Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

August 18, 2014

Using cycads to give the illusion of ferns

When I bought my house in Glendale, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix), I wanted to get back the Tropical Paradise feeling that I remembered from living in Santa Barbara. But, uh, Phoenix isn't Southern California! Yes, you can buy plants here that do well in Southern California, and you can plant them, but really, all you get to do is to see them suffer, and die. And that's especially true of ferns.

So, the most successful *ferns* that I have here aren't ferns at all, they're cycads. And if you've never heard of them, that's not surprising. Most of the people I've met have never even heard the term. It's a group of plants that give a ferny, small-palm-tree look, the most common of which is called a *sago palm*. Many people have heard of sago palms. They're not palm trees at all, they're cycads. In the photo, by the way, the cycads are Dioons. Stay with me on this.

When I first learned what a cycad was, I found myself entering a strange world of cycad collectors. I even joined a group here in Arizona and volunteered as the webmaster. And even though it's a gardening group, it's really not like how I imagined a gardening group would be.

If you think of a gardening group as nice little old ladies with trowels, then you haven't seen the kind of people who collect cycads. Yes, they're gardeners, but they're really more like a bunch of overgrown kids collecting bubble-gum cards. The vast majority are middle-aged men, like me. And the more you learn about plants, the more addicted you become. Some of them are very, very, rare and are very, very, expensive. Kind'a like a Babe Ruth rookie card, if you follow me. The cycads I have are common ones, a little more expensive than your typical sago palm, but not *collector cycads*.

Anyway, if you want to fill your yard with cycads, you gotta do your homework. Some do well in a particular climate, some don't. And your local nursery is really no help. You need to find the guys who collect them. This past year I was introduced to a group on Facebook called Planet Cycad. And these guys are good! Information is freely passed around by people all over, well, the planet. As an American, I have to often remember that O means 32. It's a closed group, so you have to be allowed in, and you have to mind your manners.

As you can see here in my backyard, I am growing all kinds of miniature plants, including cycads. And now I'm discovering the same sort of enthusiasm for aloes, agaves, etc. So, I'm experimenting mostly, to see what works in a climate that gets over 110 F in the summer and well below freezing in the winter.

So, this is my *fern garden*, or as close as I can get.
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