Desert Gardening

Not having a green thumb nor being a gardener an inordinate amount of time is spent gardening at PPR.  In the past, buying plants from nursery's was the way new plants arrived at the Painted Pony Resort.  But not any more, instead gardening skills were developed in an attempt to grow new plants for the estate.

Awhile back trees were purchased and stored on the estate, but a number up and died.  All received the same amount of water and care, yet some would inexplicably die.  Frustrated and to combat this loss of investment dollars it was decided to grow trees and other plants from seed and cuttings.  Starting with spineless prickly pear cactus pads provided by Mountain Valley Lodge the first attempt was successful.  Planted around the estate and at the entrance to the Rustic Cabin, as long as the transplanted cactus were protected from the rabbits by chicken wire they survived.  Without chicken wire the rabbits and cattle destroyed everything.  The next attempt was Agave (starting with drought tolerant plants seemed prudent since my gardening skills were initially non-existent).  Several small Agave were rooted and successfully transplanted but the Javelina also found them tasty and the first crop of Agave were lost to rooting Javelina.  But eventually by protecting the plants from these browsers the problem was resolved.

Emboldened by the initial success with drought tolerant plants, oaks were chosen for the next try.  Oaks grow on the estate and in the fall acorns abound.  Usually, these are removed from the courtyards and left on the open landscape surrounding the houses where the birds and other wildlife consume them.  This past fall though several hundred acorns were saved and used for the next experiment at growing plants for the estate.  The acorns were bagged in wet potting soil and left in the refrigerator for several months.  Once germinated the acorns were transplanted to 1 gallon buckets outside.  Watering and watching the buckets on the ground for any sign of sprouting was slow.  After several months nothing came up.  Periodic soil disturbances were noted in the containers and eventually the realization dawned that something must be stealing the buried germinated acorns.  Emptying several buckets no germinated acorns were found.  The best guess is that by keeping the buckets on the ground rodents and birds were digging up the acorns for food.  So, more germinated acorns were planted and this time the buckets were raised off the ground, see below.  After another couple of months of daily watering small sprouts began to appear.  Over a dozen oaks have sprouted so far and once established these will be transplanted to individual containers and then replanted for use as a wind break at the Rustic Cabin.

While a slow process, the results of these gardening experiments are proving fruitful and will provide the estate with locally grown plant resources.  The next species will be the Afghan Pines found on the estate.  A number of pines were lost as a result of irrigation problems in combination with the big freeze 2 years ago and require replacement. 

cactus for planting
A Christmas cactus, Agave, and Spineless Prickly Pear grown for the estate

growing trees
An Oak seedling sprouting

Keeping the germinated oaks above the ground reduces rodent activity
Addendum:  Five of the 20 sprouted oak seedlings now have leaves as other seedlings sprout in the makeshift raised planters.

growing trees
Five seedlings have leafed out in this experiment.  Empty buckets and buckets of dirt are the controls.


  1. This should be a great time of year to plant in the ground with chicken wire around as the monsoon will soon start soon. I wish you the best of luck or is it skill?

  2. I would venture to say it is not skill. In an early attempt to plant germinated acorns I confused the root for a shoot and planted them upside down. After reading more information I reversed the orientation. I'm looking forward to the monsoon and have been beefing up the check dams in the drainages around the estate in preparation.

  3. Oak trees take half of forever to grow. You may want something faster than that!

  4. Your quite right, but 18 oaks have now sprouted and are putting out leaves. I expect this is a long term project as with the grassland restoration, the topsoil barriers, mesquite management, and check dams in deep arroyos. It all takes time and results are slow but in the long run it adds value to the land and the visible changes already apparent enhance not only PPR but the area as well.

  5. We successfully moved a HUGE Fishhook Barrel cactus from an arroyo where it was ready to fall over; whatta job! Successful though as it blooms every year where we moved it to level ground.

    Willis cut pads of prickly pear and planted them ~ 1/3 in the ground, 2/3 above ground and most have turned into larger plants.

    We also planted Ocotillo 'sticks' which are plants now that get the green leaves and flowers that attract hummingbirds.

  6. Congratulations, Y'all clearly have the desert gardening touch. I like Ocotillo fences and have tried transplanting some Ocotillo stems to test the idea of a living fence down at the entrance to the estate but have yet to see results.