Musings from a Phoenix Pollinator Garden

Design: North Side Yard

Welcome back! This is the second installment in this series – in the previous post I presented the history of the project and the design considerations for the South Side Yard – you can view that post here.

The side yard on the north side of the house has two separate microclimates. The area near the house gets sun in the summer, including late afternoon sun, but during the late fall until early spring, no sun hits the landscape because it’s shaded by the house. Selecting plants for this area can be a challenge, but with some judicious selections the summer sun can be moderated. This area will also be responsible for retaining and controlling water runoff from the roof.

Towards the block fence the sun exposure is more consistent, especially for taller shrubs and trees. The goal here is to have a xeriscape and walkways, similar in design to a botanical garden.

Northwest Side Yard

On the west end of the side yard there is a mild need for privacy screening, but a much stronger need for shade since the late afternoon summer sun comes blazing over the front gate. You can almost feel the heat radiating from the dirt in this early afternoon picture. So we’ll be using trees and shrubs to create some microclimates for plants and people.

Northeast Side Yard

The east end of the side yard has two large 2-story homes, both with second story balconies, so privacy is a big consideration. Screening will be accomplished with trees and shrubs.

Coming up:


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Musings from a Phoenix Pollinator Garden

Blank Slate

Landscaping a bare earth tract home backyard into a taste of paradise, then evolving it to support pollinators and the web of characters that support an ecosystem. This is the first of a series of posts to share the story of discovery and a labor of love.

It’s 2019, and after 9 months of searching for a resale home, we ended up purchasing a new tract home further out than we wanted, but availability and price aligned to a relative sweet spot, and we made the leap.

(A View from the Rearview Mirror: A great bit of luck, that leap. Who knew a pandemic was on the horizon, and home prices would begin to see upward price pressure that was unimaginable. In fact, when the pandemic first hit, the developer began discounting homes due to lack of demand.)

We had just moved to Phoenix from the midwest and I had taken some landscape classes at the Desert Botanical Garden to learn about plant selection, irrigation and water conservation, so this project would put the newfound knowledge to good use.

I wasn’t, however, yet aware of the importance of native plants to support pollinators in the yard. So the foundational landscape that we designed and planted was focused on a botanical garden style xeriscape with oasis elements. Tuning the landscape for pollinators came later, after the pandemic hit and I became involved with the MetroPhoenix EcoFlora iNaturalist project (more on that later) and the Maricopa Native Seed Library.

South Side Yard Design

South Side Yard (A/C wall of house faces 191 degrees South)

A blank slate can be daunting, as shown above in our initial “scorched earth” yard. This side yard faces slightly off from 180 degrees south, so it gets lots of winter sun. Because of the way the sun travels, however, it also gets late afternoon summer sun, which is the hardest on plants.

A two story home with a second story balcony, and a next door home that’s close to the fence, guided us to design for privacy along the fence line. Another design element would be a pool to make the summers more enjoyable and to add an oasis in the desert aesthetic. We also wanted walking paths to give the yard a botanical garden feel.

And of course, water conservation is a necessary and practical aspect of the design. To efficiently deliver water to the plants I decided to use multiple zones of drip irrigation, and since rain water (hopefully the monsoons will return in 2022!) is the best hydrator for plants, the design will incorporate swales to retain water shed from the roof, which drains along the wall with the A/C unit.

Coming up:


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Glamorous Moths #4 – Southern Flannel Moth

Wide ranging across the southern USA and northern Mexico, the Southern Flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis, is this week’s featured moth. Read more here, if you’re interested: Megalopyge opercularis (ufl.edu). Flannel moths are in Superfamily Zygaenoidea with Jewel Caterpillar moths, like Dalcerides.

Male Megalopyge opercularis by Judy Aschner on iNaturalist.org

It’s larval food plants are mostly oak trees and some Manzanita species in Arizona and Mexico. The caterpillar is small and hairy like adults and it would be really cool to find one in the wild, so please let us know if you see any!

Southern Flannel caterpillar by Diana Foreman on iNaturalist.org

Glamorous Moths #3 – ‘Colorado’ Yucca Moth

This is the third post in a semi-regular series of interesting, colorful, and unique moths of Arizona and New Mexico. Today, I’d like to introduce you to yucca moths.

Prodoxus coloradensis © BJ Stacey on iNaturalist.org

Yucca moths are in the Family Prodoxidae and found across the USA and Mexico. They are a spring and summer moth, timing their flights with blooms of different plants in the Agave family (Asparagaceae). Prodoxus coloradensis is found from southern California to West Texas and north along the front range of Colorado. It’s black stripes are a bold contrast to many plain, white yucca moth species.

Yucca moth caterpillar © Bill Harms on iNaturalist.org

Like all desert blooms, Joshua trees depend on just the perfect conditions: well-timed rains, and for the Joshua tree, a crisp winter freeze. Researchers believe that freezing temperatures may damage the growing end of a branch and stimulate flowering, followed by branching. You may notice some Joshua trees grow like straight stalks; these trees have never bloomed—which is why they are branchless! In addition to ideal weather, the pollination of flowers requires a visit from the yucca moth. The moth collects pollen while laying her eggs inside the flower ovary. As seeds develop and mature, the eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on the seeds. The tree relies on the moth for pollination and the moth relies on the tree for a few seeds for her young—a happy symbiosis. 

Source: https://www.nps.gov/jotr/learn/nature/jtrees.htm

Glamorous Moths #2 – White-lined Sphinx

This is the second post in a semi-regular series of interesting, colorful, and unique moths of Arizona and New Mexico. Today’s inspiration comes from a brief encounter last Friday. I was at an orchard and a White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata), was getting nectar from plum flowers mid-afternoon.

Hyles lineata visiting Lantana in Phoenix © George Roark

These strong fliers are members of Family Sphingidae – the sphinx, hawk, and hummingbird moths. They are active at dusk (occasionally daytime) and can hover like hummingbirds instead of landing on flowers.

“Hornworm” caterpillar of Hyles lineata © Kevin Faccenda on iNaturalist.org

This insect has a wide host range. Some of the plants utilized as host plants in the Midwest include apple, evening primrose (Oenothera spp.), four-o’clocks (the common annual Mirabilis jalapa and wild four-o’clock, M. nyctaginea), fuchsia, Gaura lindheimeri, grape, pentas, purslane, tomato, and willow-weed (Epilobium). Other native plants are used elsewhere, such as sand verbena (Abronia umbellate), wishbone plant (Mirabilis californica and other species of Mirabilis), and brown-eyed evening primrose (Camissonia claviformis ssp. piersonii) in the desert Southwest and toothed spurge (Euphorbia dentate) in Texas.

Source: https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/white-lined-sphinx-moth-hyles-lineata/

Glamorous Moths #1 – Dalcerides ingenita

This is the first post in a new, semi-regular series of interesting, colorful, and unique moths of Arizona and New Mexico. The first post is inspired by Ronald Parry’s talk I saw on Zoom last week (recording here on Youtube). In the USA, the label “moths” represent over 90% of all Lepidoptera species, but butterflies get most of the attention. We can save the Monarchs and appreciate/support their overlooked “cousins” too!

Dalcerides ingenita caught in Gila National Forest, NM © Ronald Parry

Dalcerides ingenita (no common name yet) is the only species in the moth family Dalceridae that makes it north of the USA-Mexico border. The caterpillars are covered in a gelatinous material to deter parasites and predators. The larval host plants are manzanita and native Emory’s and Blue oaks.

What should I plant for the most pollinators?

As much as possible! Okay, that’s not much of an answer.

First, which kinds of pollinators do you want to attract?

Hummingbirdsred tubular Penstemon and Acanthus flowers work great.

Beessunflowers are your best bet.

Butterflies and moths aren’t so picky, but you’ll want to provide host plants, like milkweed for Monarchs.

Left: Male longhorn bees (genus Melissodes) shelter overnight on sunflowers (Helianthus)

Right: Spiny goldenweed (Xanthisma spinulosum) volunteers in author’s yard

Where can I buy these plants? Check out our new page here: pollinatorweb.com/host-plants/native-plant-nurseries/

Also, don’t kill all the “weeds” in your yard. Many native plants are dispersed by wind and birds and will grow on their own if given a chance.