When it comes to your desert plants and succulents, you may have some questions about their care. Below are some frequently asked desert plant questions. As always, if you have a question not covered on this page, you can call our nursery at (480) 488-9455 or stop by our nursery at 33840 N. Cave Creek Rd., in Cave Creek.
The 1-2-3 rule is a good general guide to watering plants in our Phoenix landscapes. What this means is that annuals, perennials and Bermuda grass get watered to a depth of 1 foot, shrubs get watered to a depth of 2 feet and trees should be watered to a depth of around 3 feet. Your drip irrigation system should deliver the same amount of water consistently, but the frequency of watering should be adjusted according to what season it is. And don’t forget… plants lose the most water during May, June, and July—our hottest, driest and windiest months.
Find out the mature size of the plant, and select plants appropriate for the space. Buying a tree in a 5 gallon container may seem perfect for your 15’ space. But if that tree matures to 30’, you’ve got a problem that can only be fixed by constant pruning as the tree ages—which is not healthy for the plant and ends up costing you extra in time and money. A good suggestion is to check the tag or ask your nursery professional. The plants that Desert Foothills Nursery stock are appropriate for the zone we live in.
Fortunately, the dryness of the desert means that we don’t have a whole lot of fungal or bacterial issues with our plants. So, many plant problems result from inadequately watering them. Like people, your plants “sweat” (called transpiration) to keep them cool. And, like people, if they don’t have enough water, they’ll become stressed from lack of hydration. So try the 1-2-3 rule (above) to make sure your plant is getting the water it needs. If you are still having issues, please take a picture of the infected plant—or, better yet, take plant tissue to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Office and they can help diagnose the problem for you.
What is xeriscape?
The dictionary lists xeriscape as anWell, xeriscape is not just simply rocks and cactus! Xeriscape basically means to create a functional and beautiful low-water-use landscape. This is especially important here in the Phoenix desert, where some 70% of the water we use is used in the landscaping. So xeriscape can be thought of as “gardening consciously”…that is, know what you’re doing and why you are doing it.
Great question! Often, you’ll see Zone numbers on plant tags. But unless you know your Zone numbers, the numbers will seem meaningless. Add that “Zones” relative to gardening are used by several organizations, so it can get quite confusing. The USDA Hardiness Zone is what shows up on most plant tags. For the Phoenix and lower desert areas, we are in USDA Hardiness Zone 9A. But some California growers use the Sunset Climate Zones—in which case, Phoenix is in Sunset Climate Zone 13. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Office also has the Arizona Plant Climate Zones and Phoenix is in Zone 5. So if you’re looking at a plant tag and you’re not sure what it means, the best advice is to check with your local nursery professional.
Knowing which climate zone you’re in is an important guideline for choosing plants, but knowing the micro-climates in your yard is a better option. A cool, shady spot will not work for a vegetable garden that requires a lot of sun and a west-facing wall with reflected heat will not work for most cacti and succulents. So watch how the sun hits your yard at various times of the day and year. See how water runs after a rainstorm. Look for high spots and low spots. Feel the prevailing wind direction. All of these factors create micro-climates in your yard, each of which will have different gardening needs.
Also, if you select locally grown plants, you can pretty much be assured that the plants will work here in the Phoenix area. Nurseries sometimes grow their own plants, or they’ll get them from a wholesaler such as Mountain States Wholesale Nursery or V & P. Many plants that are grown in California will also work here, but be aware that—depending on where the grower is located—the climate can be vastly different from the low desert. So check the plant’s tag or ask your local nursery professional.
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s a distinct difference between them. Compost is decomposing organic matter used to improve the soil, while mulch is used to cover the soil. In Phoenix gardens, compost is often used in vegetable gardens and non-native annual gardens to give our alkaline soils more acidity and increased nutrient. Mulch, on the other hand, is used to cover the soil to reduce heat and evaporation, prevent weeds, reduce erosion and improve appearance. Mulches can be organic (wood chips, dead leaves, straw) and will eventually decompose and change the soil—which is why they’re often confused with compost. Most often, here in Phoenix, we use an inorganic mulch, such as decomposed granite.
Native and desert-adapted plants do not require amendments to be added to the soil or fertilizers to keep them growing. Plants are intelligent creatures and they’ll quickly figure out how to adapt to the soil around them. If they don’t, the Phoenix desert is probably not a good home for them. Any plants that we sell are good for the environment we live in or we will help you find any fertilizers that you might need to get the best healthy and growth from your plants.
Remove as much existing mulch from the area. Dig the hole so that 10% of the rootball is above grade and the hole is at least 2-3 times as wide as the rootball. This helps loosen our compacted soil, giving the roots room to grow and providing much needed oxygen for the plant.
Score or butterfly the roots and position the plant in the hole. Run water into the hole and begin backfilling with soil around the plant, creating a shallow basin around the dripline. Once all the soil is in the hole, you can press lightly around the stem to anchor it, but do not stomp on or tamp the soil. Then cover the area with 2-4” of mulch. If this isn’t your cup of tea we also offer professional delivery and planting for trees in Phoenix and surrounding areas.
“I just found out the other day that, after a plant was planted, my Grandma would give it a good pruning and it would grow like crazy!” But nowadays we know more. While what’s going on above ground is important, growing healthy roots below ground will ensure healthy shoots above ground. Those roots anchor the boat, so to speak, so it doesn’t go adrift. So, after planting, keep the soil moist for at least 2-3 weeks and up to a year, depending on the plant. And don’t worry about pruning just yet.
Your plants make an otherwise barren landscape inviting and pleasing to the eye. Be aware of how to care for your plants and they will give you years of joy and make your yard aesthetically engaging.