Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2001
Regional Report

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Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is a fuss-free desert-adapted plant that blooms almost year round. Its red powder puffs attract hummingbirds.

Grow Desert Plants

The other day, someone said to me "all the plants are dead during the summer." I gritted my teeth and tried not to have unkind thoughts about covering him in compost. Sure the cool-season annuals are burned out and non-natives are gasping for breath, but many native and desert-adapted plants look pretty good all summer. Even though they're growing in the blazing sun with little water (or wide-brimmed hats) to help them, they brave the heat quite nicely.

Why Go Native?

There are many good reasons to grow native plants in our climate. Desert plants have adapted well to our harsh conditions over thousands of years. They've adapted to the alkaline soil, limited rainfall (about 7 inches annually in the Sonoran low desert), and soaring temperatures that can plunge to freezing in just a few hours. Because they're so versatile, summer doesn't stress them as it does non-desert plants. For the gardener this means less maintenance to provide proper soil or moisture conditions.

Fewer Pests

Pests and diseases somehow know to attack a stressed plant. Of course, the more stressed a plant, the more likely it will succumb to an attack. Since natives aren't easily stressed by our conditions, they seem less attractive to many pests and diseases that bother non-native plants.

Plant in Summer

One of the best reasons to go native is to be able to buy and plant on a regular basis, especially if you're a plant addict like me. Native plants can be installed during the hot summer. They require supplemental water only until temperatures cool, if at all, because our summer monsoon season often provides the moisture they need. It's one more adapation they've made. When summer rains come, they perk right up, providing greenery and often flowers in summer. Yes, the desert does bloom in summer.

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