How an amateur gardener created a small garden that thrives in Tucson, Arizona's desert climate.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Mexican Sunflower - a love-hate relationship
Mexican Sunflower (tithonia fruticosa) is one of my favorite desert plants. It has a commanding presence in the summer garden with its tall leggy stems, large green leaves and bright yellow sunflowers. A profuse bloomer when watered, it attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Birds also love to eat the spent dry flowers, so be sure to dead head them and leave on the ground. But, in winter, Mexican Sunflower is not a pleasant sight to behold. It no longer flowers and the large leaves turn wrinkled and brown. If it is a featured plant, like my two were, it becomes a blight on your winter garden.
So, last winter, I dug up one of them, divided the clump, and planted two pieces in an area that would become a back drop to my oasis garden. I didn't have the heart to dig up the other one, so I severly pruned it back and waited for new, fresher growth in the summer. Well, even after much attention the clumps never produced. So I began calling the various nurserys in town only to learn Desert Survivors was the only one who carried the tithonia fruticosa variety. Unfortunately their plants were still in the greenhouse and wouldn't be ready until fall. I had to wait.
Then, one morning when watering I noticed a very small plant growing among a patch of salvia leucantha that looked like Mexican Sunflower. A seed must have been carried by a bird or blown over and dropped there. I gently dug it out and planted it in the hole that previously housed the clump and surrounded it with chicken wire. It grew! A miracle according to some who told me you can't transplant Mexican Sunflower. I will be diligent in my efforts to keep it healthy until next summer when I am hoping it will shoot upwards and blossom.
The 1/2 inch wire mesh cages I described in my last post have worked well in protecting one of my raised vegetable beds from small critters. The handles work great, making them easy to lift off the bed while I water and putz about.