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

June 3, 2016

Creating a tropical paradise in Phoenix, Arizona

I love living in the Phoenix area. I lived in Southern California for many years and found it way too crowded, and way too expensive. But I love the look of Southern California, so I was determined not to have just dirt, rocks, and cactus in my garden here.

I've had this "tropical paradise" garden here for over twenty years, and as you would expect, I've made a LOT of mistakes. Fortunately, my memory is poor for those mistakes, and what really matters is what worked. So, no you can't really grow the same stuff that they grow in the tropics, but you can create a pretty convincing illusion. Here in the desert, it's called an oasis. This is how you do it:

• Think small. My backyard is tiny, and my plants are miniatures. Planting a bunch of full-sizes palm trees in a small backyard will just turn it into a forest of telephone poles, so resist that temptation! I like miniatures (you can just barely see the ears of my miniature dachshund there between the the two trunks of the dwarf date palm, just to the right of the dioon spinulosum cycad, which is growing very strongly this morning. The drawback of miniatures is that they are terribly expensive. Per inch, that is. My dachshund is an example of that - you could get a much bigger dog for the money. But I like miniatures. To me, it creates a jewel-like quality.

• Find shade. It doesn't just get hot in Phoenix, it gets crazy hot. I've done the experiment of trying to fry an egg on the sidewalk, which actually can't be done, but it gets darn close. I made a point of getting a house that had the backyard facing the east. If your backyard faces the south, or west, or north, you need to pick it up and turn it around. East. South and west gets way too hot, and north gets too cold in the winter (hard to believe, but true!). And if at all possible, go back thirty years and plant some shade trees. I have two olive trees, which were on the property when I bought the house.

• Automate the watering system. Dragging a hose out to a garden like this is a big mistake. There are two watering systems here, one is drip and the other is mist. In the summer the water comes on for twenty minutes every day, and the misters kick on every eight hours. It's a very precise delivery of water, with no waste. Water is precious in the desert - and it costs money!

You can do this. If someone says that "it can't be grown here", just show them my blog. Yeah, some plants can't live here, no matter what you do (I'm thinking of ferns, which need more humidity than can be provided artificially), but a lot of plants do just fine, with care.

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