Succulents: Add A Little Drama To Your Yard

By Kathleen Ferris

Succulents can steal the show in a drought-tolerant landscape. Their structural and exotic shapes add whimsy and originality to a desert yard.

With a little knowledge, succulents are as easy to maintain as any other drought tolerant plant. Here’s the secret: Succulents encompass a wide variety of plants. While there are general succulent-care guidelines, it is important to understand how each one is different and what it needs to thrive. 

For example, many types of aloe will tolerate the sun but their leaves will stand up to protect their cores and often turn a purple brown. When planted in partial shade, these same plants relax, open up and stretch out their bright green leaves to look prettier

While most succulents prefer partial sun, some thrive in full sun, such as Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana), the twisted Slipper Flower (Pedilanthus macrocarpus), and the thick-leaved Parry’s Agave (Agave parryi). Sun lovers also include most varieties of desert milkweed plants, which are popular in desert yards because butterflies feed on them when still caterpillars.

There are a few succulents that thrive in full shade and will enliven that strip of yard that rarely sees the sun.

  • Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra): Now here’s an interesting sprawling and extremely hardy plant that lives in shade – and full or partial sun. It just isn’t that fussy. It’s also a lovely container plant that will grow up, out and over the sides. 
  • Sago Palm (Cycas revolute): Get a tropical look without the work and mess of a palm tree. These lovely palm-like succulents grow slow and low, never getting much higher than 5 feet. They also can take partial sun.
  • Smooth Agave (Agave desmettiana): These popular and hardy succulents are dark green, rosette formed, with lots of offshoots. When they bloom once in eight years or so, it’s a spectacular stock with yellow flowers.

Despite the differences, there are a few general tips for growing healthy succulents.

  • Most succulents prefer shadier spots in your garden with partial sun. So plant them under an eave, near a porch, around a shade tree or on the east side of a shrub that will protect them from the western sun.
  • Don’t water succulents when the weather is chilly. They most likely will rot and die.
  • Don’t dig a well at the base of a succulent and let water sit around the roots. If you have created swales in your landscape for water harvesting, plant succulents on the dry banks where water can quickly drain away. If heavy rain is in the forecast, create small drainage ruts around your succulent to carry away the water.
  • Cover succulents if the temperature reaches freezing. The eaves, porch roofs, trees or shrubs that create shade for succulents also can help to protect them from some cold damage. Plants in the open are more vulnerable.
  • Many succulents do well in pots because their root structures often are small. If you plant them in a container mix in about 50 percent perlite or pumice to a good quality potting soil to help improve drainage. Never use a drip pan directly under a pot with a succulent. Set the container on bricks or small stones to prevent it from sitting in water.

Find the succulents that could add a little drama to your yard at AMWUA.org/landscape. Then learn about the succulents you like before planting them. There are experts on hand at your local nursery, the spring plant sale at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix or The Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society meetings held once a month at the garden.

For 46 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Tired Of Skimming And Cleaning? 10 Pool-Friendly Shade Trees

By Kathleen Ferris

Cities need trees, including our desert cities. Trees help to mitigate the heat island, reduce ground temperatures in the evening and remove pollutants from the air. Trees raise property values, save energy by shading walls and windows, and attract birds and other wildlife. Here’s the question: Why don’t we plant more of them?

Here’s one answer: Some people think of trees as messy. Yes, all trees drop at least some leaves, twigs, berries, blossoms, seeds and/or pods. For many people, this is a lovely natural way for trees to create their own mulch, add to the natural look of a landscape and feed wildlife.

For others, this is “litter” on their grass and gravel or in their pools. We hear you. Here’s a solution: 10 hardy, drought-tolerant trees you can plant that drop less than most trees. These trees often are called “pool friendly” trees.

1.  Arizona Rosewood (Vauquelinia californica):  Shrubby evergreen that thrives in full sun or partial shade and grows to 10 feet. Clusters of white flowers in spring.

2. Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco): Evergreen that likes full sun and grows to 15 feet. Yellow flowering spikes winter through spring.

3. Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis): Large tree that likes full sun and grows to 40 feet. It turns a reddish orange in the late fall and drops its leaves (but all at once and once a year).

4. Ironwood (Olneya tesota): Evergreen that likes full sun and grows to 25 feet. Lavender flowers in late spring.  

5. Leather Leaf Acacia (Acacia craspedocarpa): Evergreen that likes full or reflective sun and grows to 10 feet. Yellow puffy flowers spring into summer.

6. Live Oak (Quercus virginiana): Evergreen that likes full sun and grows to 40 feet. Subtle green flowers in the spring.

7. Red Cap Gum (Eucalyptus erythrocorys): Evergreen that likes full sun and grows to 25 feet. Red berries that blossom yellow in the summer.

8. Willow Acacia (Acacia salicina): Evergreen that likes full sun and grows to 30 feet. Puffy cream-color flowers in the spring.

9. Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora): Shrubby evergreen that likes full sun and grows to 8 feet. Clusters of purple flowers in the spring.

10. Silk Floss Tree (Chorisia speciosa): Evergreen that likes full sun and grows to 30 feet. Pink to red flowers in the fall then loses its leaves.

There are many more drought-tolerant trees, pool friendly or otherwise. Ask for help at your local nursery. Here are a few dos and don’ts before you buy and plant a tree.

  • Do know how tall and how wide a tree will grow when mature. Fitting the right size tree in the right space keeps trimming to a minimum.
  • Do ask your nursery expert if the tree will be healthier in the turf or arid area of your yard.
  • Don’t buy a tree in less than a 15-gallon container.
  • Don’t plant a tree too deeply.  This is a common reason why trees fail to thrive. Allow the bell-shaped roots to protrude out of the ground.
  • Don’t mix mulch with the desert soil. The soil gets hot, burns the mulch and leaves gaps around the roots. Put the mulch on top of the soil around the base of a tree.
  • Do move your watering lines as a tree grows. Watering at the edge of the canopy helps the roots expand and keeps a tree solidly in the ground during the harshest winds.

Perhaps it’s time to make a contribution to your city’s urban forest. You’ll find more information about how to select, install and successfully grow trees (as well as shrubs, vines and groundcover, grasses, cactus and succulents) at AMWUA.org/landscape

For 46 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Water Rates Rising: Is Anyone Really Surprised?

By Kathleen Ferris

The cost of delivering clean water to your home or business is rising. So is the cost of treating and reusing wastewater. The increase may already be reflected in your water bill, or soon will be. There are a few things you should know about where that additional money is going – and where it is not going.

A lot goes into the water and wastewater services that your city provides. The biggest costs are infrastructure – including pipes, pumps, wells, and treatment plants – and the energy needed to deliver drinking water and remove wastewater.

Infrastructure: It takes money to expand, maintain or replace the treatment plants, pumps and pipes that deliver drinking water and remove, treat and recycle wastewater. For example, we think of Phoenix as a relatively new big city, but the city has been operating a water system for more than 100 years. Some of its 7,000 miles of drinking water pipes and 5,000 miles of sewage pipes are deteriorating.  Every leak or break in an aging system means wasted water and possible disruptions to service.  Funding the repairs, upgrades and expansion that ensure reliable service accounts for a significant portion your bill. Phoenix Water, for example, spends 60 percent of its annual budget on capital infrastructure.

Energy: An enormous amount of energy is required to move and treat water and wastewater. Electricity costs are a substantial portion of a water agency’s operating expenses. For example, the cost of power is approximately 21 percent of the city of Scottsdale Water Department’s total operating budget. Increases in energy costs directly affect the cost of providing water.

Your city’s water department invests in water management strategies such as conservation programs, storing water underground, and other projects to stretch supplies and to increase the long-term reliability of supplies. In addition to delivering water to homes and businesses 24/7, water departments also provide services such as water for fire protection, water quality monitoring and testing, groundwater cleanup and replenishment, and ongoing planning to meet future water needs.  These costs are also reflected in your bill.

The good news? City water departments, like most successful businesses, are always looking for new technology and procedures to decrease the cost of daily management and operations. Many of these efforts include partnerships to buy bulk supplies, installing more efficient machinery and lowering energy costs. Here are a few examples.

  • City of Mesa: The city is replacing inefficient pumps that keep its water delivery system perpetually full. The new replacement pumps operate based entirely on water demand. When demand is low, the new pumps slow down and use less energy. When demand is high, they automatically ramp up to refill the system to capacity and meet the need. The city also uses methane gas produced during the wastewater treatment process to fuel a generator at the treatment plant. The generator is used to reduce the amount of electricity required at peak times during the day when electricity is most expensive.
  • City of Phoenix: In the past year, the city has installed high-efficiency LED lighting at treatment facilities, upgraded the HVAC system in the water department’s administrative building and replaced large pumps at a treatment plant with smaller, more energy-efficient pumps. The city also changed the way it disinfects and filters drinking water, which improved water quality and helped new filters last longer.
  • City of Scottsdale: As a whole, chemical costs used in treatment plants increased over 60 percent in one year. The city responded by making a change to its wastewater treatment plant that allowed it to replace a high cost, hard-to-get chemical with a less costly more readily available chemical. That change saved it $500,000 in operating costs this past fiscal year.

Even with upcoming rate increases, the average single-family residential customer in the city of Phoenix will pay $30 a month for water. Water is still a bargain and cities are working to keep it that way.

For 46 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Arizona Town Hall: A Unique Process for Addressing Important Arizona Issues

By Kathleen Ferris

Last month, the 107th Arizona Town Hall was held in Mesa, Arizona. Arizona Town Hall is a non-profit organization that brings together diverse Arizonans to discuss critical state issues facing the state and make recommendations for progress. It’s been doing that for over 50 years. Underscoring the importance of water in our arid state, the 107th Arizona Town Hall marked the 6th such gathering on water in as many decades. 

The group assembled in Mesa was indeed diverse— lawyers and farmers, ranchers and miners, educators and lobbyists, conservationists and government officials, students and retirees.  We were divided into 6 panels where, for two and one half days, we discussed and debated many provocative questions, such as:

  • How well has Arizona managed the use of water?
  • What are the greatest challenges for ensuring Arizona has the water it needs for the future? 
  • How do water use and supply impact Arizona’s economy? 
  • What actions would increase, diversify or stabilize funding to meet Arizona’s future water needs? 
  • What actions should be taken that would have the most beneficial impact on Arizona’s water needs? 

Guided in each panel by a seasoned chairperson, the discussions were educational, collegial and challenging.  Colored pipe cleaners were provided to keep fingers busy while minds stayed engaged. A recorder in each panel diligently documented the conversations then spent the evenings with fellow recorders crafting a draft report. 

On the final day, the panels convened together to offer changes to the draft report. Participants lined up at microphones to suggest their changes, which were greeted either by raucous yeas or boos from the crowd. Arizona Town Hall Board Chair, Linda Elliott Nelson, maintained order and ruled on the whether the change would be made based on participant reaction. In some cases, two or more participants were sent out of the room to reach a compromise on wording.

Miraculously, consensus emerged on six top priorities the state should pursue:

1.  Move forward with the Arizona’s Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability.  Drafted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Strategic Vision is a framework for developing strategies to address potential imbalances between water supplies and demands for the next 100 years. It builds on the state’s decades of success in planning and investing for its water future. Recognizing that water supplies and uses are not the same statewide, the Strategic Vision divides the state into 22 regional planning areas in order to address localized issues.  As directed by Governor Ducey, the Department is prioritizing the planning areas to be considered first.

2.  Appropriately fund and staff the Arizona Department of Water Resources.  As long reported here, the Department has been underfunded in recent years.  It has lost critical employees and cannot compete with other entities salary-wise to retain highly skilled professionals.  As the Town Hall participants stated, “Funding will need to be appropriated by the Arizona legislature sufficient to support ADWR’s mission.”  This mission includes managing the state’s surface water (river and streams) and groundwater, and protecting Arizona’s Colorado River supplies. 

3.  Create and Fund Mechanisms to Finance Water Supply and New Infrastructure.  The legislature established the Arizona Water Supply Development Revolving Fund several years ago to offer low-interest loans for water supply projects.  Unfortunately, the critical step of putting money in the Fund has not occurred.  Financing will be necessary to carry out Arizona’s long-term water strategy and funding the Revolving Fund is a good place to start.

4.  Education and Public Awareness.  Participants agreed that we need to educate the general public and our political leaders on water issues.  They further concurred that Arizona “should also develop a focused communication plan and retain staff to lead statewide discussions among the community and water stakeholders.”

5.  Conservation and Augmentation.  Continuing conservation of existing water supplies and future augmentation of our water supplies are both needed to ensure adequate water for the future.  Town Hall participants noted that Arizona should explore opportunities to expand the use of treated wastewater, called reclaimed water, and improve the management of watersheds, including implementing sustainable forest management programs.

6.  Legal Reform.  Unfortunately, many water issues do not resolve themselves.  We need the legislature and government agencies to help.  Participants agreed that Arizona should streamline and simplify the process for resolving water rights claims; allow greater reuse of reclaimed water, including for direct potable use; and allow new groundwater management strategies in rural areas to reduce the depletion of this non-renewable supply.

These are significant recommendations that merit our elected officials’ and our citizens’ attention. 

The 107th Arizona Town Hall Report can be found here.

For 46 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.