Getting Ready for Summer with St. Johns Spring

Reader Contribution by Regina Hitchcock
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When we moved to the house we live in now in St. Johns in the summer of 2003, I remember waking up to the sun coming up over the hills and the coyotes singing down in the flats. It was calm and warm and just seemed too good to be true. Winter was mild that year and I thought we’d just essentially moved to heaven. 

And then spring came.

Winds of 50+mph for weeks on end had my hand-dug duck pond filled to the rim with blowing sand, there was dust everywhere, plants were uprooted, trees were snapped in half, tomatoes would have their leaves shredded within hours and there wasn’t enough water in the entire aquifer to keep up with the drying wind. And then one day it was freezing cold, and then it would be gorgeous for two weeks and trees would bloom and then it would suddenly and without warning, be 10º the next day. I learned that first spring that you don’t plant anything outside until at LEAST May 20 unless you had some kind of cover, and only then if you had a solid windbreak that could withstand the gusts of sometimes 70 mph. I learned you could only expect fruit maybe once every 10 years, and only if you were able to provide both frost protection, insect protection, and wind protection.

Well, this year seems to be my one in 10 …

The first time since I’ve had this peach tree and the third time since I’ve had these apples, I have fruit coming on. This year, we had a pretty hard freeze about April 4, then nothing but a couple light frosts up until May 20. During that time, both apple trees, the crabapple tree, and this cute peach tree I bought just because it was a pretty tree and I never dreamed I could get fruit from, both bloomed out in early April, and on May 20, the fruit had already set and seems to be big enough to withstand both the ridiculous wind and the cold. 

Because yes, it has gotten cold again. Three massive cold fronts have rolled in, one right after the other, dropping snow in Flagstaff, Eagar, and Greer, and bringing ridiculously bitter winds, light frost, and drizzly rain here to St. Johns.

We had an incredibly wet winter, which resulted in some great blooms from the iris we’ve had for a decade or better. 

This white iris was given to me by a lady in Eagar, which is how many of us get hold of plants that grow well in the area. This yellow one was given to me by a lady I work with, and though I’ve had them for four years, it is the first time they have bloomed, given the overly wet winter and relatively mild (until the last two weeks) spring. 

Spring here in St. Johns has provided some great learning experiences. For example, many gardeners string Christmas lights around their fruit trees when they begin blooming early and swear that the heat of the lights keeps their blossoms from freezing under a light frost. I have also learned that, although in wetter climates gardeners are cautioned to not water their plants in winter so they don’t “heave” out of the ground, if we don’t water in our arid area, plants will never break dormancy and will die before it ever gets warm enough to sprout and grow. 

These strawberries, grown in my year-round aquaponics system, bloomed early in April and have now set berries (which I ate yesterday) long before the ones in the ground have even bloomed. I learned this year that if I put a livestock tank heater in the fish tank, it kept the water warm enough to not freeze, but also to keep the bacteria alive in the grow bed. Result: early berries that didn’t even draw the attention to fruit-loving birds!

Spring is really strange here in St. Johns, but the one thing we can always be glad of (thanks, Pollyanna) is that it doesn’t last long and it is followed by a warm summer. And believe me, I am ready for that!

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