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.

How to water desert trees

Plants

Desert trees anchor a xeriscape. Such important plants need proper care to look natural and avoid damage. Amazingly one of the best things you can do for a desert tree is NOT water it all the time. Over watering encourages fast, weak growth. When summer windstorms come, a spindly tree loses main branches, potentially ruining its form. My neighbor had an entire tree disappear in a windstorm!

Severely_pruned_mesquite

This Mesquite is nearly full grown, yet has been severely pruned to prevent damage from wind. Watering less frequently would give a better natural form without the need for pruning.

When I plant a young desert tree, I build a basin with edges about 2 feet away from the tree’s trunk. I’ll start by watering the tree every few days for the first week or two while it recovers from transplant shock, then I fill the basin once a week while the tree gets established, about the first year. After a year, a desert tree can live with watering once every 2 to 4 weeks. If the tree seems to be growing slowly, you can increase the water frequency to no more than once per week.

Baby Palo Verde basin

A lush baby Palo Verde tree with a 2 foot basin.

As the tree grows, expand its basin. Once a year in spring you can rebuild the sides of the basin farther away from the trunk. The basin around the tree allows you to give a large drink with each watering, penetrating farther into the soil and allowing the trees roots to grow deeper. Shallow watering encourages shallow roots, which allows the top of the tree to become heavier than the root strength. In order to allow the basin to fully fill, turn a hose on at a trickle and set a timer for an hour, monitoring to make sure your basin doesn’t overflow. Or if your tree is on your irrigation system, you can add the number and flow rate of emitters needed to fill the basin in the time scheduled for your system.

Desert_tree_basin

A larger basin on a more mature desert tree. This basin measures about six feet across and is doughnut-shaped to encourage roots to spread away from the trunk. This tree blew over a few times while young and needed stronger roots.

Once my desert trees have doubled in size or seem well established, they can be watered even less frequently. A few of my trees border a low spot in my yard where water pools when it rains. These trees are not on my irrigation system and I hardly ever water them by hand. The winter and summer rains give them deep drinks which keep them healthy. They usually keep their leaves all season long, so I know they are getting enough water.

Juvenile_Palo_verde

This Foothills Palo Verde has been in the ground about 5 years and no longer needs any irrigation since it borders a low spot in the yard.

When watered appropriately, desert trees grow slower with more proportional shape and stronger branches. Over time they can still grow to mature heights of up to 30 feet, and much more quickly than they would in the desert.

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.

Design idea: update your small front yard landscape

Design ideas

Quick front yard redo (small yard)

Thinking about changing your landscape? Summer is a great time to plan a new landscape design. Let’s say you want to redo your front yard landscape by adding a bunch of plants without changing your current drip irrigation system.

Here’s my hypothetical small front yard with one mesquite tree and three Texas sage. I drew my idea on 1/4 inch graph paper. 1/4″ equals 1 foot. The yard area is 30 x 15 feet.

Small Yard original design

First, map existing emitters and a rough idea of where your drip line runs.

Next, add plants. I had three goals in this design: increase color, add plants without adding emitters, and pick plants that are commonly available.

Here are the plants I picked: 4 red fairy duster bushes, 3 Santa Rita prickly pear, 3 green desert spoon, 7 golden torch cacti, 4 fire barrel cacti, and 2 bunny ears prickly pear. The desert spoon are functioning like a grass in the design, but you could substitute Mormon tea or ocotillo.

Here’s the new design, colored so you can imagine the end result.

Small Yard new landscape design

Small Yard new landscape design

Notice I didn’t just space everything evenly around the yard. I also NEVER use just one of a plant, use multiples. Even though space in this yard is very limited, I used small and large plants. A bigger yard would allow more variety and more empty areas or plant groupings. You could also add some hardscape features such as boulders.

The best part of this design is you might not have to add any emitters to your current drip system. If the mesquite has a basin around it that fills up when it is watered, the fairy dusters can share. The golden torch, barrel cacti, and desert spoon should do fine if they are hand watered every 1-2 weeks their first year in the ground. The prickly pears may have to get added to the drip system, depending on how they do. Hand watering them every two weeks in the summer would make it possible to leave them off.