Desert Garden Ablaze with Color

The desert has been ablaze with color over the last two weeks reaching its peak perhaps just a few days ago. It is still stunning in the variety of colors and blooms brought on by more than the customary amount of spring rains thus far.

The Palo Verdes are always a treat, but this year they have outdone themselves.

The contrast of the yellow flowers against the blue sky is wonderful.



Here is a close up of the flower clusters on one portion of a branch in our backyard.



The color palette is expanded below when the Palo Verde in the foreground leads the viewer to the flowers of the Orange Jubilee or Orange Bells hybrid (Tecoma Hybrid).



Naturally a closeup of the Orange Bells is called for as well. The clusters are beyond vibrant in the early morning sun.



Each morning at this time of the year, I prepare my coffee looking out our family room window and I am blown away! (To the right and north of the saguaro, but out of view, is Black Mountain which adds even more wonderment to the scene.)



We have some performers starring in our front landscape too. This cactus was started from a cutting just a few years ago and when it blooms, it puts on quite a show. It will eventually grow arms and as a mature plant, may have a dozen or more flowers open at once. I can’t wait! While I am not able to make an absolute identification, I am fairly sure it is a Trichocereus hybrid.





Here is a picture of the mature mother plant from a friend’s house nearby!


Above picture courtesy of L. Herring


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



A Pungent and Invasive Weed in the Desert

There is a pungent smell in the air this spring in our Sonoran garden and surrounding neighborhoods. It isn’t really a bad smell, but it cannot be described as a totally pleasant one either. When we first discovered this fragrance several weeks ago, we couldn’t figure out the source, but over the ensuing time period we discovered its origin.

You can see the culprit in the picture below…



and here it is again.



This yellow plant is called Globe chamomile (Oncosiphon piluliferum). While seeds can be bought for Globe chamomile, I am sure most gardeners consider it a weed.

Because of the frequent and substantial winter rains, these yellow weeds are pervasive throughout open areas in the Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona corridor.

You can see how thick it grows. It can be pulled out by the handful.





Globe chamomile is a South African native and it has found its way to various regions of the United States and other countries.

It has been in bloom for weeks, but the drier and warmer spring weather is now causing some die off. Notice the brownish stems (below). The flowers are still quite vibrant and fragrant, but they are definitely on the wane.



It has been blamed by many in the area for their severe outbreak of allergy symptoms. Melanie Dunlap, a Naturopathic practicioner, writes about here experience in this article titled Goddess of Allergies

You can read more about Globe chamomile HERE

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



A Rascal in My Garden

It all began when I started some seeds indoors in February. I nursed these seedlings as though they were my only charge and when they had sprouted and showed some green, I put them out during the day and took them in at night.

One day, upon inspection, I noticed that three of the four seedlings had been eaten. I have seen birds do this so I simply chalked it up to my feathered “friends.”

Additionally, I take an almost daily inventory of plants growing in our desert garden areas. The tipping point in the desert is very narrow and a plant can go into stress and die within a day under the right conditions. There is little room for error when temperatures rise to near 110 or when the daily low is 92.

It is currently the spring in the desert, but temperatures during the day would be representative of summer temperatures elsewhere. On the day I am writing this, the temperature was 86 degrees at 1:00 PM. Several days ago, while making the rounds in our courtyard, I noticed that the leaves on our hibiscus had been decimated.



To be sure, the plant had been cut back to stimulate new growth after our winter, but all of the branches had leaves on them and now they were almost denuded. This led me to investigate further.

This gazania in the planter below had blooms on it which apparently were a favorite for the critter who had scaled our courtyard walls to gain a free meal. You may also notice that the right side of the plant has leaves that were trampled and eaten (see arrows).



It is even more obvious in the middle of this geranium and alyssum arrangement. The leaves in the middle were matted (see arrows). If you know geraniums, they have a pungent smell and this may have saved it for extensive damage. This was not the work of birds!



We weren’t sure exactly which animal was doing this, but we were determined to stop the devastation. We own a Havahart trap that we put into action. For two days we had no results. We used peanuts and peanut butter. On the third evening, I was going outside to refresh the bait and look what we found…



A bushy-tailed squirrel! I have been told that these are not native to the Sonoran Desert and they are quite large.



He didn’t like being caught and was trying to bite his way out; but not this time!



We have a plastic box with a top that we use to transport our Havahart critters and in he went, trap and all! We put paper on the bottom for hygiene reasons.





Of course this is stressful for the animal as can be seen by all the droppings it left behind. Interestingly enough, there is a piece of corn that he must have had in his pouch as we have no kernels on our premises.



Once the top is secure, into the back of our SUV it goes!



This is a field several miles from our house. We are hopeful that the squirrel will live and we like the idea that we are giving it a chance.



Here he is just before release.



To keep my seedlings safe, I now cover them with our sifting grate.



I know we are not done with the critters in our courtyard. The area is fenced in, but these creatures are fighting for survival while we are just growing plants to look at. Nevertheless, we try to keep our plants safe and healthy.

You can read about how we use our sifting grate HERE.

See another type of critter with which we have to contend in our garden – HERE

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Hail to the Desert – Rare Winter Weather

This has been a very cold and unusual February for our North Phoenix area. We have had many inches of rain and today, during a storm, hail and sleet covered the ground. The saguaro cactus and desert plants did not “know what hit them.” In our nearly dozen years in this location this is only the second time we have had hail or snow on the ground.

You can see the hail coming down in the two pictures of the yard. The size and density of the pellets are most clearly visible in the shot of the darker landscape rocks


Hail in the Sonoran Desert landscape


Hail in the Sonoran Desert landscape rocks


Hail in the Sonoran Desert landscape

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See more posts about life in the desert HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Gardening – Winter Garden in the Desert

When we transitioned from the northeast to the southwest, it was a dramatic change on a number of levels. We left many of our friends and relatives behind and there was a huge void in our lives because of this.

While most noticeable, friends and family were not our only loss. We also lost our gardens and plants that we relied on for our three seasons of flower-filled joy. There are a number of plants we grew easily in the Northeast (Hunterdon County, New Jersey) such as hostas, astilbes, hydrangeas, morning glories, dahlias, etc. that either struggle in the Sonoran Desert or just downright die.

We have learned, of course, that there are trade offs. We have come to love gazanias which grace us with their bouquet of striking colors throughout the year and we are likewise able to grow geraniums in the spring through early summer and then again from late fall through the winter and spring if we avoid a hard freeze.

Here are some of our gazanias growing strong in January when football on television shows snowstorms in the northeast.





It is a bit unusual to have the alyssum (above) so full and lush this time of year, but we nursed them along. It is so delightful to experience that honey-like smell during a winter’s afternoon.

We have had a couple of light frosts which leave our gardens looking funky when festooned with frost cloths. These are only temporary for a day or two and then they are removed and kept at the ready should we need them again. We haven’t had a significant frost in quite a few years. Last year there were no frost days in our particular area, but we stood ready to take action if necessary!



Our mid-fall planting of geraniums on either side of our front door are still doing well.



In a previous photo, we took a peek at the alyssum currently in bloom, but what wasn’t obvious was their potted companions; pink geraniums.



They really make a great team especially during those chilly winter days when we are glad to be reminded of the inevitable spring.



Here is wider view of the “companions” putting on quite a performance.



It isn’t always fun having these delicate plants “out-of-season.” In the middle of the covered array below are the same plants pictured above during one of our light frost days.



Another geranium giving us significant winter color is a pink trailer situated between two very large pots of twisted myrtle creating a floral exclamation point.



Whenever we pine for our morning glories and dahlias under the blazing 110 degree heat we recall these winter scenes and we are grateful and happy!

NOTE – Fresh plantings of gazanias and alyssum will continue to do fairly well through the summer with ample water and some shade. The geraniums struggle through the heat and are often treated as annuals.



If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability.

 

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©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Desert Humor – Christmastime Is Better In The Sand

Those of us who live in the Phoenix area get kick out of watching our northern friends deal with freezing temperatures and large snowfalls. Of course many of them flock to the desert for the winter months and we are glad to have them as our seasonal friends.

In the spirit of good humor and a bit of kidding, I am passing along the following humorous video. Of course, humor is a very personal thing!

Original Song: Christmastime Is Better In The Sand from CCV Media on Vimeo.

 

See more humor posts on JBRish HERE


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©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2018 – JBRish.com



Sunflowers in the Valley of the Sun – Part 1

There is no doubt about it, gardening in the Sonoran Desert during the summer is a challenge. It is similar to other areas of the country which have on season, mainly winter, that is not too hospitable to a wide assortment of plants that would be otherwise easy to grow in spring, summer and into the fall.

Unlike those areas where winter prevents almost all outside gardening, there are some plants and varieties that can tolerate our summers given the appropriate environment; and therein lies the rub!

As I travel the highways and byways of the desert regions of the southwest, I notice that there is one variety of wild sunflower that seems to survive the summer most years and even thrive when there are ample showers. Keeping that in mind, and not being able to nail down the exact variety (my bad), I decided to try a package of mixed sunflower seeds to see what it would yield in my desert garden. This was to be my gardening experiment for the summer of 2018.

Package of Sunflower Seeds

I always check the back of the package to see the “Packed for” date. Obviously the fresher the seeds, the better so I always make sure they are the current year’s seeds. I also like the fact that these seeds are organic and are not treated with chemicals. Our bees are struggling enough as it is.

Notice organic and sell-by date

An inexpensive turkey baster is used in this process to control the flow of water. It is good for delicate seedlings and at times when I need to wet a plant with a controlled, low flow of water.

Turkey baster for gentle watering

To keep everything corraled on the counter, I work inside a container lid. The lip of the lid keeps the water and other debris under control.

Coffee lid container for working

Of course we could plant the seeds directly in the ground, but I considered several factors:

  • We have numerous desert critters that would love to take a bite out of a luscious sprout.
  • There is no guarantee that every seed in a package will be viable.
  • I have limited time and space so I want to make sure any seed has the best start possible.

Considering the above, I decided to pre-sprout the seeds. Here are the three seeds I selected. [NOTE: One cannot tell from the seeds which sunflower will be “born” from any specific seed. This is a mix so it is a random choice.]

Three sunflower seeds-mixed varieties

My process for pre-sprouting the seeds is to wet a piece of paper towel to the point where it is uniformally wet, but not soaked.

Wet paper towel

Once the towel has been wet, the seeds are then placed at intervals on the sheet leaving ample space between, but not too much. I like to make a compact packet.

Seeds on wet towel

After the seeds have been carefully placed, the towel is folded over them so they are enveloped in the moist towel. This will be a good environment for sprouting.

Towel folded over seeds

The towel is folded into an envelope-type form to provide the best chance of staying moist.

Towel folded into envelope/packet

I always make a label just in case I want to keep track of sprouting times, time from sprout to flower, etc., but I didn’t use that information for tracking in this instance.

Sunflower seed label

Once this process is complete, probably less than thirty minutes, the seeds are placed inside a plastic bag, label and all and set aside. I check them every day to …

    – make sure the seeds remain uniformally damp, but not soaking

    – see if they have sprouted (because at that point further action is needed)

Packet in baggie with label

To be continued…

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Desert Broom – New Cultivar Discovered**

There is a desert plant in the Sonoran Desert that has the distinction of being one of the few native plants that is considered invasive. It can become a problem during the very hot, dry summers when fires are a real possibility.

Here is a picture of the native Desert Broom.

Desert Broom Plant

Picture courtesy of Sierra Vista Growers

On the way to a shopping mall recently, I noticed what may potentially be a new cultivar or sport of the native desert broom. It was just off to the side of the road. Can you find it in the picture below?

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport closeup

If you are having difficulty, here is a closeup!

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport

What do you think?

 

 

**This post is a tongue and cheek bit of humor related to desert gardening! (wink, wink)

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Mum is the Word in the Desert Garden

Prior to moving to the Valley of the Sun, north of Phoenix, Arizona, we lived in northwestern New Jersey; Hunterdon County. We normally gardened from May through October and there were times when we started seeds indoor in early April. We could stretch our gardening into the fall and early winter by including Chrysanthemums.

Mums were part of the Halloween-Thanksgiving trimmings in our area. We usually had them placed on our front steps often with thin netting over them to keep the deer from nibbling. There were years when we were able to winter over a mum or two, but much of the time our efforts fell short or the variety we purchased was not as hardy as we thought.



We were surprised to find that mums are available for purchase in our area of Arizona during the same season as in the northeast. It was only natural then that we began to fold some of them into our Halloween-Thanksgiving floral displays.

Because our experience with Chrysanthemums was anchored in the northeast, we figured that once the real hot weather of sustained ninety to one-hundred and above came along, that these familiar plants would wither and die.

Imagine our surprise to find that they, given enough shade and water, fight off the heat to usher forth extended blooms during the late spring and summer and into the following fall. To give these plants the best chance possible for surviving in this less than hospitable climate, we have a routine we follow in the early spring.

This is the mum we selected for what we call revitalizing.



As readers can see, the green leaves make up only about one-half to two-thirds of the plant and there are a lot of brown, dead leaves and stems.



What we normally do if it is warm and the sun is in full flare is bring the plant into the shade of one of the garage bays and work there. We move the plant into the garage and remove the rock mulch that we use in almost every planter.



Once the rock mulch is removed, much of the dead parts of the plant are trimmed.



After the initial trimming, we begin to excavate the root ball.



NOTE – Notice that we work mostly on a drop cloth to catch errant dirt, stones and debris. The old dirt is offloaded to a cement mixing bin to dry and save for use in a future rejuvenated mix.

Once the root ball is excavated, it is examined to make sure the roots are white and in good condition and there are no grubs hiding. Then I gently remove more of the dead, hard stems and any dead roots.

NOTE – Be careful to leave most of the rootball intact as the plant will need to recover even from a mild root trimming and tickling.



Here is a closer look:



There are some stems so low to the base of the root ball that they have to be cut away with a scissors or garden shear which reduces the chance of disturbing too much of the root ball.



I make one final inspection of the root ball and very gently loosen some of the compacted roots so they are able to spread when they grow anew.



On the left is the old pot with the remaining old dirt. In the upper middle area of the picture is the new, smaller pot that is lighter in color. The new plant will spend much of the summer in this pot, but may need to be transplanted in to a larger pot later.



Enough new planting mix is placed in the pot to take up approximately one third. This is the bottom third of the planter.



To encourage downward root growth, I place a small amount of fertilizer in the bottom of the pot (notice the green dots in the ovals- BELOW) and then mix them into the top part of the bottom mix. The green dots are hard to discern in this photo and may be confused with gravel which is used in the planting mix. The arrows show the gravel which is much less uniform in shape.



The new planter is placed inside a bin to catch any stray dirt. Dirt is added to the correct depth to bring the crown of the plant to about three-quarters of an inch below the rim of the pot. I usually create a cone in the center and put the newly trimmed rootball in the center. The dirt is then filled in around the rootball as shown above.



Here is the plant with the dirt filled in and new, different fertilizer added (see the Vigoro in the background).



After the planting is complete, water is gently added. I use my hand to break the flow and spread the water around the rootball of the plant. Once the plant has been watered so that water runs freely through the bottom of the pot, I gently press the dirt down to remove any potential air pockets.

NOTE – Don’t press down too hard which may compact the roots; just gently.



Now it is time to move the plant to its place in the courtyard. We picked an area that will receive mostly shade with a bit of sun during the day. This will protect the mum from the blazing heat. Notice that a two gallon per-hour emitter (red) has been anchored to the side of the plant.



Another emitter is added to the other side of the plant to provide even coverage when watered.



We place the rock mulch on top of the plant, which also helps to hold the emitters in place and give one final watering. A protective cover is placed over the pot for a couple of days to provide bit of shade. The Dollar Store or Target sells laundry baskets, crates, etc. that serve this purpose. Sometimes we need to drill more holes depending on the configuration.

NOTE – We often put a weight on top of the “covers” to keep them from blowing off in the wind.



The plant is carefully checked over the next couple of days and after that, the basket or crate used to shield the sun is removed. The plant then needs time to grow and in a few months this is how it looks.



You can see it here (BELOW) on the left. As the summer progresses, the snail vine will grow to cover the sun trellis and offer enough shade to provide an appropriate environment for the plant during the hottest summer days.



You may also note two other mums on the right that we transplanted in the same fashion .



We have followed this procedure for a couple of years now and it has served us well. I wouldn’t have guessed that we would be able to winter-over or perhaps more appropriately, summer-over the mums in our Sonoran Desert environment.

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Hassayampa Preserve Bird Walk – 20180203

It was quite a while since we had a good dose of nature and the warmer than usual winter has given us added impetus to “go outside!” An opportunity presented itself which allowed us to combine two of our interests, bird watching and hiking. As I have explained on these pages before, I am an “occasional birder.” I enjoy birds and bird identification, but I am not ardent. I take it as it comes and it adds enjoyment to my wanderings.

We registered for a guided bird walk at the Hassayampa River Preserve in Wickenburg, AZ. This is riparian zone that has running water all year long; a rarity for the desert. As such, many birds are attracted to this wooded environment. The warmer temperatures have brought featehred visitors that don’t usually come this far south during February.


The inviting ponds at the Hassayampa River Preserve

The inviting ponds at the Hassayampa River Preserve

If you have never done bird watching, then it may be difficult understand the highs and lows of the experience. There will be those in the group who see so many birds while you might be gazing at the leaves and branches and wondering: “What do they see?” or “Where is that bird?”

Below is an example of one of the frustrations. This bird appeared on the top of a nearby Cottonwood tree. It was vey much in view although quite a distance away. Unless an observer knew this bird from previous experience, it would be difficult to identify.


Phainopepla hard to identify from a distance

I had seen this bird several times before so I knew it was a Phainopepla. One distinguishing characteristic is its red eye which, because of the distance and lighting, was not visible. The black tuft on top of the head is also a distinguishing feature. I was able to get my best picture to date of this bird in November. You can see it HERE.

When I attended my first guided bird walk, I was surprised to learn that most birders don’t rely on sightings to identify the bird at first. They identify the call or song and then look for the specific bird. I must admit that this is a skill which mostly eludes me. I do know certain very defined bird calls like the Mourning Dove, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, etc., but all those chip-chip-chips and too-wees just escape my grasp. This is one reason I greatly appreciate having a guide.

The bird in the picture below, for example, was identified as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The birds are particularly difficult to identify and even more so to photograph. They jump around incessantly. Although this bird is totally shaded, the guide followed it from several trees and was able to identify it for us. I take her word for it!


Flitting Ruby-crowned singled silhouette

Another photo of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The most distinguishing mark of this bird is a red tuft on the top if the head. The angle, lighting and other factors did not capture this marking.


Better view of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet

You can see much better photos of this bird HERE.

There were some birds that were more conveniently situated and thus more easily identifiable such as this Hermit Thrush. The problem here is that the bird has very distinctive spots on its whiteish underbelly, but as you will note, that characteristic was not clearly visible from the back.


Hermit Thrush

The lesser Goldfinches were a bit more cooperative once the morning warmed a bit. They would cling to the thin branches of a nearby bush and pose for a while. The trick here is to take a number of pictures as the autofocus (which I use for birding*) will sometimes choose to focus on a foreground branch and render the bird out-of-focus.


Lesser Goldfinch


Lesser Goldfinch

Black Phoebes often will flit away and then return to the same branch from which they flew so it may be easy to wait a moment while gaining focus on the perch and then snap the shot once the bird returns. The first shot has only the back of the bird, but it later turned sideways for a profile shot.


Black Phoebe


Black Phoebe

The next series is of a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Woodpeckers, creepers and other similar birds cling to the side of trees and climb upward. They will then fly to a nearby tree and begin to hop while ascending that tree. It appears to me that they know when they are being watched and they scoot to the side of the tree away from the viewer so they can hide. At least it seems that way!

While the pictures are a bit blurry because the bird was madly pecking away, the distinctive markings are visible.


Ladder-backed Woodpecker


Ladder-backed Woodpecker


Ladder-backed Woodpecker

One last sighting before we left revealed three Western Bluebirds sitting on the same branch. They were catching the mid-morning rays of the sun. The blue of their backs does not show that well, but the rufous color of their underside is clearly visible.


Western Bluebirds

 
Additional sightings by me and others, but not photographed:

  • Abert’s Towhee
  • American Coot
  • Brown Creeper
  • Canyon Wren
  • House Finch
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Plumbeous Vireo
  • Verdin

* NOTE – The only camera I used during this bird walk was my Canon SX50 HS which is a bridge camera with a telephoto zoom lens. Pictures are best at low ISO (200 and below) which limits the aperture and shutter speed. The aim of these photographs was not to capture beautiful pictures of birds, but to take pictures that would enable identification. Of course it would be wonderful to have an excellent photo along the way!

 
See previous JBRish posts about birds HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018