Pomegranate is #1 in our TOP 10 Heat Resistant Plants!

The bountiful pomegranate tree is native to the Mediterranean region which has similar growing conditions as the Arizona Sonoran Desert.  Pomegranates thrive in the drier climates of California and Arizona.  As a matter of fact, in 2009 the first commercial pomegranate farm started in Arizona. This fruit tree seems satisfied with our alkaline soil and experiences no deficiencies!

punica granatum red fruit
Pomegranate tree

Although the pomegranate originated in Iran, ancient records show it is one of the oldest known cultivated fruits.  Biblical Archaeologists discovered fruit such as the pomegranate,  was much more than a food; it had symbolic significance for the Ancient Israelites.  The antiquated Greeks believed pomegranate juice was the “symbol of love”.  The botanical name for pomegranate is Punica granatum belonging to the family Lythraceae. P. granatum has more than 500 cultivars.  In 1769, the pomegranate was introduced into California by Spanish Settlers.

fruit of love pomegranate
Juicy pomegranate seeds

In the sizzling, sunniest area of our yard we now have five pomegranate trees, shrubs ranging from six months to six years old.  “Wonderful” is our cultivar and is also the most common cultivar for Arizona.  Recently,  we had record temperatures of 113 degrees F; with higher temps forecasted for next week.  There was some vexing over the younger plants, but it proved to be unnecessary.  We are delighted to report our Punica granatum flourished in the extreme desert heat!

leaves of the pomegranate
Pomegranate seedlings 3 months old

The adamant pomegranate is drought tolerant and does best with well-drained soil, semi-arid climates and plant hardiness zones 8 to 10.  The fruit is adversely affected in wetter climates along with the plant becoming prone to root decay.  Tolerant to frost down to 20 degrees F.  Easy to grow, this deciduous tree can mature to 30 feet; but it is more common to see pomegranates at 12 – 15 feet.

p granatum blossoms flower
bright red pomegranate flowers

The leaves of Punica granatum are glossy, narrow, lance-shaped and deer resistant.  The lavish flowers are bright orange-red with a fleshy tubular calyx.  Some cultivars are grown for their flowers alone and used as ornamental trees.

red seeds in pomegranate
white membrane inside of a pomegranate

Pomegranate fruit is a berry filled with seeds numbering 200 to 1,400.  The seeds are in a white, spongy, acidic membrane.  The outer skin is a tough , leathery texture.

red pomegranate
ripe pomegranate

HARVEST:

The fruit is ripe when it reaches its distinctive color and it makes a metallic sound when tapped.  Overripe fruit will begin to crack and the seeds will become harder.

pomegranate fruit
over-ripe pomegranate with cracks

EATING:

The easiest way to eat a p. granatum is to use a bowl of water to separate the seeds.  The seeds sink and the white membrane floats.

seeds of p granatum
sliced pomegranate fruit

Slice the fruit in half and then hold it upside down and beat gently with a wooden spoon so the seeds drop down in the water.

flowering desert shrubs red
Pomegranate is a heat resistant plant

Another reason Pomegranates ranked #1 on our list:

  • This fruit has potent anti-inflammatory properties!  Numerous pomegranate studies have been achieved and the evidence shows its wide range health benefits.  Our next article will contain information on those studies and one of the most healthiest fruits on earth, “THE POMEGRANATE” !!
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Journey inside Colossal Cave – Arizona’s dormant cave

Before entering Colossal Cave it was essential to educate ourselves and obtain some “cave basics”.  The facts and information we learned about limestone caves made our trip profoundly interesting!

Colossal Cave is an archaic KARST CAVE (meaning erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams).

Colossal Cave is a Karst cave
Karst region

Karst caves have 3 categories:  limestone, gypsum and quartzite.

Colossal Cave is limestone and considered dormant, “dry”.  A dry cave is without drips of water, streams or pools.  How was the cave formed?  Here is a short, simple answer:

  • Precipitation mixes with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and decaying organic material in the soil.
  • When Carbon dioxide is dissolved in water it forms carbonic acid. The carbonic acid begins to form holes in rocks, seeps into crevices and dissolves the rocks, especially limestone; but very slowly.  (Thousands of years)
    rock crevices and joints.
  • Cavities form and further sculpting can occur from water and chemical weathering.
  • After passing through limestone, the acid water contains a dis-solvable calcium carbonate.  As this solution de-gases through exposure to air by way of splashing, dripping or flowing, it loses carbon dioxide and deposits a solid mineral called calcite.
  • Calcite is the main mineral component in CAVE FORMATIONS, (speleothems).
Calcite, which gets its name from “chalix” the Greek word for lime, is a most amazing and yet, most common mineral. – See more at: http://www.galleries.com/Calcite#sthash.7JQ91AJ6.dpuf

The SPELEOTHEMS in Colossal Cave no longer grow. This cave formed by water depositing limestone that has NOW disappeared.  Close by, in the same mountain park, are Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves with active growing formations.

dormant speleothems in Colossal Cave
crystallized calcium carbonate formations

The most abundant mineral in limestone is calcite (calcium carbonate).  The majority of limestone formed on ANCIENT ocean floors.

Calcite is a main component used by echinoderms, like sea urchins, starfish, and sand dollars to make their spines and skeletons.  Calcium carbonate (calcite),  is found in the shells of marine organisms and truly is one of the MOST abundant minerals on earth!

In the marine environment, if the conditions are right, calcite is stable enough that it can cement together sediments and overtime make limestone.

calcite in the ocean water
limestone towers in the Atlantic ocean

On occasion another element may be present while calcite is being formed (ex: magnesium) and take the place of a calcium atom.

A less stable aragonite is a polymorph of calcite. They are both calcium carbonate but have different crystal shapes and symmetries.  The calcium, oxygen and carbon atoms in aragonite bond together differently creating a unique crystal structure.

Ok this is plenty of background information so now journey with us to Colossal Cave Mountain Park!

what to do in Tucson
The retaining wall and Visitor’s Center at Colossal Cave

The elevation of Colossal Cave Mountain Park is about 3,500 feet.  The temperature of the cave averages 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  No extra clothing is needed but feel free to carry water or a camera.

Colossal Cave in Vail, Arizona
walkway outside of Colossal Cave entrance

Frank Schmidt was monumental in the improvements and preservation of Colossal Cave by handing over his leases to the State of Arizona.  You can find information and historical photographs at La Posta Quemada Ranch Museum.

preserved Colossal Cave
Frank Schmidt statue at the cave

 

good picnics and kids activities at this Tucson park
bring the family and spend the day at this Arizona park

In 1879, Solomon Lick, the owner of the nearby hotel, was searching for stray cattle and discovered the entrance to this cave.

Arizona historical sites to see
professional guides take you through this historical landmark

Thousands of years ago Colossal Cave was used by Hohokam, Sobaipure and Apache Indians.  Travel down the road to the ranch museum for a fascinating display.

must see historical sites in Tucson, AZ
Colossal Cave has 363 steps

Most crystals are found in areas, like caves, because they take thousands of years to grow.  The growth continues until the saturation is stopped or the cave dries out.  Most crystals in a cave are calcite or aragonite.

visotors must see in Tucson, Arizona
calcite in the cave

Your tour guide will tell the story of the bandits who hid out in Colossal Cave.  These outlaws even played cards in the Colossal Cave Living Room. Legend has it that the gold from the train robbers is still inside the cave!

Stay with the tour group.  Our guide really wasn’t kidding when she said the group might go left and you’ll go right and be lost for hours in Colossal Cave.

Tectonic activity is noticeable.  Your guide will point out a fault in the earth’s crust.

Colossal Cave spelunking
Fault lines inside the cave

Cave’s formations, speleothems, are created by the same water that dissolved the calcite in the limestone —- then deposited the calcite in other areas of the cave.

historical caves in Arizona
stalagmites and stalactites in Colossal Cave

Stalactites – “c” for ceiling – hang from the top of caves like icicles

stalagmites and stalactites
cave formations with labels

Stalagmites – “g” for ground – emerge from the ground like a traffic cone

Because Colossal Cave is DRY;  the appearance of these speleothems is different than living caves.

Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
 cave
our wonderful tour guide at Colossal Cave
FDR's Conservation Corp
Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt

In the 1930’s, a Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt worked tirelessly building the retaining wall outside and improving the inside of Colossal Cave.

The CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, constructed the stairs, bridges and handrails.

Colossal Cave repairs and protection
Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, helping Colossal Cave

While visiting this cave do adventure down the road to La Posta Quemada Ranch.

what to do in Tucson, Arizona
visit the historical Ranch at Colossal Cave Park

Colossal Cave and the historic La Posta Quemada Ranch are listed on the National Historic Register.  When you visit be sure to enjoy a Desert Spoon Burger!

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

Mourning Dove Eggs – How long for dove eggs to hatch?

mourning dove nest
Mourning Dove eggs!

How long does it take for mourning dove eggs to hatch?  The dove eggs will be incubated for 14-15 days; by both the male and the female doves. It takes about the same time for the young doves to leave the nest. The baby doves are fed regurgitated pigeon milk by both parents, and they grow and develop rapidly.

tiny baby birds in nest
dove eggs hatched, baby doves

Mourning Dove breeding season is April – July although some may breed as late as October.  Even in southern Arizona, nesting is essentially over by mid-August, and some of the early hatched Dove juveniles have already migrated by late July.

birds in Arizona
Mourning Doves, Turtle Doves

By the first week of September, the migration of most nesting populations is usually underway;  the juvenile birds typically leaving before the adults.

Beginning as early as March, these birds build a loose nest of twigs, grass, weeds and pine needles. The male dove carries twigs to the female dove who then weaves a flimsy nest of grass stems and twigs to lay her eggs.

mourning dove baby in nest
baby doves are called squabs

Mourning Doves, commonly called Turtle Doves, are one of the most adaptable, widespread North American birds. It is also the leading game bird for sport and meat. Doves are strong fliers and can reach speeds of 55 mph (88 km/h).

These doves occur from the lowest elevations along the Colorado River upward through forests of ponderosa pines to 8,500 feet. Their staple foods throughout the year are primarily small seeds and cultivated grains. In the Sonoran Desert the woeful call of breeding males can be heard as early as February, and pairs have been known to attempt as many as seven nestings in a single season.

baby doves left in the nest
mourning dove squabs 11 days old

During the blooming season of the Saguaro cacti it is typical to see White-winged doves (pictured below) eating the fruits of the giant Saguaro Cactus.

white wing
white winged dove on a saguaro cactus

Although still ranked as one of Arizona’s two most important game birds, dove hunting has since fallen off due to urban expansion, changing farm practices, and more restrictive season arrangements.

male mourning dove nest
male mourning dove caring for its young

Arizona Game and Fish Department, http://www.azgfd.gov/h_f/hunt-info/dove/dove.shtml – When it comes to the early dove season, the hot action will typically be near agricultural areas with grain type crops growing or recently cut. While Arizona is well known for its cotton, the state also produces corn, sorghum, melons, barley, and even wheat – all great dove attractants.  Dove hunting is a very popular tradition, and Arizona has more than 30,000 participate each year.

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.

Quick Yucca Facts

Quick facts:  Yucca is a category of trees and shrubs that are members of the Asparagaceae family. It is an evergreen plant which does not annually shed its leaves. The long, narrow and pointed leaves of the Yucca grow in a cluster along the stem.  Agave and Yucca are similar and belong to the same subfamily, Agavoideae.

tall yucca cactus plant
Yucca plant called the Joshua tree

From the center of this leaf cluster grows a cluster of bell shaped flowers. The edges of the leaves tend to be razor sharp, and the flowers are whitish-green, white or cream colored. In the evening some yucca blossoms open and emit a strong fragrance.

Yuccas come from the deserts and plains of southern North and Central America and with their stiff, leathery leaves and panicles of creamy white flowers, they make great architectural plants.

yucca cactus tree with spike leaves
large Yucca desert tree

The yucca plant produces a fleshy or dry fruit. It is a large fruit that contains numerous small, flat, ebony colored seeds. The Native Americans ate the yucca’s fruit during the winter months, after first preserving it by drying. The Native Americans also made fermented beverages from the yucca fruit. The appearance of the yucca fruit varies by the type of yucca plant. Some resemble a green egg plant, and others look like wrinkled bell peppers.

Yucca plants grow in parts of the Caribbean, in the southern and southwestern parts of the United States and in Mexico’s desert highlands and plateaus. While most of the plants are shrubs, there are some tree varieties, such as the Joshua tree. A large collection of yucca plants grow at the Joshua Tree National Park in the Southern California desert. The Joshua Tree National Park includes over 800,000 acres, and is under the National Park’s authority.

Native Americans found many uses for the yucca plant. From the leaf fibers they made baskets, sandals, ropes and mats. They utilized the fruit as food and to make drinks. They even ate the flowers from the yucca, which were either boiled or eaten raw. From the stems and roots of the yucca they made soap. Today yucca plants are used as decorative yard foliage and as bordering plants.

Yucca trees are known for being quite tall, although they can be grown indoors if you trim them back often.

desert plant yucca in pots
growing a yucca plant in pots

If you are growing a yucca tree indoors, repot your yucca cane when it becomes top heavy or its roots stick out of the drainage hole at the bottom of its container.

These Yucca trees are quite strong as well, so you don’t need to worry about damaging them when pruning and trimming. Pruning yucca trees is a simple and straightforward process. Because the yucca tree is a cane plant, pruning is synonymous with cutting the trunk.

arizona yucca cactus plant
Yucca Blooms

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.

How to grow Cactus from cuttings – propagating cactus – roots and planting

Propagating cacti is very easy.  First gather the cactus cuttings from the parent plants.    Make sure your knife is clean and sharp before cutting your cactus.  For paddle cacti a single pad makes a good cutting.

propagating cactus paddles grow cactus
items needed to cut and grow cactus

For branching cacti, be sure the cutting is taken from a joint on the mother plant. Cutting on a diagonal angle is beneficial to the mother cactus so water doesn’t pool on the healed cut.  Never handle a cactus with your hands.

grow your own cactus plants prickly pear
air drying your cactus cuttings

To grow a successful cactus you MUST let the fresh cutting callus over and heal.  Place them in a dry, warm place for up to 2 weeks.  The larger the cut surface is, the longer it needs to dry.  This may sound extreme but remember cactus are drought tolerant.  If you choose to use a rooting hormone make sure it is powder!  Do not let your cactus cuttings get moist or wet.

grow cacti and cactus plants
waiting for cacti cuttings to form a callus

It is easiest for your cactus cuttings to root during warm weather.  According to the University of Arizona, the best time to propagate your cacti is during August & September when the soil temperatures are warm and conducive to rooting.  Some shade is best for rooting and will prevent your cactus cuttings from sunburn.

grow cactus plants from cut
cactus plants form a callus over the cut

Pick a good container with drainage holes for your callused cactus cutting.

pipe cactus plants with roots
organ pipe cacti cuttings have healed and started roots

When planting your cactus use a well drained soil mixture designed specifically for cacti. Plant the cutting about 2 inches deep and pack the soil around the cactus.  I also use small rocks to help keep the cuttings from falling over.  Wait about 2 weeks to water; then soak the cactus well and let it dry out another 2 weeks.   The biggest problem for growing cactus is over-watering.   Too much water causes the roots to rot.

grow cactus plant from cut
Prickly Pear cactus plant from cutting

The photo above is a prickly pear cutting that I planted in well draining soil in southern Arizona.  I’m starting a cacti garden on a rocky hill using different species of cactus cuttings.

Cactus are dormant during winter.  Do not water a cactus during cold weather unless it looks shriveled.

Mourning Doves are building their nest

It is spring and the male mourning dove labors hard to set up his territory.   When this male bird is ready to mate, he circles in a courtship flight and chases other doves from the area he desires to nest.

To attract a female mourning dove, this determined handsome bird perches in an open area and sings a “passionate” coo sound that is louder than his usual call.

difference of male and female doves
Male Mourning Dove

The Coooo bird call is mostly voiced by the male mourning dove and not the female. Once he has charmed a mate, the doves pair for life.

To hear the dove’s coooOOO sound, click on the short YouTube video below:

Doves mate primarily from spring to fall but are able to mate year round and produce several clutches of young.  These love birds are tranquil and elegant. 
doves birds mate
Mourning Doves seem to be the true love birds
  **Unfortunately, the Mourning Dove Nest can hardly be called a “nest” – generally these beautiful birds just throw a few twigs somewhere and begin setting up their flimsy nest.
tan bird with spots
dove nest on our porch

The nest is constructed over the course of 2-4 days with the male and female mourning doves working together.

bird nest with 2 eggs
mourning dove nest with 2 white eggs

With a hanging basket on our porch, it didn’t take long before a couple of mourning doves took up residence.  AKA Turtle Doves have been known to reuse the same nest over and over. Commonly raising 2 – 3 broods per season.  Researchers found that the basics for constructing the bird nest are mainly instinctive, but birds can improve their skills with experience.

flimsy bird nest with twigs and white eggs
when do the 2 dove eggs hatch?

So, you spotted a dove’s nest with two milky white eggs.  When will the dove eggs hatch?  The incubation period for Mourning Dove eggs is 14-15 days. Then another 2 weeks for the squabs to leave the nest.

One white egg is laid in the evening, and the female dove lays the second egg in the morning.

dove bird nest two eggs
Mourning Dove’s Nest with 2 white eggs

The day shift is handled by the male dove and the female incubate during the night shift.  If you do not see the doves change shifts, it can seem that the same dove has been on the nest the entire time. 

***In our experience, we have seen the male and female doves change places around sunrise and sunset.

The dove chick, “hatchling”, squab pictured below is one day old.  Both eyes on the newborn bird are closed.

one day old baby bird
a newborn baby dove is called a squab
two baby birds in a nest
2 to 3 day old dove newborn

Males and female doves work together to feed their newborns crop milk or “pigeon milk” for the first few days of their life. The dove’s Crop Milk is rich in fat and protein.  Adult mourning doves secrete the milk and regurgitate it to their little ones.

The dove parent opens its mouth wide permitting the nestling to stick its head inside to feed on the nutritious food.

mourning dove in the nest
The Male dove daddy caring for his squab

How do you tell if the male or female dove is in the nest?

With a trained eye you will be able to tell the difference.  Male Mourning Doves have a bluish crown and nape, and a rose wash to the throat and breast.  The crown and nape of the female dove is grayish brown, and the throat and breast has a brown or tan wash.

dove nest with 3 birds
female mourning dove with her squabs
Mourning Dove Nestlings will fledge in about 12-14 days. The bird parents continue to care for the dove fledglings for about another 16-20 days.

**Please NOTE:   Doves are more flighty than other birds and may abandon the eggs or nest if you bother them too much.

Blue Weber Agave is used to make the best tequila!

Texas is the third-largest market for tequila in America!  The tequila Blue Agave flourishes in volcanic soil in Guadalajara making Jalisco, Mexico the birthplace of Tequila. The volcanic soil surrounding Jalisco is perfectly suited for growing blue agave plants, AKA “Tequila Cactus”.  Over 300 million agave plants are harvested in Jalisco for tequila each year.

tequila blue agave plant
farming blue agave for tequila

Agave nectar and tequila are made from the sap of piñas, (the heart) of the plant. Although the agave shares a common habitat with different cactus it has a different life cycle and is not a species of cacti.  A mature agave has leaves 5-8 feet tall!  It has a lifespan of 10 -15 years, depending on the agave species, growing conditions, and climate.

agave cactus used for tequila
agave field for making tequila

Harvesting the agave is pretty simple:

  • The leaves are removed from the agave base.
  • The base is then taken to a facility where it is heated in a giant pressure cooker which gets the juices flowing.
  • This heating breaks down the complex starches of the agave into simple sugars.  (What is left of the baked piñas, agave base, can be used as compost or animal feed).
  • The extracted agave juice is then poured into either large wood or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment, resulting in a low alcohol content.
  • It is then distilled once to produce what is called “ordinario,” and then a second time to produce clear silver tequila.

There are many species of agave in Mexico, of which the blue agave – Agave tequilana weber azul – is the only one allowed for use in tequila production.  Blue agave is considered to be the finest agave in the world.

blue agave base
base of the agave used for tequila

The workers regularly trim the flowering stalks that grow in the center.  This trimming prevents the agave from dying early and allows it to fully ripen at the base. The jimadores, harvesters,  must be able to tell when each plant is ready to be harvested; and using a special knife, they carefully cut away the leaves from the piña (the succulent core of the plant).

If harvested too late or too early, the piñas, will not have the right amount of carbohydrates for fermentation.

agave for tequila
sexy harvester for tequila

Grown and nourished for 10 – 12 years in the red volcanic soils of Jalisco, Weber Blue Agave is harvested only at the peak of maturity to ensure sweet perfection!

Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word “tequila”, threatening legal action against manufacturers of distilled blue agave spirits in other countries.

Although some tequilas have remained as family owned brands; most well-known tequila brands are owned by large multinational corporations.  Due to this, each bottle of tequila contains a serial number (NOM) depicting in which distillery the tequila was produced.

The NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana) governs all processes and activities related to the supply of agave, production, bottling, marketing, information and business practices linked to the alcoholic beverage known as Tequila.

Tequila with a worm in the bottle is from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

worm in tequila
worm larva in cheap tequila

The worm is actually a larval from the agave plant and it indicates an INFESTATION and a product of lower quality.

The top 3 – Best Tequilas in the World are:

1. Casa Noble 100% Blue Agave Ultra Premium Tequila – is hard to get.

Casa Noble 100% Blue Agave
Casa Noble 100% Blue Agave

2. Don Eduardo Anejo or blanco Tequila

Patron Silver Tequila
Patron Silver Tequila

3. Patron silver Tequila – pricey but worth the quality

In Mexico, the most traditional way to drink tequila is straight without a lime or salt.  A large variety of drinks involve tequila; most famous being the MARGARITA.  This cocktail made tequila famous in the United States!

Here is the best Pomegranate Margarita Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice, store bought is fine
  • 1/3 cup Tequila  (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/8 cup Triple Sec  (about 1-ounce)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 ounces)
  • 12 ounces ice cubes
  • Margarita salt, optional

pom margarita

Directions

Combine all ingredients, except salt, in a blender and pulse until frothy and well combined. Rim glasses with lime juice using a lime wedge then dip in margarita salt, drop some fresh pomegranate seeds in the bottom of the glass and pour margarita mix over the top.

ENJOY!

 

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.