DIY burnout

Seasons

I haven’t posted in awhile. I was considering why not, and it occurred to me that a Do-It-Yourself-er saves money by working on projects themselves. But when all the work is done by you, projects compete with your other priorities for your time and just don’t always come in first.

For all you DIY-ers who are going strong this spring, I just added a new page on backyard landscape design ideas. It includes ideas for planning your dream backyard.

This past year I haven’t put yard improvements at the top of my list, but I still have been able to enjoy my landscape. Many of the plants I added when first moving here are reaching mature sizes. I enjoy walking around the yard and seeing the flowers and new growth during spring. This is the part of landscaping that I find rewarding: a beautiful space that complements the surrounding desert and inspires me.

So, when a landscape is in stasis, what do I do to maintain everything? So far this year we’ve harvested citrus fruit, pruned trees and bushes, sprayed pre-emergent on all rocked areas, weeded around plants, planted a small garden, and added a few new plants. Spring is a good time to check that all irrigation emitters are working properly. The seals on the irrigation valve near the house get old and leaky, requiring replacement every few years. A xeriscape landscape is easier to maintain than many others because many of these chores are only done once a year.

This year my garden included lettuce, sunflowers, and zucchini. The lettuce is already bolting in the heat and the zucchini will die off in another month. The birds love the sunflowers.sunflowers_arizona

I added a couple of new native plants this year that I found at the Black Mountain Nursery in Cave Creek. I found Mormon tea, goldeneye, and desert milkweed there. I have better luck finding native plants at independent nurseries than at chain stores.

In the future, I still have plans to do some big projects in the yard. I would like to build a ramada-style porch extension, add crushed granite on all walkways, install flagstone pavers on the back porch and some artificial turf immediately off of that, and finish landscaping one area with some more shrubs.

Whether you’re starting projects or enjoying what you have, hope you enjoy your landscape this spring!

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Southwestern Christmas decor

Seasons

To get the Christmas spirit before I had set up my tree, I made this branch arrangement from Mesquite branch trimmings. The branches sat in the yard, awaiting our next evening by the fire. Instead, I rescued them and arranged them in a sturdy vase. I had to make sure the stems were long enough, and tried to arrange without getting too close to the spines. I filled the vase with some rock from my yard to keep it stable. Then I hung some inexpensive ornaments. I like it!

Branch_christmas_decoration

Southwestern Christmas decoration: Mesquite branch in a vase

Here’s a sunset enjoyed from our driveway. Jojoba in the foreground and Queen Palm in back. I love our winters and feel just as Christmas-y with warm days and light strand-wrapped saguaros.

Arizona_December_sunset

Arizona sunset in December

We put up our tree, a live pine cut here in Arizona. We’ve enjoyed some Charlie Brown style trees in our time here in Arizona, but each tree has been truly beautiful in its unique way. I like this ornament, and the message to remember Christ. Thinking of our Savior and feeling His Spirit brings Christmas to me.

Seek_Him_ornament

Seek Him

So…Merry Christmas! May you feel joy and peace in this wonderful season. For more inspiration, see what a Savior means to me at mormon.org.

Surviving Arizona Summer

Seasons

August felt blisteringly long this year. With the nuclear heat, I didn’t go outside much. Just enjoyed the view of my landscape from indoors. Now that it’s September and the nighttime lows are coming down, it’s time to get outside and see how my plants survived.

Most of my established plants made it through just fine. The front yard irrigation timer shorted out and nothing got watered for about a month. Things started showing signs of stress, but I hand watered and got the system running again. The Spanish dagger and yellow bells showed the worst stress, along with a young slipper plant.

Spanish_dagger

Spanish dagger showing signs of heat stress. This yucca likes regular water.

Slipper_plant_burned

A young slipper plant has brown at the base of each stalk. It may be too damaged to survive.

In the back yard, I should have watered my smaller/younger cacti to help them through. Many showed signs of sunburn at the end of August. I didn’t notice any sunburn in mid-August when I looked at the yard, but at the end of the month, BAM! The summer rains washed away most of the basins around my plants, so last week I rebuilt them. Now I’ll be able to give them larger drinks. A little attention and everything will flourish.

Cardon_sunburn

Baby Cardon with yellow and black sunburn. A cardon is a cousin to the saguaro.

Parrys_agave

Parry’s agave losing lower leaves

Hedgehog_cactus

Small hedgehog cactus with sunburn

Golden_barrel_cactus_baby

Small golden barrel cactus sunburn

Some heat stress is normal for this time of year. The brittlebrush and penstemon go dormant the entire plant may appear dead. My rose bush looks seriously neglected. We have a row of bell pepper plants in the garden that amazingly survived (with daily water), though the peppers roasted on the plants before we could eat them. I’m hoping the plants will be able to produce better through the fall, to make it worth keeping them alive.

Brittlebrush-jojoba

Brittlebrush and jojoba

Bell-pepper

Bell pepper in the summer garden

Blue_agave_beetle

Blue agave that died from an agave beetle. Since I don’t treat my plants with insecticide, all of my blue agaves will eventually die and be replaced by the pups.

Our neighborhood experienced some saguaro carnage this summer as monsoon winds ripped through our street. A five foot saguaro broke off near the base. It had previously developed cracks from overwatering and couldn’t withstand the wind.

Dead_saguaro

Fallen saguaro

A reminder that even tough native plants can succumb.

The contracted pleats of my young saguaros indicated they need a drink. I’ll water them weekly until they plump back up. Remember that a saguaro will absorb all of the water its roots allow, so watering when the ribs are expanded can lead to the cracking that killed my neighbor’s plant.

Saguaro_shaded

Baby saguaro with contracted ribs. I put a paper towel over the top to shade the sunburn.

Baby_saguaro

Baby saguaro with expanded ribs.

New Year’s resolution: fill a landscape hole

Seasons

This new year, you’re probably already thinking about what you’d like to accomplish in 2015. Here’s my challenge: do something for your landscape!

P1050456

young Spanish dagger

If you’re like me, there is probably a drip irrigation emitter somewhere in your yard with no plant. As in, the plant died and never got replaced. It is so easy to find a plant and fill in that empty spot. The water is already there, no extensive landscape work required. You can even do something as simple as making a cutting of prickly pear and putting it in the ground. (You’ll have a slightly higher success rate if you root it in a pot first).

Perhaps you have a hole somewhere and you’d like to try something new! Do you need more bushes to fill in the backbone of your landscape? Maybe a new focal point plant like a Spanish dagger? Perhaps your empty spot is small and you’d like a hedgehog cactus that is unassuming until it blooms.

Here are some plants I would love to find and try out in my yard.

chocolateflower

Chocolate flower, a native wildflower

candelilla

Candelilla, a waxy-stemmed grass-like succulent

If we have some more pleasant weather this week, get outside and enjoy working on your landscape!

Happy New Year!

Fall landscape chores

Seasons

I’ve caught up on my pruning and done some weeding. One downside of having a native wildflower garden is that I have to weed it by hand. Sprays would kill the plants I am trying to keep. That garden tends to look more overgrown and natural, which I like. If I wanted it to look great for an event, I would clean it up and add some annuals and potted plants. Some day I’d like to add an archway or trellis.

One chore I had was to rebuild the basins around my cacti. The summer rains washed them away and then when I water the water won’t stay around the plant. Some of the newer cacti grew less because they didn’t have adequate basins.

Plant basins

Plant basins

A pair of cactus wrens built a nest in one of my cholla. First they practised in one cholla, making quite a mess of pine needles, dead grass, and stuff. I assume they’re new to this nest business. The second nest they made was quite pretty–round with a round entrance. I’ve tried to leave them alone so that if they lay eggs they will feel secure, although previous nest attempts in my cholla haven’t been successful. I think a predator was able to reach since the cholla aren’t very tall.

Cactus wren nest

Cactus wren nest

Summertime landscape chores

Seasons

How did you enjoy the flooding?

basin flood

Phoenix flooding

With all of the rain, my landscape is looking green this summer! I’m especially happy that the young cacti in my yard that were a little sunburned look much healthier. The first year in the ground is always hardest for a plant.

My bushes grow more than average with the extra water, which means they look due for pruning. Since I don’t like gumdrop shapes, what is the best way and timing for pruning?

summer desert bushes

Bushes have grown and greened up with the rain.

I found a pruning schedule with recommendations specific to each plant. For many bushes it recommends only pruning once or twice a year. Here is another pruning overview by U of A. I’m surprised to find that they don’t recommend pruning Texas Sage in summer, since it tends to be one of the most often-pruned plants.

Texas sage

Texas sage in bloom, getting large and shaggy

A late summer pruning helps trim back excessive growth, but will reduce blossoming ends and could be put off until spring. If you prune, try selective thinning, where you remove entire branch sections, either to a fork or to the ground, to open up the bush. It’s harder, scratchier work, but results in a more natural shape.

Some desert trees should be pruned later in the summer (as opposed to spring) to prevent excessive growth. Now is a good time to thin Mesquites, Ironwoods, and Palo Verdes.

So, with that information, there’s probably less pruning to do than you thought. Perhaps just some thinning of a few plants that have grown more than you wanted during our rainy season.

Pruning: gumdrops and lollipops?

Seasons

Yesterday a landscaper knocked on my door and asked if I wanted my bushes pruned. Sorry, but I’m too picky about how they look.

Most landscaping companies prune bushes into little balls and cylinders that don’t look natural at all. They prune palo verdes into single stemmed, tortuously twisted trees that look terrible.

In my opinion, a native landscape should look somewhat native. So what pruning do I do?

Arizona xeriscape wildflower garden

Unpruned wildflower garden

Trees

I prune my trees when young to usually have a single trunk at the base and then branch into multiple trunks within the first 3 feet. Then I prune the branches to raise the canopy to whatever height I need for the space and allow me to see the branching trunks. Once the tree approaches the size I want for the main branches, I may let it grow or just prune the branches that fill in or grow downward. I don’t worry about my desert trees getting top heavy and blowing over in wind storms because I water them deeply and infrequently to encourage root growth. The limited water also limits the canopy growth and keeps the wood dense and strong.

pruned palo verde

pruned palo verde

Bushes

Some bushes don’t need to be trimmed. If they have a nice shape and are in a spot where they can grow to their mature size without crowding, then I let them go. Creosote and jojoba don’t need pruning. I do have texas sage which I prune twice per year in summer and fall. When some of them get large the branches fall over leaving a gap on top. Native wildflowers like brittlebrush and marigold can get chopped off when they go dormant or leave them for a natural (if brown) look.

If you have a native landscape and your plants are mature, you can adjust the water so they grow slowly never need pruning. Prickly pear are a great example of this: with lots of water they will grow lots of pads, and you may have to cut some off to maintain the shape or size you need. With less water, they will grow fewer pads and stay smaller.

Texas sage needs pruning

Texas sage needs pruning

Cacti

Cactus don’t need pruning. I do cut pads off prickly pear. I will cut out extra canes of ocotillo if I don’t like where they branch. I never prune desert spoon, agaves, or yuccas. (Large pruned agaves look like pineapples.)

The plants that need the most pruning for maintenance are the non-natives: rose bushes, fruit trees, etc. Native landscaping requires much less pruning.

Wild native plants never get pruned

Wild native plants never get pruned

Fall landscape chores

Seasons

 

With the weather back in the beautiful range, I’ve spent a lot more time in the yard lately. I pruned my desert trees (mesquite, palo verde, ironwood)–since it is better to prune during the warm season than in spring. I sprayed the cochineal scale off my prickly pears and pruned a few pads. I have been setting out some of the small cacti that I bought and repotted in the spring to let them get more direct sun. Hopefully I can plant them this fall.

Baby desert trees

Top row from left: texas sage, mesquite, palo verde. Bottom cluster of three are creosote.

The late monsoon caused a lot of baby trees to sprout in my yard; both mesquite and palo verde. I tried potting some of them along with some seedling creosote. My survival rate is low. The baby trees that are the smallest dry out easily in pots and die. The larger specimens are hard to dig up because they already have long roots. Creosote bushes transplanted into pots easily die from over-watering. My best success with creosote was with two small seedling bushes that I transplanted to another spot in the yard. I was able to scoop their entire root system up with the shovel and after they were transplanted it was overcast for a few days.

During the summer I helped a friend make a landscape plan for her front yard. It included a circular drive, mesquite trees, lots of bushes, and cacti. Her husband has already started adding some hills to their landscape in preparation for planting. I’ll try to get some photos to share.

Dormant for the summer–summer break!

Seasons

Most of the United States enjoys the growing season during the summer months. Unlike the rest of the country, plants in Arizona survive the heat by going dormant during the hottest part of summer. This means you can take a break from landscaping and just enjoy the yard. It’s nice to not have to do yard work when the temperature is over 100 degrees.

Watch your plants for signs of stress indicating they aren’t getting enough water. When prickly pear pads start to wrinkle or leaves start to die, your plant may need a drink. Keep in mind that some plants like ocotillo and palo verde lose their leaves as part of dormancy and are not dying.

Ocotillo dormant

Ocotillo losing leaves

Palo verde in June

Palo Verde in June

Desert marigold dormant

dormant desert marigold

After kicking back for the summer, you’ll enjoy getting back to work in the fall.