Noel2425January 16, 2012

I purchased a small Octillo a little over a year ago and we finally planted it in the ground about 4 months ago. It is about 6" tall and keeps putting out green leaves but it won't grow any taller after over 1 year. It is planted in the ground with an Eastern exposure and gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Can anyone tell me why it isn't getting taller? It looks healthy and is constantly in leaf.

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pgde(Tucson Zone 9)


First of all, the correct spelling is Ocotillo. And, you need to know they are very slow growing. Don't forget it is a desert plant. In its natural habitat, ocotillo endures dry, hot soils across the spring to fall, with rains occurring sporadically in fall and winter. Its growth rate, with limited moisture, is slow, perhaps 1 to 4 inches a year.

When grown in managed garden landscapes, where more moisture is provided with timely irrigation, ocotillo branches can grow as much as 10 to 24 inches a year. More soil moisture leads to roots sprouting new upright stems to create a larger, broader plant.

However, keep in mind that ocotillo in fast-draining sandy or coarse loam soil that is not overly fertile or amended with organic matter. Plants quickly rot and die when soil does not drain quickly after rains or irrigation. Full sun is needed, and the hotter the temperatures, the better. It's best to plant ocotillo in native soils that are not amended with fertilizers or water-retaining compost. Clay soils generally are more nutrient-rich but must remain drier since the small soil particles delay water drainage. Sandy soils typically lack high fertility, and placing dried plant debris on the soil around the ocotillo provides trace minerals to sustain growth. A balanced formula of a water-soluble fertilizer may be used in conjunction with a deep watering monthly from late spring to fall. Over-fertilizing leads to soft branch tissues that flop over more readily.

So, what does this mean for you? First of all, it really needs a southern -- or full sun -- exposure if possible. Not an eastern one. Secondly, and more importantly, it needs excellent drainage and will rot. I presume since it is "always leafed out" that it is getting constant watering. Let it completely dry out and drop its leaves. Then do deep watering as described above. You are running the risk of root rot, which is widespread among desert plants that are used to dry conditions with infrequent water from monsoons, etc.

I have attached our PDF about transplanting Ocotillo which should give you some insight as to the proper care.

Hope this helps.

Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society

Here is a link that might be useful: How to Care For Your Ocotillo

    Bookmark   January 16, 2012 at 10:06PM
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Besides Peter's excellent advice, I would add that even given optimal conditions my Ocotillos (all 11 species of Fouquieria) are often temperamental and seem to be on their own schedule of growth.
I've had some plants grow like mad one year, then the next not grow an inch...then the following year they'll grow again. I had a Fouquieria diguetii seedling that grew from a 6" stick to a multi-branched 2 foot tall plant one year, then last year it leafed out on schedule and looked pretty all summer...but, didn't have any new branch growth at all. And I didn't vary the watering at all (it is in-ground).
I also have one Fouquieria burragei that seems to grow at the drop of a hat (read: "least little bit of rain"), while my other only grows during monsoon season.
I could go on!
Suffice it to say, they'll rarely do what you expect - kinda why I love them so much! = )

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 9:27PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

You've gotten GREAT advice. I'll just add my voice to the chorus that most types DO love sun, and each individual plant is, well, and individual, LOL, and grow/behave differently. I've got some ocotillos that sit and make leaves but no real new growth/shoots, while others nearby make tons of new shoots on the tips and at the base. There is just some variation there in addition to environment.

I love the look of an ocotillo with branches of various lengths, like most of mine, instead of the ones with all of the branches the exact same, tall height (like a couple of my slow pokes, LOL). If your plant were mine, I'd move it to more sun, and even then, it may just decide doing leaves is enough. :) A lot of people never even get THAT far with them.

Let us know what you do and how it works out, and thanks to Tristan and Peter for sharing their expertise. Great stuff!!!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2012 at 6:54PM
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Thank you to all of your who gave me the good advice. I am a novice when it comes to AZ plants but it is a great experience to watch everything grow. I will move the plant and see what happens. We live in a gated community where the landscapers take care of everything but they pretty much leave us alone. It seems like they really don't know what they are doing and the only thing they are good at is using the blowers on everything. I have planted two Ebony trees that I started from seed and they grow slowly but are full of beautiful green leaves and I couldn't be happier.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2012 at 7:55PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

Keep us posted! :) Congratulatiosn on your little ebony trees--it must be really gratifying knowing you grew them from seed. Neat! I have one still-small purple-flowered "tree" (hah! sapling is more like it) of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) that I started from seed collected from a neat purple flowered specimen down in Bisbee, Arizona. It's still small, but it did make a couple of nice purple blooms, just like the parent tree, last summer.

Happy gardening and post often! :)

    Bookmark   January 21, 2012 at 8:52PM
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