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

September 2, 2014

Tricks for growing tropical plants in the desert

There are a lot of places where tropical plants grow naturally. These are places with high humidity, which is wonderful for plants, but not very comfortable for people. I live in the desert, where the humidity is very low, so that even when it's hot here, it's comfortable. And it rarely rains here, so the skies are blue and clear and you can go golfing just about every day. So, I am happy living here, but I would really rather live in an oasis than in a desert. Fortunately, it's possible with a few tricks.

The most important thing is water. Seems a no-brainer, but I've seen people try to water tropical plants outdoors here with a hose, or a watering can. If you're one of those people, no wonder you're so frustrated that *nothing can grow* where you live.

There are two watering systems here in my backyard in Glendale, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix). The one you are seeing the effects of in the photo is the misting system. It's the same thing that you see around the edges of patio covers in restaurants, etc. It really does cool down the air in a very small space, and it obviously adds more moisture to the air. I can't say that it's ever enough to make it *humid* here, but you can feel the coolness and the moisture, and I'm sure the plants feel it, too.

The second watering system (which is the main one) is a simple low-pressure *drip system*. I've replaced the old-fashioned *spaghetti* tubing (which looks terrible and just gets clogged up) with sprayer heads on short risers. Both watering systems are on inexpensive battery-powered timers, which I can easily change both frequency and duration as the weather changes. It's September now so I've set the water to come on less often than in the summer. In the winter I turn it completely off.

Another important trick to grow tropical plants here is shade. What you are looking at here is early morning sun, but these plants go into light shade from the tree fairly quickly, and deep shade from the house all afternoon. I dislike the look of shade cloths, so where there isn't as much shade, I have planted more robust plants, like desert agaves.

I love looking at photos of the tropics, but really I don't want to live with high humidity, rain, bugs, that sort of thing. My garden is an illusion, and it's an illusion where I want to be.
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