Surviving Arizona Summer


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


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.


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


Parry’s agave losing lower leaves


Small hedgehog cactus with sunburn


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 and jojoba


Bell pepper in the summer garden


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.


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.


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


Baby saguaro with expanded ribs.


Just plant it!


The weather has been so beautiful…

I had over fourteen plants sitting around in pots. In general, winter is a great time to plant because of the mild temperatures (as long as there is not a freeze right away!) Some of these plants had been at my house for almost a year.

It was time to put them in the ground.

I planted five baby barrel cacti (about four inches in diameter) that I had been hoping would grow better root systems by staying indoors an extra season. I planted three volunteer texas sage and two seedling palo verdes that I potted last fall. I planted a santa rita prickly pear that I grew from a cutting. I planted a small cardon (12 inches tall) that I had been holding on to while deciding where I wanted to put it. I chopped two pieces off my largest deer grass and replanted them.

I’ve been watering the deer grass every other day and the texas sage about twice a week. The rest I’m watering every 1-2 weeks. We’ll see what makes it. The baby barrels have been sunburned before when on my porch, so I hope they’re big enough to acclimate to the yard.

Have you been doing any landscaping this month?

Baby cacti don’t like sun!

Cactus care

In my last post, I mentioned setting my baby cacti out in the sun. Mistake! Those babies got sunburned.

baby cactus sunburn

Poor baby!

I decided that I just can’t take them from shade to full sun. I moved them from the south porch to the north porch where they’ll remain in full shade all winter. When I’m ready to try again, I’m going to put them under a tree with at least moderate shade. I’ll have to make sure it’s somewhere I’ll still remember to water them on schedule. When I plant them out in the yard (hopefully by next spring), I’ll either plant them in shade or cover them with shade cloth.

The point of buying baby cacti is not to kill them! I want them to go into my landscape design.