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Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Yesterday, I had a rather unexpected encounter with a javelina while taking pictures of a landscape. I think he was as surprised as I was to see him and he retreated back to his arroyo after a couple of minutes. That meeting inspired me to write this post and how they affect the desert garden – primarily what types of plants they like to eat.  

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

To state that I was surprised to come so close to a javelina is an understatement. In the over twenty years that I’ve worked in desert gardens, I seldom see these pig-like mammals as they usually sleep through the day underneath mesquite or other desert trees.

Often referred to as ‘wild pigs’ due to their resemblance to a boar, they aren’t pigs, but are a peccary, which is a medium-sized mammal with hooves. Javelina are found throughout the Southwest, but their range also extends to Central and South America. In urban settings, you’ll find them in more naturalized areas.

They frequently travel in herds, although I only saw these two adults on this day. While it can be enjoyable to view them from afar (don’t get too close as they can be dangerous), dealing with the damage that they cause to gardens isn’t fun.

 

Javelina love to eat the pretty things we plant in our desert landscapes such as flowering annuals, and they don’t stop there. The spines on your prized cactus won’t deter a hungry javelina – they go right in and munch on the base of a prized columnar cactus as well as the pads of prickly pear cactus.

When surveying the damage that they cause to the garden, what makes it worse, is that javelina frequently don’t eat what they dig up.

My relationship with javelina is a long one, which began by working to keep them away from the thirty-six tee boxes that I had to plant with flowering annuals seasonally. Not surprisingly, they were drawn to these colorful islands and would dislodge the plants by rooting them up with their snouts before eating them.

My crew and I had some mixed success with spraying squirrel repellent every few days on the petunias, but it was a lot of work and not foolproof.

Javelina will zero in on popular potted annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, which are like candy to them. While geraniums aren’t their favorite potted flower, they will eat them too if hungry enough.

If you want pretty containers filled with flowers and live in a neighborhood where javelina are present, you’ll need to place the pots in an enclosed area or courtyard where they can’t reach. 

Bacopa

 

Lavender

There are some flowering plants that they usually stay away from and these include Bacopa and Lavender, which can be used in containers.

 

Depending on the time of year, a javelina’s diet changes, based on what is available. In winter, citrus they will grab citrus fruit off of the tree.

In summer, mesquite seedpods are one of their favorite foods.

A Cereus peruvianus cactus that has some bites taken out of its base by javelina.

A fairly common sight is a columnar cactus with some bites taken out of its base, where javelina are present. In most cases, the damage is largely cosmetic and the cactus will be fine. However, to prevent further damage, you can surround the base of the cactus with a wire mesh cage.

While there is no guarantee that javelina won’t eat the plants in your desert garden from time to time, there are some plants that are less palatable to them than others. Here a helpful link for javelina resistant plants, but I must tell you that if a javelina is hungry enough, it will eat the plants on this list – I know this from personal experience. 

The only foolproof way to keep them away from eating your plants is to keep them out with a fence or wall.

Do you have javelina where you live? What type of plants do you notice them eating? Any plants that they seem to leave alone?

 

Do you have pieces of garden art in your outdoor space?


I have a few pieces and am always on the lookout for unique examples of artwork to use in my garden.


The past few weeks, I saw some great examples while out and about that I would love to share with you.

You may have seen the popularity of large clocks being displayed indoors, but I would love this one hanging on my outdoor patio.  

The clock face was made out of plywood, painted and textured with antique garden tools arranged around it.


Who knew that old horseshoes could be used to make barrel cactus?

I must confess that at first, I didn’t know that these were made from horseshoes at first glance – but, I would certainly love one in my garden.


Javelina may be the bane of many southwestern residents when they come and eat their plants.

However, I think that some people wouldn’t mind having this one hanging around.  

Can you tell what it is made out of ?

An old palm tree root!
The roots were used to mimic the rough coat of a javelina.


Lastly, rusted metal art is all the rage and you can find it in the shape of plants and animals.

I did love this group of jackrabbits and could just picture one sitting underneath my palo verde tree.

How about you?

Do you have any unique pieces of garden art? 
Working on golf courses provided me with many opportunities to interact with our native wildlife.  Now, most of my interactions were welcome – roadrunners, jackrabbits,  even baby raccoons.  Some encounters were unexpected – snakes, tarantulas and coyotes.  But there was one animal with which I waged a constant battle…the Javelina, also know as the Wild Pig.

Javelina (Collard Peccary) Photo by Wing-Chi Poon
 
Now Javelina are not actually pigs, but are pig-like mammals that are native to the Southwestern region of the United States, ranging southwards into Central and South America.

Okay, first of all, you can smell them before you can see them.  There is no polite way to state this – they stink.  They travel in small herds and love to eat just about anything.  They can eat cactus out in the desert, but will ignore that in exchange for what is growing in your garden.
My personal battle with javelina was due to the fact that two of the golf courses I worked at had 36 tee boxes and each were planted with flowers.  In the summer, I would plant Lantana, which was beautiful and the Javelina did not touch.  But, in the winter, they loved to eat whatever type of annual flower I planted, leaving torn up plants and dirt as proof that they had been there.
                                           
Purple Petunias planted at the tee box.
Believe it or not, Petunias, Pansies and Geraniums are listed on the Javelina Resistant Plants list.  But, evidently, the Javelina did not read this list because they happily ate all of mine.

Now, I knew I had to do something besides replacing annuals up to three times a week.  The members of the golf courses wanted flowers and I was tired of making endless trips to the nursery in order to pick up replacement plants and it was eating into my budget.  So, I did some research. 

Pink Petunias with Eremophila ‘Valentine’ in the background.

Some people swore that putting shavings of “Irish Spring” soap would keep them away.  Others said that human hair would do the trick.  I honestly did not try any of these because I had seen them fail before.  But, there are some products that have had some limited success.  The first are coyote urine products that seems to help keep them away, (I didn’t want to try this one for obvious reasons).  The second is Liquid Fence, which must applied frequently and the third is Dr. T’s Squirrel Repellent.  
I used Dr. T’s Squirrel Repellent with some success.  It did not eliminate the problem, but it did help decrease the amount of flowers being eaten by the Javelina. 
*I did discover that the favorite thing the they would eat, was citrus fruit.  So in the winter, when citrus fruit was plentiful on the trees, the Javelina would mostly ignore my flowers.  In the summer, they would eat the seedpods from the Mesquite trees.
Geranium Flower
There are plants that Javelina are less likely to eat, but if they are hungry enough, they will eat anything.  For years, they never ate the Geraniums I had planted on the golf course.  But, one year, they came in and ate them all.  So, no plant is completely resistant to them.  The following link will send you to a list of plants that are somewhat resistant to Javelina  – be sure to cross out Petunia, Pansy and Geraniums off of the list ;-).  
*Annuals that are usually resistant to Javelina include Euryops Daisy, Bacoba, Snapdragons as well as Fern Leaf Lavender. 
So the outcome was that I did win some battles, but the Javelina ultimately won the war….
Thankfully, the planters were removed during a golf course renovation and now perennials are now planted in their place, which are ignored by the Javelina.  Unfortunately, this occurred after I had left….


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.


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. 

 

 
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.
 
 

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!

 
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?