Dec
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Plant of the Month

Ocotillo
Fouquieria splendens

 

  • Plant Form: Deciduous succulent shrub
  • Water Use: Very low, low
  • Mature Size: 8-20 ft. tall x 5-10 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full sun, reflected sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (March – May),
    Summer (June – Aug)
  • Native to: Southern California, southwest US, Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 0-10°F

Do you need a striking accent plant for your yard, or a living sculptural shape to light up at night against a wall for interesting shadows? Ocotillo is waiting for your discovery. This extremely water-wise, drought-tolerant California native plant produces orange-red flowers that hummingbirds and orioles can’t resist…and that will make your yard pop with vibrant color from spring to summer.

Ocotillo is an iconic symbol of the southwest that forms a vase-shaped shrub with up to 100 wand-like, thorny stems that radiate from the crown. Small, oval, fleshy leaves appear after rain, persisting for weeks or even months, then fall off during drought. Bright orange-red, tubular flowers form on the tips of each cane that attract hummingbirds and orioles in late spring and early summer. While bare-root plants are available from nurseries, potted plants are more reliable (always check for legal tags and permits). Water newly-planted ocotillos frequently by lightly spraying the canes from top to bottom during summer months. No added water is needed once established, but leaves can be retained by watering twice a month over the summer. Ocotillo is stunning as an accent, especially when lit up in front of a wall, or for interesting vertical structure as a specimen, in beds and borders, hummingbird and bird gardens, or as an impenetrable hedge.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for December

Desert Broom, Broom Baccharis
Baccharis sarothroides

  • Plant Form: Semi-deciduous shrub
  • Water Use: Very low
  • Mature Size: 6-12 ft. tall x 6-7 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Summer (June – August), Fall (September – October)
  • Native to: Southern California, southwest US, Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F

Looking for a fast-growing privacy screen or hedge that takes almost no water? This could be your plant! This water-wise, drought-tolerant California native plant looks green all year, and can be trimmed to almost any height you want, from 2-3 feet tall up to 12 feet high.

Desert Broom has branches that are so green, you won’t notice that it drops its small, narrow leaves during drought, making this rounded shrub look like a giant, green broom. This fast-growing, bright green shrub provides great cover for birds and wildlife in naturalistic landscapes, and can create an extremely low-water-use privacy screen or hedge. Male and female flowers are on separate plants. Tolerant of sun, heat, cold, poor soils, and drought, this easy-to-grow California native has only one possible fault: prolific fluffy seeds from female plants. Ask for male plants to prevent unwanted seedlings.  Prune in fall to shape and refresh for an improved appearance. While plants may grow 6-7 feet tall (even up to 12 feet), they can be clipped to 2-3 feet. Desert Broom is useful for bank and slope stabilization, erosion control, privacy screens, hedges, windbreaks, and barriers, as well as in habitat restoration, butterfly, bee, and bird gardens, and in cottage and Mediterranean gardens.

 

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for November

Desert Wild Grape
Vitis girdiana

  • Plant Form: Deciduous vine
  • Water Use: Low, moderate
  • Mature Size: 10-30 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun, part shade
  • Bloom Time: Spring (March – May), Summer (June – August)
  • Native to: Southern California, California Channel Islands
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 0°F

If you are looking for a shade-producing, heat-tolerant, cold-tolerant, fast-growing vine, this is your answer. Desert Wild Grape uses curling tendrils to attach itself to an arbor, ramada, trellis, or fence, and produces small but edible grapes, more filling for birds than humans.

Desert Wild Grape is a fast-growing, deciduous vine that produces small but edible black grapes for birds and people. The silvery-green foliage turns color and drops in winter, but the persistent tendrils remain wrapped around structures it has climbed onto for support. This southern California native is very easy to grow, is heat tolerant, and is a great bird plant for all berry-eating birds of summer. After it becomes established, water deeply just once a month. Prune in winter when it is leafless to train its shape; in spring and summer you may prune any wayward stems at any time. Desert Grape is wonderful on shade structures like arbors, ramadas, or pergolas to create a cool, shady, summer retreat in western gardens. Train to grow up a trellis, fence, arbor, or wall for summer shade, or allow to grow as a groundcover.

 

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for October

Deer Grass
Muhlenbergia rigens

  • Plant Form: Ornamental Grass
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 2-6 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun, part sun
  • Bloom Time: Fall (September – November)
  • Native to: California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, northern Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to -10°F

This fast-growing, low-maintenance, California native bunchgrass fits beautifully into so many landscapes, from walkways, road edges and medians to rock gardens and wall toppers, where it gracefully droops over ledges.

Deer Grass is an adaptable, large bunch grass with blue-green foliage that softens desert landscapes wherever it is planted. Fast-growing, it typically reaches mature size in one or two years, with leaves reaching lengths of three feet, and flowering stalks reaching up to five feet. It is one of the most beautiful and easiest to grow of all the native California bunchgrasses. Once mature, it needs no supplemental water, but providing summer water will keep its foliage lush. Cut back in late winter for vigorous spring growth, or leave natural for wildlife cover. Deer Grass gets its common name not from deer preferring its foliage as a browse plant, but because deer like to lay on mounds of the grass. Native Americans prized this plant for the long stems of its inflorescence, which they used in their basketry. Deer Grass is versatile as an accent, grouped as a groundcover, in rock gardens, along walkways and roads, or to droop over walls.

 

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for September

Desert Senna
Senna armata

  • Plant Form: Shrub
  • Water Use: Very low
  • Mature Size: 2-3 ft. tall x 2-4 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (April-May), Summer (June – July)
  • Native to: California, Arizona, Nevada, Baja California
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F

Desert Senna grows shyly as a tight mass of green stems in your garden until spring and early summer, when it bursts out with masses of yellow flowers that will knock your socks off, attracting pollinators from all around the landscape.

Desert Senna is one of those surprising plants that almost disappears into the landscape until it bursts into bloom with an explosion of flowers that can cover almost every inch of the plant. Most of the year, Desert Senna is a tight collection of erect green and gray stems that add vertical texture to the landscape but fool many people into thinking it is dead. Its small leaflets in two to four pairs drop off soon after emerging, leaving its spine-tipped branches naked most of the year. Occasional water will tease out leaves again, but make sure not to overwater, and plant only in soil with excellent drainage. The bright yellow, fragrant blossoms from late spring to early summer attract butterflies, moths, other pollinators, and photographers.  Desert Senna adds spring color in a native or xeric garden, dry washes, butterfly and wildlife gardens, and rock gardens.

 

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for August

Jul
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Plant of the Month – July

Pencil Cholla
Cylindropuntia ramosissima

  • Plant Form: Cactus, succulent
  • Water Use: Extremely low, very low
  • Mature Size: 5-6 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (March-May)
  • Native to: California, Baja California, northwestern Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 10°F

Pencil Cholla provides a nearly maintenance-free, sculptural addition to your southwest garden while satisfying your native pollinators with its springtime flowers.

Pencil Cholla can be either erect and treelike, or trailing on the ground with rising branch tips. It also expresses its individuality in the number of spines it produces, with some plants having no spines, others sporting sparse spines, while still others are completely covered in long, thin spines. No matter their appearance, all Pencil Chollas have these things in common: they need very little or no added water or maintenance, they resist deer and rabbits, and the surface of their branches appears divided into flat, squarish or diamond-shaped tubercles – hence its other common name, Diamond Cholla. Its pink, orange, or brownish flowers attract butterflies and other beneficial pollinators. This fairly tidy cactus drops far fewer joints or dried fruit segments than other chollas, but it is still best when planted away from foot traffic. Use this cactus to add sculptural interest to rock gardens, bird and butterfly gardens, succulent gardens, and any southwest design landscape.

 

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for July