Saturday, December 3, 2016

What's the difference between native, drought tolerant, and desert adapted plants?



Maybe you have heard these terms in relation to plants grown in the Tucson area and thought they were interchangeable. Or maybe at least you knew what one or two meant. Actually, the meanings are not necessarily interchangeable, and in some cases they mean completely different things.

By far the best plant choices, if you are looking for a low water and maintenance landscape, are those considered native to the area. Just keep in mind that not all Arizona native plants will survive in all parts of Arizona. For example, the Fremont cottonwood is native to riparian areas, but it is not a good choice as the water requirements are over 250 gallons per day for a mature tree. That’s not smart water use. Ponderosa Pines are right at home in Northern Arizona and in the mountains of Southern Arizona, but that doesn’t mean they will grow in Tucson.

Drought tolerant plants are those species that thrive on minimal irrigation. This does include native desert species, but not exclusively. For example, the Texas Ranger, even though not native to Arizona, is quite drought tolerant and happy in high heat and cold temperatures.

Desert adapted plants are those adapted to some desert conditions; but the caveat is not necessarily our desert. There are many deserts in the world, all of which contribute species to our list of choices, but many can’t take our freezing temperatures, blazing summer sun, or alkaline soils.

The best way to assure you are selecting plants that will not require excessive amounts of water or protection from frosts is to research what is hardy before buying. The Sunset Western Garden Book is worth purchasing, even if a used book, as it contains thousands of plants with detailed descriptions of the plant, where it is from, and where it will grow. In addition, unlike the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, which treats the United States not only as though it is flat, but ignores latitude, Sunset’s Climate Zone Maps are more realistic. Sunset’s Climate Zones take into account latitude, microclimates, valleys and mountains, which makes sense when you consider that the USDA lumps Tucson and Seattle into the same zone. Go figure.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Cactus choices for flowers



Argentine Hedgehog

It is easy to forget how dramatic our desert cactus are. For most of the year, they just kind of sit there and blend in with the desert. Cactus make great additions to desert landscaping even when they are not blooming, but if flowers are what you are after, here are some stunning choices.










Engelmann's Prickly Pear

The Engelmann’s Prickly Pear is one of our most common cactus species. The bright yellow flowers are following by red fruits relished by birds.

Santa Rita Prickly Pear

The Santa Rita Prickly Pear is named after the Santa Rita Mountains in Southern Arizona. The purple pads add color even when the plant is not sporting yellow flowers. It’s interesting to note that botanists don’t really know exactly why the pads are purple. Some think it’s tied to cold weather, some to drought stress, others to genetics. Whatever the reason, if pays to buy a very purple one to begin with.


Engelmann’s Hedgehog is a notable native, with stunning magenta flowers on a small, compact plant.

Look to the pincushion species for flower shows to rival all others. Hot pink flowers are easy to spot from long distances, even though the plant is under 6 inches tall.

Arizona Fishhook

The stately sahuaro is a summer bloomer, with white flowers appearing on the top, sides and arms. Pollinated by bats, these flowers produce delicious fruits still harvested the traditional way by Native Americans.

Although not a native, the Argentine Giant handles heat and cold, but it does prefer part shade in the hot desert. The flowers are white, and up to six inches across. The Argentine Hedgehog is another hardy cactus from the same region. Taller than other hedgehog species, the stems reach up to two feet tall. The flowers are an amazing red-orange, and also up to six inches across.

Cactus need little care, and will suffer if you give them too much care. Avoid watering cactus in the ground unless they are drought stressed. Container cactus, however do need water—weekly in the summer if they are in full sun.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Creating a desert butterfly garden




Lantana
Backyard bird watching is a favorite activity of desert dwellers, since so many species visit warm climates during the winter. Many landscape plants are selected because they attract birds. Another way to bring colorful, living visitors to your home is planting a butterfly garden. The best part is, you can bring some of the 250 southwest butterfly species to your yard by using desert natives and desert adapted plants.

What do Butterflies like?

Butterflies like plants with colorful flowers. White flowers do not seem to interest them. In general, they need flowers that are easy to sit on, so they don’t pick tubular flowers like hummingbirds. Butterflies like their flowers flat. But like hummingbirds, they do feed on nectar. To attract and keep butterflies, you need not only flowers, but plants for caterpillar food. This way you are attracting them for their whole life cycle. The more variety you have, the more different kinds of butterflies you will see. Some butterflies are very fussy and pick only certain kinds of plants, while others don’t care much. For the widest variety of visitors, plant a wide variety of plants.


Plants to Attract Caterpillars

Plants to include in your butterfly garden include the following:

  • Pine-leaf milkweed (Asclepias linaria)
  • Narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
  • Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberose
  • Fern acacia (Acacia angustissima)
  • Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
  • Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa)
  • Green spangletop (Leptochloa dubia)
  • Goosefoot (Chenopodia fremontii)
  • Saltbush (Atriplex elegans)

Flowering Plants to Attract Butterflies

Your butterfly garden can have just flowering butterfly attracting plants, or a combination of both caterpillar food plants and plants with flowers. Butterfly magnet plants include:
·        Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa)
·        Bee bush (Aloysia gratissima)
·        Lantana species (Lantana camara, Lantana montevidensis)
·        Red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
·        Butterfly mist (Ageratum corymbosum)
·        Black dalea (Dalea pulchra)


Planting your Butterfly Garden

Fall is the best time to plant desert native plants or seeds. The November rains, cooler days and nights trigger germination of seeds, and while the air may be cooler the soil is still warm, encouraging root establishment. This is important for plants to make it through the first summer.

Finding Seed Sources

Many of the plants mentioned above are desert natives, and may be hard to find. Do not harvest seeds or plants from the desert; check online for sources, or find a local nursery specializing in native desert plants.



Creating a desert butterfly garden




Lantana
Backyard bird watching is a favorite activity of desert dwellers, since so many species visit warm climates during the winter. Many landscape plants are selected because they attract birds. Another way to bring colorful, living visitors to your home is planting a butterfly garden. The best part is, you can bring some of the 250 southwest butterfly species to your yard by using desert natives and desert adapted plants.

What do Butterflies like?

Butterflies like plants with colorful flowers. White flowers do not seem to interest them. In general, they need flowers that are easy to sit on, so they don’t pick tubular flowers like hummingbirds. Butterflies like their flowers flat. But like hummingbirds, they do feed on nectar. To attract and keep butterflies, you need not only flowers, but plants for caterpillar food. This way you are attracting them for their whole life cycle. The more variety you have, the more different kinds of butterflies you will see. Some butterflies are very fussy and pick only certain kinds of plants, while others don’t care much. For the widest variety of visitors, plant a wide variety of plants.


Plants to Attract Caterpillars

Plants to include in your butterfly garden include the following:

  • Pine-leaf milkweed (Asclepias linaria)
  • Narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
  • Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberose
  • Fern acacia (Acacia angustissima)
  • Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
  • Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa)
  • Green spangletop (Leptochloa dubia)
  • Goosefoot (Chenopodia fremontii)
  • Saltbush (Atriplex elegans)

Flowering Plants to Attract Butterflies

Your butterfly garden can have just flowering butterfly attracting plants, or a combination of both caterpillar food plants and plants with flowers. Butterfly magnet plants include:
·        Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa)
·        Bee bush (Aloysia gratissima)
·        Lantana species (Lantana camara, Lantana montevidensis)
·        Red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
·        Butterfly mist (Ageratum corymbosum)
·        Black dalea (Dalea pulchra)


Planting your Butterfly Garden

Fall is the best time to plant desert native plants or seeds. The November rains, cooler days and nights trigger germination of seeds, and while the air may be cooler the soil is still warm, encouraging root establishment. This is important for plants to make it through the first summer.

Finding Seed Sources

Many of the plants mentioned above are desert natives, and may be hard to find. Do not harvest seeds or plants from the desert; check online for sources, or find a local nursery specializing in native desert plants.



Creating a desert butterfly garden




Backyard bird watching is a favorite activity of desert dwellers, since so many species visit warm climates during the winter. Many landscape plants are selected because they attract birds. Another way to bring colorful, living visitors to your home is planting a butterfly garden. The best part is, you can bring some of the 250 southwest butterfly species to your yard by using desert natives and desert adapted plants.

What do Butterflies like?

Butterflies like plants with colorful flowers. White flowers do not seem to interest them. In general, they need flowers that are easy to sit on, so they don’t pick tubular flowers like hummingbirds. Butterflies like their flowers flat. But like hummingbirds, they do feed on nectar. To attract and keep butterflies, you need not only flowers, but plants for caterpillar food. This way you are attracting them for their whole life cycle. The more variety you have, the more different kinds of butterflies you will see. Some butterflies are very fussy and pick only certain kinds of plants, while others don’t care much. For the widest variety of visitors, plant a wide variety of plants.


Plants to Attract Caterpillars

Plants to include in your butterfly garden include the following:

  • Pine-leaf milkweed (Asclepias linaria)
  • Narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
  • Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberose
  • Fern acacia (Acacia angustissima)
  • Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
  • Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa)
  • Green spangletop (Leptochloa dubia)
  • Goosefoot (Chenopodia fremontii)
  • Saltbush (Atriplex elegans)

Flowering Plants to Attract Butterflies

Your butterfly garden can have just flowering butterfly attracting plants, or a combination of both caterpillar food plants and plants with flowers. Butterfly magnet plants include:
·        Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa)
·        Bee bush (Aloysia gratissima)
·        Lantana species (Lantana camara, Lantana montevidensis)
·        Red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
·        Butterfly mist (Ageratum corymbosum)
·        Black dalea (Dalea pulchra)


Planting your Butterfly Garden

Fall is the best time to plant desert native plants or seeds. The November rains, cooler days and nights trigger germination of seeds, and while the air may be cooler the soil is still warm, encouraging root establishment. This is important for plants to make it through the first summer.

Finding Seed Sources

Many of the plants mentioned above are desert natives, and may be hard to find. Do not harvest seeds or plants from the desert; check online for sources, or find a local nursery specializing in native desert plants.



Saturday, October 29, 2016

Alternative fruit trees for the desert



Pomegranate

Growing standard fruit trees in the low desert is challenging. Stone fruits, such as peaches, plums and apricots, require a certain amount of cold (called “chilling hours”) to produce fruit. Even “low chill” varieties may not fruit in a mild winter. Part of the problem, aside from chilling hours, is our fickle winters. A warm spell in January can prompt flowering, only to have the flowers killed by a February frost. And although citrus trees do not require chilling hours, they are high water consumers and need protection from heavy frosts all winter. If you don't want the fuss, here are a few fruit tree alternatives that are less water greedy and still produce tasty fruit. They are also attractive and functional plants, too.

Pomegranates have now become quite the rage because of the fruit's health benefits. The fruits are quite expensive in stores, so what a great bonus to grow your own! Even better: pomegranates start producing fruit even where they are only a couple feet tall.
Pomegranates do very well in the desert. They love our alkaline soil. They are very drought tolerant, but do need a little extra water while they are fruiting so the fruits don't split open. They make a lovely large shrub or small tree. Their flowers attract hummingbirds, too. Keep in mind they are deciduous. 

Another plant that does quite well here is the Pineapple Guava. This is an attractive, evergreen shrub or small tree with gray-green leaves that are white on the underside. The flowers, which are edible, are a pretty pinkish to white with distinctive red stamens. The fruit ripens from late fall into December. Don't pick them off the tree; they are only ripe when they fall to the ground. The fruit resemble kiwis, but are tart, and taste a bit citrusy.

Loquats are another option. This evergreen tree of small stature is unusual for a desert plant since it has very large leaves. These leaves are covered with fine hairs that protect it from the heat by reflecting off the intense suns rays. Loquat fruits ripen in the spring, and taste somewhat like apricots. It is also somewhat drought tolerant.

If you just gotta have oranges, why not try the Kumquat? The Kumquat is the citrus industry’s attempt at creating a cold hardy citrus tree. While they didn’t catch on as they’d hoped, they are available for purchase. Kumquats are more cold tolerant than regular citrus trees, but will still need protection if temperatures drop into the 20’s. The fruits are tiny, an inch or so long, and should be eaten without peeling, as most of the sweetness is in the peel.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Do you really need to know those Latin plant names?




Acacia constricta (Whitethorn Acacia)

Have you ever wondered what those tongue twisting Latin plant names mean? Although they may look daunting to pronounce, they actually have a rhyme and reason. Here are a few examples of how to decipher the scientific name of plants and why it pays to know.

Plant names are based on genus and species, specifically referencing a certain plant and recognized everywhere as that plant. Common names are confusing and not accurate; a plant may have several different common names, but only one scientific name. This can have you walking out of the nursery with the wrong plant.

Latin names are descriptive of the plant’s appearance, or in some cases where it comes from. Mexicana in the name means it is from Mexico. Whitethorn acacia, one of our native plants, is called Acacia constricta. It is in the genus Acacia, and the species name, constricta, references the seed pods with deep constrictions between the seeds inside, separating each seed into a chamber.

Many Latin names give you an indication of flower color. For example, plant names with the word alba or albus means they have white flowers or other plant parts. Incanus means gray or hoary; like Poliomintha incanus, which is hoary mint, one of our desert native shrubs. Plants with yellow parts will have names such as citrinus, corceus and luteus.

It pays to know the Latin name over the common name especially when you are selecting plants a bit out of the ordinary. That way you are sure you are getting the exact species you think you are.