As most would expect, water is considered a precious resource in the desert. But, did you know that there are more plant problems caused due to over-watering then under-watering?  

Believe it or not, it is true. Most people are surprised to hear that up to 70% of residential water usage goes to watering trees and plants in your landscape. This high percentage is because many homeowners over-water their trees and plants.

over watering

 Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris) and Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua

During college, I was fortunate to intern at the City of Mesa Water Conservation Office. The lessons that I learned there would last a lifetime. Nowadays, when I visit clients to help them with their landscapes, over 90% of the time I find that their irrigation schedule is incorrect – they water too lightly and too often.  

This results in shallow roots and salt build-up in and around the root zone. (If you have seen a white substance around your plants, there is a good chance that it is the salts from the soil. And just an FYI – just like high amounts of salt are not good for us; they are not good for plants either).

Overwatering will weaken your plants, especially during the summer since their roots are close to the surface where they become hot and dry out much more quickly.

over watering

 Trailing Yellow Dot (Wedelia trilobata), Rain Lily (Zephyranthes candida), Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

It’s important to note that plants need to be watered deeply, which does two things. First, it causes the roots to grow deeper into the soil, where it is cooler and stays moister longer. Secondly, it helps to reduce the salts in the soil and keeps them away from the root zone.

Your plants do not need the same amount of irrigation all year. Plants follow the weather- the hotter it is, the more water they need and when temperatures dip, the less that they need.  For example, I water my garden once every 20 days in the winter, (excluding grass and annuals), and it is healthy and looks great.  If you only take one thing from this article, then please let it be this; CHANGE THE WATERING SCHEDULE ON YOUR IRRIGATION CONTROLLER SEASONALLY. 

over watering

Now, you are probably asking “How do I know what schedule my plants and lawn should be on?”  Well, the folks at Water Use It Wisely is coming to your rescue. They have excellent information for the homeowner on the proper irrigation schedule for your plants. You can view it here:  Landscape Watering Guide  

This guide was made for people who reside in the Phoenix metropolitan area. However, people who live in dry climates everywhere will find useful information regarding irrigation, and you can also contact your local extension office for locally published materials. **Most cities have information for their residents regarding watering schedules for their local climate. You can also contact your local cooperative extension office who often have this information as well. 

If you find that you have been over-watering your plants, make sure that when you switch to the correct irrigation schedule, that you gradually change the schedule so that your plants have a chance to adjust

over watering

Make sure you have the correct irrigation schedule which lets you have healthier plants, a lower water bill, and helps conserve water.

**For those of you not familiar with drip irrigation. The primary way the southwest waters their plants. Water is brought to the plant by a series of plastic pipes, tubing & emitters. The emitters drip water slowly to the root zone of the plant, reducing runoff and allowing the water to permeate deeply into the soil, which saves water.

The time has finally arrived!  Summer temperatures are but a memory and fall is here! 

Every year we wait for the end of summer so we can start adding plants in the garden. The only question is what plants will I add?

The possibilities are endless…    

add new plants

 Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The signs that fall in the desert may not be as evident as in other parts of the county, yet they are here.  Elongating shadows, cooler evening temperatures along with increased plant growth and flowering are clear signs that the heat of summer is fading and cooler temperatures are on their way.

add new plants

 Blackfoot Daisy  (Melampodium leucanthum)

October and November are the best months in which to plant most types of plants in the desert.  The reason for this is that plants use the cooler weather in which to grow a healthy root system so that by the time that the summer arrives, they are ready to handle the stress of the intense heat.

add new plants

 Parry’s Penstemon  (Penstemon parryi)

Most trees, shrubs, perennials, and succulents can be planted now.  Stay away from planting palms, bougainvillea, lantana and other plants that suffer frost damage during the winter months.  They do best when planted in the spring.

add new plants

 Chaparral Sage   (Salvia clevelandii)

As in all climates, be sure to plant correctly.  Dig a hole three times as wide as the root ball but no more profound than the root ball.  This will allow the roots to grow outwards more quickly.  

When growing native plants, you do not need to add any amendments to the hole as this can cause the roots to just stay in place, enjoying the nutrient-rich soil, instead of venturing out into the regular soil.  If you do decide to add amendments to the soil, be sure to incorporate them well with the existing soil.   

Newly installed plants will initially require more water than established plants, so be sure to adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

Bower Vine

 Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides)

So visit your local nursery and get planting! 

Fall Planting: How to Select Plants

drought tolerant

Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) brings a unique “cottage-garden” feel to the desert plant palette along with some surprises. In spring a flush of beautiful flowers are produced that will cause people to stop in their tracks. After that, globe mallow will bloom off and on throughout the summer and fall.  

This shrubby, perennial is native to the Southwestern areas of North America where it is found growing along washes and rocky slopes. They grow quickly and reach approximately 3 ft. X 3 ft. in size. Globe mallow is cold hardy to about 20 degrees F.

drought tolerant

Drought tolerant

Although most globe mallow plants produce orange flowers, they are available in other colors including pink, purple, white, red and shades in between. At the nursery, you will usually see the orange flowered variety available. However, some growers are beginning to stock selections of globe mallow in different colors. But buyer beware; unless specially marked or blooming, you don’t know exactly what color flower you will end up with make sure if you want a certain color to check for mark.  

Often, the surprise occurs after you plant them and wait to see what color the flowers will be. I bought four globe mallow, out of bloom, for my garden and ended up with one red, two pink and one white. For those who do not like surprises in the garden, you can wait and buy them in bloom in the spring.

drought tolerant

USES: Globe mallow attracts hummingbirds as well as butterflies. They serve as a colorful backdrop for small perennials or small cacti. Consider planting with any of the following plants for a colorful desert flower garden – penstemon, desert marigold, ruellia, and blackfoot daisy. This beautiful but tough plant does best in full sun and performs well in areas with hot, reflected heat. Do not plant in shady areas as this will cause them to grow leggy.

Globe mallow do self-seed, and the seedlings can be moved and transplanted in the fall if desired. They are used frequently for re-vegetation purposes because they grow readily from seed.

Globe Mallow

MAINTENANCE: This pretty perennial is very low-maintenance.  No fertilizer or amendments to the soil are required. Prune once a year to approximately 6 inches to 1 ft. after it has finished blooming in late spring/early summer, which will help to prevent them from self-seeding, maximize future blooming and minimize unproductive, woody growth. Globe mallow is not the type of plant to repeatedly shear into a formal shape. When pruning, wear gloves and long sleeves since the tiny hairs on the leaves can be irritating to some as well as an eye irritant.

Once established, globe mallow is quite drought-tolerant, but will require supplemental irrigation for the best appearance and flowering. My globe mallow plants are connected to my drip-irrigation system and do very well when watered three to four times a month, spring through fall.

Globe Mallow

ADDITIONAL FACTS: Historically, globe mallow were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes such as treating diarrhea, sore throats, eye diseases as well as skin disorders. Their roots were used for upset stomachs and poultices were made for treating swollen joints and broken bones.

*Have you ever grown globe mallow?

Fall is Here! Time to Start Planting!

prickly cactus

Do you like prickly cactus?  

I have a few favorites, one being santa-rita prickly pear (Opuntia violaceae var. santa rita). The color contrast of their blue-grey pads and the shades of purple are so striking in the landscape.  

This cactus makes a beautiful accent plant for the landscape. Both the pads and fruit are edible, (but you might want to remove the spines first ;-). Cold temperature and drought intensify the purple color.

Santa-rita prickly pear is native to the Southwest regions of North America. They can grow as large as 6 ft. X 6 ft., but can be pruned to maintain a smaller size.  Pruning is done carefully, by making pruning cuts at the junction where the pads connect.

prickly cactus

Lovely yellow flowers appear in spring followed by red fruit in the summer months.  Javelina, rabbits and pack rats will sometimes eat the pads. Pack rats use the pads to make their homes.

The pads of the prickly pear are covered with clusters of 2″ spines as well as tiny spines known as glochids. Glochids are incredibly irritating to the skin and detach from the pad very easily. Their tips have a small barb, which makes them difficult to remove from your skin.  If you need to handle them, use a few layers of newspaper or a piece of carpet. Do not make the mistake of touching the pads with gloves because the glochids will attach to your gloves and render them useless, (I ruined a perfectly good pair this way). 

 **There are different ways to remove these small spines, including applying Elmer’s glue (letting it dry and then pulling them off), but many people have reported greater success using duct tape. 

prickly cactus

USES: In addition to serving as an accent plant in the landscape, this prickly pear species can also be used as a screen. Some may be surprised to learn that they also make excellent container plants, just make sure they are not near any foot traffic areas. They do well in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.

MAINTENANCE: Prickly pear is very low-maintenance plants. I always use tongs to pick up the pads that I have pruned, or you can use newspaper.  

Although they are incredibly drought-tolerant, watering once a month during the hot summer months, in the absence of rain, will be appreciated and will improve the appearance of your prickly pear. Shriveled pads indicate acute drought-stress.

prickly cactus

Many people believe that the appearance of white, cotton-like areas on the pads is a sign of a fungal infection. However, it is caused by a small insect that secretes the white cottony mass, called cochineal scale.  Control is straightforward – simply spray off it with a strong jet of water from the hose – that’s it!

prickly cactus

PROPAGATION: Prickly pear can be planted from seed, but there is a much easier way. Just cut off a pad that is at least 6 inches tall. Put the pad upright, in a shady, dry place for at least about two weeks. This allows a callus to form at the bottom.  

Plant with the cut end down, do not water for the first month because the bottom is susceptible to fungal infections. After the first month, water every 2 – 3 weeks until established.  If planted in the summer, provide shade until established (about three months). *I generally do not recommend planting in the winter but encourage waiting until spring when the soil warms up. 

If you have a large prickly pear, you can prune it, or you can start over by taking it out and cutting off some of the pads and plant them in the same place. Many of my clients have done this and been happy with the results.

INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACT: The Aztecs would cultivate prickly pear cactus infected with cochineal scale because the insects secrete a dark red dye with crushed. This was used to dye cloth. The Spanish exported this dye from Mexico back to Europe where it was used to dye royal garments and British military uniforms. The dye was highly valued by the Spanish, next to gold and silver. It takes 70,000 insects to produce 1 pound of dye.

*This is but one of many beautiful prickly pear species available to the home gardener.   Do you have a favorite species of prickly pear cactus?

Angelita Daisy

  Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) syn. Hymenoxys acaulis

Angelita daisy is a beautiful, small perennial that is a reliable producer of yellow daisy-like flowers throughout the year. The heaviest blooms occur in winter and spring, which makes this little plant an asset to the landscape. They grow to approximately 10″ high and up to 18″ wide. 

Angelita Daisy

Plant angelita daisy in full sun for best appearance and in well-drained soils.  Add compost to the planting hole so that resulting mixture is 1 part native soil to 1 part compost. 

Periodic pruning of the flowers helps to promote additional flowering.  No supplemental fertilizer is needed.

Angelita Daisy

I have used angelita daisy many times in landscapes that I have managed, and they are very low-maintenance. They are among my top ten favorite plants and I use them often when designing new landscape areas. Angelita looks best when planted in groups of 3 – 5. Their yellow color accent purple and red flowering plants. They especially look nice when planted next to boulders in the landscape.

For more information on how to grow this attractive, flowering perennial, check out my Houzz article:

 

Pink Crown of Flowers: Arizona Fishhook Cactus