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.

Advertisements

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 theĀ 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

Desert wildflowers and weeds

Plants

Growing wildflowers in Arizona hasn’t been easy. My first year here I bought a native wildflower seed mix, threw it on the dirt, raked it in, and watered regularly for a couple of weeks… nothing.

I did have a couple of Mexican gold poppies come up in the front yard and I begged my husband to not spray them when he sprayed the weeds. From that small patch, I now have a patch of poppies every spring that reseeds. They sprout despite application of pre-emergent.

Mexican Poppy

My third year here, I had one brittlebrush and one Parry’s penstemon sprout, which I guarded and pampered. I sprinkled the seed all around the parent plants. My neighbor also gave me some seed from some desert marigold she had in her yard. Those seeds sprouted that summer, during the monsoon.

This spring I had around 50 Parry’s penstemon plants sprout and five brittlebrush. I now have enough sources of seed to stop worrying about pampering each new plant. The desert marigolds keep reseeding also, so I scatter seed in new areas of the yard.

One note: growing wildflowers exponentially increases the amount of hand weeding. So start with a small patch and know what the baby flowers look like so you don’t accidentally pull them.

Now on to harder and more finicky wildflowers.