Gardening Tips and Tricks : Ocotillos – Wanted Dead or Alive
Don’t despair if your ocotillo looks dead, especially if it is newly planted. First of all, newly transplanted ocotillos can take up to two years before they leaf out. This is not to say that some don’t leaf out right away. It really depends on the moisture content of the cambium layer in the canes. Generally speaking, a ocotillo harvested just after heavy rains will have more moisture in their canes than those harvested during dryer months or those that have been sitting bare root in a nursery for several weeks.
There are several additional factors that affect the growth and leafing process of newly transplanted ocotillos. Many of the ocotillos sold today are imported from Texas. Remember, when these plants are harvested, much of their root system is left behind, leaving no way for it to absorb moisture from the soil. To help this condition, it is advisable to spray the canes frequently, especially during warmer months.
I recommend not planting ocotillos in Arizona from June 30 through September 30. Our hot summer months are the worst times to try to establish a transplanted ocotillo due primarily to the hot dry winds that dry out its vital cambium layer.
Another factor that is important to consider when transplanting ocotillos is the vulnerability of its remaining root system. It can easily become infected by bacteria and fungus found in our soils. The use of dusting sulfur on all open roots will, in most cases, prevent bacteria and fungus from entering the vascular system of this plant.
Of course, it is possible that you could have planted a dead ocotillo. With ocotillos, looks can be deceiving. To check the viability of a ocotillo, cut six inches off the top of any cane. If the cambium layer shows a green ring, the ocotillo is alive. If it is grey, black or brown, the ocotillo is dying or already dead.
I find a better survival rate when planting smaller ocotillos. I prefer planting those between three and eight feet in height. It is my belief that the cellular structure of these younger plants are much more vigorous than those of older-wood, jumbo ocotillo.
Ocotillos are magnificent, desert shrubs. They may look like cactus, but there are actually classified as a large shrub growing up to 25 feet. They are also known as candlewood, coachwhip, vine cactus, and Jacob’s staff. They make great accents in desert landscaping and have a stunning beauty like no other plants. Backlighting a ocotillo will create wonderful silhouettes in your nighttime garden.
It had to be by chance, when ranchers used ocotillo canes for fencing that the plants rooted and sprouted leaves, thus creating the first living fence. This is a unique look and can work as a screen that you may want to try in your landscape.