Trends in Writing, The Arts, Regional Events, and High Desert Living

Posts tagged Cactus

Discovering High Desert Beauty

Joshua Tree

Mohave Desert, Southern California

Mohave Desert living surprises new residents, especially the ones who have never lived in such arid weather or terrain covered with cacti and Yucca plants. Scorching hot and dry summer days, rattlesnakes, and dirt are typically expected. What else could there be? It’s just a hot, dry desert. Right? Maybe to some who haven’t stayed long enough to discover more. But to others, the area grows on you as you begin to notice its beauty like the author who comically describes the High Desert in “Living in the High Desert.”

Joshua Tree

High Desert Joshua Tree

Mohave Desert Joshua Tree

Photo by Greg Horn

One of the first things noticeable in the High Desert is the Joshua tree. It is the largest of the Yucca. Different than most trees, its trunk doesn’t have rings that grow annually. Joshua trees can live over 500 years. Their pointed leaves are sharp. If you get one stuck in your foot, it hurts worse than a needle.

Gardens

Growing a garden in the desert seems like a daunting task, but it is possible. Flower, vegetable, and herb gardens all can grow well in the High Desert.

Pink Cactus Flower

My Garden Pink Cactus Flower

Cacti flowers

My Chain Cholla Cactus Flowers

Bright pink and green is vivid where there are cacti which, surprisingly, produce beautiful colorful blooms. It seems amazing that the prickly native plants can produce the gorgeous flowers. California Poppies, easy to grow in the Mohave Desert, show off their orange beauties. Pinching off a few twigs of this plant and sprinkling them around the yard is about all you have to do to multiply this plant in your yard.

Growing poppies in Southern California

California Poppies with Raindrops

Growing a garden is possible in this hot and dry region, but it does take determination. Drought and triple digit weather can cause complications. Cities enforce a watering schedule of certain days that you can’t water, extreme heat and lack of water makes tomatoes crack, and some vegetables won’t make it. However, those hindrances don’t stop the High Desert gardener from trying.

Strawberries have grown in my garden for the first time this year. Popping the itty bitty berries in my mouth is a treat I enjoy when I’m gathering tomatoes or beans.

Four types of tomatoes were planted, two of them in my square-foot garden and two near the strawberries and a grapevine. The tomatoes stayed green so long that I wondered if they would ever turn red. Finally, they did – and tons more grew and ripened. I gave baskets of tomatoes away.

Growing tomatoes in the High Desert

High Desert Organic Tomatoes

Herbs

My favorite herbs that grow exceptionally well are lavender, rosemary, basil, and mint. Watching hummingbirds drink the nectar from each lavender blossom is a highlight of growing the herbs close to the kitchen window. Catching that on camera is quite challenging, though. Every time I grab my phone camera, the hummingbirds fly to the window and hover for a moment as if to tease me and say, “Catch me if you can.” One day I hope to be waiting and quick to snap the perfect picture.

Lavender

Lavender in an Herb Garden

Desert Sunsets

One of the prettiest sights in the High Desert is shadows on the mountains during sunset. Sometimes the sun shines so that the shadows make the mountains look purple. Natural Mohave Desert beauty.

Mohave Desert Sunset

High Desert Sunset

 

Lovely Spring Gift Ideas For High Desert Gardeners

Prickly Pear as a Source of Food

Prickly Pear as a Source of Food

Gift Ideas We Love

Do you really want to receive a dozen roses that will only last a week? Why not ask for a cactus that blooms for you each year? Just go to your nursery and pick out the prettiest. And as for color, you’ll find a good variety.

Many of the varieties offer different shapes and heights, while others bloom in hues of white to cream to yellow, pink to red to rose. All of them are easy to water, drought-tolerant, and easy to grow in typical desert temperatures. Prickly Pear is native to the Southwest, easy to transplant and grow while providing sweet fruits to make jelly. The new pads or leaves (before they grow spines) can be cut and boiled or fried like green chilies. They have a mild taste and are also worth pickling.

Animals use their broad trunks and leaves for hiding from predators or getting out of the summer heat. Ernie, my cat, loves to sit in the shade and dream of being a lion — I’m sure that’s what he’s thinking.

Another feature of cactus that I enjoy is their slow growing nature. You can plant them in a 10″ pot and it will be years before you’ll need to transplant them into a half whiskey barrel or directly into your yard. Many of them can grow for decades, often dropping “babies” or allowing their arms to be cut and replanted for the new generation of cacti. I have a night blooming cereus that is over 40-years-old and has been inside all of its life.

 

Cream Yellow bud from Hedgehog cactus
Cream Yellow bud from Hedgehog cactus

“Christmas cactus”, known for blooming in winter with bright red or fuchsia colored pointy blooms, can be more temperamental because they are a tropical cactus. They don’t like their roots too wet or too dry. A trick for forcing their blooms is to place them in a closet for a month prior to the holidays. Once out of the dark, they want to herald in the New Year. Healthy and happy plants will blossom all year.

Those combination cactus sampler dishes, that nurseries often place near their check out stands, are a really smart way to try some cactus plantings. Each dish holds a selection of tiny cuttings. The photo above is of a Hedgehog type of cactus you’ll find in some platter gardens. Some selections don’t live very long; others grow and bloom and last for years.

If you’re not sure which ones to try, try all of them. They take little water and often produce a few flowers or even double in size during their first year.

Some cactus plants for sale at nurseries are not really cactus at all but are succulents with spiky skins. Their interiors are mushy pulp and don’t have the fortitude to make it through a dry, hot desert summer. You can try growing them in a portable pot or inside near a window. Be careful of direct sunlight scorching them through the double- and triple- panes of your windows. I tried that and more succulents and aloe vera plants succumbed to being bleached to death by the sun. It doesn’t take long to broil them in the intense heat.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

My favorite tropical/ desert species is called the Carrion Plant. It grows large, slim, columnar arms  on thin stems that look more like sipping straws. It produces flowers only once a year. The bud is a large yellow pod with purple lines and polka dots but covered in hair. In a few days, the pod bursts open into a giant yellow and purple star with the most horrific odor you’ve ever smelled. This rancid perfume is designed to attract insects — especially the fly that helps propagate its pollen. It smells like dead, rotting meat — hence the name “Carrion” plant. It only takes one visit to a Carrion Plant to instill that smell into the sensory part of your brain. Whew!

So there are some of my favorite cacti and plants that make a good gift and have the longevity to last more than a few days or weeks. Once you have cacti in your garden, you’ll have a fragrant  friend for life.

Rusty LaGrange

High Desert Cactus

Hello high desert cactus huggers. If the northern California tree huggers can hug their trees, then we high desert folks can hug our cactus. And we can also transplant cactus. In my backyard is a ( I looked online for the name of this cactus but can’t find it), cactus that has so much over growth it had to be trimmed back.

cactus over growth

The first thing I did was to get a piece of ply-board and next got out my razor-blade knife. If you look online at other sites they recommend wearing gloves. I did and don’t anymore because the thorns get stuck in the gloves, and it’s almost impossible to get them all out; so there goes another good pair of gloves. It’s easier to pull the thorns out of my hands with a pair if tweezers.

Find a new place of growth and cut the cactus there.

Cut cactus where new growth begins

To transport the cactus the other sites say to wrap the piece of cactus with news paper. I don’t. I use tongs. That is a for sure way not to get poked and easier to get to in hard places. Now lay the cactus on the ply-board for a week or two in the shade. The cactus after being cut needs time to heal before you plant it in the ground. It’s like if you cut your finger then put it in dirt, that will make things worse so the same with cactus.

Healing time for the cactus/put in the shade

After it heals (and you’ll be able to tell by looking at it) then plant it with no water because water will rot the new roots and remember it’s a cactus. They live in the desert where there is no water. Bingo! Go plant it in the yard, in pots, or coffee cups, and place it in a window seal to get lots of sun. Hope y’all enjoyed this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it and replanting cactus.

Cactus replanted in front yard

Cactus planted in pots

Cactus planted in a coffee cup

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