Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
June, 2006
Regional Report

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Mourning dove alights on saguaro cactus.

Wildlife Bonanza

This spring and early summer my yard has provided an abundance of wildlife viewing, and I can watch from the comfort of an indoor armchair now that temperatures are in the triple digits. I've enjoyed two mourning dove nests (one in the fairy duster and a later arrival in the pink trumpet vine), a family of quail, and numerous lizards, including a virile fellow who likes to do his push-ups on the patio. Cactus wrens hop about in the prickly pear, and hummingbirds plunder salvia, penstemon, and aloe flowers in front of the window as I type. It's a wonder I get any work done, there's so much activity taking place just a glance away!

I was in the audience at a gardening talk recently where the speaker shared lists of plants that attract various birds. Afterwards, I heard an audience member state that she "wasn't interested in gardening for wildlife." I find such an attitude to be a jaw-dropper. Some people move here because they love the desert, but then display short-sighted attitudes when it comes to helping preserve it for future generations.

It really doesn't take any extra effort to plant for wildlife. I haven't done much work in years to create this wildlife bounty in my yard. Creatures come for the native or desert-adapted plants that I installed years ago. These plants need no input from me anymore. They thrive whether I am solicitous or absent. They don't need fertilizer or pruning. Penstemon self-sow, and aloe send up offshoots. My fairy duster provides nectar or seeds year-round, and I can't remember the last time I watered it.

Saguaro cactus is the Sonoran desert's signature plant, with its upraised arms and massive bearing. I've read about its importance to wildlife and seen the activity that surrounds it when I hike through the desert. But it was so satisfying to see it unfold from my kitchen window this spring, in the midst of urban development. This is just the second year that my cactus has bloomed, but it was loaded with flowers. I watched house finches, verdins, and mourning doves alight on the top of it to partake of nectar or consume pollinating insects that surrounded the flowers. I tried to catch some night pollinators in the act, but never got lucky.

No matter. I feel lucky watching all the day-timers that visit my yard. I'm glad I chose to garden for wildlife all those years ago!

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