Friday, October 31, 2014

A little less salt, please: Survivors in a salty unwatered garden

notes on Xeric Plants for {very} Salty Soil:


My very first unwatered professional landscape is a business:  Woodstove Warehouse, at 946 S. 7th Street in Grand Junction, CO.

And if I'm allowed to critique my own design, I could stand to have used multiples of one kind of plant in areas, and near eachother to prevent the plant-space-plant-space, dot-dot-dot effect I so abhore.  I've since added a few plants to that end.


But the secret is that it's salty. The soil is incredibly rich in some form(s) of salts, which I've admittedly not tested.  Especially after long periods of dry weather, a white incrustation even forms on the soil surface jsut visible between peagravel stones.  Around here, it's called "alkali" and is famously visible from your car, covering entire fields, or even miles, in white, where few if any plants, including weeds, will grow.

After rains, it is invisible and plants which suffered from it, like the Desert 4'o'clock (Mirabilis multiflora) above will grow normally for a while, then return to suffering from classic salt-burn symptoms.


True to name, Saltbrush (Atriplex confertifolia) from Chelsea Nursery
has done great in even the worst spot.

Then there are the intermediate sufferers, like the Desert Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) who opened a can of Pheonix-style:  It was planted, bloomed, and completely killed when the salt rose up, but upon the salt being pushed down by the monsoons, germinated from seed only to bloom again!

I trialed a list (which will be documented here) of plants I put in the "flowery flower" category to provide colour among the different shrubs, and most of them died, exept this, Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora), who has not even shown a modicum of distress.

Yucca harrimaniae is doing a funny thing- and this is a classic salt response.  The tips of leaves, epecially old ones, dramatically die- the salt in the plant's body is accumulated there and that part of the leaf is metabolically scuttled, if you will, to rid the plant of some of that salt in favour of preserving newer leaves. Or so the scientists say.



For the record, Ephedra viridis (Green mormon-tea) is zipping along ignoring all traffic signals- this one has grown several feet this year alone. (Amen to bareroot planting, amen.)

Perhaps it's the position in-between rocks, but the Grand Canyon Agave utahensis var. kaibabensis  is growing stronger here than in my home garden.

Prickly Pears (like this Potato Cactus, Opuntia fragilis var. denuda) seem only a little slowed-down, and there is a faint yellow mottling, which I cannot conclusively attribute to salt, but that is my guess.

A heroic Joshuatree has pushed through a near-death experience. (Yucca brevifolia)

Some Chollas suffered a little in the beginning, but they seem to be steady now, enough to send roots 9 feet away when they are under 3 feet tall themselves.  To say that Cacti are shallow or small-rooted is a gross generalisation!

Now, the meat. The lists of plants.  This is an empirical but non-scientific record of this property, which is not authoritative, but hopefully useful:

Just dandy with salt:
Atriplex confertifolia
Atriplex cana
Atriplex gairdneri
Opuntia phaecantha
Opuntia polyacantha v. schweriniana
Opuntia fragilis v. denuda
Ephedra viridis
Ephedra minima
Ephedra minuta
Echinocereus trglochidiatus f. inermis
Echinocereus triglochidiatus
Yucca baccata (Funny when others behave with complaint)
Fallugia paradoxa (this also tolerates being so wet it's underwater occasioanlly, then bone-dry again)
Chrysothamnus/Ericameria nauseosa v. nauseosa (Baby Rabbitbrush)
Chrysothamnus/Ericameria nauseosa (this grows wild around the corner)
Sporobolus cryptandra (must be included, having recently been posted about)

Suffered, but didn't necessarily die:
Yucca harrimaniae
Yucca brevifolia
Onobrychis viciifolia
Oenothera caespitosa- plants die, but seed grows during less-salty windows.
Cylindropuntia kleinii
Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
Cylindropuntia aff. whipplei (Silver Spine/Snow Leopard)
Amelanchier utahensis
Sphaeralcea grossularioides (some plants died, one thrived; borderline plant. Wierd, too, because it grows near saline soils in nature)
Sedum telphinum 'Autumn Joy' (Client pick; I never would have guessed it would work)
Tribulus terrestris (I included this weed in the list for fun and reference.  Its leaves yellow, but unfortunately, Goathead/Puncturevine {or little-devil-of-the-earth, scientifically} doesn't die!

Plants on the property, but I'm not sure their feelings about salt:

Opuntia 'Dark Knight'
Cupressus arizonica
Perovskia atriplicifolia
Grusonia clavata
Agave parryi
Agave kaibabensis
Escobaria sneedii var. leei

Forget it/ Epic Fail:
Artemisia tridentata (no kidding, sagebrush can't take it)
Stanleya pinnata (so shocking, I tried 3 times!)
Astragalus mollissimus (more shock)
Castilleja integra
Hymenoxys acaulis
Calylophus fendleri (crispy critters)
Eriogonum corymbosum
Ephedra torreyana (this is wierd, since this is the species which naturally grows closest to "alkali."
Mirabilis multiflora (one plant is barely alive from many plants dead)
Nolina microcarpa (I'm willing to kill this again just to make sure)

Upon writing this, I realise I need to try Berlandiera and Penstemon. How dare I forget them in the great procession of death and suffering?


4 comments:

Susan in the Pink Hat said...

Atriplex is snacky. You should try Castilleja scabrida. I've seen it growing in lunar scapes of alkali.

ineedacupoftea said...

Snacky? I like it, but what does it mean?

Hmm, I just got more C. scabrida seed. I've only got one plant in a trough. Will do.

Stacking up a few plants for you here...

Susan in the Pink Hat said...

Who hasn't enjoyed the refreshing salty taste of Atriplex while hiking through the desert? No wonder the cows like it so much.

Haworthia said...

Great info! Thanks Kenton