Agave Trellis

After nearly a decade of gracing our desert landscaping, several agaves started to shoot out their thick center stalk last year.

Agaves with spikes

The “maturation”/growth of this spikey stalk takes nearly a year; and in the final months of the process, the mother plant starts to wither and will eventually die after sending out multiple “pups.”

Agaves with pup

The spikes often exceed 16 feet; and after several months in the hot sun are lightweight yet sturdy. Previous uses for these spikes have included our year-round holiday light pole (scroll all the way down) that continues to adorn our patio. Now we wanted to extend our agave craft to the creation of a trellis!

Internet research yielded no effective uses of these agave poles for a trellis; so an original prototype was designed! Our three spikes were each approximately 12 feet long; with varying thickness of about three to five inches in diameter.

After the appropriate cuts were made, two coats of fast-drying clear satin polyurethane was applied.

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The thickest spikes were used to create the three 6’ vertical spikes/supports that were placed at equal spacing over a 5’ linear area (each end spike was approximately 30 inches from the center spike post).

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The three vertical poles were carefully placed in 6” PVC piping submerged into the ground, with pea gravel used to fill in any gaps. Effort was made to assure that these poles were aligned carefully to facilitate the placement of the cross bars.

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Lighter lengths of spike were used for the three horizontal (cross) bars and placed at equal intervals; with the bottom being 18 inches from the ground.

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For additional support (and because the spikes have natural imperfect planes), the middle horizontal bar was placed to the opposite side of the top and bottom bars.

Carriage bolts of varying lengths (dependent upon the thickness of the two spikes used being secured) were employed….and holes were made with a cordless drill prior to ratcheting these bolts into place.

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Now the challenge is to find a worthy resident for the trellis that will offer a bounty of flowers and yet get along with the other desert denizens!

Yikes! Spikes – Agave and Sotol

This spring/summer has been an unusual one for our desert garden especially our front landscape. We have a good number of agaves in our front yard. Agaves are sharp-leaved plants that need little water so they do very well in arid places and the Sonoran desert is no exception.

Once in their lifetime agaves send out a flower stalk which we refer to as a spike. The spike flowers and then produces bulbils (plantlets) or seeds. Once the process is complete, the mother plant dies. Before the plant dies, however, it generally produces other plants which are called pups.

We moved into our home and several agaves were already in place and then we added additional species. Each agave species or type flowers according to their own timetable and if you were planting a bunch of agaves from the same species, you would want to purchase them at different stages of growth so they don’t all spike at once and end up dying at the same time.

Here is what our landscape looks like now…

Agaves with spikes

Can you see all the spikes? Just in case you can’t see them all, here they are numbered…

Agaves with spikes numbered

Yes we have seven spikes all at the same time. As I indicated above, these are not all the same type of agave and it just worked out that they spiked together.

We have one additional twist to the story. Among the agaves is a sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) , or desert spoon (#4). They also send out a spike. One of the main differences is that the sotols don’t die after producing their spike. They continue with their life cycle. You can see that it looks quite different from the others. While we have at least three sotols, only one has sent out a spike this season.

Here is a close up of the one section and the sotol is a bit more noticeable (right of center).

sotol among the agaves

We found this random occurrence unusual and it makes our landscape look a bit otherworldly with all those spikes in the air. What are your thoughts?

 
Read More:

Agaves

Arizona Municipal Water Users Association/a> – Click on a variety to see more detail

Here is a picture of a variegated agave ( Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’) which adds an additional interest to the landscape

Sotol (desert spoon)

Arizona State University

Water When Dry

Desert Bloom – Ipomoea fistulosa, Bush Morning Glory

Ipomoea fistulosa reminds me of the hardy hibiscus that I grew when I lived in the northwest corner of Hunterdon County, NJ. Those were large plants with flowers that would often be the size of my head.

While Ipomoea fistulosa, Bush Morning Glory, does not produce blooms that are as large, the coloring and basic shape are very similar. One nice attribute of Ipomoea is that it tends to produce more flowers than the hardy hibiscus managed to give. As the common name implies, the flowers fade later in the day and the shape is morning-glory like.

 

Ipomoea fistulosa bloom close up
Picture of a closeup of the colors, form and texture of the flowers

 

Ipomoea fistulosa growth habit

Picture showing the general growth form of the Ipomoea

 

Ipomoea fistulosa cluster bloom

As the blooming process matures, a cluster of flowers tend to open together

 

How it grows in my garden:

The plant grows four-to-five feet tall and three-to-four feet wide (but we have it constrained by rabbit fencing). Flowers bloom in clusters once the plant matures and often produces a mini-bouquet.

Hardiness range (Depending on where it is grown): 15 to 40 F

Exposure: Full sun (10+ hours per day during the hot desert summer)

In General: Ipomoea fistulosa likes warm weather so make sure it is planted when the weather is going to be hot. Even though it survives in the desert, it does need ample water to produce well and thrive, but not soggy.

Watering*: During the active growing season, the plant gets watered every few days until the end of April, then every other day or so until the end of May and then every day until the end of September and it tapers off from there.(Remember, this watering schedule reflects our desert environment.)

Fertilizer – I use a “super bloom” variety as directed. The plant receives fertilizer three times a year as is the recommended schedule for trees and shrubs in the desert.

Valentine’s Day**
Memorial Day
Labor Day

Notes: Unless I am collecting seeds, all seed pods are “pinched” to extend the bloom. Others report Ipomoea fistulosa to be a large shrub. I have planted it as a semi-perennial and I have re-planted it after one or two growing seasons and thus it may not grow as large under these conditions.

Read more about it at the sites below. NOTE – these links do not represent an endorsement of any kind, but are intended as informational. Readers need to decide for themselves whether or not to use the information from the links provided.

Dave’s Garden

Information about Ipomoea fistulosa from Arizona State University

Onalee’s Seeds, LLC

Walters Gardens Inc. re: Hardy Hibiscus

Desert Gardening in General

When I speak with those who don’t live in the desert and I tell them that I am interested in gardening, they are often surprised that I can grow ornamental plants in this somewhat hostile environment.

There are quite a few plants that will grow in Maricopa County in the Sonoran Desert. One nice quality of the Sonoran Desert, one of the wettest deserts in the world, is that we actually have two growing seasons.

The following excerpt is from: Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County

“We have two optimal growing seasons: one in the spring, the other in the fall. Both day length and temperature vary dramatically between seasons (short days and cold temperatures in winter to long days and extreme temperatures in summer). Since few annual plants are suited to thrive in both conditions, it is important to choose plants that mature quickly to ensure a full life cycle within one season.”

You can download the document here: Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County

Of course plants can be “carried over” from the spring to the fall if care is taken to provide shade cloth and enough water.

Because I live on the edge of the desert, I have to compete with Javelinas, ground squirrels, Harris antelope squirrels, regular squirrels, rabbits (lots of these) and the normal insect pests such as aphids, horn worms, etc.

My horticultural focus is ornamental plants, i.e. those plants that produce pretty flowers and the flowers need to be pleasing or plentiful enough that I don’t mind the foliage when the plant is not in bloom. If a plant has interesting foliage, this helps.

*The desert can sometimes be unpredictable so this is a general guideline. If it rains or if the weather gets hotter than “normal for the desert,” the amount of water is adjusted accordingly. The best guide in learning about each plant is to watch it closely and water when necessary. Be warned, however, in the heat of the blistering desert, the tipping point arrives quickly.

**This is the accepted fertilizing schedule for trees and shrubs. Because my garden gets frequent water, I find that fertilizing all plants using this schedule to be effective. The amount of fertilizer needs to be adjusted for different plant varieties.

Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium lamerei)

When we first moved to Phoenix more than six years ago, all of our northeastern gardening experience was rendered moot. What we knew did not fit to the Sonoran Desert environment. We needed to be re-educated regarding desert gardening.

I quickly enrolled in the Maricopa County Master Gardener program. Until then, however, I needed to have some plants to care for. After having so many gardens and plants to nurture in New Jersey, it was in my DNA.

One of the first plants we obtained was a Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium lamerei) which technically is not a palm tree at all. This is how it looked during its growing season shortly after I first purchased it:

Madagascar Palm First Purchased

One thing about the Madagascar Palm, which I didn’t know, was that during the desert winter, it drops all of its leaves and can easily be mistaken for dead. This is how it looks once the cold weather has set in:

Madagascar Palm Without Leaves

Those stickers keep the pesky critters at bay!

When we first purchased the plant it was between seven and eight inches high. It was a small plant and it was in a relatively, i.e. 4 to 6-inch, clay pot.

This is how our plant looked this spring (nearly six feet tall):

Madagascar Palm Spring 2015

Until this year our palm had only leaves which dropped during the winter and then reappeared each succeeding growing season. This year, however, there was a surprise in store:

Madagascar Palm Spring 2015 with Flowers

There was a cluster of flower buds. They are very pretty white flowers with a yellow center. I am not sure where they go from here (what kind of seed pod, etc.). The flowers last more than one day which is nice. What kind of fruit they will yield or if they will be pollinated at all is yet to be determined.

The flower pictures are not the best because the ladder I used to take them was not set on a stable surface and it was a bit tricky. I think you will still be able to appreciate the plant even with these less-than-perfect shots.

Madagascar Palm Spring 2015 with Flowers

Read more about the Madagascar Palm here and here.

A New Plant in Our Garden

This year we decided to try a new plant in our late winter desert courtyard; Stock (Matthiola). I had seen this plant and known about it for quite some time, but I had never used it. I wondered how it would do in the very sunny southwest. I am happy to report that it has served us well as a full blooming, fragrant courtyard resident. It has been in bloom for weeks and with proper dead-heading, I think it will stay in bloom for some time to come.

It does have a tendency to set elongated seed pods so I snip them from time-to-time and cut back the dead flowers when a stalk is nearly spent. The picture below shows one pot against our faux brick wall near the front door. There is a twin pot on the other side of the door as well.

Stock in the Arizona Courtyard

There are many references to this plant on the Internet if you care to find out more. Here is the Better Homes and Gardens contribution about Stock.

Have you ever grown this plant? What do you think about the form and color?

Sun Trellis

Several years ago we decided to plant a snail vine (Vigna Caracalla) in the courtyard of our home in northern Phoenix. This is a good plant for our particular climate; tolerating reflected heat and a great amount of sun exposure and able to tolerate moderate freezes. (If the frost kills the top; cut to the ground and it will re-bloom in the spring). As this would be a focal area, a special trellis that would accommodate an eight foot expanse in front of an inside wall was required. A trip to an eclectic pottery and home furnishing store in nearby Cave Creek that was “going out of business” provided a sheet metal screen of smiling suns! Slightly damaged; (the blemish that prompted its reduced price was negligible) the screen was cut in two even sections to facilitate ease of installation. Over the years, the weight of the new growth has required some staking with rebar and wire, but the effect is still impressive!

Note: this vine (at least in our particular area) develops mildew each year during the humid part of our summer; after a significant re-cutting and application of Bayer Advanced Disease Control for Rose, Flower and Shrubs Concentrate, it resumes vigorous regrowth.


Sun Trellis with Snail Vine

The Trellis with Foliage Beginning to Fill the Voids

Snail

A Snail Vine Bloom