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

July 28, 2014

Planting, and watering, in the desert garden

It's July 28th and I planted a cycad this morning. It's now well over 100 degrees here in the Phoenix, Arizona area now, and it's a reminder how important careful planting, and watering, is!

The plant, a dioon edule, var. palma sola, is a close relative to the common *sago palm*, but much tougher. I've had then here for many, many years, and they do great. But there are some tricks to making them do their best. This is what I've learned:

• Prepare the hole well, but don't plant them too deep. No, you don't want the root ball sticking up above ground, but you definitely don't want a plant like this to stand in a swale, with *its feet wet*. That would rot the roots. So get the height correct. It should sit a little proud of the soil level. The point is here is to prove good drainage. There's a gentle slope here, too, which helps. Yeah, cycads like water, but it needs to drain away quickly. Even a heavy rain can be fatal to a plant like this, if the water fails to run off. Did I mention how important it is to plant on a slope?

• Use some potting soil. I like to say that my plants aren't planted in Arizona, they're planted in holes dug in Arizona, filled with potting soil. This plant had a generous amount of free-draining soil in the pot, so I didn't add much to the hole. I like the potting soil that has fertilizer in it, and I also add a little bit of slow-release dry fertilizer, like Osmocote. If you're filling a large space, use the potting soil that is sold for cactus.

• Supply water. My garden has two systems, one is a low-pressure *drip* system, and one is a misting system. Both are common systems available at your local Home Depot. When I first planted the garden, I used the *spaghetti tubing* but stopped doing that after I realized that they clog up almost right away, and besides, they look terrible. Who wants to see a bunch of tubing around your plants in a garden? Instead, I use sprayers set on risers. You can see one just to the right of the plant. It's black plastic and has an adjustable sprayer head. By the way, down in the lower right is the riser for the misting system. What I do to be sure of the correct coverage is to turn the water on and just look. Wet areas should be around the plants, not on the wall, or the sidewalk. In the summer, I have the water come on for twenty minutes every forty-eight hours, and the misters come on for ten minutes every four hours.

All cycads, like sago palms, do fine with neglect. But with a few tricks, they do great! I think this new cycad is going to be happy here.
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