People associate the Sonoran Desert with very little life and think that it is too hot to have diverse biology. It is quite the contrary. We are home to one of the most amazing thriving deserts on the planet with thousands of native plants. Soon the hillsides will be filled with beautiful bright orange hues and buzzing with bees. Last spring, we drove through the Tohono O’Odham Reservation. It was amazing. Penstemons, poppy, lupines and different colors of globemallow were in full swing and teaming with life. I had never fully appreciated wildflowers and pollinator plants the way I did that day when I witnessed the beautiful relationship the desert had created.
It is these moments that inspire us, they connect us to the land. Whole ecosystems depend on native plants and flowers. They are an important and vital food source to many different types of wildlife.
Part of the glory of being a gardener is that our plants are shared with wildlife. Ideally what we want to do in our gardens is mimic the desert by planting wildflowers and pollinator plants. There are many different gardens that we can create. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, for example, has created a hummingbird garden, a butterfly garden, a moth garden, a native bee garden and a nectar bat garden.
Pima County Master Gardeners, at a demonstration on native landscapes, recommended planting these native pollinator plants:
Bees are attracted to fragrant ultraviolet, blue, purple or yellow flowers with petals that create a landing pad. Examples: lupine, palo verde, acacia, cassia, rosemary.
Butterflies: orange, yellow, pink or blue flowers that have either landing pads or are tubular in shape. Examples: zinnia, calendula, Mexican sunflower, hollyhock.
Moths: flowers that bloom and provide nectar at night, especially white flowers with a very strong, sweet scent. Examples: honeysuckle, datura, flowering tobacco, yucca.
Beetles: red-brown flowers with spicy or rotting-fruit scent. Examples: magnolia, spicebush.
Flies: green flowers with foul smells. Examples: Dutchman’s pipe, stapelia.
Hummingbirds: red or orange tubular flowers. Examples: ocotillo, salvia, red yucca, aloe.
Bats: night-blooming flowers. Examples: saguaro, agave.
Having a water source in pollinator gardens is very important. Some bees are ground nesters and prefer a muddy home. Swales can help conserve water especially in drought. They are easy to make and will bring so much life to your garden.
Using neem oil to protect plants from insects and beetles is far safer for you, your soil and our watershed than chemicals. For 1 liter of neem plant spray you will need just three ingredients :1 tsp neem oil, 1/3 tsp soap and 1 quart of warm water, it is really important to not use chemicals in a pollinator garden.
“Remember to walk gently in the spring for our mother earth is pregnant” – Kiowa.