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

September 3, 2014

Not ferns in the desert garden, cycads!

If you're interested in growing ferns in the Phoenix, Arizona area, you need a greenhouse. Sorry. I've tried to grow all types of ferns over the years, and the best I can say is that they lived for a while, but unfortunately, they suffered, and died. I remember once asking the guy at the nursery his advice for where I should plant a fern that I was buying and he just sighed and said, *a greenhouse*.

The reason that ferns do so poorly here is the same reason that people love living here - low humidity. And believe me, there is no way to add enough humidity to make ferns grow outside. Better gardeners than I have failed, even though they had high-pressure misting systems, and deeply shaded areas.

So the solution that I've found is an illusion of ferns, cycads. If you've never heard of cycads, that's not surprising. The one in the photo is called a Dioon spinulosum, and while it has been here for many years, doing great, I've never seen one for sale at the local Home Depot in Phoenix. You can get them at the local Home Depot in Los Angeles, and they are not expensive, or rare.

But before you start planting cycads, learn a little bit about what they like. They are not ferns, and will not do well in soggy ground. They do like shade, though. And the strangest thing about them is that they only grow about once a year in what is called a *flush*. The leaves are not soft, so be sure to plant them well away from where people might bump into them.

The most common cycad is called a *sago palm*, which are readily available here in Phoenix. Over the years my sago palms have done poorly, and the dioons, which are bluer, and have a more fern-like appearance, have done well. They grow very slowly, and require virtually no maintenance.

So, skip the ferns, get some cycads!
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