Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs July 2003


Here we go again!  Eagerly awaiting the billowing monsoon clouds that give us a hope of rain.  The thing with the monsoons, though , is that we can't wait 'til they get here and when they're here, we can't wait 'til they leave! Although we don't like it, higher humidity in July makes a friendlier atmosphere for our heat stressed plants.


Hummingbirds as well as people always live a good Salvia, but Salvias are not lovers of the desert heat.  Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) seems always in demand and is indeed a lovely plant but it is difficult to get through the summers here.  It is much happier at slightly higher elevations such as Tucson.  Red Sage (Salvia coccinea), however, does quite well with our heat.  It actually has a fighting change of survival if planted now, but must be kept well watered.  Flowers come in red shades as well as coral and white.  Regular trimming will keep plants from becoming too leggy.  It does reseed itself, but this is a good thing, since unwanted plants are easily removed, and wanted plants are free!


Without a doubt, one of the toughest trees you could ever grow in the desert is the Jujube or Chinese Date (Ziziphus jujuba).  Originally from Syria (no wonder it's tough!), this tree is common in the Mediterranean region and is especially relished by the Chinese who have developed hundreds of different varieties.  Fruit size and shape is variable according to variety, being round to oblong and 1/2" to 2" long.  The flesh is like a dry apple and is sweet but not super sweet.  Fruits are eaten fresh, dried or candied and had medicinal uses in the past.  The tree itself actually likes our crummy alkaline soils and high heat.  It is a very attractive tree(35-40 ft tall) with very glossy, bright green leaves that turn yellow in fall.  After leaves drop the tree has an interesting, gnarly silhouette.  These trees are common in Texas and California, but you don't see too many in the Phoenix area.  There are lots of them at Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior.

So what might be the drawbacks to planting a Jujube Tree?  Well, for one thing, they drop lots of messy fruit and for another, they produce lots of thorny root sprouts.  For years we just had to have a Jujube, and were thrilled when we finally located one at Baker Nursery (it was either a "Lang" or a "Li"-the only two varieties usually available).  Anyway it had a slightly slow start during the first summer but then really took hold, much to our delight, and produced enough fruits for us and for the birds too.  Then we noticed a few innocent looking root sprouts in the basin around the trunk.  "What cute little suckers," we thought and promptly ignored them.  We were always going to dig them out "later."  Well, when "later" finally arrived they had exploded into a thorny, impenetrable barrier around the base of the tree.  It was too late for the shovel now, so we launched an attack with loppers and vowed to try to dig them out "later."  The short story is that the cute little suckers became big nasty suckers, and these suckers suckered, creating thorny thickets yards away from the tree in all directions.  These "innocent" sprouts are from the seedling rootstock to which the tree is grafted, so they are much thornier and produce smaller and drier but still edible fruits.  Lots more free plants too!

We still love our Jujubes though.  Here they are, in July, with no supplemental water, just as green and lush as can be, standing like beacons among the dried up desert vegetation.  Just remember that unless you want lots of them, dig out any sprouts immediately as they are unfazed by an chemical vegetation killer.  "Look!"  There's one now!  Over there, by the pond - 50' away!! For sure we'd better get out there later and dig that sucker out!

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Web Comments September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004