Yuccas and Rock

After 23 years living in the desert southwest, if a person despises rough terrain and spiky plants, they may wish to move along.

After all, that’s what endures here –

a yucca, rock for mulch, sideoats for grass

I’ve only grown to embrace, not resist, such challenges as something to inform a simpler, more appealing aesthetic for outdoor living. Regard.

yuccas and rocks…add sotol, damianitas and a live oak clump

If you remember some of my past projects, a trick employed is to plant (2-3) – 15 gallon or 24″ box trees like Quercus fusiformis together in a wide hole, root balls touching. Those and many desert trees grow in clumps in the wild.

So, why not the same look in our built landscapes…without waiting years for that to develop from a single, tiny tree?

even large rocks – limestone boulders

Do you have any stories of landscapes and gardens using common plants, even called weedy, but used well?


7 Replies to “Yuccas and Rock”

  1. The tree grouping thing…mind blowing. That makes WAY too much sense. Thank you!

    My latest lesson…planting a shumard oak in a spot too sunny. Sun scald galore….leaves dropping….NEXT. :( live and learn.

    The grouping / clumps idea came out of necessity, and it really makes sense culturally…can’t wait to see some of these mature, see if there are any issues. Probably not, just smaller at maturity, which is fine.

    A shumard oak getting scorch…they are never scorched in my area, so I wonder if it’s something else – water alkalinity, nutrients / soils, …??


    1. Really????? I will look into it more! Thank you for giving me hope….have not pulled it yet. Planted last winter…

      Shumard oaks do tend to like deeper, moister and clay soils than drier upland soils.


  2. Interesting thought–one naturally thinks something like an Oak need root room, but apparently not. I am learning to plant in groups, use “mother” plants and “mother” rocks, so helpful in the heat. Then there are those plants (not always weeds!) that thrive in a crack in the concrete.

    The more one learns about plants, the more there is to admire and respect.

    Yes, the way some thrive in spite of their care-takers, or how just a little care makes the difference. tight rooting, growing in rock – oaks, mesquites, acacias, agaves, sotols, cacti, damianitas, etc. Many more!


  3. Clumps are defintiely the way to go. I would guess that plants grown in clumps would tend to be healthier (as well as prettier) because of the shared rhizosphere space. Up to a certain point, the more the area is filled with roots the more likely the soil organisms will be happy. I have been gardening here for quite awhile now with only limited success. Hands down the places that look the best on our little property are the areas planted by the birds. Along the edges I’ve left their hollies, redbuds, wild grapes etc. Those plants have done more than simply survive; they thrive. When I touch the soil there it is rich and soft. I wish I could say the same for my more conventional plots!

    I think you’re right on that shared root zone being a benefit. There’s much to a more permeable space, with a balance of water retention and drainage. Volunteer plants I got from planted ones often grew better than what I bought, too, such as damianitas. Some of that was the root condition of the containers I bought (often circling or girdling themselves), vs the seedlings with roots that are unbound.


  4. Clumps are always more interesting, I’d agree. In a room filled with people chatting, a clump of people is always more approachable than a singleton. We are programmed to respond positively to multiples (I posit).

    I am noticing the birds tend to poop/plant in small clusters under the branches where they light after raiding berried trees or bushes.

    I’m using a lot of plants others call weedy (four-o-clocks, wood sorrel, blue eyed grass, polk salat plant, horse herb), but perhaps I’m not the one to declare if I’m using them “well”…

    “Posit” – a new word for my vocab! I learned that about birds in one of my college ecology classes, only to observe it along fences, under trees, or so. And one plant association in low, wet places…another plant community in a higher, drier place nearby. Surprising how native plant designers and “xer-escapists” often miss such patterns in practice.

    Your success thus declares better than anyone could!


  5. I was told by a local landscaper to plant shrubs and trees in neighbourly groups, so they can help each other to create a microclimate to survive our mediterranean summer. Don’t dot them around, he said.

    He’s right, especially in your fynbos (?), similar to San Diego’s chaparral and some foothills. We have lower densities in arid desert, but still groupings of one species, then open space, then more groups works.


  6. You always have such interesting posts and for that I thank you. Gives me the opportunity it’s to visit the desert a bit.
    As for plants, I ah e black-eyes Susies and marigolds all across the front of our house. And that shouldn’t surprise you.

    And our Damianita is even called “damianita daisy” by a Tucson author, for sellability in Arizona! Thanks, this topic seemed like I could actually be brief!! 100F and monsoon humidity combined…


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