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Mulching with yucca leaves, weeds, and creosote bushes?

 
Posts: 27
Location: Dolan Springs, AZ (Zone 9a)
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I am starting up a permaculture set up on raw land in Arizona. I have yuccas, weeds and creosote bushes there. Can I take the dry yucca leaves, the weeds, or maybe chip the creosote bushes and use them as mulch? If I use the weeds as mulch, will they infest my main plant? Do I have to chop up the yucca leaves? Can I use creosote, I heard different things. I don't have a chipper, so that's kind of the last resort.
Here are some pics. Yucca, weeds, and that is just random brush (can I use that? Trying to make the most of whatever I have)

Thanks!
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pollinator
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Hi, Eric! Why do you want to get rid of the yuccas and creosote, or am I misunderstanding that? Both are incredibly useful and enriching plants that we go out of our way to propagate. Why not work with and around them?

You could take shed material — dead leaves and stalks, for example — from the yucca without hurting them and use it as mulch or for other things. We use the stalks as bean trees and as reinforcement for chickenwire garden fence in between T-posts. Because we leave the branchy parts on top of them on, birds love to perch on them and hunt insects and such in our gardens. Yucca also provides food (fruits from some varieties, flowers from some, stalks from some), fiber, medicine (roots of some), and soap.

Creosote tends to inhibit other plants immediately around it, so I might discourage it from spreading too much, but it’s the desert’s pharmacy, as many have said. I haven’t tried any parts of it as mulch because it’s rare right on our land (more plentiful a ways away) and doesn’t seem to shed much naturally, but it’s so resinous that I wouldn’t be surprised if as a mulch it hurt rather than helping.

One of the pics looks (on my tiny phone screen) like you may have some tansy mustard. I have a thing against it — guess I’m allergic to its pollen — but have read the seeds are good seasoning. I do scuffle hoe or chop and drop a lot of that one before it seeds, and we use it as the initial green mulch under the following brown mesquite wood chip mulch.

Do you have mesquite where you are? That’s another wonder-plant. It’s good for food, medicine, fuel (deadwood it sheds naturally), furniture- and utensil-carving, nitrogen-fixing, dried leaves (tiny but soil-enriching) and wood chips (from busting up deadwood for fuel) as mulch. We treat them as nurse trees/madrinas for other trees and shrubs we want to grow, imitating what we observe around us. Various species of wolfberry (goji/Lyceum), cholla (Cylindropuntia), prickly pear (Opuntia), yucca, mustards, and more like to grow at its feet and knees.

Have you had a chance to spend some time on and with the land, observing it?
 
pollinator
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Eric Nar wrote:I am starting up a permaculture set up on raw land in Arizona. I have yuccas, weeds and creosote bushes there. Can I take the dry yucca leaves, the weeds, or maybe chip the creosote bushes and use them as mulch? If I use the weeds as mulch, will they infest my main plant? Do I have to chop up the yucca leaves? Can I use creosote, I heard different things. I don't have a chipper, so that's kind of the last resort.
Here are some pics. Yucca, weeds, and that is just random brush (can I use that? Trying to make the most of whatever I have)

Thanks!



Hey neighbor! I am also living in Dolan Springs, AZ! We'll have to get together. Are you on Facebook? There's a newly activated Golden Valley Permaculture group there. Apparently creosote bushes jam up the wood chipper. I'm living in the open range area off of Cottonwood Road.

Give me a call 520.431.9106
HermitCrab-DRC-EST-2017.05.10.jpg
Lookinng northwest from near my homesite. Back before the cows came and ate all of my grass!
Looking northwest from near my homesite. Back before the cows came and ate all of my grass!
 
Beth Wilder
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I've been trying to find out if there's much mesquite around Dolan Springs. Looks like maybe there's catclaw acacia (wait-a-minute bush, Senegalia greggii, fka Acacia greggii), but not mesquite (Prosopis spp) -- is that right? If so, you can use the catclaw in similar ways in terms of nitrogen-fixing, fuel, and wood chips and dropped leaves as mulch, with a similar caution for both about those thorns. Expect to get a few right through the soles of your shoes, at least if you're anything like me. At least the catclaw thorns -- although they will really catch and pull your skin with that claw-like curve, thus their other name wait-a-minute -- are shorter than the mesquite thorns can get. I'd be surprised if you don't have both trees/bushes somewhere around there, though, as they overlap heavily, at least around here. You may already know this (all of this, really), but both mesquite and catclaw acacia can be much, much older than you'd think by looking at them: hundreds of years sometimes.  When I get irritated with the placement of one or several of them, I try to remember that. I'm such a new arrival to their world. It makes much more sense for me to move than for them to be sacrificed, in most cases.
 
Mark Kissinger
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Beth Wilder wrote:I've been trying to find out if there's much mesquite around Dolan Springs. Looks like maybe there's catclaw acacia (wait-a-minute bush, Senegalia greggii, fka Acacia greggii), but not mesquite (Prosopis spp) -- is that right? If so, you can use the catclaw in similar ways in terms of nitrogen-fixing, fuel, and wood chips and dropped leaves as mulch, with a similar caution for both about those thorns. Expect to get a few right through the soles of your shoes, at least if you're anything like me. At least the catclaw thorns -- although they will really catch and pull your skin with that claw-like curve, thus their other name wait-a-minute -- are shorter than the mesquite thorns can get. I'd be surprised if you don't have both trees/bushes somewhere around there, though, as they overlap heavily, at least around here. You may already know this (all of this, really), but both mesquite and catclaw acacia can be much, much older than you'd think by looking at them: hundreds of years sometimes.  When I get irritated with the placement of one or several of them, I try to remember that. I'm such a new arrival to their world. It makes much more sense for me to move than for them to be sacrificed, in most cases.



I have no mesquite trees on my property. Around here, they grow mostly in the dry washes, and they struggle to stay alive. Down near the Colorado River, they grow a lot better. I do not know the names of anything growing here except the yucca trees, and the creosote bushes. I don't think I have any catclaw shrubs either. At least most of my bushes don't seem to have those thorns you describe, except for the two chollas that I have seen on my property. Only one is in very good shape, and that one isn't very big. I don't have a very big active wash on or near my property.
 
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Yucca leaves break down if you get lots of rainfall or you have a heavy mulch on top. If you just drop some on the ground they're going to dry out but not do anything for the soil.
 
Eric Nar
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Hi! Thanks so much for responding!  I'm not trying to get rid of the yucca (I actually want to propagate them!), I wanted to do exactly what you're saying. So it works as mulch then? Do I have to chop them up or anything?
What is the stalk, and what are the dried leaves? I thought they were the same thing?

I have no idea what the "green weeds" in the pics are, tansy mustard? So I could shop those down, put them around a plant, then the yucca shed on top? Am I getting that right?

There are no mesquite, mostly creosote, with small amounts of prickly pear and cholla around here. I can't identify a few shrubs or any of the weeds. I plan on giving mesquite a try here, but Im really just starting what I can on raw land, so materials are scarce. I like you chicken wire fence idea, I may have to implement that in the future. I've been planning and watching for about six months, and really only started doing work at the start of this year. Got a fence up to keep out the cattle, and that's really it :/ I want to drop a few plants in so that I can use it's shed for mulch and not have this problem :)
Thanks for the input!



Beth Wilder wrote:Hi, Eric! Why do you want to get rid of the yuccas and creosote, or am I misunderstanding that? Both are incredibly useful and enriching plants that we go out of our way to propagate. Why not work with and around them?

You could take shed material — dead leaves and stalks, for example — from the yucca without hurting them and use it as mulch or for other things. We use the stalks as bean trees and as reinforcement for chickenwire garden fence in between T-posts. Because we leave the branchy parts on top of them on, birds love to perch on them and hunt insects and such in our gardens. Yucca also provides food (fruits from some varieties, flowers from some, stalks from some), fiber, medicine (roots of some), and soap.

Creosote tends to inhibit other plants immediately around it, so I might discourage it from spreading too much, but it’s the desert’s pharmacy, as many have said. I haven’t tried any parts of it as mulch because it’s rare right on our land (more plentiful a ways away) and doesn’t seem to shed much naturally, but it’s so resinous that I wouldn’t be surprised if as a mulch it hurt rather than helping.

One of the pics looks (on my tiny phone screen) like you may have some tansy mustard. I have a thing against it — guess I’m allergic to its pollen — but have read the seeds are good seasoning. I do scuffle hoe or chop and drop a lot of that one before it seeds, and we use it as the initial green mulch under the following brown mesquite wood chip mulch.

Do you have mesquite where you are? That’s another wonder-plant. It’s good for food, medicine, fuel (deadwood it sheds naturally), furniture- and utensil-carving, nitrogen-fixing, dried leaves (tiny but soil-enriching) and wood chips (from busting up deadwood for fuel) as mulch. We treat them as nurse trees/madrinas for other trees and shrubs we want to grow, imitating what we observe around us. Various species of wolfberry (goji/Lyceum), cholla (Cylindropuntia), prickly pear (Opuntia), yucca, mustards, and more like to grow at its feet and knees.

Have you had a chance to spend some time on and with the land, observing it?

 
Eric Nar
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I really haven't seen any mesquite or acacia. I do want to give cat claw a try because of the reasons you mention. The thorns are tough, but I was thinking of using them as a perimeter hedge. Still all in the works


Beth Wilder wrote:I've been trying to find out if there's much mesquite around Dolan Springs. Looks like maybe there's catclaw acacia (wait-a-minute bush, Senegalia greggii, fka Acacia greggii), but not mesquite (Prosopis spp) -- is that right? If so, you can use the catclaw in similar ways in terms of nitrogen-fixing, fuel, and wood chips and dropped leaves as mulch, with a similar caution for both about those thorns. Expect to get a few right through the soles of your shoes, at least if you're anything like me. At least the catclaw thorns -- although they will really catch and pull your skin with that claw-like curve, thus their other name wait-a-minute -- are shorter than the mesquite thorns can get. I'd be surprised if you don't have both trees/bushes somewhere around there, though, as they overlap heavily, at least around here. You may already know this (all of this, really), but both mesquite and catclaw acacia can be much, much older than you'd think by looking at them: hundreds of years sometimes.  When I get irritated with the placement of one or several of them, I try to remember that. I'm such a new arrival to their world. It makes much more sense for me to move than for them to be sacrificed, in most cases.

 
Beth Wilder
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Hi again, Eric!

Eric Nar wrote:I'm not trying to get rid of the yucca (I actually want to propagate them!), I wanted to do exactly what you're saying. So it works as mulch then? Do I have to chop them up or anything? What is the stalk, and what are the dried leaves? I thought they were the same thing?


We've used some yucca leaves as mulch, although as Tim mentioned, they're dry and light and won't do much unless a) they're weighed down so they don't blow away, and b) they get wet and break down (but that's true of a lot of mulch -- at least yucca, if it doesn't blow away, will cover your soil, which is important). If you can break them up with your hands or tools like hoes, etc., so much the better.

The stalk shoots up in the spring (soon, around here) and looks like a huge asparagus shoot, gets very tall, then bursts out with usually-edible ivory flowers. They're gorgeous and are the state flower of New Mexico, actually. Anyway, then they produce fruit (some are edible, like Yucca baccata banana yucca, although we find they definitely need to be fully ripe and roasted first), then the fruits dry and open up and distribute seed, and eventually the stalk dries up, too. Sometimes the stalk falls over or breaks off on its own over the winter; sometimes the next spring's stalk kind of pushes it aside and out. Anyway, that's the dried stalk, and it works well as a fence support, bird perch, etc. The older they are, the more easily you could break them up into smaller pieces with your hands.

The leaves come out of the base when the plant is young, then (often, but not always) come out further and further up the plant, leaving that shag of dead broken stalk-bases below like in your picture. The leaves make great cordage. Even if you don't process it, we often will cut off a leaf toward the base (reach in there carefully, them things are sharp) and use it to tie up a bundle of something else we're collecting, like Mormon tea (Ephedra spp, you probably some kind of this near you), desert willow twigs and leaves (Chilopsis linearis, not a true willow -- you might have this around there by water or where the groundwater comes up close to the surface?), Apache plume branches (Fallugia paradoxa), etc. It's very flexible and ties easily without breaking, which can be incredibly helpful. Check around the bases of yucca for dead dried leaves, but I think the rodents like to chew them off and cart them away to use in their nests.

Eric Nar wrote:I have no idea what the "green weeds" in the pics are, tansy mustard? So I could shop those down, put them around a plant, then the yucca shed on top? Am I getting that right?


Yeah! Or any woodchips you get, or you could weigh everything down with rocks temporarily if you can't find anything else. Rock mulch can be really helpful in a pinch because at least you're keeping the soil covered and shaded. Bigger rocks create little microclimates around them, too, and some plants that like it cooler will grow on the north or east side of a big rock while some plants that like it warmer and some protection from frost will grow on the south or west side.

A resource that might be really helpful for you is Lisa Rayner's Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains. She writes about a lot of this kind of thing. She is (or was?) based in Flagstaff, I think. If you can get your hands on the latest edition (I haven't yet, except for temporarily from the library), get it because it has tons more useful information; but the older, smaller edition is easier to find and can be very cheap used (like at Bookman's in Flagstaff, which is where I think I found mine a while back) and still has plenty of good stuff.

Eric Nar wrote:There are no mesquite, mostly creosote, with small amounts of prickly pear and cholla around here. I can't identify a few shrubs or any of the weeds. I plan on giving mesquite a try here, but Im really just starting what I can on raw land, so materials are scarce. I like you chicken wire fence idea, I may have to implement that in the future. I've been planning and watching for about six months, and really only started doing work at the start of this year. Got a fence up to keep out the cattle, and that's really it :/ I want to drop a few plants in so that I can use it's shed for mulch and not have this problem :)
Thanks for the input!


Yeah, other things tend not to grow where creosote really takes off. I've seen mesquite co-exist with it, but (and this may of course be a coincidence) it seems like those mesquite have a much higher rate of mistletoe on/in them. My theory is whatever about the creosote inhibits other plants weakens the mesquites' immune system and makes them more susceptible to other things. The prickly pear and cholla are great, though, if they do well by you. I've seen folks use dead pads and canes of those in sunken hugelkultur beds if you're looking to do some of that (but best not to build them above-ground where it's so arid). Prickly pear pads are edible with the thorns removed, fruits of both are edible ditto (buckthorn cholla, Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa, has bigger fruits than the smaller pencil cholla -- not sure which species of that we have here, the small fruits ripen to apricot-to-red, so maybe actually Christmas cholla -- but the glochids are in the depressions, which makes them basically impossible to remove all of, so we've been fermenting or cooking them whole and then straining really thoroughly; the smaller fruits have easier-to-remove glochids and are deliciously citrusy-tasting, good fresh or dried in things like mesquite cakes), cholla buds are an incredible food high in calcium that are starting to swell now where we are, and prickly pear pads can be used as part of building plaster.

If you can get mesquite to propagate there, especially if you have an area with no or less creosote, that would be great. I'd recommend that over the catclaw if you can, as it's more versatile and really a keystone species that we think can anchor many tree guilds. I think it's hard to get the seeds to germinate unless they've passed through a digestive tract first, though. So hey, if you're wandering around outside that brilliant cattle fencing you so intelligently put up first (we have yet to finish that ourselves and are very jealous) and you're not squeamish, see if you can find some mesquite trees and then look for any cowpies near there that might have pre-treated mesquite seeds in them! Don't plant that South American mesquite they sell at nurseries, by the way (Prosopis chilensis, I think). Go for a native variety like Prosopis velutina, or perhaps someone who knows that area better will know of a different species that's more predominant or happy there. Yes, our native species can have killer thorns and grow more slowly, but there are reasons for those things.

If mesquite won't grow there but catclaw will, then by all means propagate that! It's all good stuff. Do you have hackberry, elderberry, mulberry, various oaks, cottonwoods, juniper, or anything else like that anywhere near you?
 
Eric Nar
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Beth Wilder wrote:Hi again, Eric!

If mesquite won't grow there but catclaw will, then by all means propagate that! It's all good stuff. Do you have hackberry, elderberry, mulberry, various oaks, cottonwoods, juniper, or anything else like that anywhere near you?



Wow, you know a TON! I don't have any of the mentioned trees/shrubs. At least not that I know of. I want to build up elderberry and mulberry next. I just started in January, so I don't have much> Trying to use what I have. Ideally I'd get a straw bale cabin up, but that'll be some time. Til then, I want to see what works and what doesnt.

As far as using the green weeds as mulch, will they start to seed and compete with my main plant? So long as they're covered under yucca shed, its ok?

Thanks so much for your info! We should talk more. Id love to see pics of what you have done on your property too
 
Beth Wilder
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Eric Nar wrote:Wow, you know a TON! I don't have any of the mentioned trees/shrubs. At least not that I know of. I want to build up elderberry and mulberry next. I just started in January, so I don't have much> Trying to use what I have. Ideally I'd get a straw bale cabin up, but that'll be some time. Til then, I want to see what works and what doesnt.


That sounds like a great plan. That's how we operate, too -- and I really don't know that much, I'm just always trying to learn more, one way or another. We've got one elderberry and two mulberries that we bought from a local native plant nursery friend, and we're extremely excited about them, but for example, haven't figured out yet whether we need more elderberries in order to get fruit, and if so, if live staking from the one we currently have would work in terms of sufficient genetic diversity. Does anyone here know? I asked our nursery friend, but he hasn't answered.

Eric Nar wrote:As far as using the green weeds as mulch, will they start to seed and compete with my main plant? So long as they're covered under yucca shed, its ok?


What I do if I'm worried about competition from germinating tansy mustard (or whatever else) is either cut and use them before they go to seed or try to cut off the seeding top as much as possible, and compost that part hot or otherwise dispose of it (mulch in a place where I don't care about tansy mustard growing, for example). But also, keep in mind the seasons. Where we are, tansy mustard comes up in late winter (at least, these last two years it has -- not before that, not in such numbers) and goes to seed around now -- late March, early April. If you're planting things that do most of their growing at another time, then you might not need to worry too much about rogue tansy mustard. In fact, you might like that tansy mustard covers the ground when the plant you aim to grow there isn't doing so; or if not, the fact that your plant isn't around much then might let you weed any tansy mustard that comes up easily. But if your plant has the same sprouting and growing season, maybe using tansy mustard as mulch there isn't such a good idea, or maybe you need to compost it hot first, or maybe just be really careful about cutting it before it goes to seed or even flowers. Know what I mean?

Eric Nar wrote:Thanks so much for your info! We should talk more. Id love to see pics of what you have done on your property too


I lurk in the greening the desert area, so feel free to reach out anytime this way, or send me a purple moosage! It turns out our land -- at least, the parts of it interesting to Permies -- seems somewhat photo-shy. When I try to post pics, weird things happen, but I'll try to append some here.
IMG_0014.jpg
Birds like the yucca stalks in our garden fence
Birds like the yucca stalks in our garden fence
IMG_9722.jpg
Chiltepines under mesquite madrina w/ mulched floodwater feeder
Chiltepines under mesquite madrina w/ mulched floodwater feeder
IMG_9771.jpg
Our local landscape
Our local landscape
IMG_9786.jpg
Crazy garden jungle come September
Crazy garden jungle come September
IMG_9796.jpg
Passiflora incarnata under mesquite madrina
Passiflora incarnata under mesquite madrina
IMG_9824.jpg
Locally-adapted squash make good living mulch
Locally-adapted squash make good living mulch
IMG_9940.jpg
We've got yucca! (Dried fruits on stalks in fall)
We've got yucca! (Dried fruits on stalks in fall)
IMG_9995.jpg
Sunken garden rows after tepary bean harvest in Nov.
Sunken garden rows after tepary bean harvest in Nov.
 
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re: creosote - do you need it gone, or would you keep it if you could find a use for it?

It's a really useful plant in herbalism for multiple uses, including making a strong antibacterial/antifungal. I make a strong sun tea out of it that I can just slightly dilute and use as a spray on cleaner for counters or floors. I understand if you learn how to use it correctly, a component from the wood is actually very useful for preserving meats (through smoking - it seems to do better than certain other woord? - I haven't worked with it, simply skimmed over the concept). I know it used to be used as something to fix pottery with, so that might be worth looking into, as well.

Also, depending on whether you choose to keep a garden, you might want to check and see if any native birds use the creosote up in your area - the quail use it here to hide in and rest in the summer, but I wasn't sure further up north.  However, I have a lot of things like this that the local birds use as habitat. If the birds are living or spending the day in my yard, then they look for food in my yard first, and they have been great in keeping my garden insect population down so my garden does better.


re: the yucca - absolutely you can use as mulch, or chopped up and added into the soil to enrich it. Just have to chop it up some.  You can even do it with cactus, under the ground, as long as you break up the pieces a lot. You can find some videos here and there about some folks in Mexico or central america that use cactus or yucca for this and they are very helpful in seeing how they do it.  


re: the weeds - if it IS tansy mustard (I think it's tanacetum vulgare), you may want to keep them around, or collect seeds to plant more advantageously.  Rue and tansy used to be grown around crops as a natural insecticide. Tansy would sometimes be grown around the outside of the house  up near the walls to keep ants away.  Now, how well this works?  No idea, as tansy doesn't grow around me - just happened across this when I was checking out rue at one point.).  So, something to potentially have a use for this, anyway.

re: weeds as mulch - if it's not going to have a long lasting toxin added to the ground, I pretty much everything I have as mulch or to make compost with (oleanders, for example, are a no-go, because they stay toxic for a while).  it has worked quite  well.  I have even gotten certain weeds with large thorns or burrs and, when I have seedlings coming up, I have sprinkled these plants as mulch around the seedlings and they seem to help keep some of the rabbits away. Not perfect, but a little helpful.


re: mulberry - if you have some areas that would be nice for some trees but that you don't want to water much, we do have a native mulberry tree here (male and female, so you need two - but they'll change sexes if needed, so you just need two and don't need to worry about sexing them).  The berries are super tiny, but in an area with a little extra water, once they get established, they're quite nice and don't need a lot of care, and you get a little food out of them, too.

re: native plants you might be interested in - I highly recommend checking out the online plant list of this nursery located in Tucson, called Desert Survivors Nursery.  It's a nursery that has primarily native plants, and lists their requirements (including altitude it's used to), and often purposes (food, pollinator attractor, wind break).  There are a lot of plants there that I'd never even heard of but once I started investigating seemed very useful.  You can't mail order or anything, but it's a good source of ideas for plants, at least.
 
Beth Wilder
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shauna carr wrote:re: the weeds - if it IS tansy mustard (I think it's tanacetum vulgare), you may want to keep them around, or collect seeds to plant more advantageously.  Rue and tansy used to be grown around crops as a natural insecticide. Tansy would sometimes be grown around the outside of the house  up near the walls to keep ants away.  Now, how well this works?  No idea, as tansy doesn't grow around me - just happened across this when I was checking out rue at one point.).  So, something to potentially have a use for this, anyway.


Just a quick note to say that the tansy mustard we have around where we are, anyway, is Descurainia pinnata -- which is a true mustard, a Brassicaceae -- not Tanacetum vulgare -- which is true tansy, an unrelated Asteraceae. Tansy is indeed useful. And tansy mustard isn't completely useless either. The young leaves are technically edible, but we haven't found them to be agreeable or worthwhile, much preferring London rocket (Sisymbrium irio). The seeds are the primary edible part, although they're even tinier than most mustard seeds. We're most likely going to collect some here soon.

shauna carr wrote:re: native plants you might be interested in - I highly recommend checking out the online plant list of this nursery located in Tucson, called Desert Survivors Nursery.  It's a nursery that has primarily native plants, and lists their requirements (including altitude it's used to), and often purposes (food, pollinator attractor, wind break).  There are a lot of plants there that I'd never even heard of but once I started investigating seemed very useful.  You can't mail order or anything, but it's a good source of ideas for plants, at least.


Great suggestion, those folks are wonderful! Also always Native Seeds/SEARCH, a non-profit that is a great source for seeds and information. Spadefoot Nursery, in both Tucson and Cochise County, is another great place to check out, with a very useful website full of native plant information; and its founder Petey Mesquitey has a great podcast called "Growing Native" on KXCI in Tucson that is available to stream or download online. Slightly closer to you, you could check out Terroir Seeds/Underwood Gardens in Chino Valley. I've found their email newsletter to be both useful and often inspiring, too.
 
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Hi I’m in Australia, I was wanting to know the same thing, my yard is full of yaccas , I love them, I propagate regularly:)
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Eric Nar
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Location: Dolan Springs, AZ (Zone 9a)
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Kat He drey wrote:Hi I’m in Australia, I was wanting to know the same thing, my yard is full of yaccas , I love them, I propagate regularly:)



That's a great row of yuccas you have there. Unfortunately I had to move and stopped any projects until now so I haven't been able to try any of the suggestions here. How much rainfall do you get each year down there?
 
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