Desert Sunflower Roulette

Gardening is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work. Based on my experience the work component can be more or less difficult depending upon the garden’s location. In the desert, there seems to be an ongoing struggle during the warmest months.

There are roadside sunflowers along the trails and highways of Sonoran Desert that seem to tolerate the harsh growing conditions. After seeing this desert-adjusted specimen growing in the Phoenix area, I decided to try to grow the more showy, standard sunflowers in our cultivated garden.

My main concern was the sun’s intensity. Heat is one thing, but the searing intensity of the sun’s rays is another. There can be a more than one hundred days with temperatures of one hundred degrees or more. The one factor in my favor is that our gardens receive irrigation and drought will not be a factor for this experiment.

With this idea in mind, I visited one of our local stores and purchased a package of mixed sunflower seeds. I wanted a selection that would perhaps offer up at least one variety that is less prone to fail under our extreme conditions.



The package indicates that the plants will bloom from summer to fall, but I did not anticipate that long a blooming season in the desert ecosystem.

This is our second year growing these sunflowers. Each spring we pour a selection into a container and make our choice of five random seeds. Once they become viable seedlings, we select the strongest three for final planting.



This year we had a false start because a large squirrel entered our courtyard and devoured our first group of sunflower seedlings. You can read about that HERE.

Bushy-tailed squirrels are not the only culprits in an area where nutrients and water are scarce. Birds, lizards and a variety of rodents prowl the premises looking for greenery to eat. Packrats are especially problematic because of their size and climbing ability.



Did I mention rabbits? There is an abundance of rabbits in our neighborhood and they constantly probe our gardens for weaknesses to exploit.



The situation is not insurmountable, but vigilance is the key. Every day I make the rounds of our gardens to check for damage or potential breeches in our “bulwarks.”

Last year we had two sunflowers from our chosen group that stood out.



This multi-headed beauty enhanced our front courtyard for a number of weeks.



Another seed produced a plant that yielded a single and rather unremarkable flower which was disappointing. Our last chosen seed graced our rear patio with an orange-hued flare. While it did not flower as long as the courtyard specimen, it did give us several nice blooms.



After the destruction of our initial plantings by the squirrel this year, I started additional sunflower seedlings. I was concerned that we missed the best growing window with moderate temperatures, but we had little to lose.

After careful cultivation and coddling, we were able to appreciate the fruits of our labor.



As we were about to leave for a one week, out-of town visit, we watched this one bud get larger and larger and hoped that it would bloom prior to our departure. Sure enough, the day before we left, the flower opened. The plant is a bit taller than I am in the picture above and considering that it is in a pot, I estimate it was 6’3″ tall; give or take.



The close up view (above) shows that there were more flowers to come and we hoped they would survive our time away. Upon our return a week later, we were greeted with this…



This morning, I was making the rounds in our front garden where we have two other sunflower specimens progressing toward their blooming stage and I noticed that there was some destruction on one of them.



We have cutter bees in our town and there is little gardeners can do to prevent their damage. They cut circular patterns in the leaves, but they are relatively small circles or semi-circular holes. I knew this was not their work.

Then I noticed these black dots on some lower leaves



and around some of the large buds heads.



This was a sure sign of a caterpillar, i.e. a larva of a butterfly or moth. Sure enough, I hunted it down and sent it packing! The plant will do fine as long as I continue to monitor the situation and prevent other significant damage. The caterpillar did not eat any of the buds, practically destroyed the one leaf pictured above, but did little else to the plant.

It was not all dismay and gloom with the courtyard sunflowers as this beauty opened this morning.



It was a deep, burnt orange color; nearly red. If it produces well, I might try to collect some seeds from it for next year although it may be cross-pollinated and not true to the mother plant. It would most likely have strong color.



I don’t know if we will continue to grow the showier cultivars of the sunflower family, but it has been fun and fills our mornings with hope that we will be greeted with yet another marvelous flower.


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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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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



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



Spring Buzz in the Sonoran Desert

In the Sonoran Desert spring is often like early summer in other locations in the United States with the temperatures often in the mid-70s to mid-80s. We often refer to this as the “sweet spot” since we don’t need heat or air conditioning for the most part. We do know what is ahead of us, but we enjoy this respite while it lasts.

Along with spring, we have some interesting developments. Our neighborhood has a number of horse stables and about two weeks ago, a young colt was born. Like many other babies, he can be very energetic one minute and flat out tired and sleeping the next.

Here is a short video of the youngster running around.

Today I passed the corral on the way home and the colt was nursing, but when I exited the car, he stopped. I decided to take a photo anyway.


The colt is on the left. The mother often stays rather far away, but was next to him this day.

The horse “next door” came over and I decided he needed to have his picture taken as well.



Another sign of spring is the plethora of bees we have on the few plants that are now blooming. We have a Mastic Tree (Pistacia lentiscus) that is loaded with very small flowers.



The morning I walked by the tree, the buzz was loud and persistent. I decided to record it, but it is only a shadow of the real sound as the iPhone has limitations. You can hear the bees in the sound clip below (raise the sound on your computer/device).

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me and I couldn’t capture the mass of bees all over the tree. They were flitting about too quickly for iPhone capture.

A couple of days later, I was able to take my camera outside in the afternoon, but the bees were not as numerous. I did take a few snapshots anyway.


The bee is hard to see, but it is inside the red oval.

I was able to capture another view with the pollen sack showing although once again, it is hard to see.


The head of the bee is by the yellow arrow. The pollen sack is at the tip of the red arrow.

We have already begun our spring/summer gardening chores and we are looking forward to sharing some of our experiences with JBRish readers. I hope your weather is looking more spring-like!

 

Read more miscellaneous stories 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



Photography Quote — 20170904

Today’s Photography Quote


“If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.”
– Jay Meisel
– Original Photograph ©Jeffrey B. Ross –

 

NOTE – As residents of the Sonoran Desert who like hiking, encountering snakes is nothing new for us. This photograph was taken in Cave Creek, AZ along one of the trails at the Jewel of the Creek preserve. shortly after this sighting, we came across another rattlesnake and turned back because we had young children with u.s

Jay Meisel’s quote reminds us that if you are interested in photography, you have to be out there taking pictures to find interesting subjects and events.

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Photo Meta Data

File Name: IMG_1960.CR2
Capture time: 3:13 PM
Capture date: March 30, 2015
Exposure: 1/500 @ f5.6
Focal Length: 83.27mm
ISO: 200
Canon Powershot SX50 HS

*Edited: Lightroom with text added in Preview (Apple Software)

 
See previous STATUS QUOtes Photography Quotes HERE


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All 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 – 2017


otographs

Argentine Giant Cactus Flower – Photograph

Photograph of the Argentine Giant Cactus in Bloom
at the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Argentine Giant Cactus, Echinopsis candicans
Argentine Giant Cactus, Echinopsis candicans

I am a member/volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ. It is the second most visited attraction in the state after the Grand Canyon. On my way to the Seed Room where I work as a volunteer, I passed an Argentine Giant cactus that was still in bloom. It has been my experience that they generally bloom earlier in the season, but this particular specimen was in a location that enabled it to be in flower now.

The flower is not the most attractive cactus bloom I have seen, but it is very pretty and the size is huge. The flower can be as large as a person’s face. Unfortunately, these blooms only last a day, but what a day it is!

 

JBRish.com originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

 
See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.

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Hiking the Peralta Trail, Gold Canyon, AZ – 20160623

NOTE – Keep in mind that we took this hike and these pictures represent the trail as we saw it in December, 2009. The trail may have changed a bit since them and some of the flora may no longer be exactly where we are reporting, but this is a good representation of things you may find along the way. Perhaps you will find even more intriguing highlights.

Of course the large rock formations and mountains will remain largely unchanged.


Saguaros greet hikers along the trail
Saguaros greet hikers along the Peralta Trail

As in most areas where hikers might want to trek in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, there are a significant number of saguaros along the Peralta Trail and they appear in clusters as well as individual specimens.

They seem to “greet” hikers as they ascend the trail to the saddle or beyond. Also notice the interesting shadow play of the saguaro in the foreground.

Read more about the Peralta Trail HERE.

Previous posts and photographs in the Peralta Trail series in chronological order:


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JBRish.com originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

Opuntia (Paddle Cacti) – Phoenix, Arizona

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

“Opuntia is the most widespread of all genera in the cactus family. The genus occurs naturally throughout North and South America from as far north as Canada, through the Caribbean, and down into Argentina. With man’s help, however, this species can now be found world-wide where it has escaped cultivation and become naturalized even to the point of being classified as a noxious weed.”
Source: – https://cactiguide.com/cactus/?genus=Opuntia

While much of the country is still in early spring, the desert is moving quickly through its yearly spring and toward what most would consider summer. As of this writing, we are still in the sweet spot of a bumper crop of blooms. The native desert plants are taking their turns in showing off.

Most of the year our cacti look like a pincushion holding onto its requisite supply of pins, but hidden in the DNA of each of these organisms is the promise of blooming beauty. Some of the blooms like our pink Opuntia (see photos above and below) look as though they would be more at home floating in a tropical drink.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

As pretty as these are, many of the cactus flowers have a prime bloom duration of only one day, but what a bloom it is!

You may know Opuntia cacti. They are the “paddle” cactus family. They have large, flat paddle-like growths that look similar to the ears of a number of Walt Disney characters. The picture below better shows the paddles with the pink bloom atop.

To the left of the bloom are “ladies in waiting,” so to speak. The buds will plump until nature tells them it is their turn to open and show off.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

A more common Opuntia would be the yellow variety. We have several specimens in our front landscape.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

The pile of paddles above is more than five feet tall and if the truth be told, it would probably benefit from a pruning.

This is a closeup of the flower. Note the buds in the corners of the photo.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

Some of the paddles have a cascade of blooms that open on the same day and form an amazing vertical line.

Opuntia - Paddle Cactus

While I am enjoying the wonderful blooms in our landscape, I hope to share more of them with JBRish readers.

You can read more about Opuntias and Paddle Cacti at the link above.


JBRish.com originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Gardening in the Desert – You Dirty Rat

The Sonoran Desert of Arizona can be quite a challenge. It is hard to imagine that, at one time, people lived here without air conditioning. We normally receive between 10-12 inches of rain a year in our particular area of Arizona near Cave Creek. This isn’t a lot of rain and this adds to the challenge of gardening in the desert.

Add to that problem the competition with the natural desert denizens including snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and a host of rodents.

This is the time of year when I make a daily round to look at all of the plants in our landscape to monitor their condition. When temperatures can spike to more than 90 degrees, the tipping point for some plants is very small.

For several days, I noticed that two of our plants were being nibbled. They weren’t being eaten, just ripped and the detritus left behind. From previous experience, I figured this was one of our most prevalent pests, the desert pack rat.

Rather than set a killing trap, we try to capture them with a Havahart trap and relocate them. Out came the trap and at dusk I set it and placed it where I had seen the nibbling.

My most successful lure in the past had been peanuts or peanut butter. I had no more of the nuts so I put some peanut butter on a saltine cracker. Sure enough, prior to bed time I checked and we had trapped a pack rat.

Left to their own devices, pack rats have been notorious for chewing through wires and other human necessities in search of nest building materials and food. While they definitely look like rats, they are a bit, and I emphasize the word bit, cuter than your average rat (see iPhone pictures below – apologies, but these were taken in pitch black desert).

The pictures show the pack rat just before we released him so he could take up residence in a more rural part of the desert!

You can read more about pack rats HERE.

Desert Pack Rat Arizona

Desert Pack Rat Arizona


JBRish.com originally published this post

 
See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

In the Desert, Its Beginning to Look Like…

As most people can imagine, there isn’t too much in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona that would innately remind the casual visitor of the overall Christmas/Winter Holiday Season. It does get cool during the late fall and winter evenings. We hit temperatures in the forties many nights during the end of November and through December. We can also get more rain this time of year, but generally not as much as January.

So residents of the Phoenix area use their creativity to devise ways of decorating for the winter holidays.

Here is a photograph of a variegated agave we had in our landscape at one time. The plant has thick leaves with sharp edges and each leaf has a sharp point on the end. That is how it survives in the desert. Without all those sharp edges and points, it would be eaten to death by rabbits, javelinas and other denizens.

Agave with sharp edges and points

People have discovered that those sharp tips at the ends of the leaves have another good use!

Gold colored Christmas balls create a crown-like appearance on top of this agave in the front yard. They play well against the green of the agave and the rest of the residential desert landscape.

Gold balls on a green agave

If solid gold is too regal for you and you want more of a standard Christmas color scheme, a variety of colors would work just as well.
Colorful variety of Christmas balls on an agave

Colorful variety of Christmas balls on an agave

The increased color palette (above) plays well with other holiday ornaments such as the foreground cactus with Santa hat.

Instead of plain poinsettias, how about faux poinsettia leaves attached to the branches of the Ocotillo?

Ocotillo with Poinsettia leaves

(BTW – If you want to see what an Ocotillo looks like during the active growing season with leaves and without fake ornamentation, click HERE)

For a more subtle spot decoration, smaller colorful Christmas balls can be uniquely placed in planters.

Planter with small, colorful Christmas balls


Yes, it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Sonoran Desert in 2016!