Plant of the Month

Beavertail is a maintenance-free cactus native to California and the west that adds spectacular color to southwest gardens with its hot-pink flowers in spring.

Beavertail Cactus
Opuntia basilaris

  • Plant Form: Cactus
  • Water Use: Extremely Low
  • Mature Size: 1-2 ft. tall x 3-6 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June)
  • Native to: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Mexico (below 7000 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 10°F

Beavertail Cactus has flattened pads that truly resemble their namesake. This slow-growing California native from both the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts is dotted with clusters of tiny spines called glochids, which are set into dimples across the pads (making the pads look like a beaver’s tail). A single plant may have hundreds of blue-gray, succulent, flattened pads, which can become wrinkled in summer, but plump after rains. Hot-pink flowers in spring are stunning–and are irresistible to beetles and other pollinators. Individual pads may be transplanted to extend plantings. While being extremely low-maintenance and easy to grow, it dislikes clay soils, acid soils, shade, and too much watering. Water rarely if at all. Always wear gloves when working with or around this beauty, and keep it away from pathways. Desert rodents and birds eat the tiny black seeds. This low-growing groundcover compliments and accents rock and succulent gardens, wildlife gardens, and dry washes.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for March



 March Garden Tasks

    Warm, mild weather this month prompts rapid growth of plants, as well as insect pests


Check aphids on new growth; wash off with strong jet of water -- or bring in ladybugs to help out!

Check aphids on new growth; wash off with a strong jet of water — or bring in ladybugs to help out!

~ Plant perennials as early as possible this month if you missed the fall planting season

~ Plant bare-root trees and shrubs through early March

~ Transplant Joshua trees and yuccas from March to mid-April

~ Reapply any mulch around plants removed by rain or wind

~ Replace batteries in your irrigation clocks when Daylight Savings Time starts

~ Teach your plants to grow deeply for moisture. In spring, for average soils, water deeply only every two to three weeks. By the time summer’s heat arrives, plants’ feeder roots will be growing deeply for moisture, and the plants won’t need watering more than once a week during very hot spells.

~ Check aphids on new growth; wash off with a strong jet of water

~ Get rid of weeds while they are small, especially before they reseed




Check out our featured “Plant of The Month” for March


Pick drought-tolerant plants

1. Pick drought-tolerant plants

STEP 1—Pick drought-tolerant plants.

Plants adapted to our climate of hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters will outperform plants from wetter, milder regions. Growing plants that are well-adapted to the extremes of our climate makes the best use of our water, time, and money. Visit local demonstration gardens to view beautiful examples and mature sizes of drought-tolerant plants adapted to our climate. Ask your local nursery which water-wise plants are available for your area, or check our new online “Plant Search” to find climate-adapted plants that will thrive in your area. Consider planting some native shrubs, trees, perennials and grasses that have evolved impressive water-saving strategies on their own (visit  the Power of Plants California Natives for High-Desert Yards for lists of star-performing native plants and how to grow them). Another “desert-wise” option is to select star-performing plants from other dry regions like the Mediterranean, Australia, and South Africa.

Plant in Fall or early Spring

2. Plant in Fall or early Spring

STEP 2—Plant in Fall, if possible, or early Spring.

Planting is best done from fall through early spring (from mid-October to early March). Avoid summer planting. During the fall, trees, shrubs, and perennials have very active root growth. In fact, up to 80% of the yearly root growth of these plants occurs in the fall, triggered by shorter daylight hours and cooler air temperatures while soils are still warm. Planting in fall saves water for many seasons to come. Roots that become well-established from fall through spring are already better prepared to withstand their first hot summer without frequent watering. A plant with an established root system resulting from a fall planting is ready and able to grow vigorously and flower heavily the following spring and summer. Plants need at least 6-8 weeks to re-establish their roots before the extreme heat of summer.

Group Plants by Water Need

3. Group Plants by Water Need

STEP 3—Group plants according to similar water needs.

Keeping plants together that need the same amount of water promotes healthy growth and strong root systems, and reduces the risk of over- or under-watering. Grouping plants into water-use zones allows you to focus water use where it is most beneficial to the beauty of your yard, and also greatly simplifies your irrigation. Keep plants that use the most water close to your house where they are most visible, and plants that use the least water around the outermost areas of your property. Examples of plants that make good water-use companions together are: Very low water use plants – Gopher Plant, Blackfoot Daisy, Palmer’s Penstemon, Damianita, Apache Plume, and Toyon; Low water use plants– Strawberry Tree, Rock Rose, Sandpaper Verbena, Autumn Sage, Artemisia, and French Lavender.

Train plants to grow deep roots with infrequent, deep soakings.

4. Train plants to grow deep roots with infrequent, deep soakings.

STEP 4—Train plants to grow deep roots with infrequent, deep soakings.

The deeper you encourage your plants’ roots to grow, the less often you need to water. If plants are irrigated often with only shallow water penetration into the soil, you train roots to stay close to the surface, where soils heat up daily and dry out quickly. Deep, infrequent watering trains roots to seek deeper soil depths for moisture, and allows you to water much less frequently. For even more water efficiency, install deep water sleeves of perforated PVC pipe into the soil at the drip line of your plants to water with your hose or irrigation emitters below the soil surface to reduce evaporation.

Install a drip irrigation system

5. Install a drip irrigation system

STEP 5—Install a drip irrigation system.

Tiny emitters attached to flexible tubing can direct water flow exactly where it’s needed—directly over the root-ball where your plants can absorb it. Water-saving devices can be very easy to install, and your water savings can start immediately. Home-improvement stores or your local nursery can help you get started.

Install a smart controller

6. Install a smart controller

STEP 6—Install a smart controller that monitors your local weather conditions and adjusts water schedules to match your soil texture and individual plant needs.

If you don’t have a smart controller, make sure to turn off or reset your timers manually to respond to rain or drought periods. Check the soil moisture around the root ball of your plants to determine when to irrigate again after rain.

Let nature help you save water

7. Let nature help you save water

STEP 7—Let nature help you save water with mulch and rainwater harvesting.

By adding a generous layer of mulch several inches thick around the base of plants, you can help cool the soil, reduce evaporation, and also deter weed growth A layer of gravel can also help retain moisture and reduce erosion. Keep as much rain on your property as possible by creating features to capture and direct water to your plants, instead of losing it down the driveway. Dry creek beds, earthen dams, and swales contain rainwater that can soak in and replenish soil moisture for your plants. Moisture that percolates deep into soil is a long-lasting treasure that your plants can tap into for months to come. You can also collect rainwater from downspouts in covered cisterns, especially ones with spigots to attach a hose for easy watering. It’s a great feeling to harvest today’s rain for tomorrow’s use.


California Native Landscaping

Enter the fascinating world of southwest desert plants

Through our series of workshops and classes, we invite you to enter into the captivating world of plants and their impressive uses. Experience the plants growing in your area’s natural community as you never have before…through taste, smell, touch, and stories.

Let us lead you through native gardens to witness the variety and beauty of native plants available to gardeners throughout the southwestern United States. Join us in exploring the ancient and modern uses of our native plants for medicine, tools, shelter, clothing, and food. Enjoy learning how to incorporate drought-tolerant native plants into your garden design for benefits you might not have imagined. Discover the fun of using native southwest desert plants for food, herbal remedies, landscape, and even art.

In our workshops and classes, you will learn which of California’s 4,800 native plants are perfectly suited for your particular yard, and which ones best serve as evergreen hedges, privacy screens, shade-giving trees, long-lived ground covers, erosion control, seasonal color, interesting vines, and striking specimen plants. Find out how to select, plant, irrigate, and care for a remarkable variety of attractive, drought-tolerant native plants. Read More


Water-Wise Landscaping

Water-Wise Landscaping DVD

Water-Wise Landscaping DVD

Available Now!

This engaging DVD, produced by The SummerTree Institute and featuring professional botanist Robin Kobaly, contains all the essential information you need to transform your High-Desert property into an enchanting, Water-Wise Landscape. You choose your path of discovery by selecting the topics within yard themes. This comprehensive DVD, with nearly four hours of hard-to-find expert information, covers the resources you will need to plan, design, plant, irrigate and maintain an attractive, drought-tolerant landscape.

To help you choose the right plants, you will find descriptions and growing tips for over 80 plants suited to high-desert gardens, all grouped by water-use themes.

Discover how you can create beautiful drought-tolerant landscaping in the high deserts of the Southwest with valuable tips and insider’s information. Robin leads you on this journey with fun demonstrations and real-life examples of yard solutions.

Here’s a sample:

Water-Wise Landscaping DVD

Special Features:

  • Yard Design
  • Understanding Soil and Mulch
  • Planting Tips
  • Irrigation
  • Maintaining a Healthy Landscape
  • Profiles of 84 Star-Performing Plants
  • Price: $20.00, plus $2.50 shipping – All proceeds go to The SummerTree Institute to help support outreach efforts and educational materials for the non-profit’s “Water-Wise Landscaping” programs. Visit for more program details.

Other Ways To Order:

To place an order with your credit card by phone, please call 760-363-1166.
Download the Water-Wise Landscaping DVD order form to mail a check or credit card information.

“All I can say is Wow! The presentation – Robin, the DVD –was simply superb…”
—Michael Stevens, Community Liaison Officer, Mojave Water Agency

“This DVD is absolutely a phenomenally crucial tool in educating the public…I’m so excited about this wonderful educational tool!”
—Marie Sovitsky, Publications Coordinator, Mojave Desert Resource Conservation District