A Desert Shrub that Smells Like Rain

Someone once commented about how much they loved the wonderful smell of rain in the desert. This person had moved away and they missed the characteristic fragrance that permeates the desert air when the rains came.  People who have not visited the southwestern parts of the US may wonder what on earth she was talking about.

The Aromatic Wonder: Creosote (Larrea tridentata)

Well, there is a shrub that can be seen growing predominately throughout the desert southwest. It releases a wonderful fragrance whenever it rains.  This shrub is known as creosote (Larrea tridentata).

creosote shrub and branches

This characteristic desert shrub can be found growing in the California desert. It also grows in the southern third of Arizona, New Mexico and the western half of Texas otherwise known as the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts.

Genetic Mysteries of Creosote Shrubs

I am a bit of a science geek. What I find fascinating is that creosote shrubs are classified as a single species. But depending on what desert they are growing in, have different chromosome numbers.  Those found in Texas have 26 pairs. While in Arizona they have 52 pairs and in California they have 78 pairs.  Some scientists theorize that the creosote found in California evolved from those in the Arizona desert. The higher chromosome count somehow enabled them to survive the drier conditions of the Mojave Desert. 

Believe it or not, some colonies in the Mojave desert are absolutely ancient — over 11,500 years old.

creosote in flower

The Resinous Defenders: Adaptations of Creosote

Their small leaves are covered with resin to protect against water loss and from being eaten.  It is widely thought that creosote produces a toxin or uses up all available water to keep other plants from growing close by therefore keeping competition for limited resources to a minimum.

Creosote’s Influence on the Landscape

I had a client who had a large beautiful creosote growing in their garden. She also had a boxwood hedge that was thriving, except for one area where a few boxwood shrubs were yellow and sickly.  They had been that way for years.  Coincidentally those sickly shrubs were a few feet away from the creosote.

creosote closeup image

Growing Creosote in Your Desert Landscape

Creosote can be grown in the desert landscape under 5,000 ft.  They do best with limited water and grow slowly.  In their native habitat, they typically grow to 4 feet in height. But in a landscape setting, they can reach heights of up to 12 feet.

Propagating Creosote: Tips and Tricks

To start from seed, pour boiling water over the seeds and let sit overnight.  Then plant in soil and water.  As the plant grows, slowly taper off the water.  I recommend only watering a mature creosote, to a depth of 2 feet, 2 to 3 times in the summer. They can survive without any supplemental water.

Enjoying the Fragrance: A Desert Delight

Another interesting fact – did you know that you don’t have to wait for it to rain to enjoy the fragrance of this shrub?  All you need to do is take a few leaves from the creosote and rub them between your fingers and you’ll be able to smell the refreshing scent of rain that is so characteristic of the Southwest.

A Face Lift for an Old Rose….

This past Monday my sister (Daisy Mom) took me and my family to a very special place at the base of the desert mountains.  Beautiful gardens, plant collections from around the world and wild animals were on display for all to see at “The Living Desert”.

Palm Springs California

Palm Springs California, Teddy Bear Cholla, Ocotillo and the yellow flowers of Brittlebush grace the desert.

The Palm Springs area  is located in the midst of the California desert.  One of the first things that you notice about this area is that it is surrounded by tall, snow covered mountains.  It is a wonderful example of how mountains block much of the rain from entering the desert.

Palm Springs California

My nephews, niece and children were all ready for a fun day.

We were still in the parking lot when I knew that I was in trouble….I felt pulled in so many different directions by the beautiful and unusual plants that I saw.

Palm Springs California

Saliva coccinea

In general, flowering plants are what I am drawn to and there were so many to look at.  Countless flowering plants were enjoying the warmer then normal temperatures of the upper 70’s.

tiny purple flowers

The tiny purple flowers of Trailing Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii), contrast nicely with the gray-green foliage of this groundcover.

Beautiful trees were also in flower…

Weeping Wattle

Australian native, Weeping Wattle (Acacia saligna) is covered with golden puffball flowers.

Parry's Penstemon

Flowering Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Yellow Columbine

 Yellow Columbine benefits from the water from this stone fountain.

My son, two daughters

 My son, two daughters and niece stop by the pond to see the tadpoles.

Mexican Honeysuckle

  One of my favorite flowering plants that grows well in light shade, Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera).


 Salvia (I haven’t looked this one up yet)


 Another Penstemon  Did I mention already that I love Penstemons?

tiny purple flowers

 This low-growing shrub is absolutely covered in tiny purple flowers.

Are you tired yet?

Today’s portion of our tour is almost over…

African Daisies

 I love these African Daisies with their orange petals and purple center.

Palm Springs California

 I have a preference for plants that produce plumes of flowers, such as this Coral Fountain (Russelia equisetiformis).

I mentioned yesterday that I took over 500 pictures of our visit and I did promise not to make you sit through all of them.  But I do have a few more to show you.  So our next visit together will focus on some of the unusual plants that we saw.  

There were many smaller paths that led off from the main path and there were always surprises around the bend – usually spectacular vistas along with some unusual plants.  More about that next time…. 

Palm Springs California

  My daughter, heading down a path – not sure what she will find at the end.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to view some of the beauty of this special place.

I have left one of my favorite pictures for you to view in preparation for tomorrow’s post of unusual plants.

Palm Springs California

Now, I am off to the dentist….

Yesterday, my husband I dropped off the kids at school and then went on a hike around the beautiful Superstition Mountains, located just outside of the greater Phoenix metro area.

beautiful Superstition Mountains

Superstition Mountains

You could see saguaro cacti growing up out of the rocky mountainsides.

Did you know that saguaro cacti favor the south side of mountains?  Look carefully and you will seen a huge difference when comparing with the amount of saguaro on the north sides of mountains.  The reason for this is that it is warmer on the south side of mountains and they receive more sunlight which the saguaro favor.

beautiful Superstition Mountains

Superstition Mountains

beautiful Superstition Mountains

Green grass surrounds the remains of a Mesquite tree.  The floor of the desert rapidly turns green as grass grows in response to the rain.

Desert After The Rain

The rushing water from the creek could be heard everywhere we walked.  We had to cross over it 3 different times.  Unfortunately, I lost my balance and stepped into the water and came out with a wet sock and hiking boot ;^)

Desert After The Rain

The remains of an old Saguaro cactus.

Desert After The Rain

Who says that the desert is brown and ugly?  We had a wonderful day of hiking and the weather was just beautiful.  

One of My Favorite Things…..Hiking the Superstition Mountains

For those of you who have read my blog from time to time, you have already met some of the members of “The Refuge” and seen glimpses of their gardens.

Today, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce to all of the residents and show you more of their garden and the beautiful desert that surrounds them.

California desert

The Refuge is a beautiful, green oasis, located in the California desert, near Palm Springs.  Stark, beautiful, desert mountains surround them that are often covered in snow in the winter.

California desert

It does rain in the desert and is always a time of celebration.  Dry desert washes, are suddenly filled with running water.

In the middle of this desert are the home and gardens of my sister and her family.

Beautiful Desert Garden

 Peach Tree Blossom

In the middle of the desert, you will find life in this desert garden.

Beautiful Desert Garden

Yellow Daisy (Euryops pectinatus)

Flowers are lovingly grown by my sister, Daisy Mom.

Beautiful Desert Garden

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis)

Vegetables are grown by my nephew, Mr. Green Jeans.

Mr. Green Jeans

My sister and niece, Fruity Girl, also lend a hand to the vegetable garden.

Beautiful Desert Garden
vegetable garden

A large Mesquite tree graces the front garden….

Beautiful Desert Garden

And if you look closely, you will often find one of the residents of “The Refuge” high up in the tree.

high up in the tree

We have heard from Mr. Compost, my brother-in-law, about how why we should compost and his guest post can be read here.

All that is left for me to do now is to introduce you to the supporting cast, which includes, Gimli, who is the son of my dog.

Missy….and their shy cat.

shy cat

The beauty of the surrounding desert, the gardens of “The Refuge” along with it’s residents make this a very special place to visit.

Beautiful Desert Garden

There is so much that I am looking forward to sharing with you…we will visit the vegetable garden in depth and view more of the beautiful flowers that my sister grows.

We will also be going on a field trip to see a wind farm which is located close by “The Refuge”.

As the seasons change, we will be visiting the garden to see the changes that they bring.

Thank you for visiting “The Refuge” with me.

This is my last post about my visit to “The Farm at South Mountain”, which is a rural oasis just minutes from downtown Phoenix.  

The farm has much to offer it’s visitors….organic vegetable & flower gardens, award-winning restaurants, large picnic areas underneath a pecan tree grove, artist studio and gift shop plus much more.

Succulent plants and herbs

 Table of herbs available for sale behind white flowering Geraniums.

Today, I would like to show you some of the herbs and succulent plants that I found.


The bright blue flowers of Rosemary.



My brother-in-law

My brother-in-law and sister (residents of “The Refuge”) checking out the herbs and vegetables offered for sale.


This collection of hats has nothing to do with herbs or succulents, but I just loved how they were hanging on the wall.  Imagine how much use the tattered hat has seen :^)

Succulent plants

A table filled with Ponytail Palm, Sanseveria, Jade and many other succulents,  available for $5 each.

Succulent plants

Succulent plants

Succulent plants

 Indian Fig Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica)

Although from all appearances, this farm could be located anywhere,  a Indian Fig Prickly Pear cactus (above) shows the farm’s desert roots.

It was a wonderful day and I cannot wait to visit again.  Below are a few more views of the farm before we leave….

Stop and sit for awhile and listen to the radio.

Stop and sit for awhile and listen to the radio.



 An African Sumac

An African Sumac (Rhus lancea) tree shades the patio of the cafe.

Thank you for sharing my visit to the farm and for all of your friendly comments.

Flowers From a Farm in the City…

Did you know that just by making one change in your garden that you will benefit not only the earth, but also your plants, your back and your pocketbook?  The one change I am talking about is making sure that you are watering your plants at the recommended rate for your area. 

Okay, first the benefits to the earth.  The first one is fairly obvious….by watering at the proper rate and frequency, we are conserving water – a precious resource.

irrigation schedule

Now the first benefit is fairly obvious, but here is another one….did you know that when plants are watered correctly, that they produce less excess growth and grow at a healthier rate?  Many of us do not take that into consideration or even think of it. 

Each time I consult with a homeowner, I often go over what their current irrigation schedule is.  Believe it or not, over 90% of the time, I find that their trees and plans are being over-watered.  In fact, one of my horticulture professors did a study and found the same statistics.  Naturally, that is understandable; we live in a desert, so logically we think that more water will help our plants.  

But, the truth is, is that the majority of plant problems we see related to irrigation is due to over-watering NOT under-watering.  

irrigation schedule

Mature shrubs and trees need less water then you may think – especially if you are growing plants that are adapted to our arid-climate.  In response to over-watering, the extra growth that is produced has another interesting effect….it causes the plant to use more water in order to maintain the excess growth then the same type of plant being watered at the proper rate.

Irrigating (watering) correctly not only causes your plants to grow at a healthy rate, but also encourages roots to grow deeper where the soil is cooler and moister and helps to flush out salts in our soils that can build-up around the roots of your plants.  As a result, your plants will be better able to withstand the stress of summer.

irrigation schedule

Here is an example for our area (around Phoenix): Did you know that your mature citrus trees only need to be watered every 21 – 30 days in the winter and every 7 – 10 days in the summer?  The past three clients I consulted with, who had citrus trees, were watering them 3 times a week in the middle of winter.  They were not watering them long enough and not deeply enough.  Many of their trees were suffering multiple problems related incorrect irrigation, which were easily corrected by changing their watering schedule.

Okay, you may be saying, I don’t have any citrus, so how does this apply to me?  Well then, here is another example; desert-adapted shrubs need water every 7 – 10 days in the summer.   Even mature shrubs that are high-water use only need water every 5 – 7 days in the summer.   Most people are watering their shrubs every 2 – 3 days in the summer.  *I water my own shrubs every 7 – 10 days throughout the summer and once every month in the winter and my garden is thriving.

irrigation schedule

Now, for the savings….you do the math – with less growth, there is less pruning required and therefore less maintenance.    So, we are not only conserving water and saving $ off of our water bill, but also using up less space in the landfill and also saving you money (if you use a landscape company to prune your trees and shrubs).   Or at the very least, saving you a backache from all of that extra pruning you are saved from doing ;^)

All right, you are saying, that sounds great….save the earth, healthy plants, less pruning and saving money – all good things –  I’m on board, but what do I need to do to get started?  

irrigation schedule

Okay, here are the keys to watering your plants the right way – it all has to do with how deeply your plants are watered and the frequency.  Trees should be watered to a depth of 3 ft. and shrubs to a depth of 18 – 24 inches.  The trick is, figuring out how long you need to water each time to reach the recommended depth.

The length of time for each irrigation cycle can vary depending on your individual system.  So, to do this, all you need is a 3 ft. piece of rebar, (seriously, that is it).  Once you have irrigated (watered) your plants, gently push the rebar down to see how far the water has penetrated.   It will slide easily down through the moist soil.  When it stops, measure the distance on the rebar to see how far it penetrated and you can see how much longer or shorter a time you will still need to water.

*The average time the water should be turned on for shrubs is approximately 2 hours at a time, but this can vary depending on your irrigation system and soils.

irrigation schedule

Adjust how often your water (the frequency), seasonally.  Plants do not require the same amounts of water in winter then the rest of the seasons.  However, the length of time you turn on the water does not change.  

Even though the specific recommendations of this post are geared for the desert gardener in Arizona, the broader principles can apply to us all.  For those of you who do need to provide supplemental water to your plants, take the time to make sure that you are watering them correctly. 

I would like to offer one word of caution, when changing your current irrigation schedule, gradually wean your plants from the excess water they have been receiving – you don’t want to shock your plants and it will take them some time to adjust to the longer length of time between each watering cycle.  

I am joining with Jan from Thanks For Today and other fellow garden bloggers in sharing ways to garden sustainably in honor of Earth Day and this is my submission :^)  Please visit her blog to see links to other posts honoring Earth Day.

Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living

Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living

*For landscape watering guidelines in greater Phoenix area, please visit AMWUA which is an excellent resource on irrigation which has more specific information on how often to water seasonally.

*For guidelines for watering citrus, please check out the following link.

“The Joy of Composting”

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.  Especially in terms of planting the right plant in the wrong place.  

I took a drive this past fall around a neighborhood near our house and found many examples of beautiful plants that had been butchered in order to fit into a small area.  I spoke about this in an earlier post,  Read the Plant Label or You Might End Up With Cupcakes.  But, I have more pictures to share of what went wrong by those who did not read the label.

So, even though I do love to ‘talk’ – I think I will let the following pictures speak for me….

Planting the right plant in the wrong place

Planting the right plant in the wrong place, Oleanders

Planting the right plant in the wrong place


Planting the right plant in the wrong place

Rosemary and Pyracantha

Planting the right plant in the wrong place

Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’



Red Bird-of-Paradise

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Bougainvillea 'Torch Glow'

Bougainvillea ‘Torch Glow’

Okay, I’m breaking my silence now.

You may be wondering why I am including the photo above.  I took this photo of a client’s new landscape that they had just had designed and installed by a landscape company.  You can see that the bougainvillea fit nicely in this area.  Well, that was then…..what the homeowner did not realize, (until I told him), is that this shrub will grow 6 ft. high and wide.  The area it was planted in was 1 ft. wide and located by the front entry.  In addition, they did not take into account that bougainvillea have thorns, which would scratch people as they passed by this shrub as it grew outside of the planting boundary.

So, wherever you live….whether in England, China, South Africa, Australia and especially in Arizona – please, please read the plant label before buying a plant to see how large it will grow.

I love it when it rains.  Actually, most desert-dwellers welcome the rain.  Believe it or not…the rain is a welcome change to bright, sunny days.  

welcome the rain

The park near my home is starting to fill up with water – this is supposed to happen.  Two previous storms this week have started the process, but we are expecting a very large storm to hit today which could bring 3 – 4 inches more (which is a lot for us).

I notice the park filling up when I took my children to school this morning, so I ran back home and got my camera and returned to take pictures.

welcome the rain

Look around an urban desert landscape and you are likely to find examples of the above, which is known as a detention basin or dry pond.  The purpose is to hold large amounts of water from rainfall and keep it from flooding the streets.  

During the summer months, we often receive periodic torrential rains over a short period of time.  These dry ponds rapidly fill with water, which helps to prevent flooded streets.  The water in the pond is then slowly released via a small outflow opening.  Water usually stands in these basins for 24 – 48 after rainfall ends.

Most parks in our area are dual purpose; they serve as a park, but also as a detention basin.  The edges are raised up, forming a bowl shape, which allows them to hold water.

welcome the rain

I snapped this photo this morning of a group of Mallard ducks taking advantage of our now wet ‘dry pond’.

Do you want to know what my favorite part is about the rain?

Rainy Day(s) In The Desert...

It is how the desert looks afterwards….

Desert Sunset

For those of you who have been fortunate enough to experience a desert sunset, you know how beautiful they can be.  In fact, the desert is well known for it’s spectacular sunsets.

This photo was taken outside of my front door.  Storm clouds were on the horizon, headed our way from California.

Skeletons in Desert Areas can be hidden or along a popular path

Unveiling the Mysteries of Cactus Skeletons in the Desert

When you think of a desert, you likely picture vast stretches of sand, scorching sun, and towering cacti. These iconic desert plants, such as the saguaro cactus, play a crucial role in the ecosystem and are known for their remarkable resilience in arid environments. However, have you ever wondered what lies beneath their impressive exteriors? On a recent walk through the desert, I found these skeletons. We’ll delve into the fascinating world of cactus skeletons in the desert, shedding light on the woody remains known as “ribs” that provide crucial support to these giants.

Saguaro Cactus: A Desert Sentinel

The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is arguably the most recognizable symbol of the American Southwest’s deserts, particularly the Sonoran Desert. These imposing cacti can reach heights of up to 60 feet and have a distinctive columnar shape, often adorned with arms that reach out like welcoming gestures to the desert’s harsh conditions.

A Closer Look at Cactus Ribs

One of the most intriguing aspects of the saguaro cactus is its internal structure. Beneath its fleshy, water-storing exterior lies a hidden framework known as “ribs.” These ribs are not bones, of course, but they serve a similar purpose in providing structural support to the cactus.

The ribs of a saguaro cactus are typically woody and arranged in a vertical pattern within the plant’s body. They extend from the base of the cactus up into the arms, acting as a skeletal framework that gives the saguaro its characteristic shape and enables it to thrive in the harsh desert environment.

Why Do Cactus Skeletons Exist?

The presence of ribs or cactus skeletons in the desert serves several essential functions:

  1. Structural Support: The primary role of cactus ribs is to provide structural support to the plant. This support becomes crucial as the cactus grows taller and heavier, preventing it from collapsing under its weight.
  2. Water Storage: While ribs are not directly involved in water storage, they indirectly facilitate it. The ribs help maintain the cactus’s shape, which, in turn, ensures the efficient storage of water in the fleshy tissue surrounding the ribs.
  3. Growth and Survival: Cactus skeletons play a vital role in the cactus’s ability to grow and survive in the desert. The ribs allow the saguaro to withstand strong winds and maintain its upright posture, ensuring optimal sun exposure for photosynthesis.

As I began my trek through the desert, I found beautiful specimens of cacti, plants and even some wildlife, but I also found a few skeletons as well…..

Saguaro cactus have strong ribs which help them grow very tall

 Mature Saguaro

This beautiful Saguaro was one of the first cacti that greeted me on my walk.

Skeletons in Desert areas can appear as dead wood piles

The first skeleton I came across was from a Saguaro cactus; part of it still standing upright.  You can see where top part of the skeleton has fallen to the ground after the cactus plant has died.

Look inside this dead saguaro to see the rib structure

Here it is close up.  The decay is till present as you can see inside.  The woody remains of the saguaro are called ‘ribs’ and are what supports the Saguaro cactus.

Skeletons in Desert areas start as fleshy plants

Above, is a photo of a Saguaro that had just fallen.  You can easily see the ribs.  Whenever a Saguaro cactus would fall in a landscape setting, we would move it to an out of the way area where it could decay.  Then we would take the ribs and put them back into the landscape as a display.  Saguaro ribs are considered a beautiful accent in the desert landscape and are prized by many.

Some Skeletons in Desert areas are just bones

Skeletons in the Desert can be Building Material

Native Americans used Saguaro ‘ribs’ to build roofs, walls and even furniture.  Another use was that they would make long poles that they used to knock off the Saguaro fruit, which is edible.

Saguaro are not the only types of cacti that leave behind skeletons….

Teddy Bear Cholla have unique skeletons

 Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii)

 Teddy Bear Cholla (above), also has an interesting skeleton.

Decaying Teddy Bear Cholla cactus
Teddy Bear Cholla skeleton peeking through the woody plant

Above, is a photo of a segment of Teddy Bear Cholla that is in the process of decaying.  You can see the woody skeleton starting to show.

Cholla skeletons have interesting architectural shape and designs

Cholla skeletons are sometimes used as walking sticks.  Artisans also use cholla skeletons to make southwestern forms of art.

Cactus Ribs are the Backbone to the Desert Cactus

Cactus skeletons, or ribs, are nature’s ingenious solution to help these iconic desert plants thrive in extreme conditions. They offer support, aid in water storage, and contribute to the cactus’s overall resilience. The next time you encounter a towering saguaro cactus in the desert, take a moment to appreciate the hidden framework that enables this remarkable plant to stand tall and flourish amidst the harsh desert landscape.

Please note that it is illegal to remove Saguaro and Cholla skeletons from the desert, unless you have permission from the owner.  Specimens can sometimes be purchased at certain plant nurseries that specialize in cacti.

So do as I do…..enjoy them out in the desert and take lots of photos.