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Tips to help your plants survive the summer

Velvet mesquite - perfect for desert landscapes
Velvet mesquite - perfect for desert landscapes
Linda Strader

Living in the desert has its challenges – for people and plants alike. June is hard on plants, especially those installed in late spring. While many plants can be set out all year round, if you want success with minimal effort, you’ll want to focus on planting in March-April; October-November. However, if you did recently plant, here are some tips to get those plants through their first summer:

  • Water deeply. This does not mean applying water far past the depth of the root zone, but it does mean soaking the root zone thoroughly. Nothing stresses plants out more than shallow watering. For new shrubs, water to a depth of 2 feet. For existing shrubs and ground cover, water to a depth of 3 to 4 feet. For new trees, soak at least 2 to 3 feet down; for existing trees, water to a depth of 5 to 6 feet. Existing plants do better with infrequent deep soakings (this applies to desert natives, desert adapted, and most other species).
  • Add mulch to top of soil. If you planted (or are planting) desert adapted or native plants do NOT add mulch to the planting hole. The reasoning is the roots will have to learn how to handle desert soil without amendments anyway. Additionally, if you make the hole too rich, you risk overwatering or suffocating roots, or the roots will never leave the planting hole. (Not good if it is a tree that will mature at 30 feet tall and wide.)
  • Provide shade. If your new plant is a columnar or barrel cactus in full sun, covering with shade cloth its first summer is recommended until it is acclimated to this sun exposure. It surprises many people that cactus can sunburn. Before you set a cactus in full sun, also make sure it is a species that prefers full sun. Sunburned plants are scarred forever, and occasionally will die.

As always, remember “right plant, right spot”. If you select species that want to live in the desert, your plant will require less maintenance and water, and will thrive with minimal attention on your part.