Category Archives: Gardening

Prickly Pear

For today’s post I am going to dive into the Prickly Pear (Opuntia). It is large cactus with paddle like leaves. They grow abundantly in Arizona and across most of the hot, arid states of the southwest and Mexico. They are easy to propagate and grow. The well known prickly pear fruit is used in jellies, syrups,

Thornless Prickly Pear

In my own neighborhood there are hedges made exclusively of thornless prickly pears. One neighbor’s hedge is over 8 feet high. Interestingly, the thornless variety was born through careful breeding by Luther Burbank in the latter part of the 1800’s (you can read his entire story here). He had hoped that the spineless breed would give grazing cattle a supplement for their water needs. As it turns out, he could not permanently breed out the thorns. If a cactus faces stress it will push out a most prickly pin cushion.

One of the wonderful aspects of prickly pears is the fruit. The easy part is knowing that all species of prickly pear fruit (and the whole plant!) is non-toxic and quite delicious to eat. The hard part? Harvesting them. A woman here in Arizona uses a set of long hot dog tongs and a plastic bucket.

My personal favorite way to harvest them is at the store after all the thorns are removed. I have an aversion to wandering off the beaten path, into the desert, with scorpions and rattle snakes. I like to stay far away from the things that are poisonous.

Bonus! These beauties are good for you too! They aren’t classified as a super food, but they should be. High in fiber, antioxidants, and carotenoids they rank right up the with the best of the green foods. It is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It’s also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. I think I’ll start eating these by the basket full and live to be 110! Before you go too crazy munching on these, be aware that your stomach may need a little bit of time to get used to the fiber.

The prickly pear cactus is also a nice place for pack rats and other rodents to build their homes. It is a great place for them to nestle in for the winter months and find a protected place from their various predators.

Although this plant looks intimidating it is worth getting past that and discover all that you can do with it. Whether you make smoothies from the fruit or toss a salad with parts of the paddles, you will have a plant that just keeps on giving. Just beware of the thorns. They are sharper than you can imagine.

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How Did My Garden Grow?

It will be a year ago in May that we closed on our new home in Tucson. It was a move that we had considered for several years and when the housing market went crazy we knew it was time to go. We put our Colorado house of 22 years on the market and booked it down to Arizona. We went from a high-altitude semi-arid climate to a desert. Gardening is not the same!

Our home here in Tucson is a new build and the yard? A block of dirt. Not just any kind of dirt, but concrete-like dirt. A pick ax does not cut it here. A shovel? Forget it. Needless to say, when I planned out my new gardens I didn’t expect to have to use a drill to make a dent in the soil. I also knew nothing about planting a garden in the desert.

In Colorado I did pretty well with my flower beds and a tree or four. I had three flower beds, rescued a tree that started out under a fence, and a honeysuckle that grew to twenty five feet with a perfect crown. I’m not totally sure how I managed the perfect honeysuckle, but I think it had a lot to do with luck.

Years ago I lived in the Mojave desert so I knew what to expect from the heat but, back then I wasn’t much for planting anything. So, when we first arrived to this dirt patch I thought the best way to go about things is to plant rock gardens in one corner of our half acre lot. Then I went crazy at the nursey (Green Things is my favorite place).

I was soon busy drilling, hacking, pounding, and turning the horrible stuff they call dirt into something cactus could grow in. In a few short weeks, through 90-100 degree days, I had three gardens.

Just getting started on the second garden.
This is the first garden with Aloe, Penstemon, and Elephants Food.

All went pretty smoothly until the winter months came – along with the gophers. It was a disaster. Tucson had an unusually cold winter this year and where we live is usually 3-4 degrees colder than the city. When the temperatures were hitting 35 degrees in town we were closer to 30. There were a couple of mornings that it dipped to 28.

I spent half the winter covering and uncovering the gardens. The Elephants Food was the first to freeze. It was a battle that I was determined to win so I just had to stay on top of the weather forecasts to be sure nothing else froze. Then came the snow. Three snow storms came through but I battled on. The Mangave was looking sad along with the Aloe, yet I knew I could stay ahead of the weather.

Then the gophers came. They killed the Fern Tree, ate the roots of an Arizona Rosewood, and started working on the gardens. That did me in. I threw in the towel, dug up everything that was still alive in the gardens, and moved them inside. One of my recycling bins turned into a holding box. Planter boxes I planned to donate were pulled out of storage. It was a fiasco.

Now it is spring time here in the desert. The temperatures are warming up and my recycling box/planter has been moved outside. The gardens? The one garden with the penstemons survived (they are hardy down to -10) so it will be joined by a couple of new penstemons. The other two? I haven’t decided what to do with them, but they certainly won’t have any Aloe in them.

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Elephant Food – The Plant

Mind the Freeze Warnings in the Desert

Last year I found one of my favorite plants, Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra). It has reddish brown stems and the leaves are a beautiful emerald green. When grown to a full bush they will grow to about 8-12 feet. BUT, they do not tolerate a freeze. This I found out the hard way.

When I purchased these from the local nursery I explained that I did not live in Tucson proper but a bit higher. Elephant Food will do just fine with a little cold, they said. Not to worry they said. This past winter was cold for the area (cold is a relevant term of course). According to my backyard weather station we went down to 25 overnight about 5 times. The Elephant Food kicked the bucket. It did look pretty good right after it was planted (to the right of the aloe).

This winter taught me that there were a number of plants that I thought would be fine with a little bit of cold. Aloe do not like the cold, and neither do mangave. The fairy dusters were a mixed bag (three died and two are hanging on by a leaf). I dug up the aloe and mangave before they were a complete loss, but I really didn’t want a house full of plants for the winter.

Now that it is April the temperatures with start to climb and I can put everything back outside. Well, after tomorrow night…it’s supposed to go down to 35 overnight. That’s cold for these parts!

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A couple of years ago we moved to the Tucson area where the cactus grow tall and their needles are in Mother Nature’s sewing kit to pierce heavy leather. Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) are the world’s largest cactus so we’ll dedicate this post them. These gentle giants of the desert are amazing. Not only do they grow to 40 feet tall, but they also have arms that can curl around to look like a hug, or even a chair. Be aware though, if you sit on one you will never sit anywhere else for quite sometime. Their two inch needles will leave you with many holes in your backside.

Here are a few fun facts about the saguaro:

  • Saguaro is pronounced suh-waa-row.
  • They grow slowly. Only about 1-2″ per year.
  • When fully hydrated a mature cactus can weigh 3,200 – 4,800 pounds
  • The root system is pretty shallow (5-6 inches deep), but it stretches outward as far as the plant is tall. It does have a single tap root that will extend into the ground a few feet. Considering how tall these gentle giants are, that’s not very deep.
  • The woody skeleton can be used to thatch a roof, build a fence, or furniture parts.
  • “Saguaro Boots” (holes that birds built their nests) can be used as a water container.
  • A saguaro can have anywhere from zero arms to over 25 and usually curve upward.

One particular saguaro that I love to see is the crested saguaro. This is something that a few saguaro like to do, but not all. It is unclear why this happens but every now and again a saguaro’s growing tip (that’s the top) produces a fan like form. They are somewhat rare, and there are a few “hunters” who have spent years documenting and counting these amazing cactus. There are a few right near Tucson and I have (so far) seen three out of the thousands that are in the area.


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Orange Tree Update

My orange tree is still alive and this year is a hopeful one. If you are just tuning in, the saga of my orange tree has been going on for three years now. In year one it grew one, lovely orange. Last crop there was hope for at least 10 oranges, but it nearly died because of spider mites. 2021 is a hopeful year for my dear orange tree.

I have raised the pot up out of the water catch tray in an attempt to ward off the mites. I am also restraining myself from overwatering. I think that was the trouble last crop…too much H2O. So far, so good.

Today, there is a mix of buds, blooms, and small berries. Because of this mix, I am hoping this crop will be more successful. My potted orange tree has been a learning experience so we’ll see how it goes.

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How Does My Orange Grow?

It Happened!!

After waiting over a year my single orange has fallen from the tree. When it broke from its branch into my hand I had a giddy moment with the feeling of holding a new puppy. An orange was born!

Way back in May of 2019 was the first little bud of an orange and today I have savored its sweet taste. I did not have an orange from the store to do a straight comparison, but IMHO I think my orange was the best I’ve had in a long time. Of course, any fruit or vegetable that is picked fresh always tastes so much better!

Below are the last few images as my orange ripened then finally was ready to eat.

October 2019
December 2019
Here it is!!
February 2, 2020


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How Does My Orange Grow?

I am excited to report that my single orange is still thriving. The summer months have kept it happily growing along with a bi-weekly dose of Neptune’s Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer. You can order this directly from Neptune’s Harvest, but if you want it in a smaller size check out your local hardware store (mine came from Lowe’s).

Neptune's Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer

Back to my mighty orange, and it is certainly mighty.

The orange still on my tree.
Photo taken June 4, 2019
Photo taken July 17, 2019
Photo taken August 21, 2019

As you can see from the series of photos that it is growing like a champ! The fruits’s skin texture has gone from a very shiny, lime green to a rougher surface and a deeper shade of green. I am looking forward to seeing it start to change from green to orange.

The tree’s leafs are a bit odd. I’m not quite sure what to make of them. It is as if I have two different trees coming out of the same trunk rather than a hybrid.

The “old growth” (left) are leaves from when I originally bought it, and the “new growth” (right) is what came in since it has been home.

The old growth image on the left shows the leaves are wide and somewhat flat, whereas the image on the right shows the leaves as much more narrow with a bit of curl. In addition the old growth leaves are pointed at the tip and the new growth have rounder tips.

I have seen apple trees that were grafted to have multiple types of apples on a single tree and I am wondering if this is the same thing.

I did look around online and the two species have similar shaped leaves although the grapefruit leaf is larger than the orange. It also looks like the orange leaves can vary. I’m no expert, but I have to wonder if the leaves are a little stunted due to the altitude? I am curious if the tree was originally grown at a much lower altitude (I’m at 6,000 ft), would that make all the newer leaves smaller? If you are knowledgeable in this area please let me know. You can share your wisdom in the comments.

Until next time, please share your fruit growing experiences with us. Leave a comment or share my story.


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Hail is in the Bag

One of the growing hazards here in suburbs of Denver (and all of the Colorado region) is hail. We can be pummeled with golf ball sized ice balls that shatter windshields, destroy crops, and bury gardens. Hail comes with the intense afternoon thunderstorms that roll through here in June and July. I have watched it pile up like a blizzard and destroy plants in a matter of seconds.

So far, for my location anyway, the hail hasn’t been too bad (I am knocking on wood as I write this). The orange tree I am growing is now living outside along with the lime tree my daughter potted. Recently, we had a storm and I brought in my orange tree, but the pot for her lime tree is too big for one person to handle so it had to stay outside. Luckily the damage was very minimal with just one leaf with a hole knocked in it.

Hail damage to lime tree leaf.

The other day I was out doing errands when huge, black, storm clouds came rumbling in and I wasn’t able to bring my tree inside like I usually would. My imagination pictured my orange tree decimated and the single orange smashed to the ground. Thankfully, it was just my imagination. When I returned home, we didn’t have a drop of rain and the orange still hung happily from the branch.

The orange still on my tree.

Because I have just a single orange I, like any good plant mom, want to protect it from our nasty spring weather. But how? After much thought I came up with a plan. I don’t know how well it will work, but it was the only thing I could come up with. I bagged it.

I hope this will protect it from hail damage. Time, and the next storm, will tell. I also hope that it will prevent any squirrels, raccoons, or other sneaky creatures from nibbling on the fruit once it gets to that delicious stage. One can only hope.

Do you have any experience growing a potted orange tree? Add any tips you have learned in the comments.

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How Do My Oranges Grow?

I am on a new growing experiment.  Orangelos, are a cross between an orange and a grapefruit. They purportedly are a sweet flavored grapefruit and easy to grow in a pot. Because I live in a winter to summer climate, I couldn’t grow it outdoors so a pot was necessary. I did a little research on how to feed and care for an orange tree before I bought it to be sure I purchased one that did well in a pot. I bought it this past fall so it wintered by the back door where it got a lot of sun, but stayed warm inside.

This spring it blossomed. Not only are the blossoms beautiful, but they smell wonderful. My kitchen and living room were the best places to be while there were flowers. I was so excited to see so many flowers that I thought I would have a huge orange crop too.

Orange Blossom

This is just one of the many blossoms.

It pushed out about 20 of these little fruits.

Tiny orange fruit

See the little green ball on the right and at the bottom edge of the frame?

I knew that not every blossom would produce fruit, but I did hope for at least 5-10 orangelos. Unfortunately, all but one fell off. This last little one has been hanging on and it is my hope it continues to grow.

Last surviving orange.

This is the last one. As of this posting, it is about 2x larger than any of the others I lost.

I will keep you posted on how well this one does. Maybe I will be able to enjoy one single orange later this year.

What about you? Have you ever tried to grow fruit in a pot? What lessons did you learn along the way? Leave your comments. We love comments!

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How Does My Garlic Grow? Time to Harvest

In December 0f 2017 I started four cloves of garlic in a pot on my windowsill. Now, ten months later, I think I will harvest my crop of three sprigs. I did pull the fourth one a couple of months ago to see where it had gotten as far as the number of cloves. I was a little disappointed to see that it looked more like a green onion than a garlic. So, I left the final three to grow for another few months.

Garlic plant before harvest


Today, I decided it was time to pull it all up. I read a number of articles last year, when I started this project, that stated it would take about 9 months for cloves to form. The greens did grow quickly, but the cloves? Well, not so much. After a little bit of careful pulling I found the plant to be quite root bound.

Root Bound Garlic

I suppose this isn’t too surprising because of how fast they grew and the size of the pot. Add to the fact that they grew much too close to one another it all resulted in what looks like green onions.

Garlic peeled to reveal root

After peeling back the outer layers I found a beautiful white core and a strong aroma of garlic. Although these beauties were not segmented into cloves, I’m still very happy. If the smell is any indicator of the flavor then these will be a successful first attempt at growing garlic.

For next time? The cloves will be started in a pot, but they will mature in the ground. Garlic seems to need the room that my pot could not provide.

Do you grow garlic? Share your tips for success in the comments.

Until next time!

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