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Desert Plants and Wildlife Home Management Yard and Garden

Xeriscape For The Win!

Ocotillos are great for xeriscape, developing leaves after significant rains.

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:

TREES

The leatherleaf tree is a great option for a dense, low-water tree.

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.

SHRUBS

The Arizona Rosewood is a great native bush that can grow large and survive on little water after being established.

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.

VINES

Cat Claw vines are known for growing large and quickly, finding water wherever they can.

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.

CACTUS

This Purple (Santa Rita) Prickly Pear needs very little water and blooms a beautiful yellow during the late spring and summer before developing edible fruits.

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

Madagascar Palms are great succulents that prefer very little water. They need shade when young but eventually can grow to the size pictured and beyond.

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.

ANNUALS

Red Verbenas typically last until the hottest parts of the summer.

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.

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About Fountain Hills Around Arizona Community Engagement Culture Desert Plants and Wildlife Local Businesses Local Events Outdoor recreation Real Estate Schools The Verdes Things to Do Yard and Garden

Summer 2022’s Desert Vibe Magazine Is Here!

The second quarterly issue of Desert Vibe magazine is finally here, and it’s full of must-see information about local events, listings, and market information!

Here are some of the things you’ll see in the summer Vibe:

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.

Categories
Culture Desert Plants and Wildlife Outdoor recreation Yard and Garden

Edible Plants in the Sonoran Desert

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 Verde beans are at their best when they look like this.

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 Pear

This prickly pear was prepared by putting a lighter to its thorns and then splitting it in half with a knife, scooping out the contents with a spoon.

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.

Wolfberries/Goji

Desert Hackberries (pictured) taste good and are filled with antioxidants.

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

These ocotillo flowers are edible and taste super sweet.

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.

Saguaro Fruit

Saguaro fruits are traditionally picked with one of these long sticks.

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

Barrel fruits last a long time on the cactus before they begin to decompose.

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.

Cholla

These are the young buds of a Buckhorn cholla.

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.

These are just a few of the many plants of the Sonoran Desert that are edible. For a few more items on the menu, check out this article from Phoenix.org.

Categories
Home Management Inside Your Home Yard and Garden

Easy Houseplants for Southwest Homes

Elephant Food (Portulucaria afra) is very versatile, and can grow outdoors or indoors in Arizona.

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.

BROMELIAD (Bromeliaceae)

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.

The String of Dolphins (Senecio peregrinus) is another great option for low-maintenance indoor plants.

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.

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Yard and Garden

Gardening Through the Seasons

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.

Refreshing Soil

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.

Seeds

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.

Go to FountainHillsCommunityGarden.com for educational materials on desert gardening.

“Happy gardening! Gardening is work, but it’s a great therapy, that will feed and nourish you in so many great ways.” – Rita Applegate

Categories
Desert Plants and Wildlife Outdoor recreation Yard and Garden

Birds of the McDowell Mountains: Gambel’s Quail

Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii) | about animals

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.

A Gambel's Quail Nest - Woohoo

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.

Categories
Desert Plants and Wildlife Yard and Garden

Protecting Plants from the Frost

After last week’s storms brought in the winter, the likelihood of frost increased drastically in our area. Even though it’s not super common for the temperatures to drop below freezing temperature in the Sonoran Desert, it usually happens a few times a year in Fountain Hills. Many of the plants that we keep in our yards and landscapes are vulnerable to frost. To keep these plants as protected as possible, we have some tips that you can try out this winter.

Is frost really a threat in Fountain Hills?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that the average first day of frost in Fountain Hills is December 15th, and the last is February 2nd.

However, this is based on the Fountain Hills weather station located at an elevation of 1581 feet, which is close to the lowest elevation in town. If your home is at a higher elevation, especially on windier hillsides, expect the frost season to start earlier and end later. See almanac.com/gardening/frostdates/AZ for more details.

Common landscape plants that experience frost damage include bougainvilleas, firesticks (and other euphorbias), lantanas, hibiscus, yellow bells, trumpet vines, and even young citrus trees. This list isn’t extensive; consult a plant expert to see how vulnerable your plant is to the cold.

If the temperature reaches the lower 30’s, some frost damage is likely on these plants. This isn’t too much of a problem, as you can just wait until the beginning of the spring to prune back the damaged branches. If the temperature goes into the 20’s or less, then harmful damage is possible.

How to Protect Vulnerable Plants

Frost Cloths are a great way to mitigate damage. Most frost cloths that you can get are able to protect plants down to the upper 20’s. Just make sure you take the cloth off during the day, so you don’t suffocate your precious plants. If you don’t want to buy frost cloths, bed sheets and even towels can help. Just don’t use plastic.

Putting a fresh layer of mulch at the base of your plants each winter is another great way of protecting plants. Mulch helps root systems retain warmth and moisture during cold nights.

Interestingly, giving your plants some extra water the afternoon before the frost can help lessen the damage. Water allows heat to transfer from the ground to the plants during the night when they need it most.

If your plant already has some frost damage, don’t prune it until the spring. According to the AZ Plant Lady, even though frostbitten plants may look ugly, they’re better off with those ugly branches still attached for extra protection until the frost season is over. After Valentine’s Day, you’re usually good to start pruning away. Go to azplantlady.com for more seasonal plant care tips.

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Desert Plants and Wildlife Yard and Garden

Desert Plant Care Tips for the Fall

Now that the days of 100+ degrees are well behind us for the year, it’s time to get your plants prepared for everything the cool season has to offer. Many of your plants are ready for fertilizer, minerals, and a good trimming. Just be thoughtful of which plants you’re giving a spa day to; not everybody needs the same amount of care this time of year. Read on to see some tips for keeping your plants happy as the seasons change.

Trimming

The fall is a great time to give a good trimming to many landscape plants. It’s usually not a good idea to trim your plants too significantly when it’s hot outside. Trimming during the summer causes unneeded stress that can hurt and even kill them during especially hot or dry weeks. Once it’s fall, there’s a window of one or two months when the temperature is just right to make more radical moves with your plants. If the high temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s, it’s time to take action.

Fertilizing

Not every plant in your yard should be fertilized in the fall, although it’s a much better idea to fertilize plants in the fall than in the summer. In the heat of the summer, most fertilizers, especially inorganic ones, can burn the root systems of plants and do more harm than good. By November, this isn’t a problem anymore. Many of your trees and bushes are ready for a dose.

Before fertilizing, you need to know whether or not your tree loses its leaves in the winter. If it does, then you shouldn’t fertilize it any time after the last week of October. If you fertilize a tree while it’s trying to shed its leaves for the winter, you’ll hurt the tree’s ability to prep for the winter. The tree could then be more vulnerable to damage during early frosts. If you think your tree really needs a boost after a hard summer, then you can choose an organic plant food that contains micronutrients like iron, manganese, calcium, and boron. Superthrive and Azomite are both solid options for this.

Watering

As the weather cools, you also need to pay attention to the irrigation. Overwatering is much more of an issue during the cool season than during the hot season, so be mindful. To see how you should be watering at any given time of year, visit WaterUseItWisely.com and click on “Landscape Watering by the Numbers” for a great guide.

The plants are just as relieved as you are that the heat is over for the year. Just make sure you take the right steps to do more good than harm. Every type of plant requires different specific care. So, if you’re confused, you can consult a professional and do some research of your own at extension.arizona.edu/Maricopa.

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Local Businesses Local Events Outdoor recreation Yard and Garden

Fresh Local Food is Back: FH Farmers Market Returns

There’s nothing better than knowing that your food was made by people you can trust. The Fountain Hills Farmers’ Market is back again after the usual summer hiatus!

Local growers from Fountain Hills and the rest of the valley come together every Thursday morning from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM to sell their goods.

The Market opened for the season on November 4th. The Market will not be convening on Veteran’s Day (November 11th), but after that, you can find all your favorite local foods every Thursday into the New Year.

Each stand features products from a local vendor who truly cares about their craft. On a regular day at the Farmers Market, you can find a plethora of different locally-made foods, from desserts to vegetables to CBD products and skincare products, and much more.

Buying local products from the Fountain Hills Farmers’ Market is a great way to support your neighbors and other small business owners that compete with the huge supermarkets. Not to mention, homemade products and homegrown food are likely healthier than anything you can get at a regular store.

For more information about the Farmers Market, and to see how you can become a vendor, go to www.fountainhillsfarmersmarket.com.

Categories
Yard and Garden

Arizona Pool Barrier Laws

About 30 children a year are lost to drownings in Arizona. Children, ages 1 to 4, are at higher risk and drown at a rate of nearly twice the national average. As a result, the State of Arizona and most of its counties and cities, have passed swimming pool barrier laws.

The law requires that a swimming pool be completely enclosed by a fence to restrict access to the pool from an adjoining property. This generally also includes requirements for barriers to be installed to prevent easy access from the home to the pool. Specific requirements regarding height, type of fences, gates, and windows and doors from the home that lead to pool area are often included.

I’m making an offer on a house with a pool. What information should I expect to receive? Most purchase contracts include a “Notice to Buyer of Swimming Pool Barrier Regulations”. Both buyer and seller acknowledge the existence of state, county, and municipal laws, and the buyer agrees to do due diligence and comply with these laws. The seller is required to give the buyer a copy of the pool safety notice from the Arizona Department of Health Services, and the buyer is required to be given a Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement, which discloses any known code violations on the property.

What if the house I want to buy does not have a pool fence that is up to code? The Arizona REALTORS Purchase Contract says: “During the Inspection Period, Buyer agrees to investigate all applicable state, county, and municipal swimming pool barrier regulations and agrees to comply with and pay all costs of compliance with said regulations prior to occupying the Premises, unless otherwise agreed in writing.”

What if the home I want to buy has an above-ground pool? Does it have to adhere to the same barrier laws? Above-ground pools have the same barrier requirements as in-ground pools. It must be at least four feet high with a wall that’s not climbable and steps or ladders that are lockable or removable.

Pool barrier laws vary from city to city and county to county. Be sure to contact your local governmental department. Fountain Hills residents can call Building Safety at 480-816-5177.

Arizona Department of Health Services Pool Safety Recommendations:

  • Never leave a child unattended in the pool or pool area.
  • Because flotation devices and swimming lessons are not a substitution for supervision, a child should always be watched when in or around the pool area.
  • CPR/CCR instructions and the 911 emergency number (or local emergency number) should be posted in the pool area.
  • A phone should be located in the pool area or easily accessible in case of an emergency.
  • All residential pool owners should attend water rescue and CPR/CCR classes. Lifesaving equipment should be easily accessible and stored in the pool area.
  • All gate locks and latches should be checked regularly to insure they are working properly.
  • A gate should never be left propped open.
  • All items that could be used to climb a pool barrier should be removed from around the barrier.
  • In an emergency:
    • Shout for help;
    • Pull the child from the water;
    • Call 911 (or local emergency number) for help; and
    • After checking the child’s airway and breathing, immediately begin CPR/CCR if necessary.

CLICK HERE for more information from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

CLICK HERE for more information about Arizona’s pool barrier laws.