Sunday, March 12, 2006

Chicken Wire, Boulders and Drip Irrigation

Here are two of my beds one year later. The chicken wire was attached to rebar and wood stakes to keep the rabbits out. Note that there are rubber protectors on top of the rebar to protect against someone falling on one and impalling themselves. Not much you can do about Javalina as they can jump easily over the fence. My mixture of dirt to compost is one to three (one part compost, two part dirt). The mesquites came from 5 gallon pots and were placed in holes twice as deep as the 18"bed. Plants used included salvia leucantha, salvia greggi, ruelia, mexican sunflower, casia and mexican primrose and many other desert varieties. Desert Survivors Nursery on West 22nd St. near A Mountain is wonderful place to purchase plants. They grow their plants on site, a big plus since your plant will have had plenty of time to acclimate to Tucson's climate. I also recommend using rocks and boulders in your beds. They give your garden texture and provide a natural setting for plants. Boulders also shelter roots from the hot sun.

I've used drip irrigation throughout my landscape. You can see the black hose on top of the bed in the photo. In most cases I leave the main hose above ground to allow easy access. You can now purchase emitters that allow variable water flow - a great invention! Each plant type will require a little more or a little less water than another plant type and with adjustible flow emitters you can now fine tune the plant's watering needs. Drip is a very easy and effective way to water your garden while conserving Tucson's precious water.

Beds VS Multiple Holes

The great thing about digging a bed is its versatility. Plants can be moved around, added and removed as you desire. If it doesn't look right in one spot, plop it in another. Plus the cultivated earth allows water to seep over a larger expanse of ground and encourages more sensitive plant roots to roam rather than be restricted to a defined area. The Sonoran desert earth is hard and rocky allowing only the toughest to survive. If you want an area to grow more delicate plants a bed is preferred. Most of my beds are sheltered by mesquite trees. This allows me to grow plants that need filtered shade to do their best, such as many types of salvias.

Tools You Must Have

The most important tools you will need to get started are a shovel, a good pick, a wheel barrow, and a screen (see photo). The screen can be picked up at any hardware store and should be affixed to a square frame made of two by fours. The screen openings should be small enough to separate the larger rock from the dirt. Build a sturdy one, as it will get much abuse, and large enough to fit over your wheel barrow. Just as important are leather gloves, a hat, sun block and drink plenty of water!
Go easy! Rest frequently. Digging a hole can actually be a pleasant and rewarding experience if you pace yourself. In the Tucson Mountains there is a lot of rock. Designate a place on your property where you can dump the rock and have it hauled away.

As you can see, I am working around most of the natural vegetation which includes ocotillo, prickly pear and creosote. Be careful digging around these older plants so as to avoid disturbing their roots. I lost the two ocotillos in the background and attribute it to root damage and too much water from my soon to be installed water drip irrigation.

Sticky Business

My general advice is to leave as much natural vegetation as you can when creating a desert garden as most will provide an interesting and natural backdrop to your newer plants. The old agave in the photo had to be removed for safety reasons. As you will see later on the blending of the newer plants with the old helps maintain the natural desert landscape and will look less contrived.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dirt, Rocks,Water and Sun

BEFORE (February 2002)

My God given space in this world is a half acre on a gently rising slope at the base of the Tucson Mountains that faces downtown Tucson, Arizona. Our home is tucked into a desert neighboorhood that began to take shape some forty years ago. My wife, Chu (Susan), and I raised our two boys, Eric and John, and two yellow labs on this desert hot spot. We didn't yearn for green, however, until about 4 years ago when the sun's brightness and heat finally beat Chu and me into submission.

Truth be told it was Chu that started it. One spring day I watched through our living room window as she marched out into our small yard with pick in hand. Inspired by her industry, I joined her and together we dug our first hole. A very large, deep hole (see above) that we learned later was much deeper than it had to be. We must have dug down three feet through mostly rock and were exhausted. Afterwards we learned that desert plants generally can do fine in a hole that is as deep as its container and two to three times as wide.