In the Southwest climates, cacti and succulents often replace ornamental shrubs and trees as landscaping. The philosophy of playing up what you already have rather than trying to hide it, home decorators have been decking cacti with holiday lights for years.
So, how do you string lights on a succulent or cactus? Very carefully, for starters. Wear a pair of suede or leather gloves that can’t be penetrated by the needle-like spines of a cactus, which can even poke through the strongest types of gloves. Then follow these tips.
Illuminating Desert Plants for the Holidays
It’s a bit more time-consuming and a specialized task to adorn cacti, succulents, yucca, and unusually-shaped desert plants with string lights. Here are a few tips and tricks:
Invest in a good pair of gloves, that won’t allow spines and needles to penetrate. Also, wear long sleeves.
For taller cacti or hard-to-reach branches consider getting a reaching, grabbing, or pick-up tool. Some even come equipped with a light. Doing so, carefully, allows you to wrap a cactus or limb without having to touch it.
Barrel cacti look best wrapped with one color of string lights, like red or white, so they sound out.
Net lights draped over a cactus are much more manageable than wrapping with string lights, although they have a different effect and don’t outline the shape as much. Most are LEDs, and some are solar, although they need several hours of sunlight to work.
Use a light hand while decorating–don’t stretch the light strand or wrap it tightly around a cactus.
Some of the more delicate specimens might benefit from the more traditional incandescent lights, which can create enough warmth (not heat) to keep the cactus or succulent from freezing.
Laser flood or spotlights are an easy way to light up a desert garden without damaging plants. Each year, they go down in price and the technology is improved.
One of the benefits of living in the Sonoran Desert in the winter is only having to contend with a few nights of freezing temperatures. Even so, you will want to do a few quick and easy things to protect your home and foliage. These tips will allow you to sleep in your warm, cozy bed without worrying about what’s happening outside.
Exposed pipes and outdoor faucets can be the source of trouble in freezing temperatures if not cared for properly.
Cover exposed outdoor pipes with foam insulation which can be found at your local hardware store.
Turn off faucets and cover them with foam insulation or a heavy blanket.
It’s recommended to have a professional winterize a misting cooling system to avoid broken lines in the Spring. Don’t delay and schedule your winterization. Call AZ Mist Systems for your winter maintenance visit. (602) 908-7676
Bring potted plants indoors or place them close to the house for added protection.
Watering the roots can increase their chance of survival if they cannot be moved.
Cover plants and gardens with burlap, frost cloth or blankets, but never use plastic.
If your car is not parked in a garage or under a carport, you can prevent frost and ice accumulation by covering the windshield with a towel, blanket or cardboard.
If your windshield gets covered in frost and you don’t have a scraper, an old credit card or gift card can be used to scrape it. Be sure it’s not an important card because it will take a bit of a beating.
Turn on your car and crank up the defrost, letting it sit for a while until the frost thaws.
NEVER pour warm or hot water on your windshield. Although it will not shatter, the water will seep into any cracks or chips. As it re-freezes, it could crack your windshield.
Freezing temperatures are now upon us. You’ll thank yourself for taking a small amount of time to prepare for it.
Your outdoor misting system has been working hard to keep you cool all summer. Now that temperatures are finally starting to drop, however, it’s time to shut the system down for the season. Simply turning off the water isn’t enough to keep your misting system in good shape for next year. Standing water can damage the pipes in winter temperatures, and the pump system can sustain damage as well without some general maintenance.
Why your misting system needs professional seasonal maintenance
The most significant risk of skipping winter maintenance on your outdoor misting system is damage from frozen water. As water freezes, it expands. So, when there is standing water in the pipes in your misting system, it can cause the pipes to burst on those cold nights when temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, standing water poses a risk for mold and mildew growth.
Another important aspect of seasonal maintenance is keeping the system clean. Replacing filters will keep the system spraying clean, odorless water. A technician will keep the pump in peak condition by changing its oil. While you may be tempted to take on winterization as a DIY task, it is ideal to call a professional. This is recommended because a professional technician can thoroughly inspect the system and make any necessary repairs. Furthermore, professional maintenance will be in line with warranty requirements for your system.
Don’t delay and schedule your winterization today. Call AZ Mist Systems for your winter maintenance visit. (602) 908-7676
Located behind Capella Eyecare at Plaza Fountainside.
12625 N. Saguaro Blvd., Suite 111
Closed on Mondays
Atticus Books & Music opened its doors in September and early reaction indicates Fountain Hills residents are welcoming them with open arms. Check them out near Fountain Park at Plaza Fountainside. For more information: https://desertvibe.com/atticus-books/
Just because you live in the desert doesn’t mean you have to settle for a barren, rocky yard. A thoughtfully planned xeriscape can bring layers of visual beauty to your landscape.
Xeriscape is a landscape design method that reduces or eliminates the need for watering, which conserves our drinkable water. Plants that thrive primarily on what water the natural climate provides come in so many varieties and uses that you will not be limited on choices.
It’s important to choose plants and trees that are appropriate for your climate. Native plants are a logically great choice. There are two locations in Fountain Hills where you can get ideas for your xeriscape:
The Low Water Demonstration Garden at Fountain Park is a project of the Greening of Downtown committee. It was designed to show residents examples of desert landscape plants that are nearly maintenance-free.
The Fountain Hills Desert Botanical Garden, founded in 1975 by Jane Haynes, is an 8-acre wildlife preserve and garden right along Fountain Hills Boulevard. In 2006, the Town restored the original garden trail as an educational and hiking destination. Twenty-nine Sonoran Desert plants are identified along the half-mile trail, giving visitors an idea of the kind of native plants they can use in their own xeriscape landscaping.
Here are some landscaping trees and plants to get you started:
The most common desert trees you’ll find are mesquite, palo verde (our state tree), acacia, olive, and palm. There are also beautiful flowering trees to consider, such as the Texas mountain laurel with purple flowers, silk floss with pink flowers, and anacacho orchid with white or pink flowers. If you want to enjoy the beauty of fall leaves each year, the Chinese pistache’s leaves will turn orange and drop in the cooler weather.
Most of our shrubs produce thick blossoms at various times of the year, adding a gorgeous splash of color to your landscape. These include Baja fairy duster, honeysuckle varieties, bush dalea, Chihuahuan or Texas sage, green feathery senna, hop bush, bird of paradise varieties, oleanders (which can be bushes, hedges, or trees), and violet silverleaf.
Don’t forget to add a creosote bush. They are at the heart of that extraordinary smell when it rains in the desert. The tiny beads of oil on their leaves release a glorious scent when they encounter water.
To add some fun texture to your xeriscape, add a vine or two. Consider bougainvillea, cat claw, pink trumpet, primrose jasmine, yellow orchid, etc. Each of these has unique flowers at various times of the year for a pop of color.
There are so many varieties to choose from, but the Argentine giant, prickly pear varieties, barrel cactus varieties, Mexican fencepost, and totem pole are great cacti to get you started with your design.
Succulents contribute something of an ornamental effect to your yard. Some of the favorites are yucca varieties, aloe varieties, lechuguilla verde, mescal ceniza, and agave varieties.
One of the things most people love about the desert annuals is the way they soften the features of an otherwise prickly landscape. Instead of chasing “poppy blooms” for your Instagram feed, you can grow them in your own yard. Throw some beautiful lupine in for good measure. These are short-lived, so they can be scattered across your yard for a short-season burst of color. Verbena is a popular annual with a variety of blossom colors available. The plant remains once the flowers are gone for the season.
Whatever you choose for your xeriscape plan, remember to plant trees no closer than 10 feet from your home to protect your foundation. Also, keep in mind that plants continue to grow and can get overcrowded if planted too close together when young.
A little maintenance will be in order from time to time, but your xeriscape will save you time and money in the end.
This Desert Vibe, as with the previous, is being released in an online-only format, with interactive links to everything you’ll need! To read the full Desert Vibe magazine, go to DesertVibe.com/Magazine.
Most of us don’t pay much attention to the edibility of the many plants in our backyards. Most people just see spiky plants and assume that they’re poisonous or otherwise inedible, beautiful scenery only to be admired. In reality, the desert is full of fruits, beans, and other edible materials that you can find right in your own backyard.
Palo Verde Beans
Palo Verdes are some of the most common trees in the Sonoran Desert, and they are actually in the legume family. The bean pods, which are currently falling off the trees in droves as of late June, are currently just past their prime. They are best eaten when still soft and green. If you harvest them while they are still in their most easily-edible condition, usually around April or early May, they taste quite similar to snap peas.
Prickly Pears are some of the most famous edible plants in the Sonoran Desert. Prickly Pear pads can be de-thorned and cooked, turning them into “nopales,” a signature ingredient in many Mexican foods. The fruits of the prickly pear, after being carefully picked with tongs and de-thorned either with flames or towels (or both), can be eaten, juiced, or made into syrups. Often foods made of/with prickly pear fruit are served at restaurants as one of Arizona’s classic endemic flavors.
If you’re ever out hiking and you see large bushes with red or yellow berries on them, you’re most likely looking at hackberries, wolfberries, or goji berries. Before eating random berries in the wilderness, be sure to do what you can to ensure that what you’re looking at is one of these three edible options and not something poisonous. Once you’re sure, you can pick these berries and eat them with no special preparation. They are in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos (which also grow out here if you know where to look), so you’ll taste something reminiscent of tomato when you try these native berries.
Ocotillo Flowers and Leaves
Ocotillos, contrary to popular belief, are not cacti, but rather drought-deciduous bushes endemic to the American southwest and Mexico. After significant rains, ocotillos often become covered in small leaves, which taste like spinach when consumed. Every spring, ocotillos bloom brilliantly with bright red flower stalks at the top of each branch. These flowers can also be harvested, and taste quite sweet.
Saguaros are one of the most popular symbols of Arizona. Their fruits are quite delicious as well, and they usually become ripe over the course of June. It’s illegal to harvest saguaro fruits out in the wilderness, so be sure to stick to saguaros on your own property or on another property where you have been given permission to harvest.
Barrel Cactus Fruit
The Compass Barrel is another of the most common cacti in the Sonoran Desert. They produce bright yellow fruits that are ripe by June most years. These fruits are edible, but most people claim that they don’t actually taste very good. This might be something worth trying, but maybe only consider adding it to your diet in a survival situation.
This one surprises a lot of people. Most people look at cholla as the most painful of the cacti, the ones to stay away from at all costs. However, if you can successfully collect some young pieces of cholla (especially ones with flower buds), you can boil them and scrub them with a toothbrush and steel wool until the spikes fall out.
After it’s cooked and the spines are all gone, the meat of the cholla cactus is similar in taste to the nopales of the prickly pear. Most people only try to consume the buckhorn cholla, as its thorns are the easiest to remove during this process and it is the least likely of the cholla varieties to cause digestion problems. This is another option that might be best left for survival situations.
The popularity of houseplants in American homes comes and goes. Although many people feel that houseplants require time-consuming upkeep, there are plenty of options available at your local plant nurseries that require very little effort to keep happy.
The following list includes pet-friendly indoor plants that require little water and are often more versatile than many other indoor plant options:
AIR PLANT (Tillandsia)
Air plants get the majority of their nutrients from the air around them. Soak new plants for 15 minutes, then allow to dry completely hanging upside down. You’ll want to ensure there is no water trapped between the leaves. Water according to the weather. Mist and soak more often when hot and dry and less when cold and dark. They do love bright, indirect sunlight and need good air circulation.
Bromeliads bring an exotic touch to the home and a sense of the tropics. They require medium to bright light when used indoors. They do great in shallow pots and can even thrive in low soil mediums like orchid bark, or without soil like air plants. The leaves grow to form a natural “cup” where the water is applied.
CHRISTMAS CACTUS (Schlumbergera)
Evergreen boughs, poinsettia, and Christmas Cacti are the plants of the holiday season in the southwest. The Christmas Cactus is the longest living of them and give a larger blooming of flowers year after year. It is in the same plant family as our giant saguaros! For blooming, they require cool night temperatures and plenty of hours of darkness. You may want to move them to your garage or an outdoor shed for a few weeks leading up to the holidays until they bloom. Then move them indoors away from direct sunlight. They like shady areas.
PONYTAIL PALM (Beaucarnea recurvata)
These long-living plants thrive on neglect. They are easy to grow so long as you don’t overwater them. In their native environment in eastern Mexico, they can grow up to 30 feet high but are rarely over 4 feet when grown indoors. Use a fast-draining soil in a pot with a drainage hole (clay pots are best). Give them plenty of bright, indirect sunlight, keep the soil fairly dry, and keep away from cold windows in the winter.
PURPLE HEART (Tradescantia zebrina)
This plant requires bright, indirect sunlight. The soil needs to be slightly moist, but don’t water directly into the crown since it will cause rot. Be sure it doesn’t get too dry in the winter. Misting can help maintain necessary moisture in between waterings. These are short-lived plants but can be prolonged by pinching back any vining tendrils.
SPIDER PLANT (Chlorophytum comosum)
The spider plant is one of the most adaptable and easiest to grow, thriving in a wide range of conditions with few problems. They tolerate plenty of abuse. The soil needs to drain well, and they should be watered without allowing them to get soggy. They prefer to dry out a bit between waterings. They like bright, indirect sunlight and cooler temperatures, so keep them away from air vents during the winter. They reproduce with “spiderettes” which can be clipped and placed in another pot of soil.
TRUE YUCCA (Yucca gigantea)
These plants are striking and low maintenance, the perfect combination for houseplants. They thrive in a partly shaded location that receives bright, indirect sunlight. Place in soil that is heavy enough to hold the plant upright and that retains water well without getting soggy. They like to be root-bound in small pots.
Think about adding houseplants to your home to increase oxygen and purify the air. When you bring nature indoors, it promotes an increased sense of well-being. Don’t let past failures with humid-loving plants prevent you from beautifying your living space with low-maintenance plants.
The heat is rising, and the harvests from your spring crops are giving out their last bounties. Many valley residents garden in the spring only to give up in the summer. There is, however, another way. Gardening in the summer can be just as rewarding as in the spring.
We asked Rita Applegate, Garden Manager of the Fountain Hills Community Garden, for some advice on growing crops through the transition from the warm springs to the hot summers and beyond here in the Phoenix area.
Shade and Watering
As the temperature increases, so does the amount of water and shade required to keep plants happy. To avoid sunburn on hot summer days, “you’re going to want a shade cloth with 50% coverage,” Rita recommends. Hotter temperatures also means that most crops will need more water to hold together during the summer. The average bed at the FH Community Garden will increase its watering from 10 minutes, twice a day to 15-30 minutes, twice a day.
Best Crops for a Summer Harvest
Many of the crops planted in the spring take time to develop and need to survive through the summer to reach maturity. Snap peas, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, onions, pumpkins, summer squashes, and sunflowers are some good examples. When it comes to choosing between seeds and starters, Rita says “after May 15th, only plant seeds. This lets plants acclimate to their surroundings, especially for cantaloupe, watermelon, and squash.”
Protecting from Birds and Bunnies
When it gets hotter, the birds and bunnies will have more motivation to tear up your garden for water and nutrients. Bird netting is a popular solution, but netting is known to accidentally trap and kill unsuspecting birds. Rita suggests a fabric called Tulle. Cover a garden bed with Tulle and leave a vent hole towards the top wide enough for bees and butterflies to safely travel through.
Rita typically harvests three times a year, so she revitalizes her soil three times a year. She prefers Kellogg Garden Organics’ Amend Garden Soil, along with mushroom compost and steer manure. Minerals such as Azomite are vital for healthy plant growth in any irrigated bed. She also recommends fertilizing with an organic fertilizer like Happy Frog on the 1st and 15th of every month.
Rita is a strong proponent of saving seeds. “Saving seeds promotes biodiversity and improves the hardiness of your plants over time.” By saving the seeds left by your best-performing plants, your chances of even better harvests next time increase greatly. Be sure to keep seeds in a cool, dry space in an air-tight container, like a mason jar or envelope.
Here in the McDowell Mountains, our family looks forward to the springtime when the quail come out with their babies. At first, the tiny babies appear like little fuzzy flurries a bit larger than a bumblebee.
The baby quail are adorable, scurrying to keep up with Mom and Dad and crossing the formidable desert terrain where even a stone can dwarf them and provide challenging obstacles to overcome.
Every once in a while you’ll see a covey try to cross a street or road, and inevitably one of the little guys will find it difficult to scale the edge of the curb, (although you’ll find many streets in the area have gently sloping, rolled curbs, aiding their passage.)
We desert dwellers are so fond of the little guys, you’ll often see traffic stop as someone tries to assist a family on its way.
Later, the adolescent quail provide more entertainment (as teenagers will!) as they get bolder and test their wings. The entire covey will usually try to cross the street together, chittering and chattering along the way and often right in front of an oncoming car!
When that happens, there’s a flurry of inexperienced flyers who all realize they are in danger and they go everywhere! Experienced residents learn to drive carefully through neighborhoods in anticipation of the wild Quail Dash!
Quail are small, compact birds, with a short, stout bill. The head is often crested, giving the males a very regal look. Their plumage is usually brightly marked with brown, buff, yellow, red, gray, black, and white. They eat mainly seeds and insects.
There are 6 species of quail found in North America and The Gambel Quail is the one you will most often see in the McDowell Mountains. They lay 4-15 white or brown-spotted eggs that will incubate for 21-24 days.
The Gambel Quail builds a nest often under vegetation so as to be shaded at midday or, occasionally, up to 10 feet above the ground in an old nest of a Roadrunner, Curvebill Thrasher, or Cactus Wren.