Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs September 2002
Fall Trees & Chollas


"Greetings, September.  This is the globe speaking.  Since I've been feeling a little warm lately, I've demoted you from being the cool-down month to just another HOT month.  In fact, you're almost on a par with that dog, August.  Eager gardeners have been disappointed in you for years.  Maybe I'm just having hot flashes and will become friendlier after nature takes its course.  However, the weather is moody and unpredictable (as evidenced by professional forecasters), so you could redeem yourself at any time by cooling down.  But take heart, even if you don't cool down, you're still a most admirable month for planting of new trees and shrubs and the fertilizing of established ones."


Even though deciduous fruit trees (e.g. Apples, Plums, Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Pears) and shade trees ( Ash, Mulberries, Elms, Cottonwoods) look worn out or downright burnt up in nursery containers, they are best planted in the fall for best root establishment.  Remember, all those ugly leaves are going to drop off and be replaced in spring with fresh new ones!  People always seem to get inspired to plant trees in late spring when it's getting hot instead of now when it's (hopefully) getting cooler.  To inspire people to plant now, we're going to REDUCE PRICES on a variety of trees.


Early fall usually brings on the Battle of the Bugs.  Be prepared to see aphids, whiteflies, worms, leaf miners (the squiggly things on vegetable and shrub leaves), mites, grasshoppers etc.  Spraying off leaves daily with water helps diminish these pests but will not eradicate them. Heavy infestations usually require chemical treatment, which also does not always eradicate them.  Pest problems wane with cooler weather.

Birds in their quest for water have been a real menace on Ice Plants, Hearts & Flowers, Succulents etc.  Many plants have been literally picked to death!

Watch out for Cactus burning and yellowing on the south side as the sun drops down and temperatures remain high.  Prevent damage by keeping them moist and temporarily shaded.


Anybody out there who likes Chollas ?....?.....?? Don't all speak at once!  These Cacti are definitely a beautiful and unique part of the desert landscape.  But if beauty is only skin deep, they are a prime example, because if you touch one, that's where it will be deep in your skin!  The joints are loosely attached to the plant and have barbed spines that will attach to clothing, shoes, skin or fur at the merest touch.  Seeming to launch out unprovoked they have earned the name Jumping Cholla.  There are many different kinds, but the following are the most common ones right here.

Chain Fruit Cholla (Opuntia fulgida) This tree-like cactus can get to over 12' tall and looks quite regal standing alone.  Pendulous chains of round fruits dangle from its outstretched arms and pink flowers appear in early summer.  Two forms occur; one with dense golden (or rarely silver) spines, the other with almost naked joints.  The ground underneath these plants is usually littered with fallen joints in various stages of decay or sprouting of new generations.  This litter is extremely wicked and only appreciated by pack rats who can scamper unscathed among the joints.  In fact, they make huge, elaborate nests out of them.  Cactus Wrens and Doves make nests right in the branches and even live to tell about it!

Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii).  Looking like a neat miniature tree with a black trunk and round, golden top makes this the  Cadillac of Chollas.  It is a striking plant.  Especially when back lit by the setting sun, the dense spines of this cactus have that warm and fuzzy look, hence the name.  But it is actually a fiend in Teddy Bear clothing!  Extraction of one of those furry, innocent looking pieces from your body can be agonizing as they are exceptionally tenacious.  Stay away from those joints!

Buckhorn Cholla (Opuntia acanthocarpa). No doubt about it.  These plants are pretty ugly, especially if they are dried up and in survival mode on the desert.  They are somewhat straggly shrubs with sparsely spined joints that do not readily "jump" onto you as do the joints of the previous two varieties.  Their best feature is the flowers which appear in late spring.  Colors range from shades of deep rose through mahogany, bronze, gold, yellow and greenish.  Judicious pruning will keep plants more compact and attractive.

Desert Christmas Cholla (Opuntia leptocaulis). This small shrub is named because it produces red berries in winter.  It is variable in form and spinyness and the thin joints are not extremely "jumpy".  The greenish-yellow flowers are small but attractive. LIght trimming will keep this a decorative little cactus shrub.

So who would want one of these desert nasties in their yard anyway?  Possibly the following: people who have a big desert area they don't want to mess with and like the natural look; people that want to keep out nasty people; nasty people that want to keep out people; Cactus nuts; people who like unique plant forms and are not worried about their own or possibly others' discomfort.  The following would not want a desert nasty in their yard; people who don't like cactus; people who don't like unfriendly plants; people who don't like the desert; people who don't want to watch their kids and pets and don't want them to learn about Chollas the hard way.

Cholla tips:  Before cleaning up dried segments, soak them down thoroughly or wait till after a big rain as they're friendlier when wet.  Use tongs or a pitchfork, not gloved hands, to handle segments.  Spines easily penetrate skin through most clothing and shoes so keep your distance.  Use pliers or a comb for the inevitable joint removal.  And keep that ol' bullet handy!

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Web Comments September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004