The ocotillo is one of the most beautiful and otherworldly plants seen in Arizona landscapes. With long thin columns and bright red or orange blooms they add a real punch to the visual appearance of your landscape. While many think of it as a succulent it is technically a woody shrub, and must be cared for differently than succulents.
Mature ocotillo are grown in the desert and then transferred to containers for sale at nursery locations. This process does leave the plant with a challenged root system so proper care is critical to successfully growing your ocotillo.
Selecting Ocotillo For Your Arizona Landscape
Ocotillo sold at local Arizona nurseries typically sell them as bare-root specimen. The vertical canes will be tied together and they will be standing up against a wall or stacked for you to view them. When there is space some nurseries will plant the ocotillo in beds of sand. It is important to inspect the ocotillo to get the best specimen.
Check The Roots
The root system is a major factor in choosing which ocotillo to purchase. The bigger the root system, the better chance you have of successfully planting your new ocotillo. Not only should you pay attention to the size of the root system, but you should watch out for broken or damaged roots.
Buy Fresh Stock
A key of getting the best stock is to find out which are the freshest ocotillo. While big box nurseries many times have their stock shipped in from out of state, Arizona enjoys having local nurseries which grow ocotillo locally in the Phoenix Valley. These local nurseries only harvest ocotillo when needed to replenish stock at locations, allowing for the freshest plants anywhere.
Choosing Between Great Stock
If everything is equal, all of great roots, and they are all fresh, how do you choose? Lift the plants to find the heaviest ocotillo possible. The weight is an indication of how much water is in the plant and the more water you have, the better chance you have. You may be able to request an ocotillo and specific the largest root system possible.
How To Plant The Ocotillo
With you ocotillo chosen and transported to your home or office it’s time to get it in the ground. Follow these steps to get it done right and have the best chance of it growing healthy. Make sure you leave the canes (vertical columns) tied up so handling is easier.
Remove Broken Roots
No matter how carefully the ocotillo is removed from the soil it was grown in, there will be some damaged roots. It is important to prune the damaged sections off. But it is equally important to leave as much as possible, so don’t get carried away like Edward Shearhands.
Condition The Roots
Before planting in the soil it is a good idea to revitalize the roots with root hormone and to let the roots soak. This “wakes” the roots up and gets the plant ready for spreading out into the soil in your landscape. The success of your plant depends on the size, condition, and how quickly your root system takes hold its new habitat.
Dig The Hole & Amend Soil
The hole you dig for your ocotillo should be a foot wider and deeper than the roots of the ocotillo. The soil you dig out of the ground should be amended with sand if you don’t already have a well draining soil. The ocotillo is accustomed to living in arid environments and watering in urban or suburban locations provide more water than they would ever experience in nature. This makes well draining soil critical to avoiding root rot. The sand content of your soil should be at about 30%.
Planting It In The Hole
Before setting your ocotillo into its new home, you should place some of your backfill soil in the bottom of your hole to begin. Then set the ocotillo so that the base of the plant is level with the rest of the ground. Backfill the rest of the soil around the plant and tamp it down around the roots. Be exceedingly careful not to damage the roots while planting your ocotillo. Create a moat around the edge of the hole to help with new watering.
Untie & Check For Position
Once your ocotillo is standing on its own it is time to untie the canes and check to make sure it is standing up straight. It should look upright and not lean to either side. If it does gentle correct the lean and have a friend tamp the soil as you do this to help secure it.
How To Water Newly Planted Ocotillo
As will all plants the ocotillo has need for water, and should be done immediately after planting. As the ocotillo is a shrub it will need deep watering along with spraying or misting the canes. The cane are believed to naturally absorb surface water from rainstorms, so spraying them adds moisture directly to the plant.
Year Round Watering For New Ocotillo
The ocotillo should be watered about once a month in cooler months. For the hot months the ocotillo should be watered about once a week for the first year or two. It’s important to provide the water but it is also important to have well draining soil and not overdo it. Excessive or constant water will lead to root rot, and ultimately kill your ocotillo. This makes drip systems less than ideal as they are designed to provide constant watering.
Established Ocotillo Watering
The ocotillo, once fully established, will not need supplemental watering unless it is an excessively hot and dry summer. While it may bloom in its first year, this is not a sign that it is established and does not need watering. They also leaf out follow rain storms, which is a great sign, but does not mean it is established. It is important to allow 2 years for it to establish itself before ceasing watering. For the largest plants you should do 3 years of supplemental watering.
Buy Ocotillo In Arizona
If you’re looking for the best place to buy ocotillo in Arizona, A&P Nursery is your source for the best specimen. We grow our stock locally in the Phoenix Valley, so you’re getting the freshest plants who are already accustom to growing in the area. We have all the tools and fertilizers you need to get started and even offer planting services. Stop by one of our 4 locations to view our stock of ocotillo and choose your’s today!
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