Need help in deciding what cactus and succulents to grow

dillondoyleFebruary 13, 2014

I live in the middle of AZ where it gets to be over 120 degrees in early July - Aug. It doesn't really come down bellow 100 until end Sept. The reason I'm dithering about the weather is because I am from Seattle where I used to grow Foxglove, bamboo and ferns... Now I only kill plants. I need help... no actually I need an intervention. Not only do I not know how to garden anymore but without gardening I hate it here - There must be a way to make a nice garden here that is applicable to the hellish conditions. I figured I'd plant some local varieties of plants but the nurseries I've been to off water loving (soon to be dead) plants. PLEASE I know less than nothing about succulents and precious little about cactus (except how to pick prickly pear pads and grow them). Can someone take pity of me and help me learn which plants I can grow here. I'd sort of like to have a "mosaic" garden - i.e., a lot of small succulents (think hens and ckicks???) making patterns. But I'm not sure that full sun and horrible heat would allow for a successful garden. And I have yet to figure out how cactus can look good... and I had ONE lovely big yucca in my front yard that died from some kind of bore-beetle. Well if you have read this far you can tell. I really need your help. :-)

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paul_(z5 MI)

Well I can't help you but there are those here who can. I can empathize with your opinion of your conditions. While I do know folks who just love areas like yours, I'm not one of them. (Neat to visit and see the flora and fauna adapted to that kind of environment, but not where I'd want to live.)

That said, I have seen some very attractive xeriscapes. Considering your climate, you may find the incorporation of items like rocks/boulders, interesting dead wood or cactus 'skeletons', and metal or other artworks to be valuable additions -- adding some color and structure without requiring any water. Additionally, such items may provide needed shade for plants that can handle the dryness but require some respite from the sun at its most brutal.

Have you gone out past 'civilization' to see what types of plants do seem to thrive or at least handle your conditions? If not, doing so might give you an idea of what to look for. (And if you do venture out, be sure to take a camera with you. Being in possession of some good photos of any plants that catch your eye will make identifying them and determining if/where they are available for purchase.

Btw, you might consider doing an large terrarium indoors to "scratch" your moisture loving plant "itch". heh

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 11:31AM
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Wow, really great ideas, Paul!

I feel for you, Dillon. One of our members recently had to move from succulent heaven to a much harsher environment just north of succulent heaven, forcing him to part with much of his large and diverse collection. Rough stuff.

I can't help you much but there are some very good growers here with experience in harsh climates.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 12:32PM
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It'd be a great start for you to go to a Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society meeting - they're free and you'll come away with wheelbarrows of information, especially if you contact them with your question(s).

Here is a link that might be useful: Central AZ Cactus

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 2:09PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Get to know your Extension Service.

Most states have extension services to help folks know soils, pests and plants in your region. Yours is conducted out of the University of Arizona. Hit the link below, find your county and contact them with questions.


Here is a link that might be useful: They want to help

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 6:41PM
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rredbbeard(SE CT USA/zone 6)

If I was gardening in your area, I would be growing some of the South African oxalis species, and a number of other amaryllids. Many of these (but not oxalis) are animal proof. More important is the fact that they are dormant underground during summer in Crematoria, AZ , and depend on little or no water during that time. There are so many attractive plants to choose from. While many are somewhat animal proof, there are some that are lethal, such as boophone, aka 'the ox killer'. Up north, winter is the gardener's slow time. Just think of summer in your new locale as your slow time. Go with the flow.... I've had good luck with S.A. bulbs from Telos, and Diane might suggest plants for you. If you do plant oxalis, there are some such as pes-capriae that are highly invasive in the right (or wrong?) setting.

Let us know what you decide to do....

--Rick in CT

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 9:56PM
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Why not go to your nearest garden center and see what kinds of plants they offer. I am sure you could talk to a worker and find out and get answers. Also you can google what plants do well in your area...................
As you drive around, you can see what people are growing in their yards.
If you have a covered patio, you may have some choices, but you will be needing to maybe do some misting everyday or every other day for most plants.............goodluck

Neysa in California

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 12:01AM
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Where in AZ, exactly? Can make a difference. Even in Phoenix, where I am, some things do better in different parts of town.
Your instincts on most nurseries is generally right -- most of that stuff is from CA and won't live. Look for plants from Mountain States Nurseries or Civano (wholesale growers in AZ). Forget Home Depot/Lowes, generally. Most of their stuff, including cacti comes from CA and won't make it, even if that species grown here would be OK. Even non-native Cacti from Mexico and SA can get toasted here.

That said, you can have a great garden here, just gotta learn how. It's just that nothing you liked from the NW will survive here. .

If you're in Phoenix, I strongly reccomend some classes from the Desert Botanical Garden. Also strong +1 on the suggestion to look up CASS -- if you're not in Phoenix, their website still has some good info.
In terms of cactus and design, Scott Calhoun has some great books. Mary Irish's book on perennials is also great.

Generally speaking, you've got to learn the right plant for the right place. Partial shade is key for many, including cacti. Many succulents can't make it outside here, excepting Hawarthias in pots out of the sun. Some aloes are good in the sun (Blue Elves, Veras). Many others do well with partial shade.

The trick is some desert trees (Hybrid Palo Verdes) that give dappled shade. Put native cacti in the full sun, non-natives in dappled shade. Many perennials do well in partial shade. Austrailan plants do really well (Eremophilias). African plants too (some euphorbias, some vines). Native desert plants do great, you just have to learn about them. You CAN have the mosaic garden you want with cacti, aloes, and perennials.

Let us know specifically where you are in AZ, do some reading/learning and ask some more specific questions and people here can help you.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 7:48PM
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mingtea(z9 Tucson)

Ah. The same thing happened to me... I moved from Oregon to Tucson... All suggestions are good, go on a few club run tours and ask Q's... People who labor in their gardens love to talk about them. Even if you can grow 'em in the heat and sun, steer clear of plants that require lots of water (nursey folk can sometimes steer you that route). Ride your bike through older neighborhoods too, and see what's growing in yards with similar exposure to yours. Start veggies in November/October.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 10:36AM
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