Low Maintenance Perennial Sunflower

The beginning of October my Maximilian’s Daisy (Helianthus maximiliani) was at peak

These sunflowers may be small compared to their annual cousin but they are still showy and attract pollinators, butterflies, and birds.

These sunflowers may be small compared to their annual cousin but they are still showy and attract pollinators, butterflies, and birds.

bloom.  This sunflower, native to the Great Plains has bloomed reliably in my garden for a number of seasons and I don’t have plant it every year because it is perennial. In fact,

Maximilian Daisies are a sunflower you don't have to plant every year but you see them every year.

Maximilian Daisies are a sunflower you don’t have to plant every year but you see them every year.

it increases in density every year giving me a prettier floral display than the previous year.

It has smaller flowers than most annual sunflowers and its flowers are arranged hollyhock style up and down the top 1/4 to 1/3 third of the stalk.  The leaves are also smaller and narrower than most annual sunflowers but this plant is still in the same genus and all the other sunflowers.

The flowers are 3″ to 4″ in diameter with yellow rays and darker centers start to open in August.  Flowering continues until the first frost in fall or sometime in October.  This year the first frost to kill freeze these flowers didn’t come until about the third week in October.

Amazingly, it will do well in almost any garden condition from very dry to very wet. It is not picky about soil texture or pH either. However, you will want to give careful consideration when placing Maximilian’s daisy in your garden since it can reach 10 ft in height. It also spreads out but is not an aggressive invader.

These small sunflowers are perennial and delight to see in late summer and early fall.

These small sunflowers are perennial and delight to see in late summer and early fall.

A good place for Maximilian’s daisy is to plant it along fences to prop up sagging branches. In addition, when planted against a fence, the mass of flowers it produces is less likely to obscure some other features in your garden. Plant Maximilian’s daisy with tall grasses or for more color plant perennial blue salvia in front of them.

Maximilian’s daisy works great to control erosion on larger properties with erodible soils. The dense rhizomatous mass at the base of these sunflowers does an excellent job of holding soil in place.

If you want to attract wildlife to your yard, Maximilian’s daisy will do that as well. The seeds are a magnet for goldfinches in the fall. Monarch butterflies feed on the nectars produced by this sunflower. Deer will also graze this plant but only in the late fall when other types of forage are no longer green and the stalks of this daisy are still green. However, the deer do little damage to this plant since next year the new shoots will sprout undamaged by deer and probably remain so until late in the season.

You can purchase seed of Maximilian’s daisy from many native seed companies and even a few companies that don’t specialize in native seeds. Seeds of Maximilian’s daisy doesn’t as easily as annual sunflowers but still will germinate without any treatment.  I usually germinate my Maximilian’s daisies in my greenhouse and transplant them to the garden in spring.

Once Maximilian’s daisy has germinated, it becomes an easy plant to establish and maintain. Some of the newly established plants will bloom the first summer but otherwise, it takes a second year of growth to see many flowers on this sunflower. As the years go by the number of stalks from a single plant will increase every year and you will have a mass of sunflowers from one plant. Some seed will also germinate from spent flowers in previous years.

Maximilian’s Daisy does not require a lot of water but more water will increase the height the plant. If you live in the arid western United States, expect to water Maximilian’s Daisy deeply at least once a week. Other regions of the country may not need to water this plant. If planted in a location with an abundance of soil moisture, Maximilian’s daisy stalks will likely grow to be 10 ft plus and need staking.

In winter, cut the dry stalks down to make way for new shoots. New stalks will spring from the clump of rhizomes at the base of the dead stalks.

Not many pests ruin your display of Maximilian Daisies and they will come up year after year with no effort on your part.

 

 

Desert Willow Blooms Most of the Growing Season

Most flowering trees and shrubs bloom only in spring.  Once the spring flowers

This desert willow is only about 8' tall and has been allowed to grow as a shrub.

This desert willow is only about 8′ tall and has been allowed to grow as a shrub.

have expired, these flowering trees and shrubs do provide shade and their green leaves can provide texture with their shape and size but it is nice when you find a tree that blooms when others are not blooming.  Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) is just such a tree.

Desert willow is not a true willow.  Instead it is related to the catalpa with flowers, that if they weren’t pink, would look like catalpa blossoms.  It gets the common name willow because the leaves, unlike the catalpa, resemble willow leaves.  Also unlike the catalpa that only blooms in the spring, desert willows bloom from April to November in their native range.  Here in Churchill County, my desert willow stays dormant until May and doesn’t start blooming until June.  Last year it bloomed until the first fall frost.

Desert willow is native to Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah,

This is a close of of the blossoms on my desert willow.

This is a close of of the blossoms on my desert willow.

Nevada, and California.  In the wild, it grows along washes with gravelly or sandy soil and high water table but it will tolerate almost any alkaline soil from sand to clay.  It is very drought tolerant but it does need at least weekly deep watering during the hottest part of the growing season.

In Nevada, desert willow is only found growing wild in the southern part of the state and I live in the northern part of the state.  In northern Nevada, my USDA Hardiness rating is just on the margin of what some garden guides recommend for desert willows.  I say some of these guides because there is no consensus.  Some recommend desert willow only in zones 8 through 11 and others recommend it in zones 6-1l.  Still others say 5-8.  Most guides say desert willow will tolerate freezing temperatures and some say it will survive temperatures down to -15°F.  Parts of its native range have climates where occasionally temperatures can dip below 0°F but also experience highs greater than 100°F during the summer months.  How cold hardy a particular desert willow plant is may depend on the region where were collected.

The growth habit of desert willow is that of a large shrub with multiple stems reaching a size of 6 to 30 feet tall and 6 to 30 feet in diameter.  Proper pruning can turn this large shrub into a small tree that is an appropriate size for a small residential lot. In my conditions, which are marginal for desert willow, I’ve found I’m lucky to get a nice flowering shrub that stands about 8 ft. tall.  I have two desert willows, the one that is 8 ft. tall and one that has assumed a prostrate form due to severe winds in the winter.

Desert willows allowed to grow like shrubs need very little maintenance.  In my garden, I’ve found it has no pests and attracts lots of pollinators.

 

 

 

Perennial Blue Flax: a Lovely Blue Flower When Planted in Mass

I must have dumped some wildflower seed out because I didn’t remember

I must have dumped some wildflower seed out because I didn't remember planting these beautiful blue flowers I saw in my backyard late one spring.  They were blooming when I had just experienced a lot of frustration with bulbs I had planted the previous fall hoping for a mass display similar to the pictures in the catalogs.  Instead, with our unpredictable spring I was only getting to enjoy a bloom for several days before a late frost would nip it.  The mass display of bulbs blooming at the same time never happened that spring.  So these beautiful blue flowers were a welcome surprise and I didn't even remember dumping the seed in my backyard.  	These blue flowers are either Linum lewisii or Linum perenne.  The common name for both is blue flax and both are perennial.  What distinguishes the two species are very fine differences in their floral anatomy that I won't discuss here but both behave very similarly.  Neither is invasive and only Linum lewisii is native to North America. Most likely, these are Linum perenne because at the time I likely dumped the wildflower seed, it was common to put the introduced species, Linum perenne, in wildflower seed mixes.  	Linum lewisii is native to North America and a number of online native seed vendors sell seed for this species.  The seeds of this short-lived perennial germinate readily without any special treatment.  My experience is that you can directly plant the seed in the garden or you can plant them in trays in the greenhouse and transplant them in the young seedling stage to the garden in spring or early fall.  Flowering will not occur until the next season.  	In May and June of the second year after perennial blue flax seeds have germinated is when the first blue flowers will appear and each plant will only have a few stems.  When this plant is several years old, it will assume a vase like shape of many stems bearing short fine leave along its length.  Each stem will terminate in a blue flower and when planted in mass, the effect is a patch of blue in late spring or early summer in your garden.  	Blue flax is a low maintenance perennial that requires only a small amount of watering in a desert climate.  It's not picky about soil type but those planted in sandy beds will need more water.    	Removing stems from the previous season is not necessary but removing olds stems in late spring will make the plant look tidier.   	Blue flax is hardy in USDA zones 3-8.  The plants last a few years but if you let the stems stay on the plant over winter, allowing seeds to drop in the flowerbed, they will naturalize in that bed.

This approximately 1″ diameter flower is born on the tips of each stem of the blue flax plant.

planting these beautiful blue flowers I saw in my backyard late one spring.  They were blooming when I had just experienced a lot of frustration with bulbs I had planted the previous fall hoping for a mass display similar to the pictures in the catalogs.  Instead, with our unpredictable spring I was only getting to enjoy a bloom for several days before a late frost would nip it.  The mass display of bulbs blooming at the same time never happened that spring.  So these beautiful blue flowers were a welcome surprise and I didn’t even remember dumping the seed in my backyard.

These blue flowers are either Linum lewisii or Linum perenne.  The common name for both is blue flax and both are perennial.  What distinguishes the two species are very fine differences in their floral anatomy that I won’t discuss here but both behave very similarly.  Neither is invasive and only Linum lewisii is native to North America. Most likely, these are Linum perenne because at the time I likely dumped the wildflower seed, it was common to put the introduced species, Linum perenne, in wildflower seed mixes.

 Linum lewisii is native to North America and a number of online native seed vendors sell seed for this species.  The seeds of this short-lived perennial germinate readily without any special treatment.  My experience is that you can directly plant the seed in the garden or you can plant them in trays in the greenhouse and transplant them in the young seedling stage to the garden in spring or early fall.  Flowering will not occur until the next season.

In May and June of the second year after perennial blue flax seeds have

This blue flax plant has is several seasons old and has a vase shaped structure.  It is about 12" tall.

This blue flax plant has is several seasons old and has a vase shaped structure. It is about 12″ tall.

germinated is when the first blue flowers will appear and each plant will only have a few stems.  When this plant is several years old, it will assume a vase like shape of many stems bearing short fine leave along its length.  Each stem will terminate in a blue flower and when planted in mass, the effect is a patch of blue in late spring or early summer in your garden.

Blue flax is a low maintenance perennial that requires only a small amount of watering in a desert climate.  It’s not picky about soil type but those planted in sandy beds will need more water.

Removing stems from the previous season is not necessary but removing old stems in late spring will make the plant look tidier.

Blue flax is hardy in USDA zones 3-8.  The plants last a few years but if you let the stems stay on the plant over winter, allowing seeds to drop in the flowerbed, they will naturalize in that bed.

Sumac Provides Summer Greenery and Quail Habitat to My Desert Garden

As I write this post, daytime highs are in the 100°F+ range and most flowers if even open

Many of my trees and shrubs have taken on a dull green cast despite adequate water but skunkbush sumac is looking quite green and inviting in spite of the 100F degree heat.

Many of my trees and shrubs have taken on a dull green cast despite adequate water but skunkbush sumac is looking quite green and inviting in spite of the 100F degree heat.

are looking ragged as they dehydrate while in the bud stage.  The most interesting activity in my garden isn’t flowers in the summer but wildlife.  Recently I’ve been watching the quail scurry all over my yard.  I’ve even had a friend tell me I have the most quail she has ever seen.  Could it be something about the plants I’ve selected for my garden? They seem to like the skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) I planted in several random locations.

Skunkbush flowers in the early spring and they are not very showy so I did not plant this for it floral display.  Instead, I planted it for the greenery it would provide in summer and its extreme drought tolerance.  Of all my plants, it looks like it is suffering the least from these 100°F+ temperatures.  Besides the summer greenery, this shrub also can be quite colorful in fall when its foliage turns various shades of yellow, pink, red and orange.  In my yard, I have one that seems to turn pink and the other yellow.

What I did not expected, but have since found in the literature and observed in my yard, is

In the mornings I look out my kitchen window to see lots of quail feeding under my skunkbush sumac.

In the mornings I look out my kitchen window to see lots of quail feeding under my skunkbush sumac.

that quail love skunkbush sumac. The literature on habitat favorable to quail indicates that skunkbush sumac provide both cover and food for quail.

Many people will think poisonous when they hear or see the word sumac but not all sumacs are poisonous. In fact, the berries of skunkbush sumac have been used to make a refreshing “lemonade flavored” drink. However in my yard, the quail get these berries and instead I get to watch adult quail with their young scurrying about under the sumac and occasionally an adult flies up into the foliage to snatch some berries. What berries I do get to see are also quite ornamental.

Small clusters of small clusters of minute, light green flowers at the tips of most of the

The blossoms on the skunkbush sumac are not particularly showy but the skippers, moths and butterflies that feed on the nectar can provide a show.

The blossoms on the skunkbush sumac are not particularly showy but the skippers, moths and butterflies that feed on the nectar can provide a show.

twigs precede the appearance of the red berries. Small butterflies are attracted to these clusters of flowers in early spring.

By fall, most of the berries are gone. That is when the leaves turn lovely shades of gold, orange, pink, and red.

A good location for this shrub is the edge of your property or on slopes that are hard to maintain. It can also be a part of a screen or windbreak. Individual plants will grow to a height of 8′ and a diameter of 8′.  It needs water for establishment but once its roots go deep enough it will survive infrequent watering. Since flowering occurs at the tips of twigs, pruning reduces the display of berries so lightly prune by thinning out crossed branches.  If watching birds and butterflies that frequent this shrub, be sure to plant it where it is visible from a window.

These berries attract many birds to my garden.

These berries attract many birds to my garden.

There are several names for skunkbush sumac, including basket bush, squawbush, and three-leaf sumac. In the wild, this shrub grows under a wide range of conditions from stream banks to dry rocky slopes. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions as well from highly alkaline to acidic soils.

There are six varieties naturally occurring varieties of Rhus trilobata; anisophylla, pilosissima, quinata, racemuolosa, simplicifolia, and trilobata.  Distinguishing features between these varieties are leaf size, berry pubescence, and plant height.  Additionally, Rhus aromatica, a close cousin of Rhus trilobata is available to gardeners. The only readily apparent difference between these two species is Rhus aromatica’s leave have a nice aroma when crushed leaves and Rhus trilobata’s crushed leave have an unpleasant order.  Unless you plan to crush the leaves, Skunkbush Sumac is an excellent plant for windbreaks, wildlife, and low maintenance. The other big difference between Rhus trilobata and Rhus aromatica is the geographic range over which these two species occur. Rhus trilobata is native to the western United States and Rhus aromatica is native to the east United States. Expect Rhus trilobata to tolerate dryer conditions than Rhus aromatica.

Golden Columbine is a Nice Native Flowering Perennial for a Shade Garden

I love having shade trees in my garden when the summer days get long and hot. The only

Golden Columbine (Aquilegia) is a shade loving flowering perennial

Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) is native to the western United States and does well in the shade.

problem with lots of shade is I also like flowers. Many flowers need full sun and do not do well in the shade. One flower that does do well in the shade and is native to my region of the United States is Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha).  I have lots of this flower in one of my shady locations and it has now gotten to the point where it has naturalized in that spot. Getting it established in that location took more than one plant and I had to start it from seed since it was not readily available in local nurseries.

Golden Columbine is perennial so it does not need replanting every year. Still it if you want it to last indefinitely you will want it to naturalize. Naturalizing is the process where the plant establishes in a manner that keeps it reproducing new plants and the new plants, once established produce more plants after the original plant has died. To achieve this with Golden Columbine I had to first acquired plants I wanted established in my shady location.

I purchased my Golden Columbine seed from a business that sells native seed. The instructions on the packet said to put the seed in the ground in the fall and barely cover it hoping for a moist winter or I need to cold stratify the seed for 30 days and plant seed in the spring. I chose the latter since winters in my garden are unpredictable and we only get a wet enough winter to germinate desirable seeds every half dozen years.

To stratify my seed I placed it on a moist paper towel in a sealed sandwich bag. Then I placed this bag in the refrigerator for 30 days. After thirty days, I spread the moist seeds on the surface of potting soil in a seedling tray in the greenhouse. I sprinkled a small amount of potting soil over the seed being careful not to put too much because columbine seed need filtered light in order to germinate.

Once germinated the seedlings are very small and delicate. They require considerable maturation before being set out in the garden. In the case of my columbine seedlings, I let them mature in my greenhouse for at least a year before setting them out in the garden.

There are two good times to transplant columbine into the garden. The first time for transplanting young columbine plants raised in a greenhouse is spring when the weather has warmed up enough that the ground is workable but before the weather gets hot and dry. The other time is in the fall after the weather has cooled and a couple of weeks before the first killing frost. Be sure to plant a large enough cluster of columbine to ensure pollination between plants and seed set.

Individual plants will last a few years and require regeneration to maintain the species in a perennial flowerbed indefinitely. To do this I let the flowers go to seed and fall naturally between the established plants. Additionally I let leaves and other plant residues pile up between these plants. This residue combined with keeping the soil moist until the first killing frost when I discontinue watering until the next growing season.   The leaves and other plant residues keep moisture in the soil thus creating a good environment for natural cold stratification of seeds.

In the spring when I clear out the previous season’s residues and leaves, I take care not to uproot the newly germinated seedlings. By following these cultural practices, I have established a naturalized perennial bed of Golden Columbine that requires very little maintenance and no replanting.

New Mexico Privet: A good tall shrub for a windbreak and wildlife

It’s been awhile since I posted. Part of the reason for this long silence has been my

New Mexico Privet

The more dense foliage in the foreground is my New Mexico Privet which stands about 15′ tall. The tree in the background is some species of cottonwood.

search for plants I really want to put in my garden that meet my criteria. My criteria are low water requirement, tolerant of alkaline soils, winter hardy to zone 5, and low maintenance. Not all the plants I want will be low maintenance but realistically I can’t manage three acres of high maintenance plants so most of what I plant will have to be low maintenance. One plant I’ve been observing that I already have in my garden is Foresteira  neomexicana and I’ve decided I want more of this large shrub or small tree.

I just got back from a trip to Albuquerque, NM where I visited the Albuquerque Biopark botanical garden. There I saw Foresteira neomexicana or New Mexico privet. This is the first time I’ve seen the berries on this plant. My own New Mexico privet does not have berries but blooms every spring. Since I only have one that is mature enough to bloom. The other New Mexico privets I’ve planted more recently and they are less mature and I have yet to see them bloom. In researching this plant on the Internet I find that you need more than one blooming because male and female flowers are on different plants. This means I’ll have to wait until my smaller New Mexico Privets mature

Berries on New Mexico Privet

Berries on the New Mexico Privet I saw at the Albuquerque Biopark botanical garden.

enough to bloom to see if mine will produce berries.

Information I found on the Internet says you can prune New Mexico Privet to be a small tree and that this is great for urban and suburban landscapes where power lines are a problem since it only reaches a mature height of about 15′; well under the standard power line height. For my property I have a few power line issues but mostly I’m interested is screening, shade, low water consumption, low maintenance, and wildlife friendly. New Mexico trims into a hedge or remove lower branches to create a small tree. Either of these forms will require regular pruning to maintain. I’m more interested in just letting it grow to be the shrub it would be in the wild. If I let them reach their full size and don’t prune them into trees I could plant them 5′ to 8′ apart to get a good sound barrier or windbreak and for me this would be useful. Additionally having more of these plants may

Immature New Mexico Privet

One of the many New Mexico Privet I’ve raised from seed that have not yet matured enough to bloom.

ensure I have some that produce berries that attract birds and I wouldn’t mind doing some bird watching on my own property.

An even more appealing fact I found on the Internet is that Foresteira neomexicana is native to arid habitats in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Oklahoma. Since I live in Nevada and it is very desert around me I’m looking for plants like this one. Although I don’t get the 9″ to 24″ of annual precipitation that is characteristic of where this plant grows wild, I do have the ability to water it and I live where the water table is high. Supplemental watering and a high water can make up for the fact my average annual precipitation is only 4″. This past winter was extremely dry here in Nevada, where we are in our fourth year of drought and still my mature New Mexico Privet looks good. I didn’t even water it over the winter but I cannot say the same for my roses that were watered over the winter.

So now, I’m starting more New Mexico Privet from seed to join the others I’ve already planted. To do this I must cold stratify seed for 30 days at a temperature around 40°F. Then I will plant the stratified in moist potting soil in a green house to get it to germinate.

Once germinated, I’ll raise them up from greenhouse seedling to potted plants in a lath

New Mexico Privet at Albuquerque Biopark

This is a picture of the New Mexico Privet I saw with all the berries at the Albuquerque Biopark.

house and finally transplant them outside in the ground.

 

Puncture Vine: How to reduce its presence over the long term

A friend recently asked for some quick way to rid her yard of goat heads otherwise

Puncture vine seed or "Goatheads"

Pictured is a shattered seed head of puncture vine. Not the sharp thorns and the shape of each seed is why some people refer to it as “goatheads”.

known as puncture vine (Tribulus terrestis). I cannot blame this friend for wanting a quick solution because this weed with its sharp seeds can make walking barefoot in any garden a miserable experience. Putting shoes on before going outdoors may protect your feet while in the garden. If you do not take those same shoes off before coming inside you could find walking indoors with bare feet also a painful experience. Alas, I cannot offer this friend a quick lasting fix because unless you get rid of the seed bank in the soil, anything you do is only short term. Instead, I have a solution that if consistently applied over several seasons will give you long term relief from goat heads.

Controlling this weed requires a three-pronged approach. You must deplete the seed bank in the soil and you must diligently remove all puncture vines as they appear before

Puncture vine forms a mat on the ground that becomes quite prickly one seeds set.

Puncture vine forms a mat on the ground that becomes quite prickly one seeds set.

they set seed. As you get an area cleared of this noxious weed, desirable plants or landscape structures need to be placed because bare ground is just an invitation for any weed to sprout where you do not want it.

The painful nature of the seed produced by puncture vine also makes it an easier weed to control by depleting the seed bank in the soil. To deplete the soil in your yard of puncture vine seeds put containers at all the doors to you house and a stable stool next to the contain so people can take their shoes off and pull out all the goat heads. You can also speed up the process by putting on your shoes and walking all over your garden. Take regular breaks to take your shoes off and pick out all the seeds on your soles. Do this all year regardless of the season because these seeds are present all year. If you are persistent in removing seeds from your yard, it will only take a couple of seasons.

The other part of getting rid of this weed is to hoe out every small puncture vine you see before it can produce seed. This should start as early as the weather warms up enough to work in the garden since seeds start sprouting in late spring. Once flowers

Puncture vine flowers are yellow five petaled flowers. It's best hoe puncture vine out before these yellow flowers appear because soon after flowers appear they are followed by a six segmented head of seed that has two sharp thorns on each segment.

Puncture vine flowers are yellow five petaled flowers. It’s best hoe puncture vine out before these yellow flowers appear because soon after flowers appear they are followed by a five segmented head of seed that has two sharp thorns on each segment.

appear, seed will soon follow and then you have more seeds you will have to collect in your missions to remove the seeds.

Spraying with herbicides, organic or chemical, will not offer any long term solution for getting rid of puncture vine because they do not kill the seeds which remain viable for many years. There are puncture vine seed eating weevils imported from Europe and Asia but they expensive and will not overwinter in climates with cold winters. Herbicide or weevils alone will not control puncture vine. Combining the release of seed eating weevils with properly timed herbicide applications may work just like the solution I propose. You will still have to apply the chemicals and weevils over several growing season and this could be expensive. Additionally chemicals for the breakdown of the herbicide will remain in the environment.

To achieve long-term control of puncture vine, do not leave bare ground in your yard.

Puncture vine seed head

Pictured is a puncture vine seed head before it shatters and disperses to wherever some poor unsuspecting creature gets poked by it and transported to its eventual resting spot. Once in its resting spot it waits for ideal condition to germinate and a new vine sprouts.

Avoid reintroducing puncture vine by not parking your car in puncture vine infested lots. Also, do not walk across vacant lots infested with puncture vine.

Apache Plume is Just Drought Tolerant Native Shrub to Replace My Roses

I’ve been looking at native shrubs to replace some of the roses and other not so

Apache Plume could be covered with feathery, pink seed heads resembling a Native America headdress. This picture was taken in late May. This plant will continue to have a few white flowers opening all summer and fading to feathering pink seed heads.

By summer Apache Plume could be covered with feathery, pink seed heads resembling a Native America headdress. This picture was taken in late May. This plant will continue to have a few white flowers opening all summer and fading to feathering pink seed heads.

drought tolerant plants in a portion of my garden that is exposed to drying winds and intense afternoon sun and heat.  Even in the cold winter when evaporation is less I still had a hard time keeping the soil moist around roses I had planted on that side of my house. It didn’t help that we had no snow and almost no winter rain this year. The wind still blew but the storms were dry. One plant I’ve already started planting on that west face of my house is Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).

Apache Plume is found naturally growing in piñon/juniper woodlands from Texas to California.  In Texas, southern New Mexico, Southern Arizona, and California, Apache Plume is evergreen.  Everywhere else in its native range, which can go as far north as Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, it is deciduous. In the higher elevations of the Mojave Desert where there are Joshua Trees, you will also find Apache Plume.

In the wild Apache Plume grows naturally in gravelly and well-drained soils but under cultivation, it will grow in most any soil.  My soil is sandy and droughty so it should be happy on the west side of my house. With a little supplemental water, it should be full and beautiful as long as I don’t overwater it.

Apache Plume reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet and spreads as wide as it is high.

Apache Plume Hedge

Pictured here is a hedge of Apache Plume. Notice how, even though most of the plant is covered with feathery pink seed heads, there are still a few white flower.

White, 1″ diameter flowers with five petals resembling single roses start to appear in spring. New flowers appear continually throughout the entire growing season and as they fade they are replace with pink feathery seed heads; hence the name Apache Plume.  By late summer this shrub, covered with fluffy pink seed heads looks like a cloud of pink.

I’m hoping to create clouds of pink intersperse with other plants that I have not yet selected. I don’t want a monoculture of any plant. Even Apache Plume.

Small Apache Plume Plant  Inside its Cage

Here is a better picture showing the plant inside the cage.

Cage to Protect My Apache Plume from Deer

Here is one of the Apache Plumes that I planted on the west face of my house. I put a cage around it while it is still small and tender to protect it from the occasional deer that wander into my garden. Once the plant is large enough a little graze by herbivores will not hurt it.

Planting a Vegetable Garden and Trying to Protect it From Rabbits

I realize it has been awhile since I have posted. In that time, I have been busy working on my vegetable garden. It is more than just simply digging up the soil and plunking seeds in the ground. My growing season is too short to allow many of my summer vegetable to ripen before the first killing frost in the fall. Additionally I had to devise a strategy for protecting my plants from the rabbits that have never been in my yard before and consider what to do to reduce the need for irrigating my vegetable garden.

To solve the short growing season problem I always start my seeds germinating about three to four weeks ahead of the last killing spring frost. I find a warm spot in my house to place my seedling trays. A temperature of around 68°F is ideal. Soon after the coteledons have popped out of the ground, I move them into the greenhouse where they will get more natural light. If I don’t move them soon enough the stems become etiolated or over elongated and weak.

In my area, we can usually figure on a very dry growing season. Almost all of our 4″ average annual precipitation falls in the winter in the form of snow. This winter we had no snow and only a small amount of rain. I spent some time checking my soil just to see how dry and noticed that where there was leaves and debris on the ground there was a little bit of moisture in the underlying soil. I’ve decided instead of tilling my garden soil, I will simply dig only enough soil around each plant I transplant and then push leaves and other plant debris back around the transplant. Each plant will still receive water from an emitter in my drip system.  I’m hoping this way to conserve water and still keep my vegetable garden from being stressed for water. There is the real danger in my area for domestic wells to dry up in this drought since the agricultural land around it will receive no irrigation after the end of June. It could be a very long hot dry summer and crops will likely die.

Another consequence of this drought is that wildlife is concentrating around our homes and in town. On my property, I have rabbits I’ve never seen before and more deer than usual. I decided I needed a way to protect my plants so I am constructing cages to put around each plant. A larger enclosure might not be as effective in protecting plants since rabbits can burrow. I’m hoping that individual cages around each plant will reduce the problem. Maybe they will instead find my neighbors vegetable garden easier to devour.

Pepper Starts in a cage

These pepper starts have a cage around them because my vegetable garden is infested with rabbits.

Snap Bean Starts in a Cage

Here are some snap bean starts that I have just transplanted to my vegetable garden.

Vegetable cages to keep rabbits out.

I’ve constructed these little cages to put around my vegetable plants in order to protect them from the rabbits

Again My Fruit Trees are Blooming too Soon

Officially, spring arrived March 20 but here in northern Nevada we can still get some

This apricot blossom is lovely now but a heavy freeze is forecast for tonight and will likely freeze this blossom.

This apricot blossom is lovely now but a heavy freeze is forecast for tonight and will likely freeze this blossom.

wintry weather. So far, it has stayed spring like since spring started. It even reached 79 degrees yesterday here in Fallon.

During yesterday’s inspection of my garden, I especially wanted to see how the fruit tree blossoms were doing. I’d noticed they had been opening for the last couple of weeks. I consider this to be too early but not uncommon in my high desert climate. We almost never get fruit. If we are lucky, we might get a few apples. So far based on my inspection we haven’t lost any fruit yet. Notice I say yet. We can still get a hard frost between now and the middle of May on the average. Also, notice I say average.  That means we could get a killing frost after mid May as well.

So far, the apricots and peaches are in full bloom with the apples blossoms barely starting to open. I suspect I will lose the apricots and peaches totally and about a third to half of the potential apple crop with the blooms opening this early. So much for fruit production this year from these trees since it is highly probably they will freeze before fruit can set and mature. Instead, they are landscape trees that add some nice greenery during the growing season. In fall, they usually have nice color as well.

Why are my fruit trees blooming too soon? What can I do about it? The answer to the first

These apple blooms are almost open. Unfortunately they may never fully open because a heavy freeze is predicted for the next morning. They will like freeze and fall of the plant.

These apple blooms are almost open. Unfortunately they may never fully open because a heavy freeze is predicted for the next morning. They will like freeze and fall of the plant.

is that spring temperatures arrived before March 20 warming the soil up. Since our ground has no snow or other insulation to slow the warming of the soil sap starts flowing in the vascular tissue of the trees and shrub early. An additional reason in my given situation for this early bloom is I’m located in a relative low spot where cold air sinks every night. Without breezes to stir up the air allowing cold settle in and freeze the newly forming plant tissues in the floral buds. If fruit has already set, it too will freeze.

There are a couple of practices such as turning sprinklers on in the very early morning before temperatures dip below freezing or setting out smudge pots can protect blossoms and newly forming fruit but they are only effective to a couple of degrees below freezing for a very brief time. Even setting up a very large fan to keep air circulating could help. All of the measures have their limited effectiveness. That is they are only good to a couple of degrees below freezing for a very brief time. A little more effective would be to place a thick layer of mulch over the soil near the trees in the fall. This mulch helps to both hold moisture in the soil and to moderate temperature swing between freezing and thawing throughout the dormant period. Mulch doesn’t need to go right up to the trunk of the trees and shrubs to have it effect on soil moisture and temperature moderation. In fact, it is best not to put mulch right up to the trunk because it can harbor some pests that like to enter a plant from it trunk. The reason it can still effectively moderate the temperature around the roots is that tree and shrub roots extend quite some distance from the base of the tree and the actually growing points of the roots are at the tips which are located at the furthest distance from the trunk. These tips are also, where the greatest water absorption into the root system occurs. You can expect the roots to extend as far as the perimeter of the canopy sometimes referred to as the “drip line”.

One more way to increase the chance of producing fruit in the high deserts of the American West is to choose fruit tree varieties that are later bearing. This usually means it takes more degrees of heat to initiate blossoms. That has the potential to delay blooming as much as a couple of weeks and that reduces but doesn’t not eliminate the likelihood that blooms will freeze. Depending on where you live, greatly increase your chances of get a nice crop of fruit.

Back to Mulch. Mulch has an added benefit. If applied heavy enough it will keep spring weeds down.