Monday, October 22, 2012

Cacti in Landscaping

Cacti indoor landscape at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah

 When it comes to using cactus there is no better way to make your yard, apartment, or even office a better place when it comes to introducing cactus into your landscape.  Cacti, yucca, and other desert plants make great landscaping plants because they require so litter maintenance. They also can go about anywhere.

If you have little kids they will quickly learn that cacti landscaping is not for play. Having raised three boys and no a little girl she knows that the cactus says "ouch."

Cacti can be arranged like any other house plant inside. They need a good source of light, usually a window that faces the sun, and regular maintenance.  Using cacti inside may require slightly and I underscore, slightly, more water. Air inside homes usually tends to be dryer.  There is also more heat generated by windows, central heating, space heaters, etc.

Cacti, even during the winter, require light. They still carry on photosynthesis all year round. They tend to go "dormant" during the winter months even inside. This means major growth stops and metabolism slows down. But like all plants during a winter season "dormant" is a loosely used word. Even trees with leaves that are lost in the fall will carry on photosynthesis, just to a lesser degree.

Cacti are good for indoors because they clean the air, replenish oxygen, and can produce nice flowers.  Many if potted and you have a true four season climate in northern regions can be moved to outside between April and October. Cold hardy cacti are good year round in USDA Zones 5 and above due to the fact they are buried in deep snow during the winter and can be very high in altitude, 8,000 feet in elevation.

Warm desert cacti should be brought in to a nice mild spot with light. You can add plant lighting as well if windows are not sufficient.  While outside cacti can be arranged in pots, put into the ground for the season, or left above it. Make sure they continue to be well drained wherever they are.

Microclimates are great for some borderline cold hardy cacti. The sun facing side of the house near a foundation is great due to radiating heat and can raise temps both day and night. So a cacti that would succumb to cold out in the open could easily survive in the right microclimate.

Cacti gardens outside are beautiful, even to cactus haters, when the flowers bloom on the plant. Good flowering cacti such as barrels or prickly pear can produce a number of beautiful colored flowers over the July weeks, earlier in some cases depending on heat and season.

For example I had a large barrel that in the Mojave would have flowered in late April or early May. Instead, it flowered in June or July and did produce seeds.  Prickly pears flower anywhere from May to August depending on the species and location.  Cholla are excellent for landscaping.

Fast growing cacti should be trimmed back like cholla and prickly pear. Throw away extra pads, but always leave new growth as well. Soil should be a mixture of soil, rocks, and sand. This is true if you live in clay soil areas where water retention is greater.

Flowering cacti in Lehi, Utah

Also the soil should be stirred up once a year to put nutrients on top of the soil down under and aeration purposes, just as with any other plants. If you have kids, teach them that cacti are pretty, but not to play with them. Many barbs can be a nightmare to your kids, let alone you. 

Treat your cacti nice and they will produce great flowers. Some species produce edible fruit as well that can be harvested for eating or making jams or jelly.  Enjoy the show and have fun!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Welcome Indian Summer

Daniels Summit, Wasatch County, Utah
With the advent of the Autumnal Equinox we have the beginning of "Indian Summer" or the first part of Autumn late September and October.

This is the time when temperatures are relatively comfortable in Zones 5-7. The leaves change in the mountains of the Northern Hemisphere(March, April in the Southern Hemisphere). Of particular interest are the Rocky Mountains, Alps, Himalayas, and Appalachians among others.

The Rocky Mountains are surrounded on all sides by desert or semi-desert  areas. The mountains of the Great Basin, high Mojave, Sonaran and Chihuahua Deserts in the United States all have "islands in the sky" of color. This is especially true when the colors peak in October. This year the colors will peak earlier it appears than other years. Leaves around my area were well changed before summer ended.

Alpine Loop, Mount Timpanogos, Utah.

If you hit the high country before the snow flies you can catch more than scrub oak, maples, aspen, and cotton wood changing. Ferns also provide a large ocean of color. Especially on the eastern or southern slopes where rain gets dumped  before hitting the rain shadows of the desert. These ferns are beautiful and deserve a look. Though short in life sometimes not coming out until June, they provide a great backdrop to the trees and surrounding countryside.

Many foothills of these mountains are also covered in Opuntia (prickly pear) in the drier locations. The Rocky Mountain Prickly Pear can withstand temperatures far below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The surrounding desert areas have sagebrush, yucca, Mormon Tea, and mesquite depending on the desert ecosystem below the high elevations.

The Grand Canyon is a great example of this. At the North Rim it is 8,000 feet above sea level with Aspen, and pine. At the bottom the Canyon resembles the Mojave Desert and can reach summertime temperatures well over 100 degrees.

So if you get a chance to get out and drive, especially is less green areas to the mountains to get some pictures of color before it all goes gray and brown and the snow settles in for the lifeless winter.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kirk's Photo's on Our Facebook Page

Here are some photos Kirk has updated on our Facebook page. Click "Like us." We wont mind.

Old Man of the Andes

This cactus is one that is just sitting there. It hasn't grown much, but it is alive. It sits in my office window getting some sunlight in the morning hours until noon.

It makes a cool part of my collection. The white "beard" on the cactus is clearly a plus. At first it was hard to tell if the cactus was alive or dead. So I dug through the beard and got green flesh.

The cactus is very much alive.  I bought it at a Home Depot or Lowes on sale.  It just kind of sits there living up to its namesake.

The Old Man of The Andes is native to the highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. It might be better as an outdoor plant. For now though it sits in the office window.

I would recommend at least watering every other week. Some Miracle Gro Plant Food is good with a watering.

Let the soil dry out to avoid rot. It is good to mix in newer soil with the old, especially for an office plant. You are not looking for Arnold Schwarzenegger biceps or pecs here.

It it is suspected that the cactus may be on the downward spiral pull back the hair and using scissors or a knife pull back the hair to get at the green flesh. This can be hard as the needles make it a bit tricky.

The flesh should be bright green and roots firm in the soil. Normally one would repot each year or two. But why repot if the cactus is slow growing?  Take an envelope opener and mix in the top layer of soil. Then add a cup or so of new soil, water and thoroughly dry between watering.

You can also pull on needles to check for health. But that is not necessarily a good sign in and of itself. You may get a chunk of flesh on needle and think you have rot.  That's why I recommend  going straight to the stem. If the wound you make in the cactus heals then you are okay.

I have so many cacti in my office I don't know what to do. Some ladies hoard cats and men hoard old junk cars. I hoard cacti. If you have any tips on how to get stumpy here to grow I'm all for feedback.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Great Salt Lake Desert

Great Salt Lake Desert, Juab County, Utah.
The Great Salt Lake Desert is part of the larger Great Basin Desert. It is approximately 250 miles long starting in the northwestern corner of Utah and extending down to Juab County. It is approximately 120 wide about 40 miles west of the Wasatch Range on the east and extending to the Nevada State Line on the west. The Topaz Mountain area is one location where Japanese Americans were interred during World War II.

Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah. The Newfoundland Mountains are in the background.

The Bonneville Salt Flats is home to the world's fastest land speed records and  is so flat in spots you can see the curvature of the earth. The salt flat areas of the desert are also home to a number of salt mining operations such as Morton Salt Company.

Aragonite Area, Tooele County, Utah.

Portions of the Great Salt Lake Desert feature a more distinct  basin and range  pattern typical of the Great Basin.  Salt flat areas are much more wide and mountain ranges are farther apart. The Great Salt Lake Desert is used by the US Military for a variety of reasons from Air Force Testing to the closely guarded secrets of Dugway Proving Grounds.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Tale of Mr. Whiskers

"Mr Whiskers" came into my life during a trip to stay with some friends at a time share in Palm Desert, California.  It was the summer of 2005, which I remember well.  The temp was a cool 115 degrees F during the day. Quite comfy I would say, NOT. No worries it was a vacation just the same.

Upon arriving in California land of many cacti and desert type plants I stumbled across golden barrel cacti. Native to further south in the Sonoran Desert, these cacti were like a big barrel I had back home, but were huge!  They made for a pretty landscape.  So a trip to the local Walmart and $5.50 later I was the owner of  a barrel cacti.  Now these cacti ARE NOT cold hardy.  Nonetheless, I was going to take this specimen back home bring it out during the late spring to early fall and keep it in my basement during the winter.

A name came to me while taking it back to the condo. "Mr. Whiskers" also being a cat lover at that time. Well Mr. Whiskers was potted and the journey began.  He spent time with us in California and then travelled back to Lehi, Utah with my family where we were living at the time.  Mr. Whiskers grew slow and steady.

Golden Barrel Cacti

Over the years Mr. Whiskers battled root rot, some time being in my outdoor garden of very poor draining clay soil, fungus, and some other problems. But this was the bounce back cactus. Mr. Whiskers even survived some cold snaps supposed to kill this type of cacti.  When I moved north in Utah and eventually when my marriage went splat! see previous post, I was a lone man living at his parent's house with some of my cacti and palms.  It was late February 2012.  Miserable time for a non cold hardy cacti to live outside. My other barrel was there too along with some Washingtonias grown from seed and a date palm.

Late spring storms were relentless with cold and wet on Mr.Whiskers. He suffered cold burn that turned him white.  He did scar very well.  Well I finally got an apartment where I am now.  Some cacti were not going to make it.  My other golden barrel had fought the onslaught of late winter and early spring, but death was near. Finally, rot took my other unnamed barrel out.  Several other cold hardy cacti survived, others I couldn't take.

Finally it was my cycad that was burned, fried, toast, on life support and Mr. Whiskers burned almost every where, but not rotting.  White from cold burn, but still retained some green.  Spring did come and only Mr. Whiskers and my Cycad remained.  All my other cacti were dead or casualties of me hoarding the things.

Mr Whiskers slowly began to grow. The scarring gave way to green flesh and new needles formed on the crown.  Mr. Whiskers came back making a full recovery!  My cycad was dead, but still was green in the trunk. It was ugly! But I decided to see if that green meant anything. I gave it the best sun I could.  One day arriving home from work I discovered new fronds coming out of the trunk and the burned ones moving out of the way for the new ones. My other stick cholla from the Mojave is cold hardy, but it survived and is now also growing gangbusters.

Mr Whiskers should have died, but he lives! He still bares the scars of the cold winter months he spent outside. Other golden barrels I have owned have almost made it before succumbing to rot and disease.

Mr. Whiskers is a trooper and dispels the myth that one of the most beautiful cacti around cannot take harsh conditions and survive. Same with my cycad, an extremely tropical plant. Today Mr. Whiskers is fat and happy and golden as ever!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Growing Date Palms From Seed Made Easy

Casa Blanca, Mesquite, Nevada
Do you want to grow a date palm? As I have searched the web this evening there are many sites from blogs to grower sites telling you how to grow your date palm.

Unless you are OCD about your palms you want maximum output with little effort.  I have grown date palms from seed before and with great success.

No special soils, treatments, or fertilizers required. Now I am no professional. I just got results.

Here is how I did it.

1. Find a date palm seed around a tree that is moderately manicured. Chances are if they are too well manicured the seeds will be gone.  Check around the base. There you should find the dried up fruit containing seeds or seeds themselves. Push on the seed to make sure it is not rotted out. If it breaks, toss it because it won't grow.  Seeds need not look perfect, just not too brown. The skin of the fruit dried protects seeds. So these may be your best bet. Gather all you can because some will probably not germinate.

2. After gathering your palm seeds you need a soil. I recommend Miracle Gro palm and cactus soil. Any potting soil with good nutrients will probably do.

3. Put your seeds in the soil about one-half inch down in small cups. Seeds grow and when they need to be transplanted you want a root ball.  First make sure that your seeds are in a good sun lit area in or outdoors weather permitting. Be patient. It may take 3 weeks to germinate.

4. Once you have a sapling growing, continue to water it. Keep the soil moist, not drenched. Root rot will take hold quick.

5. Use a fungicide for indoor or outdoor plants and also liquid plant food.  Make sure you turn the soil. Nutrients in the air from storms, dust, etc. get in the soil and help that plant to grow. Keep saplings out of windy conditions unless firmly anchored. Some areas with lots of wind protect them more. Wind wreaks havoc on these little palms.

6. Once established water regularly, not overdoing it. Turn the soil every now and again.

7. Fertilizer? You can get fancy palm fertilizers, but for younger trees this may be a bit intense.  I use smashed dog food. It keeps my Buddy alive so it must have something. Mash up the dog food as fine as  you can and mix in.  It you see mold on the food don't worry. The mold is eating on the dog food, not the palm.
The mold decomposes the dog food and breaks it down. However, if in doubt, throw excess mold out.

That is it. Most people like myself have lives and are not professional growers. We forget to water now and again. We leave the saplings in the cold before bringing them indoors, etc.  A little common sense goes a long way. Too much love can kill a tree just as neglect can.

If you live in a cooler climate put the seedlings or trees out no earlier than late March and maybe April is better. Make sure your temperatures are in the 40s at night at least consistently before putting the palms out for the season.

Make sure they are in an area that gets at least six hours direct sunlight. If that won't work, then four at bare minimum.  Make sure during winter months they are near windows or you have full daylight spectrum lighting so the plants will grow.  One seed per cup or container is plenty. I have had bad luck with shock from tangled roots.

Like all seed grown plants some survive, most won't. Keep trying and you'll get it right somehow.

Dave out.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Mighty Colorado

Colorado River near Westwater, Utah.
The Colorado River has some of the most diverse scenery of any river system in the United States or the world for that matter.

It truly is one of the worlds great desert rivers like the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates and others.

The Colorado begins in the Rocky Mountains in the Central part of Colorado. The river crosses into southeastern, Utah and flows through the southeast corner of the state.

It exits Utah and flows into Arizona at present day Lake Powell, through the Grand Canyon, and finally joins Nevada on the Arizona and Nevada state line. From there the Colorado forms Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. It then continues along the Arizona and Nevada state line until Nevada terminates at the southern point of the state and the river forms the Arizona and California state line and then forms a small international boundary between Arizona, United States and Baja California, Mexico. Finally the river empties into the Gulf of California in Mexico.

The Colorado truly is the life blood of the Southwest. Providing irrigation water, culinary water, and other water uses to the Colorado Plateau, Mojave, and Sonoran Desert Regions of the United States and Mexico.

The first great dam on the Colorado was the Hoover Dam constructed between 1931 and 1935 along the Nevada and Arizona State line. This created Lake Mead and provided a means of control for water storage, irrigation, and electricity generation.

Other dams to follow include the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, creating Lake Powell, Parker Dam and Davis Dam along the lower river providing controls along the way for the same purpose.

These dams with their reservoirs are not just providing for water use. As with Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam generates electricity for the American West and its large power grid. Lake Mead,in Nevada and Arizona, Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona, Lake Havasu on the Arizona and California state lines also provide valuable recreation for the local economies.

Cities that were created for dam construction have now diversified and become thriving communities in their own right such as Page, Arizona; Boulder City, Nevada, and Lake Havasu, Arizona.

The Colorado has major tributaries such as the Green River that flows through Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado before joining the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park. Other major tributaries are the San Juan River flowing through New Mexico and Utah before joining the Colorado. Other notable tributaries are the Little Colorado and Virgin Rivers that flow out of the Colorado Plateau region.

Seven US States make up the Colorado River Compact. They are Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, and Nevada as these states are on the Colorado river or have major tributaries that feed the Colorado. Mexico receives water rights through a treaty with the United States.

Competition for the rivers resources is strong, especially in California. Other states with large cities like Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada and smaller cities such as Grand Junction, Colorado; St. George, Utah; Moab, Utah; Bullhead City, Arizona; Laughlin, Nevada, and Needles, California compete with Los Angeles and the California agricultural industry for their share of the water rights. Farmington, New Mexico and Green River, Wyoming also compete for their water rights as they are on tributaries to the Colorado.

The Colorado has enabled cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas to grow beyond what the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts could support.  Power from the dams on the river is used not just in the big three cities above mentioned, but by urban centers around Albuquerque, New Mexico; Salt Lake City, Utah and the Wasatch Front in Utah; Denver, Colorado; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The river still has long stretches where river running is a popular past time and hiking in the Grand Canyon to the river is also a tourist magnet. Laughlin, Nevada casinos also use the river as a highway with boats that ferry customers back and forth from day to day and as beach front property.

The Colorado River truly is a miracle river. Once untamed and unpredictable, the river now is a multi use river for the various stakeholders.

Some want to tear down the Glen Canyon Dam to restore the river to it's previous 1963 state. Others want more water for their growing cities and now want to exercise their water rights at the expense of other stakeholders.

The American Southwest and Wyoming are in an all out water war for their own interests. Some of these competing factions only see the Colorado use for their own purposes and ignore the impact that their wishes might have on others.

We can't turn back the clock to smaller cities, less agriculture, less recreation demands, or the need for cheap power. The Colorado River and its tributaries are at capacity for use. Some years the river dries up long before it reaches Mexico. San Luis Rio Colorado is a big city on the river that has water needs as well.

So all stake holders have got to be willing to work together so that the Colorado River Basin can meet all of the industries it serves and the customers who patronize those industries. Parts of the river should be left alone and in their natural state. Other areas need to be maintained and even developed further to get water to farther away cities on the system. Tourism should be promoted on the resevoirs and electricity should continue to feed the power grid along with coal, natural gas, wind and solar sources.

There are scare mongers on the one side saying that the water will run out. Others overestimate the resources the Colorado can give. The river ultimately depends on snow in the Rockies and high elevation places on the Colorado Plateau. No snow, no water.  Engaging mainstream interests have got to be willing to compromise. Nobody gets all of what they want. Some should get none of what they want like tearing down the vital Glen Canyon Dam or overregulation of the river resources.

As one of two great river systems that drain the American West, the other being the Columbia River, the Colorado should be respected. If we are good stewards to the river, then it will continue to serve our multiple use needs for generations to come. If we go to extremes, the river we now benefit from in so many ways will not serve the many needs millions of people depend on. Long may the Colorado flow from the Rockies to the Gulf of California giving a share to all along the way.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The "Walking Stick" Cholla

When I was last in Colorado staying with the other Desert Rat on this blog, he decided to work instead of take his buddy on a sight seeing tour. So I took myself.

About an 1.5 hours south on 1-25 from Denver is a forest of tree like chollas, but different in some ways from their Mojave counterparts.  They are called "walking sticks."

Now please don't ask me why they are called walking sticks. I would not know. I suppose it could mean it looks like they move or something.

I would prefer a good old cane to these walking sticks. I love cacti, not that much though. Anyway, the Walking Stick Cholla occurs just south of Colorado Springs and Just north of Pueblo.

The hills and plains around the area are covered with these lovely specimens. They extend down into New Mexico from what I hear.

These are the first plains based cholla, cold hard type that I have seen outside the Mojave. Now one grows in a pot on my patio.

Kirk the other desert rat has them all over his yard. It could be said that this picture is a fake and actually Kirk's front yard.  Hardly a lie now "wink wink."

So if you like chollas and lots of them give the walking stick a look. Just don't actually walk with one.


Tags: Walking Stick, Cholla, cacti

Monday, August 27, 2012

Yes, We're Back

Kirk and I had tried to give up blogging and form a rock band "The Prickly Pears." Originally we were a hit. We played Idaho Falls, Idaho, Baker City, Oregon, Paragonah, Utah, Bennett, Colorado, and a bar for Kansas State groupies in Manhattan, Kansas.

Alas the pressure got too great and so we broke up. Kirk became catatonic and went into a major depression, had a knee scope, and had a battle with "Walking Sticks" a kind of mean ass cholla.

I took up dressing in drag, but when they learned I was straight they kicked me out of the Glee Chorus Line. After that my family deserted me for pretending to be a drag queen.  I got a job at a KFC, but that didn't work. I don't like to bake chicken, I eat chicken. So I was fired.

Kirk and I are back.  We reunited, like Tears for Fears, hashed this blog out to last decade's House music and here we be back on Cactus and Yucca Rebel.  Now there are two of us who blog here. Why the single name?  Because I goofed up setting it up. But you can reach us both under the obvious alias "Desert Rats."

So enjoy some new articles about cactus, yucca, and everything tropical and odd. Yes we are global warming enthusiasts. God controls the Earth's climate, we just enjoy longer summers and can't wait for Obama to leave the Oval Office.

Now being visual learners we believe in pictures. So if you are intellectual, this is not the blog for you. Please email us with your thoughts and ideas or critiques. If you piss us off we will gladly delete your comment. Assholes are not welcome. Constructive critics are.

Thank you,

Cactus Ring

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