Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
November, 2001
Regional Report

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The velvety smooth, creamy flowers of Yucca recurvifolia contrast with the sharp tips on the plant.

Accent Plants

After record-breaking heat in the 90s for most of October, temperatures in the low desert are finally cooling down this month. It's a wonderful time to add plants to the landscape.

Cacti and other succulents make excellent accent plants. Last time I wrote about how easy they are to propagate if you already have them in your landscape. But if you aren't yet a convert, give them a chance. There are all sorts of shapes, sizes and even colors, and the plants make a striking silhouette among the more contoured shrubs and trees. Once established they are extremely low maintenance. And, many of them produce amazing flower stalks that can seemingly grow leaps and bounds while you sleep.

Deciding What to Plant

I like to go to nurseries that specialize in cacti or succulents because they have a wide selection with something fascinating to see on each visit. The personnel can advise you on each plant's sun requirements. This is important, as not all can take full sun. Many succulents prefer shade in the hot afternoon, or perform well in dappled light. Before heading out to buy, decide where you want to plant and determine the area's sun exposure.

Also determine how much space the plant will have to grow. Some of these plants can get very large, very fast, reaching out to stab passersby with their sharp points and spines. They look terrible pruned back, so be sure to locate them where they will have room to reach their mature size.

Yucca, agave, and aloe will also propagate themselves by producing small offshoots at their base. Opuntia cacti, such as prickly pear, spread by growing new pads upward and outward. These can all turn into great clumps over time, so consider that in your planning. It's a great way to fill up the landscape with minimal labor and investment!


Dig a hole as deep as the container and three times as wide. The root system on these plants is quite shallow, but it helps to loosen the soil widely around the hole so roots can grow unimpeded. No organic matter or fertilizers need to be added to the backfill, just make sure you have good drainage.


After planting keep the soil consistently moist, but never wet, for about two weeks while the roots establish. If rains are adequate, you may not have to water until spring. If rainfall is scarce, water about once per month through March. As temperatures increase, watering frequencies must also increase.

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