Giant Saguaro desert cactus – facts and photos

Within Arizona’s Tucson Basin is The Saguaro National Park.  This park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus.

saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park in Tucson

**The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, studies show that the Saguaro cactus obtains most of its moisture during the summer monsoon season.

Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus in Arizona

There are dozens of varieties of cacti;  short, tall, stout, delicate but none quite as magnificent as the Giant Saguaro cactus.

Quick Saguaro Facts:

  1. Saguaros have one deep tap-root but most of this cactus’ roots are 4-6 inches deep and span out as far as the desert plant is tall.
  2. The saguaro is the largest cactus in the US.
  3. After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.
  4. The Giant Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.

In the Sonoran desert the saguaro cactus has a boundless variety of towering armed shapes.

the saguaro cactus in arizona
the saguaro cactus species in AZ

Water makes up 75 to 95 percent of the saguaro cactus’ weight.  During periods of drought the pleats of the saguaro cactus contract.  During Arizona rains the saguaro expands as it soaks up moisture.

saguaro cactus with fruit
saguaro cactus close up

Saguaros, like many desert cacti, grow excruciatingly slow.  Arizona cactus experts estimate that a forty-foot tall saguaro is about 150 years old.  Arm buds begin to appear when the saguaro is 75 years old.

the saguaro arms
the saguaro arm buds

Many saguaros now standing in cactus forests germinated in the mid-1800s !!

saguaro cacti over 100 years old
saguaro cacti over 100 years old

To survive their early years, saguaro seedlings must be sheltered from the elements, whether it be under the canopy of other plants or in the crevices of rocky outcrops. Saguaro seeds can be deposited in droppings of birds roosting on branches of shrubs and trees.

nurse tree
young saguaro cacti under a nurse tree

Lightning, powerful winds, harsh winter freezes and the rotting of dead tissue kill saguaros.  Their woody ribs stay on the desert floor until they are consumed by termites or decay and return to the soil.

dead saguaro cactus wood
woody spine of the dead saguaro cactus

This cactus species is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of the saguaro cactus.

You can find the majestic giant cactus in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexica.

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Yellow flowers of the real Mexican Bird of Paradise

What is the small tree with yellow flowers and round leaves in Arizona?  The Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise, is a flowering plant species in the pea family, Fabaceae. This drought tolerant, perennial tree is native to Mexico and the extreme lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

Caesalpinia mexicana
Mexican Bird of Paradise yellow flowering bush tree
bush with yellow flowers round leaves
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise

All parts of this Mexican plant are poisonous.  The showy Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub thrives in dry conditions.  Once the roots are established, they are drought tolerant.  

yellow flowers and round leaves bush shrub arizona texas
Mexican Bird of Paradise, caesalpinia mexicana

If you are looking for a small shade tree that is flowering and easy to care for; the Mexican Bird of Paradise is perfect for your yard and a good choice for xeriscape desert gardens.

Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Poinciana, does best in full sun.  It is a perennial flowering tree that is heat resistant; with rounded leaves and spikes of solid yellow flower clusters.  The fragrant yellow flowers of this Bird of Paradise are very showy and will bloom throughout the year!  The USDA Hardiness Zone is 9.

Texas yellow flowers round leaves bush
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise Plant
Arizona bush yellow flowers shrub
leaves and yellow flowers of Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Plants

In the photo ABOVE see the rounded shape of the leaves and the yellow flowers.

The “Red Bird of Paradise”, – commonly but mistakenly called (The Mexican Bird of Paradise), –  has Red, Orange and Yellow Flowers. See the Picture below.

red orange blooming bush flowers
Red Bird of Paradise desert shrub

The Mexican Bird of Paradise bush can be pruned and trained into a small tree.

round leaves yellow flowers bush
Mexican Bird of Paradise tree, yellow flowers

How to grow bird of paradise plants from Bean Pods

Germinating the seeds for this Mexican Bird of Paradise will be easy! Simply soak the seeds from the bean pods in water for 48 hours or like many people use a damp paper towel.  If you are using the paper towel method to germinate your seeds-when a white shoot appears-plant it with the white shoot facing DOWN.

peat pots

To plant and grow your bird of paradise — plant the seed in peat pots.  Cover the seeds lightly with damp vermiculite or your choice of a good soil.

vermiculite

Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.

Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Mexican, Yellow or Red Bird of Paradise seedlings much easier. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant your Bird of Paradise just put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.

LANTANA is the best drought tolerant plant – Red, White, Purple, Gold, Perennial Flowers!

As I was going to the store I came across one of the greatest displays of The New Gold, White, Red and even Purple Trailing Lantana I have ever seen!  In our Arizona garden we have several species of Lantana because it is one of our desert favorites!

Best Drought tolerant plants, Lantana varieties
Purple Trailing Lantana, Texas New Gold, Red, Light Yellow Lantanas

White, Red (Texas), Purple Trailing and Gold lantana mounds in this picture – Gorgeous!

Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the VERBENA family, (Verbenaceae). They are native to tropical regions of Africa and here in the Americas.

Lantana Verbena in containers
Confetti Lantana and Purple Verbena desert plants

It comes in plants and shrubs commonly called Lantana and shrub verbenas. Some types are considered invasive; they spread easily because lantana leaves are somewhat poisonous to most animals.

This is precisely why Lantana is a large part of our desert garden. Not only is Lantana resistant to the hot temperatures in Southern Arizona, but also drought tolerant and all the small animals leave them alone!  Our dogs are not interested in our lantana plants or their poisonous leaves at all.

popular drought tolerant plant
Texas New Gold best lantana

The Purple Trailing Lantana looks beautiful dancing along side the Yellow New Gold and a lighter yellow lantana mound in the back.

Drought Tolerant flowering bush shrubs Lantana
Texas New Gold Lantana, Purple Trailing Lantana

Being somewhat toxic and rejected by herbivores, camara and trailing lantanas are very hardy, but once or twice a year mine become infested with pests.  Insecticidal soaps will damage this plant. Try using plain dish soap with water in a spray bottle.

Although I did not see any berries in this orchestra of multi-colored lantana plants … the berries are edible ONLY when they are ripe.

Yellow, Purple, Red, White Lantana
Varieties of colorful Lantana, Verbena bushes shrubs

Though the stems of lantana are thin, the wood is very tough and durable and thus useful for crafts and wickerwork.  This is one heat resistant, hardy evergreen lantana shrub!

Texas New Gold in a Pot

Planting, Growing and Caring for lantana is easy. They like a lot of sun and lantana is not picky about their soil.

red orange lantana species verbena
drought tolerant red flowering lantana plant

Half of our garden lantana are growing in pots and containers, the other half is in the ground by cacti.  We do water the potted lantana once a day when the temperature is high. Last week we reached 110 degrees and my pots / planters needed a small amount of water in the morning and then in the evening. This is unusual and was due to the bone dry heat.

Picture of Lantana Heaven!

Lantana stems are HOLLOW so overwatering will cause your lantana roots to rot.  Try NOT to prune or trim your lantana until the end of the season. Remember the lantana stems are hollow.

Red and Yellow Lantana Plants, trailing mound

On average, the ground lantana need a DEEP soaking twice a week. A good indicator is the leaves. If your lantana is wilting, then water but be careful NOT to get water on the leaves. Most of the lantana we have planted are in full sun.  Watering at the roots prevents the risk of burning the leaves.

Regional Climate Zone, Planting Map for the US

Each hemisphere of the Earth is neatly separated into three distinct climate zones.  These climate regions or zones are the tropical, temperate and polar zones.  Below see photos of climate regions.   This can be used as a helpful tool for planting a successful garden.

Climate of the United States
Climate Region Map of the US

Pictured above is a Climate Region Chart, Map of the United States.  The various climate definitions below give general guidelines for various climate zones based on average temperatures, precipitation and heating degrees.  Look at the various climate charts to find the region you live in.

Hot-Humid

A hot-humid climate is generally defined as a region that receives more than 20 in. (50 cm) of annual precipitation and where one or both of the following occur:

  • A 67°F (19.5°C) or higher wet bulb temperature for 3,000 or more hours during the warmest 6 consecutive months of the year; or
  • A 73°F (23°C) or higher wet bulb temperature for 1,500 or more hours during the warmest 6 consecutive months of the year.

Mixed-Humid

A mixed-humid climate is generally defined as a region that receives more than 20 in. (50 cm) of annual precipitation, has approximately 5,400 heating degree days (65°F basis) or fewer, and where the average monthly outdoor temperature drops below 45°F (7°C) during the winter months.

Hot-Dry

A hot-dry climate is generally defined as a region that receives less than 20 in. (50 cm) of annual precipitation and where the monthly average outdoor temperature remains above 45°F (7°C) throughout the year.

Mixed-Dry

A mixed-dry climate is generally defined as a region that receives less than 20 in. (50 cm) of annual precipitation, has approximately 5,400 heating degree days (65°F basis) or less, and where the average monthly outdoor temperature drops below 45°F (7°C) during the winter months.

Cold

A cold climate is generally defined as a region with approximately 5,400 heating degree days (65°F basis) or more and fewer than approximately 9,000 heating degree days (65°F basis).

Very-Cold

A very cold climate is generally defined as a region with approximately 9,000 heating degree days (65°F basis) or more and fewer than approximately 12,600 heating degree days (65°F basis).

Subarctic

A subarctic climate is generally defined as a region with approximately 12,600 heating degree days (65° basis) or more.

Marine

A marine climate is generally defined as a region that meets all of the following criteria:

  • A mean temperature of coldest month between 27°F (-3°C) and 65°F (18°C)
  • A warmest month mean of less than 72°F (22°C)
  • At least 4 months with mean temperatures more than 50°F (10°C)
  • A dry season in summer. The month with the heaviest precipitation in the cold season has at least three times as much precipitation as the month with the least precipitation in the rest of the year. The cold season is October through March in the Northern Hemisphere and April through September in the Southern Hemisphere.

(research courtesy of the US Department of Energy) – http://energy.gov/

Planting Climate Region
North American Hygrothermal Map

The Hygrothermal Regions Map above, illustrates the eight major climate zones in North America. The climate zones are generally based on heating degree-days, average temperatures and precipitation.

Now you know all about your zone!

Bougainvillea can take the Arizona heat!

Bougainvilleas are tropical plants that thrive in outdoor areas with low rainfall and intense heat, someone say desert!  They need lots of sun and are happy with Arizona temperatures reaching over 100 degrees. They have thin roots that are somewhat delicate and we find our Bougainvilleas take more of our attention in the garden.

pink bougainvillea
pink bougainvillea

My conclusion and my gardening experience with Bougainvilleas is that they are happier growing in large pots with good drainage.

Bougainvillea growing in a pot
Bougainvillea growing in a pot

In this picture above,  the stem looks bare because I recently removed the dead leaves and new blooms are just arriving. The Bougainvillea loves this planter and will fill out in no time!

The amount of watering needed for your bougainvillea is directly related to your area and the local weather. There are some basics – Bougainvillea is a drought resistant plant, and requires very little water once established and mature.  Let the soil dry between waterings; if your Bougainvillea’s roots stay continuously wet it will promote a weak and shallow root system. Wilting is the best indicator that watering is needed.  Don’t let it dry out completely as this will cause bracts and foliage to drop.

Bougainvillea in Arizona
Bougainvillea in Arizona

For Bougainvilleas planted in the ground:  At the time of watering, do it thoroughly – making sure that every inch of root gets watered!  I use long bamboo garden stakes to measure how far down the watering has reached and I soak until it reaches 8 inches.  This will create a stronger root system for your bougainvillea.  Deep watering is the key!

Blooming Bougainvillea growing in a pot

In Florida, landscape professionals commonly perform a hard cut at the first sign of summer, and keep on a regular trimming schedule all summer long to maintain size.  Pinching is the method of removing the soft tips of young plant stems to encourage fuller growth.  This hardy plant will send out several new stems just below the pinched tip. I am going to prune/pinch all 6 of our Bougainvilleas this week. My Arizona Garden keeps me busy, and I love it!

The more regularly you pinch, the more your bougainvillea will branch and bloom.  The best time to prune or pinch is after the flush of color or flowering cycle is completed.  Flowering cycles are typically four to six weeks. Lets get pinching!

bougainvillea shrub
Bougainvillea bush

Apple Annie’s Orchard – Arizona travels!

Apple Annie’s is a “you pick” orchard in Willcox, Arizona.  It is about 1 1/2 hours from Tucson through the exhilarating countryside.  A must see for travelers or anyone looking for a gladdening family activity.  The farm is well marked and easy to find.

This WILLCOX ORCHARD was started in the 1980’s by a husband, wife and their 2 young children.  They humbly began with only tasty apples and their famous apple pie.

orchard in Willcox - activities in Arizona
Apple Annie’s Orchard in Arizona

Nowadays you can pick juicy peaches, Asian pears, bell peppers, corn, etc… Apple Annie’s is a farmers’ market dream! 

The start of the Fall season is complete with PUMPKINS of all sizes, shapes and colors that are available for picking at Apple Annie’s HUGE pumpkin patch.

Arizona places to visit - farmer's market
Apple Annies Orchard cider donuts

One of the best parts of Apple Annie’s Orchard is they sell “cider donuts” and your tummy will thank you! If you are adventurous, try a taste of the zesty jalapeno honey mustard, horseradish pickles and other oddly paired condiments.

Apple Annies Orchard - Willcox, Arizona
Farmer’s Markets in Arizona

For anyone traveling to Phoenix or Tucson, AZ the drive to Apple Annie’s Orchard is a great way to spend a relaxing, memorable day in the country. Remember to bring your camera and keep in mind fall days on the farm can be cold in Willcox.

giant Sunflower field in Arizona
Sunflowers at Apple Annie’s Farm

Before planning your trip to Willcox, you can call Annie’s Crop Hotline at 520-384-2084 to hear a list of what the farm is currently harvesting.

Annie's Arizona farmer's market
pick your own vegetables – Apple Annie’s Farm

Children can choose a wheelbarrow or bucket and pick their own vegetables while learning about farming.

pick your own fruit vegetables in Arizona
Apple Annie’s Farmer’s Market – pick it yourself
Apple Annie's orchard in Willcox, Arizona
Corn Maze activities at Annie’s Farm in AZ

For extra thrills make a reservation at the CORN MAZE.  Apple Annie’s added 3 levels of difficulty waiting to gobble you up!  Halfway through the maze is a high bridge with a great view of the farm; but, it will not give away the solution.

Apple Annies in Willcox Arizona
Annies Orchard farmer truck ride activity

Rest your feet by relaxing on a tractor pulled hay ride in “Farmer John’s truck”. God bless you Apple Annie’s for all your hard work and dedication to the community.  Oh and of course the YUMMY home made foods!

Arizona Farmer's markets and activities
pick your own Apple at Annies Orchard in Willcox

here is the link to  Apple Annie’s Orchard and Farm 

“When we planted the first apple trees we asked God for His blessing and guidance in this new venture, but we never envisioned the plans that He had for us! We planned for a commercially harvested crop, but His plans were for us to share our orchard, the farm experience, and the lifestyle that we love, with thousands of families from around the state. We consider it a real privilege to be able to offer an old-fashioned farm experience to today’s busy families!”  ~ John and Annie Holcomb

Sage bushes with Purple Flowers bring life to the desert!

It is difficult to imagine that a flowering plant can thrive in hot desert temperatures; but, these vibrant purple sage bushes love the heat!

Tucson bushes with purple flowers
Purple flowering sage bushes – Texas Ranger Plant

Also known as Texas Ranger Plants, these lavender flowers fill the sage bushes that adorn the streets of the Sonoran Desert.

heat tolerant purple bush tjs gardenowers
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

Our Texas Ranger Plants, Leucophyllum frutescens, are blooming with butterflies and bees promenading between the purple flowers.

heat tolerant plant with purple flowers
purple sage bush with butterflies

The bees are buzzing noisily as they work their way in and out of the purple blooms.

phoenix purple flowering shrubs bush
purple flowers of the Texas Ranger plant

When it comes to drought and heat tolerant plants, Purple Sage is right at the top of the list.  The hotter it gets in the desert, the happier this flowering shrub is!

texas ranger plant sage Tucson
Purple flowers – Texas Sage Shrub in Arizona

As humidity rises during the start of Arizona’s Monsoon season, the Purple Sage bushes will bloom right before it rains.  The purple flowers are a built in barometer!

Growing and caring for Purple Sage is easy if you plant them in full sun.

varieties of sage bush shrubs purple white
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

This desert bush is native to Mexico and Texas and needs very little maintenance. Texas Sage is incredibly heat resistant and will not be harmed by moderate frost in the winter.

white cloud flowering white sage
white flowering shrub is White Cloud Texas Sage

The Sage bush variety with white flowers is called White Cloud Texas Sage.  It is exactly like the purple sage but with white blooms.

Texas Cloud Sage with white flowers bush
White Cloud Sage with Red Bird of Paradise Flowering shrubs
Mexico purple sage flower bush
Purple Texas Ranger Sage Plant

The best time to prune your Texas Sage is in the Spring.  Over pruning your sage bush will reduce the amount of flowers and cause the plant to use more water.

What are the varieties of sunflowers?

Like many people who savor gardening as a hobby, we fancy the bright colors and upbeat feeling a sunflower brings! So, how many varieties of sunflowers are there?

species of sunflowers mirasol
Dwarf Sunflower variety SUNGOLD
Sunflowers
SUNGOLD is a dwarf sunflower
sunflowers in the desert
SUNGOLD aka TEDDY BEAR Sunflower variety

First, SUNFLOWERS belong to the genus Helianthus, which contains over 70 species.  Most varieties are annuals; but, Helianthus incorporates 38 species that are perennial (grow back every year on their own).  With so many cultivars out there one can get overwhelmed quickly!  We’ve identified several Sunflower favorites to make it easier.

Sunflower variety
Holiday Sunflower variety

The variety called “Holiday Sunflower”  has uneven heights and multiple blooms.

common sunflower in desert
Sunflower species HOLIDAY SUNFLOWER

Sunflowers track the sun throughout the day, but when they are fully grown the mature flower-heads face towards the east and no longer move. To grow the best sunflowers they will need full sun!

sunflower varieties
Dwarf sunflower species – Ring of Fire

The variety called Ring of Fire is another dwarf sunflower species that is very uniform and under 3 feet in height.

species of sunflowers with red
RING OF FIRE Sunflower variety

Dwarf sunflowers are a perfect choice if you want to grow sunflowers in a pot or window container.  After choosing the size of the container, add a layer of small rocks to help the soil drain. To grow sunflowers you will need fertile moist soil with heavy mulch.

sunflower variety
Big Smile sunflower species

The variety called Big Smile Sunflower is under 2 feet in height, has multiple blooms and is a Dwarf Sunflower Plant.

small dwarf sunflowers for pots
Sunflower variety BIG SMILE

The sunflower stem is rough and hairy with a circular head of flowers. The head has hundreds of individual flowers which mature into seeds.

sunflower species
Red, Orange and Yellow sunflower – AUTUMN BEAUTY

The sunflower species called Autumn Beauty branches out with a variety of yellow, red and orange colors.

multiple blooms sunflower
Sunflower variety AUTUMN BEAUTY

In the 16th century, sunflower seeds from the Americas were brought to Europe along with sunflower oil and they became a popular cooking ingredient.

ornamental type of sunflower
Tohokujhae Sunflower varieties

Tohokujhae Sunflowers are bright yellow with multiple blooms.  This variety has big double flowers 6-7 inches across.  The height of Tohokujhae sunflowers is 3-6 feet.

teddy bear sunflower species
Sunflower variety TOHOKUJHAE aka Teddy Bear

The leaves of the sunflower can be used as cattle feed and the fiber in the stems can be used in the production of paper.

sunflower species
Variety of Sunflower – SONJA

Some say Sonja Sunflowers are a weaker variety.  The height is uneven and ranges from 3-5 feet.  This sunflower has a dark center with big yellow petals.

wild sunflowers arizona
SONJA Sunflower variety

TIDBITS: The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, USA.  American Indians had various uses for sunflowers, such as in bread, medical ointments, dyes and body paints.

Growing Sunflowers in Pots – facts about sunflowers

The sunflower has a tall, thick stem crowned by what seems like a single giant flower. Interestingly, this flower is no flower at all;  but a constellation made up of hundreds of small flowers called the sunflower head.

sunflower in Arizona
sunflower in Arizona

Although the sunflower head resembles a huge flower with yellow petals and a brown center, it is actually the brown that is the constellation of flowers, with the yellow leaves acting more as a protectant to the sunflowers during the flowering and seed development phases.

happy sunflower field
common sunflower

The sunflower’s cheery facade plus its sheer height make it a wonderful plant that everybody will enjoy, either in the vegetable garden or at the back of a flower bed.

Sunflower in pots
Arizona Sunflower in a container

A sunflower can grow to become well over 10 feet (3 meters) tall and the head can become quite wide. Once open,  the sunflower head will start to follow the sun while it is moving across the sky.

species of sunflowers
Large Sunflower Head of “LEMON QUEEN” variety

The flowers in the center of the sunflower will then start to grow fruits, sunflower seeds, and after a while these seeds will loosen and scatter across the ground.

Once that is done, the life cycle is complete and it will eventually wilt and die so that the new seeds can grow to become sunflowers in the next growing season.

When growing sunflowers it is important to consider where you want to plant them because they will need full sun to mature successfully. Many people grow sunflowers close to walls since the sunflower can be quite sensitive to the wind;  but, planting close to a wall will unfortunately come at a loss.

sunflower with multiple buds, blooms

Sunflowers are sensitive to the amount of sunlight they obtain, and how much water required to optimize their growth.  Too much water may result in the soil loosening and becoming far too unstable to support the weight of the sunflower head as it sways in the wind.

wild sunflowers arizona
SONJA sunflower variety

Planting a larger grouping of sunflowers has the benefit of helping to stabilize the immediate area of soil and helps to create some barrier to wind damage. I put stakes into the ground close to the sunflower stem making sure it stands strong and stable on its own. Next, you can tie small pieces of thick string,  florist ties or velcro around the stake and the sunflower, thus helping them to support each other.

sunflower in container
sunflowers in pots

Currently we have several sunflowers growing in large pots.  Sunflowers do not do well if they sit in water so it is important that your pot or garden container drains well. You can use a layer of sand or rocks in your container. The garden soil you choose needs to be full of nutrients.

When placing your sunflower seeds in a pot, do not put them close together. Depending on the size of your container, space them at the minimum of 3 inches apart.

Typically, sunflowers, Helianthius annuus, require absolutely no pruning at all.

sunflower seeds to harvest
sunflower seeds to harvest

To enjoy the seeds of your sunflowers here are simple harvesting tips:

  • When the backside of the sunflower head turns yellow be sure to protect them from birds, squirrels and other animals that eat sunflower seeds!
  • Once the back of the sunflower head is brown it means time to harvest!  Cut the head off about 12 inches down the stem
  • Then rub the head using your hand and the sunflower seeds will fall off
seeds ready
sunflower seeds ready to harvest

extra tidbit:  If pressed, sunflower seeds will give you sunflower oil. This oil can be used for many purposes and ongoing research is mapping new and improved uses every day. First of all, sunflower oil is great in cooking and will give food a very mild but distinct taste, similar to mild olive oils. Sunflower oil can also be transformed into lubricants for engine parts and can even work as a fuel for engines.

Desert Bird of Paradise quick facts

Arizona’s well-known desert bird of paradise shrubs burgeon with vivid red flowers or delightful yellow blooms.  The red bird of paradise, Caesalpinia Pulcherrima, is our favorite and we have several constituting a border.

drought resistant shrubs with flowers
drought tolerant bushes with red flowers

This Red Bird of Paradise is a drought and heat tolerant shrub that relishes full sun with its lively red- orange flowers cultivating out of long, thin stalks.

drought tolerant shrubs
Desert Bird of Paradise with red flowers

All the Desert Bird of Paradise bushes are Perennial (only plant them once).  Pruning and trimming is standard since these desert plants are easy growers; reaching over 10 feet tall.  PRUNING your Desert Bird of Paradise

Looking for detailed information on the Mexican Bird of Paradise pictured below?

drought tolerant desert shrub
Mexican Desert Bird of Paradise with yellow flowers

Caring for your Desert Bird of Paradise:

  • Exposure: full sun,  gets leggy in shade and blooming is reduced
  • Water:  deep irrigation; twice a week while blooming; height & growth rate determined by water supply
  • Propagation: been pod seed, very easy; peat pots provide easy transplanting
  • Soil: very tolerant, needs good drainage
  • Hardiness: damaged at 32°F, with increasing damage as temperature decreases
  • Leaves: fern-like, normally bright green turning red in winter, sometimes leafless in winter
  • Range:  common throughout Arizona Sonora desert, Mexico and naturalized in Texas
  • Maintenance:   pruning every year; sometimes pruned to ground in winter, periodic trimming to keep it shaped
Texas yellow bird of paradise
Yellow Desert Bird of Paradise with long red stamen

More details for the Yellow Bird of Paradise shrub pictured below.

tucson texas bushes with yellow flowers
Yellow Bird of Paradise bush with red stamen

PROPAGATION:

Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Desert Bird of Paradise seedlings easy. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant simply put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.

germinating seeds
dissolving pots for Bird of Paradise seeds

To germinate Bird of Paradise seeds,  soak the seeds from the bean pods (pods need to be brown) in water for 48-72 hours.  Next plant them in peat pots, barely cover the seeds.  You may prefer to use the paper towel method to germinate your seeds; if so, when a white shoot (root) appears, plant it with the white root DOWN. Cover the seeds lightly with damp soil.

germinating and planting seeds
planting the seeds from the bean pods

Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun; it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.

phoenix heat tolerant plant with flowers
Red Bird of Paradise shrubs with cactus

These resilient desert bushes THRIVE in intense heat and look stunning with cactus, succulents, Lantana, even Bougainvillea!

Salvia darcyi, a hardy, heat resistant desert Garden Flower in a container!

RedSalvia darcyi,  survived well through the desert winter months that hit in the mid 30’s and does superb in the high heat as long as it is watered everyday! It is a thirsty plant during these temperatures of 100 degrees or more.  I recommend larger pots than the ones I used.

Salvia Darcii arizona plants
Red Salvia plants in containers
red salvia desert plant
remove the spent flowers from Salvia plants

This is by far the MOST hardy, successful flower in my Arizona Garden! This perennial Salvia will generally grow from between eighteen inches and thirty-six inches, yet there are some that are much smaller. Mine is averaging about 20 -22 inches. The red salvia in the picture is a young plant that actually started from a fallen seed. The photo above is just after I pruned the finished red flowers. From having Salvia (red and blue) for over 2 years now I have learned it is best to trim them quite far down the stem to gain a thicker shrub.  Best of all this flowering plant is critter proof.  Last year the desert rats, squirrels, and rabbits ate most of our flowers except the Salvia. Since then, we are determined to have a rat-proof, squirrel-proof, rabbit-proof thriving Garden.  Quick note: Hummingbirds love the flowers and will visit your garden often!

To keep your Salvia looking vibrant and encourage better flowering, deadhead the plant. You can do this by pinching or cutting off the flower spikes with spent blooms, I like to use small pruning shears.
red salvia heat resistant plant
growing Salvia plants in pots
Red salvia flowers can form a striking border when massed together. It is a good choice for a bedding plant. Some people call this perfect Arizona plant, Scarlet Sage.

Honeysuckles made # 5 – in the top Ten Heat Resistant plants for Arizona

Honeysuckles love the Arizona heat and the hummingbirds love the honeysuckle.  Now that is a desert garden delight!

As long as I water this thirsty honeysuckle shrub it will produce abundant blooms most of the year.  The narrow, orange, tubular flowers give enthusiasm to the garden with their bright colors.

heat resistant honeysuckle
heat-resistant orange honeysuckle

Our orange honeysuckles are fast growing perennial plants that are low maintenance.  Care for your honeysuckle with regular watering and pruning to keep the growth under control. With 180 species of honeysuckles, genus Lonicera, you can pick from pink, yellow, white, orange, red, etc., flowers.  Honeysuckles belong to the Caprifoliacea family which includes all types of woody shrubs and fragrant vines.

When choosing a honeysuckle to grow, be sure to check the label as some varieties are hardier than others and can cope with frost.  Also, there exists a few species of honeysuckle that are considered invasive such as Japanese honeysuckle.

common honeysuckle
Japanese honeysuckle is considered invasive

Pruning tips for honeysuckle vines:  Prune your plant in later winter when it is dormant.  With pruning shears, remove dead blooms from your honeysuckle as soon as you see them.

honeysuckle
honeysuckle flower

Tree, fence, trellis or wall; honeysuckle vines will climb on anything to seek out the sun.

orange honeysuckle flower
orange honeysuckle flower

Our garden has become a very busy place.  It is October in the Arizona desert and our honeysuckles are still blooming.  What a joy to sit quietly and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds feast on the bright tubular flowers.

Honeysuckle bush
Arizona heat-resistant Honeysuckle plant
Honeysuckle and Salvia plants for hummingbirds
Honeysuckle and Salvia plants for hummingbirds, butterflies

These heat tolerant honeysuckle plants did well even in full desert sun as long as they received their daily water.

native arizona honeysuckle
Lonicera arizonica Arizona honeysuckle

In the photo above is Lonicera arizonica which is a native Arizona Honeysuckle.  It is a perennial vine or shrub that you find in the open at elevations of 6,000 – 9,000 feet.  According to Northern Arizona University, this native honeysuckle was used by Native Americans to cleanse the bowels.  Navajo tribes used the leaves of the Lonicera arizonica  to induce vomiting.  Can I eat the red berries from the Arizona honeysuckle?  Yes you can eat the berries but it will have a purgative effect.

The best time to see the Saguaro cactus bloom

The saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea, is the largest cactus in the United States and native to Arizona. In 1931 the opulent white blossom of the Saguaro Cactus was designated as Arizona’s state flower. The best time of year to see these cactus bloom is April through June.

flower buds on desert cactus
large white flowers on the saguaro cactus

The Saguaro cacti mainly grow in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.  When a Saguaro cactus reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce blossoms.  Amassed near the ends of the branches, the green buds bloom into milky-white flowers. The Saguaro flower blooms after sunset and last only one day.

Arizona state flower
Saguaro Cactus Blossom

At the top of the flower tube is a compact group of yellow stamens. The saguaro cactus has more stamen on its flower than any other cactus.  If conditions have been favorable for the Saguaro you could see hundreds of blossoms on a cactus.

Arizona state flower
yellow stamen inside the Saguaro Cactus flower

Pollinators like birds, insects, and bats are attracted to the nectar that collects at the bottom of the flower’s 4 inch tube.  A Saguaro blossom can only be fertilized by cross-pollination.

Tucson Arizona saguaro blossom
yellow stamen inside the creamy white Saguaro flower

Only a few Saguaro flowers bloom each night and close by late morning; thus, giving a greater opportunity for pollination.

Arizona state flowers
white cactus flower attracts birds

This elegant desert pageant occurs for about 2 months. From living in this area, we have to say it is hard to decide the exact dates but end of April to mid June would be notable.

 Gila woodpecker inside the saguaro flower

bird pollinating the Saguaro cactus blossom

pollinated Saguaro Cactus red fruit
Red fruit of the Saguaro Cactus

Pollinated flowers form a vivid red fruit filled with thousands of black seeds.  The fruit is eaten and digested through which its dispersed throughout the desert.

Can I cut my yucca plant? Trimming your Yucca

Yucca is an evergreen, perennial plant with spine-tipped leaves that grow in a rosette around a thick central stem.  More than 25 species of Yucca live in the arid regions of the southwest.  One of the finest aspects of this desert plant is that it is low maintenance.

yucca cactus and desert plants
yucca revechonii desert plant

If its craggy look doesn’t bother you then it is not even necessary to prune it.

white flowers on yucca plant
Torrey yucca species

 

desert yucca plants cactus
blooming yucca plants on Arizona highways

Trimming the Yucca plant is commonplace,  especially for ornamental purposes.  The best time to prune those rugged leaves is spring.  While early spring is the ideal season, a yucca can be trimmed anytime. Just make sure the yucca plant gets plenty of light while it is recovering.

desert cactus round with blue gray blades leaves
Yucca rigida, blue yucca desert plant

Cutting back a yucca may look harsh, but it is an attractive way to keep your plant manageable.   When the Yucca completes flowering cut the stalk all the way to the ground with a sharp pair of lopping shears.  To prevent cuts and scratches, wear heavy garden gloves.

cut back my yucca
the trimmed bottom of a desert yucca plant

Keep in mind that cutting the top off the yucca encourages the root system to push up new growth and more plants, called “pups” will appear.  Hire professionals to do your yucca trimming if you are short on time.

large stalks with cream white flowers
creamy white Yucca flowers

Tidbits:  The Apache Indians preferred the flowers of Yucca elata, a thin-leaf yucca, to those of the thick-leaf banana yucca. We know that  these flowers were eaten thousands of years ago because unusually large amounts of yucca pollen have been found in some dried human feces collected from Hinds Cave.

What is a Century Plant? Maguey – aka Agave Americana Plant

Maguey or Agave americana is a native plant from Mexico, but is now cultivated in many parts of the world. This drought tolerant plant, also known by the name century plant or American aloe, is neither an aloe nor a cactus, but pertains to the Agavaceae family.  The unique architectural Agave is one of the best xeriscape plants for your garden.

several species of Agave

 

agave cactus good for containers pots
Blue Glow Agave looks like a flower

Maguey Plant is one of the many species of agave plants (commonly called cactus)  that exist in the Americas. They grow in semi-arid environments from sea level to an altitude of about 9000 feet.

The largest Century Plant in the World

Above, is one of the largest Agave Americana Plants, Maguey Plant or Century Plants in the world.  (photo courtesy of statesman.com)

In ancient Mesoamerica, (Middle America), maguey or agave, was first collected and then cultivated for many uses.  Native people used the agave leaves to make ropes, construction materials and textiles.  See the picture below of Agave felgeri, also called Mescalito.  Mescalito is native to Mexico and is found in many desert gardens especially in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona.

Mescalito, Agave felgeri

 

pruned agave

Ancient Mayans used Agave thorns in bloodletting rituals, Royal Maya Blood Sacrifices to communicate with the gods. However, the most important product the Mayans obtained from maguey, agave,  was a mildly alcoholic beverage called pulque, obtained by the fermentation of the sweet, milky juice extracted from the agave plant.

100 year old cactus Century Plant
Agave Century Plant

Agave americana (aka Century Plant) is a massive plant.  There are many varieties of agave in cultivation, with some being excellent for smaller gardens or pots, and some being too large; therefore used for botanical gardens or ranches.

different cactus agave species
Agave potatorum Kichiokan

 

cactus plant for making tequila
Tequila Blue Agave

 

century cactus plant with blooms
smaller species of Agave americana

Agaves are called century plants since some species take 100 years to flower in the wild. However, in cultivation with adequate summer moisture, most agaves flower between 10 and 15 years of age.  When they do flower, the tall bloom stalks attract many hummingbirds!

the cactus that dies after it blooms
century plant, agave cactus in the desert

See the photo below of a field in Jalisco, Mexico, overflowing with blue agave plants, ripe for harvesting and used in tequila production.

cactus used for tequila
Blue Agave Field used to make Tequila alcohol

Agave americana grows wild in Europe, India, Australia and South Africa.  It has become naturalized in many areas such as California.  In southern California there are massive plantings of Agave american, Century Plants, along the highways.  This Century Plant, Agave american, is a common species of agave that is beautiful but very aggressive.  Many gardens in California and Mexico use Agave americana as a living fence.

stalk of the century cactus plant
bottom of a century plant, Agave americana

When Century plants or other agave cactus are grown in pots, they will grow to the size of the container.  Please note that containerized century plants must be brought indoors when temperatures drop below freezing.  Below is one of our agaves growing in a pot next to other cacti.  Two Maguey, Agave americanas are in the top right of the picture below.

blue glow agave in a container