

 The first part of July I had a devastating hail storm. The hail was disk like and I had more than a foot on my deck. All flowers and leaves were gone, and I was left with sticks with nicks from the hail. I left the plants and was lucky to still have a great deal of tomatoes before the first killing frost this year, but it was a month late (Oct. 22). I need to find a way to shelter them during the first 2 weeks of July and still get sun. My vegetable garden was devastated, and I did not replant this year.

Several years ago after hearing a lecture on garden sanctuaries, I began creating one on the north side of my house (protected by my front deck). I have a swing to sit and enjoy looking at Mt. Elden and several whimsical pieces of art. The plants are mostly shade tolerant natives and non-natives: golden columbine, pussytoes, bugbane, alum root, ajuga, and bergenia. I tried hostas but they were quickly eaten by local deer. In the summer I add annuals in pots: sweet potato vine and coleus. When I am not working in the garden this is where I spend most of my time.

Other than too many rocks/pine needles and hail I have learned how to garden in the Banana Belt. I find it challenging and rewarding. I am now working on more year round color for the garden (flowers and shrubs) and replacing old plants with more natives.

Townsend-Winona Road
by Sandy Sunseri
 Thank goodness for the Master Gardener class! I met great people and learned about taking full advantage of local possibilities (native plants!).

 I also learned how to handle problems. Our southern California yard had peach trees, flowers, and a small lawn that did pretty well with hardly any effort or talent on our part. On the other hand, our new property—2.5 acres off Townsend-Winona Road in the shadow of Elden and Sheep’s Hill—is faced with serious winds and receives even less rain and snow than the rest of Flagstaff.

Doney Park—Cosnino Area
by Patti Van Tuyl
 In August 2013, John and I retired and moved from McLean, Virginia, to Flagstaff. Our neighborhood is near the intersection of Townsend-Winona and Cosnino roads, at about 6,400 feet. It is relatively warm, sunny, and dry. Much of the rain that falls in Flagstaff, even in areas of Doney Park farther to the west, passes us by. The soil is mostly sandy loam with spots of cinders, and there are large deposits of limestone a foot or two below the surface.

2013-3-14 15001 Mint Lane site w peaksOur 2.5-acre lot is home to pinyon and juniper trees, blue grama, rabbitbrush, snakeweed, and various wildflowers. The builders left most of the trees but bulldozed large areas of vegetation. Our goal has been to restore and augment the native species.

 We hired landscapers to create low-water, gravel-mulched garden beds immediately around the house, adding Rocky Mountain junipers, Apache plume, fern bush, sumac, sagebrush, agastache, penstemon, and other native plants. To establish these young plants, we installed an irrigation system. The landscapers hydroseeded blue grama, purple three-awn, and western wheatgrass across the property, and left instructions to water the treated areas three times each rainless day until the grasses were about an inch high.

 We faced a tremendous amount of work when spring and summer 2014 rolled around. As newcomers, we had to research every little green sprout that emerged. What was it? What genus? What species? Was it native or invasive? Benign or aggressive? Desirable or despicable? Volunteer work in the Master Gardener program alongside expert botanists and experienced gardeners and naturalists helped us meet the challenge.

 We spent many hours pulling weeds our first summer, mostly ragweed but also kochia, mustard thistle, horehound, and other invasives. We pulled dozens of scary-looking “weeds” before learning they were native tansy mustard and yellow-daisy-like bahia. Meanwhile, our investment in garden beds yielded immediate results and fostered hope in our hearts. We were also rewarded as dozens of beautiful wildflowers—tiny lupines, evening primrose, purple aster, sunflowers, and more—gradually spread across the lot.

 Hydroseeding was a good strategy to restore grasses on our large disturbed property, but we found it impossible to water the entire lot three times a day—or even once a day—on the many dry days of fall, 2013. We thought it might have been better to hydroseed sections of the lot over several years. However, as we pulled the weeds in spring 2014, the new grasses appeared and spread throughout the summer.

 John wanted to grow fruit, so our landscapers planted Nanking cherries. Though not native, they are considered compatible with local conditions. The beautiful blossoms that appeared in spring froze when night temperatures in April descended to 16°. If you wish to grow fruit trees or bushes in Flagstaff, consider the growing season in your specific area. Even so, be aware that your fruit may be nipped in the bud more often than not.

 We have learned that the highest virtue for a Flagstaff gardener is PATIENCE. It is often hard to identify a plant until it flowers, and by then it may have carpeted the fields. There are billions of seeds lying dormant, waiting for the right conditions to spring to life in your field—if not next year, then the year after, or even six years from now. To reduce the number of invasives or other undesirable species that may crop up, we continue to plant natives such as Gambel oak, golden currant, Indian paintbrush, scarlet gilia, sideoats grama, and an alligator juniper. We remain attentive, prepared for hard work, and eager for next summer’s adventure.


By Cindy Murray

     In my mind’s eye, living in Timberline is akin to dwelling on an isle of short-grass prairie amidst a sea of conifer forest and cinder cones. Standing sentinel over all are the majestic San Francisco Peaks. It is a land of fathomless blue skies, mushrooming thunderheads, all-around views, wildflowers, and fierce spring winds. And I love it!