Which of these plants grow well in the chihuahuan desert?


This page describes some of the more characteristic plants of the Chihuahuan Desert.

The Chihuahuan Desert cacti are treated on a separate page.

Lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla)

Lechuguilla is one of the smallest species of Agave – a genus that includes the very large and spectacular century plants. It is a very drought-tolerant plant, growing on rocky ledges or slopes. Each plant consists of only a few succulent leaves, up to about 30 cm height. The leaves are curved, with sharply pointed tips and spiny-toothed edges (seen on one of the centre leaves of the image above). One of the common names for this plant is shindagger. The plants flower by producing a long stalk, more than 2 metres high. Although lechuguilla is highly characteristic and common in the warmer parts of the Chihuahuan desert, it does not extend far into the northern extremes of the Chihuahuan Desert of the USA.

Beargrass (Nolina species)

Nolina is a genus of grass-like plants, commonly are called beargrass. But they are not grasses at all – they are related to the lily family and they produce large flowering spikes covered with many inconspicuous flowers. These spikes remain as dried brush-like clusters long after the seeds have been dispersed. The beargrasses typically occur as clumps on hillsides and in canyons above the deserts of Arizona and Texas. The non-succulent leaves have finely toothed margins, and they arise from a persistent undergraound rhizome.

Sotol (Dasylirion species)

Sotol with tree cholla in desert grassland

Sotol, or desert spoon, is a plant of the desert grassland zone, growing at elevations of about 1000-1800 metres in the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico and southern states of the USA. It is placed in the same family as Nolina, related to the lily family. The individual plants are perennial and consist of a rosette of narrow leaves with small marginal teeth. Every few years they produce long flowering spikes, reaching 3 metres or more, covered with thousands of small green or white flowers. There are two species – D. wheeleri, and D. leiophyllum in western Texas.

Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)

Candelilla is a characteristic plant of the warmer parts of the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico and southern Texas. Its greyish or purple-tinted photosynthetic stems have a thick wax coating. It grows on limestone ledges and slopes. A related but distinctly more robust plant, also called candelilla, grows in parts of the Mexican Sonoran desert.

Yucca (Spanish dagger)

Torrey yucca

Banana yucca

Several species of Yucca are common in the Chihuahuan Desert and can be the dominant component of the vegetation on upland slopes. These plants typically have rosettes of long, stiff, pointed leaves – one of their common names is Spanish daggers. They are drought-tolerant plants, with thick leaves and they are quite frost-tolerant. As they age, these plants develop trunks covered with the old leaf bases, and often with a “skirt” of dead leaves that hang down. Every few years they produce a short spike covered with cream-white, bell-shaped flowers. Pollination of the flowers is achieved by yucca moths, which have an intriguing symbiosis with the host plant.

The two plants illustrated here are the Torrey yucca (Yucca torreyi) and the banana yucca (Yucca baccata). Torrey yucca has tough, lance-shaped, evergreen leaves, and it sometimes grows in extensive stands in regions of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Agave species (century plants)

Agave species characteristically are large, slow-growing plants with a basal rosette of thick, succulent leaves. They are drought-tolerant and grow at a wide range of altitudes, from lowland desert sites (e.g. the coastal agave) to mountain zones, and from as far north as Utah down to the northern parts of South America. With the exception of lechuguilla, the Agave species of the Chihuahuan Desert typically grow on rocky ledges or steep outcrops in the mountain canyons. They accumulate nutrient reserves for 20-30 years or more and then flower once by producing a large candelabra-like spike. After this, the plant dies, but by this stage many species would have produced offsets (“suckers”) from the parent plant, and these offsets then replace the dead parent.

Tarbush (Flourensia cernua)

Tarbush is a small shrub, usually 1-1.5 metres tall, with dark bark and sticky, resinous, aromatic leaves. It is highly characteristic of the Chihuahuan desert, where it sometimes forms pure stands or is co-dominant with creosote bush on the calcareous flat plains or gentle slopes. The leaves appear after summer rains and turn brown after frosts later in the season, but the withered leaves often persist on the plants until the next growing season. This plant is a member of the daisy family (Compositae). It produces yellow flowers in nodding heads, but they are not conspicuous.

Go to Chihuahuan Desert Cacti?
Go to Chihuahuan Desert Plants?
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Posted on 20 January 2003

Cactus smuggling in the Mexican-US Chihuahuan Desert is big business, threatening the survival of these rare and unique plants. A new kind of rustler is prowling the West these days, making off with easy targets in the desert under the cover of darkness. But these rustlers aren’t interested in stealing cattle — they seek cactus. Cactus rustling is big business in the southwest United States, fueled by consumer demand for low-maintenance, drought-loving succulents to use for landscaping. And cactus collectors — plant lovers known as “cactophiles” — fuel the poaching of rare and hard-to-find specimens. That’s on top of the perfectly legal, but poorly regulated, harvesting of wild plants on public and private property throughout the region. “This is leading to depletion of some cactus species in the Chihuahuan Desert, which threatens certain populations,” says Christopher Robbins, a botanist at TRAFFIC who has spent two years studying the Chihuahuan plant trade and the author of a new report on the issue. The Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most biologically rich and diverse deserts in the world, rivaled only by the Namib-Karoo of southern Africa and the Great Sandy Desert of Australia. Extending across some 647,000km2 from southeast Arizona across New Mexico and west Texas in the US and southwards across almost 25 per cent of Mexico, this ecoregion is home to almost a quarter of the 1,500 cactus species known to science. It is also home to more mammal species than Yellowstone National Park, and sustains some of the last remaining populations of Mexican prairie dogs, wild American bison, and pronghorn antelope. The area also includes fish, reptiles, and plants that are found nowhere else on Earth. Although desired by cactophiles, cacti are often seen as nuisance plants by ranchers and landowners, who are all too happy for someone to pay a few dollars to dig up and remove the plants. And many consumers and tourists are unaware they may be breaking the law when they purchase cactus on private land or try to export live plants from Mexico, which has strict rules on collecting wild plants. The United States ranks among the world’s largest cactus producers and markets, with the highest concentration of growers and harvesters located in the southwest of the country. The three primary markets for ornamental cacti produced in the US are nurseries, supermarkets, and private collectors. The largest consumers of Chihuahuan Desert cacti are, in order, the United States, England, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Italy, and Canada. But cacti and other desert plants are a crucial part of the desert ecosystem. Removing too many deprives desert dwellers — such as mountain lions, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and bats — of food and shelter. Many people also rely on desert plants for medicinal use, such as a traditional Mexican arthritis treatment made from cactus. “In some parts of the desert where cactus are the dominant species, digging up these plants can be as ecologically disruptive as clearcutting a forest,” says Christopher Robbins. Wild harvesting of desert plants is a multimillion-dollar-a-year business. One of the forces driving the harvest — both legal and illegal — of wild cactus and other succulents stems from a fairly new landscaping push in desert cities. With water scarce in many booming population centers, property owners are urged to landscape with drought-tolerant and low-water plants, rather than grow lush, non-native lawns that require excessive amounts of water. City leaders in arid places like Phoenix, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, promote more sustainable landscaping using native plants, known as “xeriscaping”. Barrel cactus, hedgehog cactus, prickly pear cactus, and saguaro cactus are the most popular arid species used in landscaping. Yucca, agave, and ocotillo are some of the other desert plants sought for their landscaping value. “Xeriscaping is a positive trend that doesn’t need to endanger desert cactus,” says Jennifer Montoya, head of WWF’s Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion office in New Mexico. “Growing plants from seed in nurseries, rather than removing them from the desert is a win-win situation.” Such projects, including one that WWF is planning to start in economically depressed west Texas, provide income to local communities and sustainably harvested plants for homeowners. Cactus collectors are another market driving unsustainable and often illegal harvesting of Chihuahuan Desert plants. In recent years, Europe and Japan have been popular destinations for smuggled plants, seeds, and fruits of rare and valuable cacti originating from the US and Mexico. Rare cacti, espcially those found in the Mexican part of the desert, can fetch thousands of dollars in international trade. Rare cactus seeds can sell in Europe for US$7.50 per seed. This high value gives smugglers a big incentive to remove plants from the Chihuahuan Desert. “The Chihuahuan Desert is not well-known, even by the people who live here,” says Hector Arias, ecoregional coordinator at WWF Mexico. Nor is it well protected. Some 80 per cent of the desert is in Mexico, but of this, only about 1.8 per cent is under some sort of protection. The situation is a littler better in the US, where some 60 per cent of the desert is under some sort of protection scheme. Although the penalties for smugglers are severe — up to l0 years in jail and a US$250,000 fine — this lack of protection, together with the remoteness of many parts of the Chihuahuan Desert, makes finding smuggled species a tricky job. But the news is not all bad. The new report from TRAFFIC indicates that the economic value of Chihuahuan Desert cacti could actually help save them. “Landowners who might see cactus as pests ought to consider managing them as a crop, rather than view them as a pest to eradicate,” says Christopher Robbins. The report recommends monitoring the cactus trade better, strengthening protection for species under the most pressure, and developing community-based programmes to harvest common species and commercially cultivate slow-growing species. Such initiatives will help safeguard the unique flora of the Chihuahuan Desert. (958 words) * Jan Vertefeuille is Senior Communications Officer at WWF-US and TRAFFIC North America. Further information: TRAFFIC report: Prickly trade: Trade and Conservation of Chihuahuan Desert Cacti TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint programme of WWF and IUCN – the World Conservation Union and works in close co-operation with the CITES Secretariat. The new report released by TRAFFIC, Prickly Trade: Trade and Conservation of Chihuahuan Desert Cacti, is the largest-ever analysis of trade in Chihuahuan Desert cacti. The report found that unsustainable trade could endanger certain populations of cacti if measures are not taken to regulated their harvesting, and makes a number of recommendations to address the problem. WWF’s work in the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion The Chihuahuan Desert is one of WWF’s Global 200 ecoregions — a science-based global ranking of the world’s most biologically outstanding habitats and the regions on which WWF concentrates its efforts. WWF’s work in this ecoregion includes partnering with local communities to study the hydrology of the springs of Cuatrociénegas and to protect the ponds, and contributing to efforts to reintroduce the critically endangered Mexican wolf. In 1997, WWF convened a meeting of US and Mexican biologists to create the first-ever comprehensive conservation assessment of the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion. A new project, prompted by the findings of the TRAFFIC report, is planned to establish a community-based nursery industry to grow native desert plants with seeds harvested from the wild. The project will also promote nature-based tourism in Texas, a biologically rich region with high unemployment.

Various Desert Plants

A desert biome is often characterized by high temperature, high humidity and low precipitation and the drastic fall in temperature at night. When you think of the desert, you might not associate it with fertility, but there are a number of different plants – including cactuses – that inhabit the planet’s driest regions. The desert plants are unique in their own way, plants that you won’t find anywhere else. Some of these plants are a major tourist attraction. These 31 desert plants are some of the few that make their home in the sand.

What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

1. Pancake Prickly Pear Cactus

The Pancake Prickly Pear is an instantly recognizable species of cactus and is common in areas surrounding the United States and Mexico border. Their “pancake” flat arms can grow up to 7 feet high. It has circular pads arising from a thick, round trunk. The pads are four to six inches long, 9 inches wide, and .75 inches thick and are covered with spines.

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2. Barrel Cactus

While the Prickly Pear may have size going for it, the Barrel Cactus is one of the most popular cactus varieties for use as succulents. It is also one the most common plant found in deserts across the world. Low to the ground and with a lovely center flower, beware of trying to pick it – the Barrel’s spines can be toxic. The Barrel cactus is found in the Mojave, Sonora, and the Chihuahua deserts. These plants look very beautiful but you got to deal with spines of the barrel with much care as they can be prove to be dangerous.

3. Saguaro Cactus

The Saguaro Cactus most resembles a tree, and it can grow arms up to 40 feet tall. Saguaros live for extremely long times and they are well designed for life in the desert as they are able to collect and store rainwater. The Saguaro Cactus the Sonoran Desert of southeastern California, southern Arizona, and northwestern Mexico.
The flowers of Saguaro Cactus bloom at night and is closed during the heat of midday. The flowers are white and yellow in colour.

4. Lace or Hedgehog Cactus

These lovely small plants are also favorites for use as succulents, as they stay a few inches tall and produce beautiful flowers in the summer. In the desert it is common to see them grouped together (needless to say, always keep your shoes on!). The stems are cylindrical in shape and are up to 1 foot long and 1 to 2 1/2 inches thick. The flowers of Hedgehog Cactus are a beautiful deep red, with many petals that form the shape of a cup. The fruits are red, and edible.

5. Organ Pipe Cactus

The Organ Pipe Cactus is another desert staple, and is a common site in the rockier deserts of the United States and Mexico. Aptly named, the arms of the Organ Pipe grow upwards from a base, creating a silhouette reminiscent of a pipe organ. They have little narrow stems that do not grow into branches. The flowers are purple or light pink in color that bloom at night and is closed during the heat of midday.

6. Brittlebush

This desert shrub produces little yellow flowers, and as its name suggests, is known for the brittleness of its stems. They have historically been used as medicine, glue, and a number of different purposes. It is most common plant of the Mojave and Sonoron deserts that grow as a low, roundish mound 2 to 5 feet high. The flowers on brittlebush grow from March to June and are bright yellow in color. Leaves are broader at the base than at the tip and are about 1-4 inches long.

7. Creosote Bush

Creosote Bush is also known as Greasewood, and is a shrub that can grow upwards of 10 feet. While they can be fragile in their early years, Creosotes grow into extremely hardy plants, and they will overtake neighboring plants that encroach on their water and resources. Creosote Bush is found in the desert slopes and plains of Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico and, Texas. It has small green leaves that are covered with varnish. The flowers are also yellow and about the same size as leaves.

8. Desert Ironwood

This tree grows in the deserts of the Southwest United States, and is known for its incredibly tough word (hence the name), making it not suitable for a variety of typical lumber uses. However, it serves a great purpose in the desert, where it signals bats to migrate based on its flowering pattern. Desert ironwood trees grow only in the Sonoran desert which is known as a hot, dry desert is located in southwestern Arizona, southern California, and the northwestern part of Mexico. The Desert Ironwood is known as a “nurse plant” as it provides a safe place for seed germination, and protects seedlings from extreme cold.

9. Desert Sage

Also known as “Sand Sage,” this small plant produces beautiful flowers during the spring and summer months about 2-3 meters in height. They are hardy and well designed to survive the desert terrain. The flowers are deep blue in color. The special feature of this plant is that it does not need water once it gets established. Like Desert Ironwood, it is also used for medicinal properties as it is most common plant used to treat common cold, headaches, stomachaches, influenza, pneumonia and various eye problems.

10. Desert Marigold

This is an easy one! The Desert Marigold has lovely yellow flowers, like your typical Marigolds, only in the desert! They flower for most of the spring and summer, but often into the fall months as well. The Desert Marigold plant is found in the south western parts of the US and in Mexico. They grow between 10-30 inches and have very hairy leaves that help in blocking UV rays . These flowers start blooming from March and stay till November.

11. Desert Willow Tree

This small tree, also known as ‘Chilopsis’, features beautiful flowers, but is not actually a willow; the name comes from a similarity between its leaves and the leaves of a traditional willow. It occurs in clusters, withstand tough conditions and is found in US and Mexico. The flowers bloom in May and stay on till September and are generally light pink and lavender in color.

12. Desert Lily

To prove that the cactus isn’t the only thing surviving the harsh desert, the Desert Lily, also known as ‘Hesperocallis’,
does an excellent show of bringing the beauty of lilies to desert areas in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. They have cream colored flowers that bloom in March and stay on till May and is a common sight in the deserts. It has a deep bulb which sends a stem in early spring.

13. Turpentine Broom

With straight-up stalks standing at attention, Turpentine Brooms are so called because they typically don’t have leaves, only fruit or flowers at the top, creating a broom-like effect.

14. Mojave-aster

Technically an herb, the Mojave-aster can be found in desert areas around canyons, and it has a small stem, usually with a white flower. The stem of Mojave-aster is green in color. The plant itself can grow up to 30 inches high. The Mojave Aster grows in the Sonoran, Great Basin and Mojave deserts of southeastern California. It has narrow, hairy leaves that are about 3 inches long.

15. Jumping Cholla

The Jumping Cholla is somewhere between a tree and a cactus, but rather than leaves it has spines! These guys can be sneaky – their spines carry tons of little spikes that can act like Velcro and attach to everything. Jumping chollas grow on the valley floors of the Sonoran Uplands, the Mohave Desert, California, and Sonora, Mexico. It can be 3 to 7 feet (1 to 2 m) tall and has a single trunk with short branches at the top. They bloom from February to May and the greenish flowers grow at the end of the stems.

16. Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree is another desert dwelling plant stuck between a tree and a cactus, and it is actually a Yucca. They can grow quickly, and are common to areas in California (such as Joshua Tree National Park). It is the largest of the yuccas and grows only in the Mojave Desert. The Joshua Tree height varies from 15 to 40 feet and has a diameter of 1 to 3 feet. It has a lifespan of 200 years. The flowers are a creamy yellow and green and vary from 1.25 to 1.5 inch. The fruit of the Joshua Tree is green and brown, and is 2.5 to 2 inches long.

17. Elephant Tree

Elephant Trees are so defined by their ability to store water in their trunks. They can be seen in the deserts of Southwest United States and in parts of Africa, and are especially suited to dry climates. Elephant tree is small in size and its branches are quite small in comparison to their trunk. This plant has trees throughout the year except in drought and extreme cold weather. The flowers are born as yellow in color which then slowly blossom into beautiful star shaped white or cream colored flowers.

18. Ocotillo

While Ocotillos can sort of resemble a cactus, they are not actually so. It most often looks like dead twigs, but actually sprouts lush leaves after rainfall and has a beautiful red flower that follows. The Ocotillo prefers to grow in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts of Southeast California to West Texas and south into Mexico. The leaves of this plant are narrow 2-inch ovals thick. The flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch in size and can be seen from March to June and even later depending on rainfall. It can be leafless for a long time as it roots are deep and does not get much water.

19. Yellow Paloverde

With a – you guessed it – yellow flower, these paloverdes are common amongst the deserts of the United States. This very slow-growing tree resembles a bush, but can actually reach over 20 feet in height.

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20. Soaptree Yucca

Soaptree Yucca is able to withstand bursts of cold weather, but its love for sunlight is what makes it at home in the desert. These pants have a long history of being useful for many Native Americans. The Soaptree Yucca is commonly found in the Sonora and Chihuahua deserts, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. It is a is a tall 10-18 foot plant with leaves at the base of the plant.

21. Triangle-leaf Bursage

These shrubs love taking over land that has been overgrazed or overused, but are also essential to the development of other desert flora. They can increase soil nutrients and are essential to the sustainability of the desert. It is a native plant of the Sonoran Desert and can be found throughout southwestern Arizona, USA, south into Sonora and Baja California, Mexico. It is a small, round shrub about 1 1/2 feet tall and 2 feet wide which grows at altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet on open flat, and steep, gravely hillsides.

22. Desert Palm

Yep, those beachside staples actually do live in deserts around the world! What typically differentiates the Fan or Desert Palm, is that once its fronds die, they hang around the trunk, providing an ever-growing layer of protection.

23. Tumbleweed

Of course, next to the cactus, tumbleweeds may be the most recognizable of the desert plants. Its other common name, Russian Thistle, belies the fact that this plant exists fin deserts ranging from the United States to, well, Russia!

24. Mesquite Tree

These trees were essential to the earliest desert dwellers, and despite their name, are more like a small shrub. Mesquite is the most common shrub/small tree of the desert southwest and has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, and is common in areas around Mexico. Mesquites require little water and low maintenance. They are nesting sites for hummingbirds.

25. Poison Ivy

While most desert plants have some form of protection from predators and the elements, Poison Ivy may be the one you are actually most familiar with! This shrub doesn’t climb like other ivies, but can live in a variety of climates and regions, including the desert. Poison ivy is a poisonous plant, with approximately 80% to 90% of adults susceptible to skin inflammation after contacting the plant.

26. Date Palm

Another palm tree of the desert, the Date Palm is common in the Sahara desert, and the date fruit has provided inhabitants of the region with a source of food and commerce for thousands of years.

27. Lovegrass

Lovegrass is one of the types of grass that can be found in deserts around the world. Lovegrass is incredibly hardy, and when bunches of Lovegrass grow together they can give a “field” effect to barren, sandy regions.

28. Thyme

Thyme is one of the hardier herbs, and is able to grow in deserts in the United States and Africa. It can grow in a variety of climates, and is a staple in many international cuisines.

29. Oleander

These small shrubs can be found in gardens and in deserts, and can be incredibly toxic despite looking similar to the olive tree. Oleander has many uses around the world, and its adaptability allows it to thrive in many different settings.

30. Emu Bush

With its funny name, the Emu Bush hails from the deserts of Australia, where it was named due to beliefs that the emu survived on its fruit and therefore spread the bush’s seed. Emu bushes love dry climates, and have since also become popular in parts of New Zealand.

31. Desert Spoon

The sea urchins of land, the Desert Spoon is characterized by the spine-like leaves that grow out of its center base. These leaves are usually thick and have served purposes from food to basket making, and the Desert Spoon is adaptable to many different regions.

References: BluePlanetBiomes
Image credit: Richard Vetter , cariliv
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A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no ‘Planet B’ in this whole universe.

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Grow Vegetables in Phoenix Arizona

Creating a successful veggie garden in Phoenix is an enjoyable and nutritious way to get fresh food. The ultimate success of your garden is determined by four major factors:

  • Soil
  • Water
  • Sun
  • Timing

Easy to Grow Veggies in Phoenix Arizona

Easy to grow crops include sugar snap peas, green beans, radishes, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, onions, and carrots. Most seeds can be planted between the months of November and March. See the planting guide for reference. Just remember that frosts can happen even in late January and your veggies will have to be covered if you plant them outdoors before the last frost. Small gardens don’t leave much room for watermelons, cucumbers, or squash, but you can get a couple of each plants in.

Green Beans

Many veggies here in Phoenix have double growing seasons, so you can grow some type of food all year long. Citrus trees provide a wonderful perfume in the spring air and delicious fruit in the winter. Even the cactus can provide fruit.

I highly recommend using the raised garden system in Phoenix. You have more control over your soil and growing conditions for the plants. This is what has worked for us.

Green beans are an easy crop to grown in Phoenix gardens. I usually plant the seeds in November and cover plants if there is a frost warning. You can also start seeds indoors and wait to plant outside until after threats of frost have passed. This year we put tomato cages around them to keep them off the ground and give us more space in the veggie garden.

Watermelon in July

The sugar snap peas were planted around the same time and have flowers by January. In February we had our first Snap Pea of the season. The hummingbirds visit the flowers every day and like resting on the tomato cages.

Parsley went gangbusters in our garden. We planted seeds in the spring and we’ve had fresh parsley every day for over a year now. I’ve actually had to pull a bunch out because it was taking over.

Which variety of seed should I choose?

The best advice in choosing seeds is to choose varieties that have quick gestation times. Veggies that will produce within 60 days are the easiest to grow.


We’ve had the best success in Phoenix with tomatoes, green beans, snap peas, radishes, parsley, basil, watermelon, red onion, squash, zucchini,

Finding the Right Spot for a Vegetable Garden

If you’re starting your first garden, starting out small will be less overwhelming. The most important step in creating your garden is finding the perfect spot. Vegetables need at least 6 hours of sun, but they also require shade from the harsh Phoenix afternoon sun.

Find a spot that preferably receives morning sun and afternoon shade. For our vegetable garden we picked a spot in the North West corner of our yard that receives a good balance of sun and shade and took advantage of the existing block wall as a partial barrier. We then planted trees that provide filtered shade in the summer to protect our vegetables.

Determine the Size

Next you’ll have to decide the size you garden you desire. This will depend largely on the


space you have available and the time and effort that you would like to spend maintaining your new garden. We’ve had many vegetable gardens over the years, and the vegetable garden at our last house was much larger than our current vegetable garden.

In our current house, I started out smaller with a raised garden bed of 4.5 feet wide and 10 feet long and raised 18 inches high. At this width, you can still easily lean over and tend to the plants without entering the garden area. Over the years I have added four more raised beds. Three of the beds are 4 x 2 x 4 feet and the smaller herb garden box is 2 x 2 x 2′.

Your Garden Plot

After this you’ll have to decide is what kind of garden you would like. With my first vegetable garden we had to remove the sod, which wasn’t too fun but if you rent a sod cutter it isn’t too bad. After the sod was taken out we then rented a rototiller (you can do this at most any home improvement center or hardware store) and tilled up our new garden area. We then added compost and organic material and tilled once again. Our garden area was then ready for planting.

It was a little bit easier with our current garden. We started with a 10 by 4.5 foot area of bare dirt. To raise the garden we purchased about 30 blocks. It took 60 bags of a mixture of manure, compost, and gardening soil. Then we layered the different materials into the garden bed.

Preparing the Soil

Sugar snap peas

Your soil is very important this is where your seeds will get the nutrients they need to provide tasty fruit or veggies.

Our Phoenix, Arizona native soil is not really sufficient and should be mixed with compost, and/or gardening soil, at a minimum use only 20-50% native soil, less is better when it comes to the vegetable garden.

We chose to create a raised garden bed in order to have better control over the soil conditions and our existing garden bed has very little native soil. The raised garden bed has a depth of 18″ – a mixture of organic material and gardening soil.

Gardening Tools

Before you start you’ll want some Basic Gardening tools including a standard shovel and spade. A spading fork resembles a small pitchfork. It is used to dig down into hard soil and break up the ground. A hoe is a useful gardening tool, but if you only have a small vegetable garden it is not necessary. A wheelbarrow and a good garden rake is not necessary, but they are helpful.

Visit Gardening with Kids

How to Start a Vegetable Garden: A Novice Gardener’s Triumphs and Defeats

The haricot vert started producing almost immediately. Again, I ate as many of them as I could in the backyard while I was tooling around in the garden. The cucumbers were prolific and I thought I was going to have to learn to make pickles!

The eggplants, pretty little purple sweethearts, were growing really well. We had eggplants almost nightly for dinner. The zucchini were fresh and delicious although I sometimes had trouble keeping my hands off those tender flowers.

The tomatoes. That’s another story. I know people who have no trouble with tomatoes in the desert. Perhaps it’s the variety. I don’t know. My first mistake, I think, was planting them in pots. I thought I could just move the pots in and out of the sun as needed. What I didn’t know was that: 1. The pots hold the heat keeping the roots too hot and 2. It’s hard to keep the plants from becoming waterlogged.

Whiteflies. They appeared almost as soon as my healthy-looking tomato plants started to fill out. I turned to the Internet. I sprayed them with soapy water. I placed pots of marigolds around them because I’d read that whiteflies don’t like marigolds. That seemed to help or maybe it was that I painstakingly picked off every single whitefly I could see! Flowers appeared. And then tomatoes. But it all seemed to be taking so long. I had not bought the best plants. Too many weeks to maturity – 75 days after the flower appears is not good for an impatient person.

Then the leaves started withering and turning lighter green. Calcium? I had used bone meal as a starter per Carl Seacat’s recommendation but I tried calcium. Didn’t help. Iron? No. Fish emulsion? Nope. As if that wasn’t enough, I saw blossom end rot from overwatering.

Then the really hot weather hit and the plants stopped producing altogether. The love apples that were on the plants never seemed to ripen and finally it was over. No homegrown tomatoes. Lots of lessons learned.

Summer and Its Challenges

The rest of the garden was doing just fine until one day when it wasn’t. The demise of my garden started when we left on our first weekend vacation. I had faith that the sprinklers and the shade cloth would do the job for the two days we were away. Alas, that did not prove to be true. Perhaps my plants felt neglected since I wasn’t here to speak to them as I usually did each morning. Whatever the reason, the garden began a decline.

The haricot vert and the cucumbers were probably getting too much water. But the garden is on one watering system and the melons needed the water. Choices. I chose the melons and so the haricot vert and cucumbers met their early demise. The tomatoes had already stopped giving.

Slowly the melon vines took over the garden and I allowed it to happen. The watermelon vine was growing and producing flowers but no fruit. The Honeydew vines were putting out lots of lovely fruit. If only I could leave them on there long enough to get really sweet. If only. The eggplants seemed to be oblivious to the chaos around them and they kept going.

But the zucchini. Not sure what happened. Too much water? I don’t know. But they were gone as well. And then, disaster struck again. Daytime temps got up to 120° (and probably above, in my backyard). Slowly the herbs died off. Bye-bye, sage and parsley. Even the “you can’t kill it mint” started to look pooped out.

I decide to let Mother Nature do what she does best and let what would happen, happen. Mother Nature chose to keep the melons and the eggplant going but took the rest of the vegetables.

At this time (mid July), I have five Honeydew melons growing and ripening (the first one I picked weighed 9. pounds!). The eggplant keeps rolling along, offering up purple goodness every few days. The basil is prolific as you would expect in this heat.

Arizona – Winter Vegetables

Winter Vegetables

At SummerWinds Nursery, We Offer A Wide Variety of Vegetables & Herbs!

When growing vegetables in your garden, it’s important to select the right time of year to plant. While some vegetables will thrive in the spring or summer, different types of vegetables prefer the cool temperatures of fall. In general, most vegetables with leaves, stems or roots are considered cool season fall vegetables or winter vegetables. In the Greater Phoenix Metro Area, most cool season vegetables are planted in late October through February or early March and are mature and ready for harvest in late fall or early winter.

Fall vegetables and winter vegetables do best if they are mature either before the summer heat hits or after the temperatures fall. If these vegetables are harvested in the summer heat, they may develop a bitter taste. Planting in early spring will allow you to harvest before the summer heat arrives, while planting in late summer will provide you with a mature winter garden. For more details on the ideal planting time for different types of vegetables, download the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension’s Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County.

Below is a list of cool season vegetables that you can find seasonally at SummerWinds Nursery.

Cool Season Vegetables – A to Z

  • Arugula – (Eruca sativa)
  • Artichokes, Globe – (Cynara scolymus) & Jerusalem – (Helianthus tuberosus)
  • Asparagus – (Asparagus officinalis)
  • Beans, Snap/Bush/Green* – (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • Beets – (Beta vulgaris)
  • Bok Choy/Pak Choi – (Brassica rapa)
  • Broccoli – (Brassica oleracea)
  • Brussels Sprouts – (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera)
  • Cabbage – (Brassica oleracea var. capitata)
  • Carrots – (Daucus carota)
  • Cauliflower – (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis)
  • Celery – (Apium graveolens)
  • Chard – (Beta vularis subsp. cicla)
  • Collard Greens – (Brassica oleracea)
  • Cucumbers* – (Cucumis sativus)
  • Endive – (Cichorium endivia)
  • Fennel – (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Kale – (Brassica oleracea)
  • Kohlrabi – (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes)
  • Leeks – (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum)
  • Lettuce, Head & Leaf – (Lactuca sativa)
  • Mustard Greens – (Brassica juncea)
  • Onions, Bulb – (Allium cepa)
  • Onions, Green/Scallions – (Allium wakegi)
  • Parsnips – (Pastinaca sativa)
  • Peas – (Pisum sativum)
  • Potatoes – (Solanum tuberosum)
  • Radishes – (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. sativus)
  • Rutabagas – (Brassica napobrassica)
  • Spinach – (Spinacia oleracea)
  • Turnips – (Brassica rapa)

* – While often thought of as vegetables, these edible plants are technically fruits!

Cool Season Companion Plants

  • Borage – (Borago officinalis)
  • Cilantro – (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Dill – (Anethum graveolens)
  • Lovage – (Levisticum officinale)
  • Mint – (Mentha)
  • Nasturtiums – (Tropaeolum)
  • Parsley – (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Sage – (Salvia officinalis)
  • Tarragon – (Artemisia dracunculus)

To get the most out of your winter garden harvest, visit your local SummerWinds Nursery and let our Trusted Garden Advisors help you select the best vegetables and the right time to plant. Available while supplies last.

Additional Resources:

  • Citrus
  • Pest & Weed Controls
  • Raised Garden Beds
  • Soils, Amendments & Fertilizers
  • Grow Your Own Tasty Garden
  • Tomatoes
  • Herbs
  • Warm Season Vegetables
  • Kale

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Plants In Desert Climates: Growing Edible Plants And Flowers In The Desert

Can you grow edible plants and flowers in the desert? Absolutely. Despite the extreme three-digit temperatures and minimal rainfall, there are a number of edible plants and flowers that can be coaxed into fruition in a desert climate.

How to Grow Edible Plants and Flowers in the Desert

Before growing plants in desert climates, consider the following list before attempting to grow plants in a desert climate:

Soil Nutrition

There are a number of factors to consider before growing plants in a desert climate. Primarily, one will want to be concerned with the nutrient levels in one’s soil. Although a good quality organic/compost will usually meet your soil’s needs, the best way to determine levels suitable for desert vegetables and flowers is to have the soil tested. However, there are generally three primary nutrient requirements:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium

The amount needed of each of these is based on what types of non-drought tolerant desert plants you will be growing. Vegetables need quite a lot. Fruits and annual flowers need a medium amount and deciduous shrubs, herbs and perennials require even less.

Since manure has a high amount of soluble salt, it is not recommended due to the higher amounts already present in desert irrigation. Choose an amendment that does not include manure. Also as arid soils tend to be very alkaline, it may be necessary to lower the pH to facilitate the growth of healthy edible plants and flowers in the desert. This can be accomplished by the addition of sulfur.

Light Amount and Duration

Light amount and duration for growing plants in desert climates is another important consideration. Light is integral to growing a bountiful garden in any climate. Generally, six to eight hours of full sun is needed each day. When growing plants in desert climates the amount of light can be an issue in that there is plenty of it!

Many non-drought tolerant desert plants may be susceptible to scalding and tip burn. It’s advisable to protect vegetable and flowers that grow in a desert climate from extreme heat and light by using an awning or shade cloth. These more delicate edible plants and flowers in the desert must also be shielded from the sometimes fierce desert winds.

Water Access and Irrigation

Access to water and irrigation of edible plants and flowers in the desert is crucial. When growing desert vegetables and flowers, a drip or soaker hose irrigation is considered the best and least expensive option.

Placement of the plants, day and evening temperatures and the variety of non-drought tolerant desert plants selected, will influence the amount of watering needed, though on average these plants require at least two inches of water each week. In a desert environment, you should expect to water plants a little more, even twice daily, when both day and evening temperatures are excessively hot.

Selection of Edible Plants and Flowers

Lastly, one of the most important requirements is the selection of non-drought tolerant desert plants suitable to this more uncompromising environment. During the cool season, some options for vegetables that grow in the desert may include:

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Pea
  • Potato
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

Warm season vegetables that are most optimal for growing in desert climates may include:

  • Beans
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Melon
  • Pepper
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Sweet potato
  • Tomato

The variety and time of year when vegetables that grow in the desert are sowed will dictate the type of garden formation most is most desirable. Hill planting, broadcasting seeds, inter-planting, or relay sowing in two week intervals are all viable options for the desert gardener.

The previous information and a definitive amount of human muscle power to crack the harsh desert landscape will lead the gardener down a successful and fruitful path to growing plants and flowers in desert climates.

Three years into the worst drought on record, farmers in California have taken action to deal with the lack of water. Some farmers have drilled new wells deep below ground. Others are leaving fields fallow, waiting out the drought until there’s enough water again to sow their crops. Still other farmers have moved to greener, wetter locations.

When nature does not provide enough water, farmers use their brains, brawn and plenty of technology to find solutions. As clever as those solutions may seem, few are really all that new. Many desert plants rely on similar strategies to beat the drought — and have done so for thousands if not millions of years.

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In the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, native plants have come up with amazing tricks to survive, and even thrive. Incredibly, these plants routinely cope with punishingly dry conditions. Here, plants can go a year without seeing a drop of rain.

A branch of a creosote shrub in bloom. Creosote is often the dominant shrub in the deserts of the southwestern United States. It produces seeds, but also reproduces through cloning. Jill Richardson How they manage has attracted the interest of scientists. These researchers are uncovering all kinds of strategies used by desert plants to survive and reproduce. For example, the mesquite tree counts on finding better conditions elsewhere. Rather than moving — which it can’t do on its own — this plant relies on animals to eat its seeds and then scatter them with their feces. Meanwhile, the creosote bush partners with microbes in the soil. Those microbes help it survive the very real stress of living in a persistently hot and dry climate. And many wildflowers gamble with their seeds in a way that can help them outlast — and outfox — even the worst drought.

Digging deep for water

The Sonoran Desert is located in Arizona, Calif., and northern Mexico. Daytime summer temperatures often top 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit). The desert cools off in winter. Temperatures at night can now fall below freezing. The desert is dry most of the year, with rainy seasons in summer and winter. Yet even when the rains come, the desert doesn’t get much water. So one way these plants have adapted is to grow very deep roots. Those roots tap into sources of ground water far below the soil’s surface.

Velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) is a common shrub in the Sonoran desert. Its roots can plunge down more than 50 meters (164 feet). That is taller than an 11-story building. This can help slake the thirst of a full-grown mesquite, a shrub related to beans. But seedlings must find a different solution as they begin to sprout.

Before a seed can take root, it must land in a good place to grow. Since seeds cannot walk, they rely on other methods to spread out. One way is to ride the winds. Mesquite takes a different approach.

Mesquite seedling emerges from a cow pie. When animals eat mesquite seeds, they help spread seeds across the desert in their dung. A trip through an animal’s gut also helps break down the seed’s hard coating, preparing it to sprout. Steven Archer Each of these plants produces hundreds — even thousands — of seedpods. The pods look a lot like green beans but taste sugary sweet. They’re also very nutritious. Animals (including people) can eat dried mesquite pods. However, the seeds themselves, which grow inside the sweet pods, are rock hard. When animals eat the pods, the seeds’ hard coating allows many of them to escape being crushed by chewing. The hard seeds travel all the way through the gut. Eventually, they come out the other side, in poop. Since animals are often on the move, they can shed the seeds all over the desert.

Getting eaten helps the mesquite in a second way, too. The hard coating on its seeds also makes it difficult for water to get into them. And that is needed for a seeds to sprout. But when some animal eats a pod, digestive juices in its gut now break down the seeds’ coat. When those seeds finally get excreted in the animal’s feces they will at last be ready to grow.

Of course, to grow well, each mesquite seed still needs to land in a good spot. Mesquite usually grows best near streams or arroyos. Arroyos are dry creeks that fill with water for a short while after the rains. If an animal goes to the stream to have a drink and then does its business nearby, the mesquite seed is in luck. The animal’s feces also provide each seed with a little package of fertilizer for when it does start to grow.

Taking root

After an animal scatters mesquite seeds across the desert, the seeds don’t sprout right away. Instead, they lie in wait for rains — sometimes for decades. Once enough rain does fall, the seeds will sprout. Now, they face a race against the clock. Those seeds must quickly send down deep roots before the water dries up.

Steven R. Archer studies how this works. He is an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It’s in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. “I study ecological systems, which means the plants and the animals and the soils and the climate and how they all interact with each other,” he explains.

The Sonoran Desert doesn’t get long, sustained drenching rains, he notes. Most rain falls in short little bursts. Each might deliver just enough water to wet the top inch (2.5 centimeters) of soil. “But during certain times of the year,” Archer notes, “we get quite a few of those pulses of water.” A pulse is a short burst of rain. It might last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.

Archer and his team wanted to see how two plant species respond to these pulses. The experts worked with velvet mesquite and a related shrub, cat’s claw acacia (Acacia greggii). In tests, the scientists doused seeds with varying amounts of water. They delivered it in varying numbers of pulses. Later, they measured how fast the seeds sprouted and grew roots.

The thorns of a cat’s claw acacia look just like little cat’s claws. This plant is well adapted to life in the desert. Jill Richardson A storm that drops 2 centimeters (0.8 inch) of rain provides more than enough water for seeds of a mesquite or acacia shrub to germinate. That much rain can keep the top 2.5 centimeters of soil wet for 20 days.That period is crucial. Each seedling “has to get a root deep enough the first few weeks after it germinates to survive the long dry period that will inevitably come,” explains Archer. In the Sonoran Desert, in fact, one-quarter of all perennials — plants that live for many years — die in the first 20 days after they germinate.

Inside a greenhouse, the scientists planted seeds of velvet mesquite and cat’s claw acacia. They then soaked them with between 5.5 and 10 centimeters (2.2 and 3.9 inches) of water over 16 or 17 days. At the end of the experiment, the scientists measured the plants’ growth.

Mesquite seeds germinated quickly. They sprouted after 4.3 days, on average. Acacia seeds, by contrast, took 7.3 days. The mesquite also grew deeper roots. For the plants that got the most water, the mesquite roots grew to an average depth of 34.8 centimeters (13.7 inches), compared to just 29.5 centimeters for the acacia. In both species, the roots grew longer with each additional 1 centimeter of water the plants received. The acacia grew more above ground; the mesquite put most of its energy into growing a deep root as fast as possible.

Growing a deep root very fast helps ensure a mesquite’s survival. One study looked at a different type, honey mesquite (P. glandulosa). Most young plants of this species that survived their first two weeks after germination went on to survive for at least two years. That study was published January 27, 2014, in PLOS ONE.

Plant-friendly bacteria

Another common desert plant — the creosote bush — has adopted a different survival strategy. It doesn’t rely on deep roots at all. Still, the plant is a real desert survivor. The oldest creosote bush, a plant in California called the King Clone, is estimated to be 11,700 years old. It is so old that when it first germinated, humans were only just learning how to farm. It is much older than the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

Also known as Larrea tridentata, this plant is extremely common throughout large areas of the Sonoran and Mojave (moh-HAA-vee) deserts. (The Mojave lies to the north of the Sonoran, and covers portions of California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.) The creosote bush’s small, oily leaves have a strong smell. Touching them will leave your hands sticky. Like mesquite, creosote produces seeds that can grow into new plants. But this plant also relies on a second way to keep its species going: It clones itself.

Cloning might sound like something from a Star Wars movie, but lots of plants can reproduce this way. A common example is the potato. A potato can be cut into pieces and planted. As long as each piece includes a dent called an “eye,” a new potato plant should grow. It will produce new potatoes that are genetically the same as the parent potato.

After a new creosote plant lives for about 90 years, it begins to clone itself. Unlike a potato, creosote bushes grow new branches from their crowns — the part of the plant where their roots meet the trunk. These new branches then develop their own roots. Those roots anchor the new branches 0.9 to 4.6 meters (3 to 15 feet) into the soil. Eventually, older parts of the plant die. The new growth, now anchored by its own roots, lives on.

King Clone, a creosote bush in the Mojave Desert estimated to be almost 12,000 years old. Klokeid/ Wikimedia Commons As the plant matures, it forms a large, irregular circle. At the center, old and dead parts of the creosote plant rot. New clones grow and take root around the perimeter.

David Crowley is an environmental microbiologist at the University of California, Riverside. He studies living things in the environment that are too small to see without a microscope. In 2012, he wanted to learn how the King Clone could have lived for so long with such shallow roots.

This plant “is located in an area where there’s often no rain for a whole year,” Crowley points out. “And yet this plant is sitting out there, surviving for 11,700 years in the most extreme conditions — sandy soil, no water, low nutrients available. It’s very hot.” His team wanted to scout for soil bacteria that might help promote plant growth.

Crowley and his team study how bacteria benefit plants. They developed a hypothesis that lots of different bacteria live near King Clone’s roots and that they help keep the ancient creosote bush alive.

To find out, the scientists dug around King Clone’s roots. The experts then identified bacteria living in this soil. They did this by studying the germs’ DNA. Most bacteria were types that help plants grow in different ways. Part of the plant’s health, Crowley now concludes, may trace to those “especially good microorganisms on its roots.”

Some of the bacteria produced plant-growth hormones. A hormone is a chemical that signals cells, telling them when and how to develop, grow and die. Other bacteria in the soil can fight the germs that make plants sick. The scientists also found bacteria that interfere with a plant’s response to stress.

Salty soil, extreme heat or a lack of water — all can stress a plant. When stressed, a plant may respond by sending itself a message that “it should stop growing. It should just hold on and try to survive,” Crowley notes.

Plants alert their tissues by producing ethylene (ETH-uh-leen) gas. Plants make this hormone in a strange way. First, a plant’s roots make a chemical called ACC (short for 1-aminocyclopropane-l-carboxylic acid). From the roots, ACC travels up a plant, where it will be converted into ethylene gas. But bacteria can interrupt that process by consuming the ACC. When that happens, the plant never gets its own message to stop growing.

If the stress got too bad — too little water, or very, very high temperatures — this nonstop growth would cause the plant to die. However, if the stress is small enough, then the plant survives just fine, Crowley’s team learned. It published its findings in the journal Microbial Ecology.

Gambling flowers

Mesquite and creosote are both perennials. That means these shrubs live for many years. Other desert plants, including many wildflowers, are annuals. These plants live a single year. That leaves them just one chance to produce seeds before they die.

Now imagine if every single one of those seeds germinated following a rainstorm. If a dry spell followed and all the little seedlings died, the plant would have failed to reproduce. Indeed, if that happened to every plant of its kind, its species would go extinct.

Luckily for some wildflowers, that’s not what happens, observes Jennifer Gremer. She’s an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Earlier, while Gremer worked at the University of Arizona in Tucson, she studied how wildflower seeds avoid making bad “choices.” Sometimes people who place bets use the same strategy. With plants, the strategy isn’t about winning money, however. It’s about the survival of its species.

Bettors sometimes hedge a bet. That’s a way to try and limit their risk. For example, if you had bet a friend $5 that the Kansas City Royals would win the 2014 World Series, you would have lost all of your money. To hedge your bet, you could have bet another friend $2 that the Royals would lose the World Series. That way, when the Royals did lose, you lost $5 but won $2. That may still have hurt, but probably not as badly as if you had lost all $5.

A large share of the seeds produced by Monoptilon belliodes, the larger flowers at left, germinate in any given year. Meanwhile, the smaller flower at right, Evax multicaulis, hedges its bet. A much smaller percentage of its seeds germinate. The rest remain in the desert soil, awaiting another year—or 10. Jonathan Horst The wildflowers of the Sonoran Desert hedge their bets too. The bet they are hedging is: “If I grow this year, I can produce more seeds before I die.”

Imagine that a desert wildflower produces 1,000 seeds that all fall to the ground. The first year, only 200 of the seeds germinate. That’s the bet. The other 800 seeds are its hedge. They just lie and wait.

If that first year is very rainy, the 200 seeds might have a good shot at growing into flowers. Each in turn can produce more seeds. If the year is very dry, however, many, if not most, of the seeds that germinated will die. None of these seeds, then, got to reproduce. But thanks to the hedge, the plant gets a second chance. It still has 800 more seeds in the soil, each able to grow next year, the year after that or maybe a decade later. Whenever the rains come.

Hedging has its risks. Birds and other desert animals like to eat seeds. So if a seed sits on the desert floor for many years before growing, it might get eaten.

The wildflower ‘hedge’

Gremer and her team wanted to know how 12 common desert annuals hedged their bets. The experts tallied what share of the seeds germinated each year. They also counted what share of ungerminated seeds survived in the soil. (For example, some seeds end up getting eaten by animals.)

As luck would have it, another ecologist at the University of Arizona, Lawrence Venable, had been collecting data on wildflower seeds for 30 years. He and Gremer used these data for a new study.

Ursula Basinger, of the University of Arizona, uses a transparent sheet, placed on a Plexiglas “table,” to map individual annual plants at a site. Scientists update the map after each rainfall in fall and winter and note every seed that germinates. Repeated checks show which survived and how many seeds each plant later produced. Paul Mirocha Each year, Venable would sample desert soil and then count the seeds of each flower species in it. These represented seeds that had not yet germinated. After each rain, his team counted how many sprouted into seedlings. Venable then would watch the seedlings for the rest of the season to see if they set seeds of their own. Gremer used these data to calculate how many seeds germinated each year and, finally, how many of those ultimately went on to produce more seeds.

She suspected that if a species of desert flower is very good at surviving, most of its seeds would germinate each year. And her suspicions proved correct.

She used math to anticipate how many seeds of each plant would germinate each year if the plant were using the best possible strategy for survival. Then she compared her guesses to what the plants really did. By this method, she confirmed the plants had been hedging their bets after all. Some species did better than others. She and Venable described their findings in the March 2014 issue of Ecology Letters.

Filaree (Erodium texanum) hedged its bets only a little. This plant produces “big, yummy seeds” that animals like to eat, Gremer explains. It also is better than many other desert annuals at surviving without much water. Each year, about 70 percent of all filaree seeds germinate. After all, if the tasty seeds remained in the soil, animals might eat most of them. Instead, when the seeds sprout, they have a good chance of surviving and reproducing. That is this plant’s hedge.

Jennifer Gremer harvests annual plants to take back to the lab. “I had been monitoring these plants through the season to see how fast they were growing, whether they survived, when they started flowering, and how many flowers they produced,” she explains. Paul Mirocha A very small relative of the sunflower adopts the opposite approach in hedging its bets. Called rabbit tobacco ( Evax multicaulis ), animals rarely eat its very tiny seeds, which look like pepper grains. So this plant can gamble on leaving its seeds lying around the desert floor. In fact, each year, only 10 to 15 percent of its seeds germinate. And when one plants does — and survives in the desert long enough to produce seeds — it makes lots and lots of seeds. Indeed, it makes many more than a filaree does.

A lack of water makes it hard for plants to grow. That’s something crop farmers in California have seen only too well over the last three years of drought. In the deserts of the Southwestern United States, drought is a permanent feature of life — yet there, many plants still thrive. These plants succeed because they have evolved different ways to germinate, grow and reproduce.

Word Find (click here to enlarge for printing)

It’s never too late in the season to plan a new vegetable garden, even if it’s the heat of summer. You can always plant a fall garden or decide how you want to change your garden next spring. Growing your own vegetables gives you time to outside and it’s extremely satisfying to taste the results. It can also be a way to save money and make sure you are eating healthy food that you grew yourself.

There are creative ways to maximize what you can plant in your vegetable garden regardless of size. Take a look at each of these creative ways to grow vegetables and decide which one will work for you. Let us know if you try one and send us a photo.

1.) Vertical Garden

Give your plants the support to grow upward, this allows you to limit the footprint that your plant occupies. Vegetables that grow well vertically are cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, pole beans, squash and melons. To take advantage of unused space, you can also plant pots along the fence and grow smaller plants like strawberries or herbs.

Vertical supports can be crafted from any number of inexpensive sources. This photo shows how metal pipes fastened to a fence with a fabric shoe tree can create space where there was none.

You can plant along a fence, wall or use a metal cage. You can read more about how to build your own metal cage or trellis in this article.

To learn more about using a trellis to maximize growing space see this article from Rodale’s Organic Life or this article from Balcony Garden Web. If you want to mix in some flowers with your vegetables, there are many flowers that grow well with vertical support like Hollyhocks, Bougainvillea, Blue Moon Wisteria, Morning Glory, Campsis Radicans (Trumpet Vine), Honeysuckle and Clematis.

2.) Keyhole Garden

A Keyhole garden is a specific shape of raised-bed garden with a secret ingredient in the center, compost. The compost in the middle nourishes the plants around it. It works well in dry climates. The shape of the garden makes reaching both the compost and the surrounding plants easier. It can be round or U-shaped.

Photo is from this video on building a keyhole garden in Uganda.

The walls around the outside can be made from stones, metal sheeting, bricks or cinder blocks. Some people line the interior of the key with wet cardboard or newspapers before they add soil.

If you want to read more about Keyhole gardening, reach this article by the Texas Co-op. You can also watch this video that shows exactly how to build your own keyhole garden.

We also have an informative post about keyhole gardening.

3.) Pallet Garden

The pallets are used to create a type of frame for a raised bed garden. To build one of these you will need a pallet, weed blocking fabric, staples or nails and soil. You attach the fabric to the bottom of the pallet or the side with fewer cross planks (instead of one every few inches). Once you have attached a base you can add soil to the top of the pallet and use the top boards as spacers.

Learn more about planting in pallets in this video. You can read about more ways to set up the pallet in this article.

4.) Square Foot Garden

Square foot gardens are raised bed gardens with a very specific soil formula. The name comes from the one-foot grid space used to divide the bed. There are three steps to square foot gardening: 1.) build a raised bed box lined with a weed blocker, 2.) fill it with the special soil mix and 3.) add a grid. The special soil mix is 1/3 peat, 1/3 vermiculate and 1/3 blended compost.

This video has a tutorial for building a square foot garden. This method is not good for growing some root vegetables that need a slightly deeper soil to grow in.

See our post about building a square foot garden.

5.) Bucket Garden

Most people use 5 gallon buckets. They work like any gardening container and are easy to find and inexpensive. Remember to allow lots of room for your mature plants to fit. Don’t plant too much in each bucket. The soil needs to have lots of organic matter, approximately 50%. You can grow almost any type of leafy green, beans and tomatoes (be sure to plant determinate tomatoes if you don’t have room to stake them).

Watch this video about bucket gardening.

6.) Fabric Pot Garden

If you don’t have much space to grow your vegetables, it’s still possible to grow vegetables in grow bags. You can even do this on a balcony if you have no yard. You can grow anything from potatoes (in a 30 gallon pot) to herbs. The pots feel like felt but they are actually made of a very durable polypropylene. They have the benefit of being light so you can move your plants around a bit more easily. The pots pictured are Dynapot brand, which is available on Amazon.

7.) Straw Bale Garden

This method doesn’t even require soil but it does require some time. The straw has to be treated for a few weeks before you can add your plants. Once the straw is treated it begins to break down. Your plants can then get all the nutrients necessary from the decomposing straw. In fact, it’s important to keep soil out. You can plant almost anything expect corn.

To read more about straw bale gardening visit or read this informative post about how to get started with straw bale gardening. You can also watch this video about straw bale gardening.

If you are looking for more creative ways to plant vegetables, stay tuned… Part 2 is coming up shortly. If you have tried any of these methods send us a photo or let us know how they worked for you.

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