Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
June, 2003
Regional Report

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Slipper plant looks especially intriguing when lit at night.

We Can Grow Dr. Seuss Plants!

Desert gardeners can grow some of the most intriguing plants in the world. Plants may have bizarre or contorted shapes that look like something Dr. Seuss invented to go with various Hortons or Sneetches. Many succulents act as strong structural accents in the landscape, providing height and a focal point for the eye. Their shadows dancing against walls add another dimension to the garden, and the plants look especially intriguing when lit at night.

Succulents are easy to grow as long as they are in the proper sun exposure and are not overwatered. Some will take full blazing sun with no problem; others need protection from the hot afternoon sun, or filtered light from a shade tree. Most problems occur when the soil is too wet and their root systems rot. Plant in well-draining soil and allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering again. Here are a few of my favorite succulents.

Euphorbia rigida
This perennial succulent provides an unusual color twist in the garden. Its leaves are grayish green, but flower clusters at the tips of the leaves provide a vivid splash of chartreuse when in bloom. It grows in a clump, usually no wider than 2 or 3 feet and 2 feet high. It takes full sun, although it can benefit from afternoon protection in the hottest climates.

Euphorbia antisyphilitica features 2-foot stems that grow in a clump, resembling a skinny patch of reeds. It takes full sun and is very drought tolerant. Tiny pink flowers appear in summer.

Fouquieria splendens is one of the signature plants of the Sonoran Desert. Whip-like canes covered with thorns grow 15 feet tall, with the entire plant spreading 10 or more feet across. Intensely green foliage appears shortly after rains but drops completely as a survival mechanism during drought. Then the plant appears dead, but it will burst forth with greenery again when conditions are to its liking. It can be unpredictable in the landscape, its lack of foliage lasting a year or more, frustrating the homeowner. However, even the bare branches are starkly beautiful. I enjoy watching a hummingbird use mine as a perch. Hummingbirds don't sit still often, so the bareness of the ocotillo doesn't faze me. In spring, vivid orange flowers cluster at the tips of the branches, attracting hummingbirds in droves.

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