This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

March 27, 2013

Planting along a north-facing wall in Phoenix, Arizona

One of the worst places for plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area is a southern exposure, that is, along a north-facing wall. The reason for this is that this area gets sun all of the time. It's pleasant in colder parts of the country, where the southern exposure would mean a cheerful, sunny area where you could plant flowers. But in Phoenix, where the temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F, it's the fires of hell.

The block wall adds to the heat also. In addition to the constant blazing sun from the south, the wall itself reflects heat back.

Here at The Tropical Paradise, you can see the line (where the cannas end) where the house itself provides some shade to this area (it's off to the left). Without that, this entire wall would be a dead zone. Most of what I have planted there in the past twenty years has either died, or is just barely hanging on, like these stunted cycads. In fact, I have a friend who has suggested that I paint this wall, just so it doesn't look so sad. It would be a great place for a cool sculpture, I'll admit. But I would never paint it.

The good news for for the rest of the yard is that I have a nice big tree, which I was standing under this morning when I took this photo. The bad news for this wall is that the shade of the tree doesn't quite make it to this area. But I am stubborn and will keep working on this. Here are some thoughts:

Mediterranean palm tree
If you have the room, plant a Mediterranean palm tree. That's the one over there to the right. They do fine in areas like this, and require no maintenance if you just know how they grow and how to leave them alone. Med palms "sucker" and create a nice, full, round shape. If you insist on trying to trim them to look like ordinary palm trees, like the ones on the left, it will be a constant struggle, and you will lose. These palms are available at any Home Depot. They grow slowly, and take a while to establish, so buy a 15 gallon and plant it well, at least 10 feet or more away from the wall. It will fill in the space!

Avoid dangerous plants. It's tempting to plant an agave, or a cactus, or some other type of dangerous plant, but this is a backyard where people will be walking. Razor sharp thorns are not appropriate around humans! I have some agaves here, but they are well away from where I need to step.

I wish I could give more encouragement here. If I had a blank slate, and could start this all over again, I would have opened up this area and planted the med palm towards the middle of the southern exposure, instead of over in the corner. But I really had no idea when I started this, and it's too late for me now. If you can, I strongly recommend that you do.

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