Destination: Forever Ranch and Gardens

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We do sell some plants at Destination: Forever Ranch and Gardens. Mostly, we do this for financial reasons (see our sponsor a plant page), and we sell mainly plants salvaged from the path of development. These are natives that we tend to have a surplus of, thereby permitting us to sell some of the smaller and nicer plants of a commercial size to area landowners both rural and urban, while retaining many of the larger (or "uglier") ones for planting at D:FR. To be honest, we sell as few of these plants as we need to to make a living, and prefer to plant all the rest for the future garden shaping up out at D:FR. But some things just need to be bought, and Home Depot wonít take payment in barrel cactus. So, if you think you might be in the market locally for a desert plant, we at D:FR would definitely appreciate your support.


Dsc00105c.jpg (15896 bytes)At D:FR, we have what we loosely term "The Big Three", which are those natives we sell that earn us most of our money. In descending order, the Big Three are Joshua trees, ocotillos, and barrel cactus. We do, on occasion, receive orders for hedgehog cactus, yuccas, chollas, agaves, and prickly pears, but these plants are either seldom requested or are only sporadically available to us.  We do have Joshua trees, which tend to be even more difficult to get than saguaros in most parts of Arizona, given their limited distribution within the state and their highly protected status. Our plants are legally obtained and actually in danger from death by construction and road maintenance equipment, so we feel that we are killing three (not just two) birds with one stone, so to speak, by making a living, obtaining plants for the gardens at D:FR, and saving vegetation that would otherwise be destroyed.

Joshua trees and the allied desert species are probably best planted outdoors only in the arid and semi-arid warm regions of the southwestern United States. The geographical area covered under this definition is extensive, although it still represents only a small part of the US as a whole. We donít recommend planting in the ground outside of an area stretching from the chaparral zones of California (the cool coastal climate can even be questionable with Joshuas in particular) up through Las Vegas, Nevada and St. George, Utah, over to about Albuquerque, New Mexico, and over to West Texas possibly as far east as Austin or San Antonio (again, somewhat questionable, although they ought to thrive in the El Paso area east to about the Pecos River). It might be possible to make Joshuas and ocotillos survive in specially protected outdoor microclimates as far north as Californiaís northern Central Valley; Moab, Utah; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Amarillo, Texas, but be forewarned that it would be a gamble some extra-cold years. All the plants are well-suited to pot culture if the pot is moved outdoors in the spring and back indoors during the few coldest and wettest months of winter and early spring. Practically speaking, however, we consider our own region of western Arizona up to Nevada and southwestern Utah and west across the Colorado River to California to be the main area to which we will sell plants.


Joshua trees in nurseries tend to be priced between $60 and $300 for the most commonly sized trees. Since we at D:FR actually sell the trees to the nurseries, we try to keep prices a bit lower, on average, than that for the typical homeowner. A three-to-four-foot-tall Joshua that sports two arms goes for about $50 from our operation. A six-footer with three to four arms usually retails for about $80 to $100, depending upon size and quality, and the largest Joshuas most homeowners want would be eight to nine feet tall, with several arms, at around $125 to $175. It is impractical to ship such a large plant via mail of any sort, so if you are really intrigued with the idea of owning your own, personal Joshua tree, we recommend a visit to D:FR and picking one up along the way and taking it back home yourself. We do not ship outside of the USA because of the tight import/export restrictions imposed by various levels of Arizona and Federal law, CITES, agricultural pest worries, and the like. We can ship smaller trees (up to about 5 feet, if they donít have too many arms) although postage costs are in the $50 to $75 range.

Ocotillos range in price from $25 to $50. Smaller plants tend to be about 3 to 4 feet tall, with 4 to 8 arms, while larger ones can run up to about 6 feet tall with perhaps from 6 to 10 arms. Due to size restrictions for shipping, we are unable to sell plants larger than six feet tall via mail, although larger specimens can always be obtained via direct pick-up. Please arrange an appointment or email General Manager Jan Emming at if you seek a larger plant of any type. As with Joshuas, shipping on ocotillos is pricey, especially when the box necessarily is mainly empty space without much weight to it.

Barrel cactus are the most popular when they are between the size of a cantaloupe and an average-sized watermelon, and present less of a shipping problem, since they are more compact. Barrel cactus prices run from $10 to $50 and are of the species known as Ferocactus acanthodes (some texts refer to them as F. cylindraceus), commonly called red barrels. The spines range from pale yellow to deep red, with most individuals displaying spines that are pinkish, or bicolored pink with yellow.

One good reason to get a plant from us is that they are fresh. Since plants of these types can tolerate weeks to months (depending on the heat of the season) out of the ground in a bare-root condition without apparently dying, many nurseries simply leave them standing out or shallowly heeled into a trench to make it look like they are actually re-growing, which they seldom are. As a result, an unsuspecting purchaser may get a plant that is on the verge of death by dehydration. The plant itself often takes another few months, perhaps as much as a year, to die. The primary way to avoid this problem is to make sure that your new plant is fresh, which they are at D:FR, since we either sell them immediately or simply replant them at the property.

Another thing we do here with the ocotillos is to dig them with a good root system. All too often, the people who dig the plants initially for sale to nurseries will lop off all the ocotilloís roots to six-inch-long stubs that are barely able to support the tree physically as well as metabolically. To keep the tree from keeling over in the wind, the new owners are forced to plant the ocotillo up to its "armpits", which is the point at which the short trunk splits into the dozens of arms. This is deeper than is ideal, as it promotes rot in an area of the tree that usually is never exposed to damp soil. Combine this with the utter lack of roots to absorb water in the first place, and it rapidly becomes evident why there is about a 50% death rate to start, and why those ocotillos that do survive take two to four years to start to look normal once again. By digging the plants with more like 18" of length to each of the three to five main roots, we find that the survivability jumps to between 85% and 90%, and that the plants often leaf out within three to six weeks and put on new growth within a year. Much better odds. If you donít get a plant from us, at least look for one with the best odds of survival. Ask to see the roots before you buy.


We also sell a number of other plants here at D:FR, mainly cacti and succulents as opposed to trees, palms, and the like. Again, we keep them on hand so as to have a greater variety for interested parties, but we donít have many very unusual items because we find that most people want to buy what theyíve already become somewhat familiar with. Prices vary with type, but we can obtain a large number of items via the nursery trade, ranging from 3Ĺ -inch pots to 15-gallon specimens. Naturally, we heavily promote the wider use of cacti and succulents in the landscape trade, and not all on their own, either, since the way they grow in nature is alongside a wide array of other, non-succulent xeric plant species in an interesting collage of shapes, colors, and textures. Desert gardening is truly a world apart from the typical American garden ethic that most of us were raised with, which has its roots centered in England and northern Europe. There is absolutely nothing wrong with European gardens per se, but we do believe that excessive water use in climatically inappropriate landscapes of the Southwest and West is a major contributing factor to the water supply issues that face western communities on a perpetual basis. Besides, we also think that regional differences in gardening, just like regional differences in food, art, architecture, and culture, are part of what makes life interesting and different. Since our main focus is not mail-order plant sales, or the development of a nursery, suffice it to say that we do not keep a list of available plants and their costs. If you truly want to support us at D:FR by purchasing non-native nursery-propagated items, we suggest arranging an appointment to view what is currently available, as what we have is continually evolving. Similarly, we propose that supportive individuals check out our sponsor a plant page. Otherwise, you may direct inquiries via e-mail to our General Manager at


When you get a new Joshua tree, whether from Destination: Forever Ranch or elsewhere, there are a few tips you should follow when planting it and caring for it. First, as noted above, you should get the freshest tree you can get, since the longer the tree has been out of the ground, the thinner the margin of survival will be. If you can at all ascertain that the tree has been dug less than one week ago, then your chances of success will be significantly improved. We here at D:FR try not to sell trees older than this if at all possible. At any rate, try to plant the tree as soon as you can after getting it home. The planting hole does not necessarily need to be much larger than the butt of the tree, not unless your soil conditions are extremely hard packed clay or caliche hardpan that new roots will have difficulty in penetrating. Joshuas tend to prefer a sandy, well-drained loam, but will adjust adequately to virtually any soil type provided it is well-drained. When planting, try to make the initial shovelfuls of backfill into a soupy mud by adding enough water into the hole to accomplish this. This soggy mud will rinse under the plantís flattened base and fill any open air spaces that could otherwise be left behind under the trunk. Air spaces in this position are the perfect spots for fungal growth, which could invade wounds in the trunk and cause the death of the plant. Rocking the tree gently back and forth in the muck will eliminate any remaining air spaces, at which point you should fill the hole back up to the original soil line, tamp it down, and water it again from the top to settle the soil and firm it up so that the tree will not blow over in the wind.

Do not plant the tree too deeply. If you look carefully, you can observe a color change on the bark of the trunk near the base (usually from gray above to reddish or brown below), which indicates at which depth the tree was originally growing in the desert. If that line is a bit low to hold the tree up in its new hole against the force of any possible winds, it is ok to plant the tree a bit deeper, which means about four to six additional inches, rarely more. If the tree is buried too deeply up the trunk, it could rot. If the level is too shallow to support the tree, tie three stakes at 120-degree angles apart around the trunk to support it for up to three years until the Joshua is re-rooted firmly enough to stand alone. Adding a large amount of organic matter to the planting hole is not recommended, as excessive manure, peat, compost, etc., tends to retain water too well and also provides sustenance for various organisms such as fungi and bacteria that can promote rotting of an already vulnerable, stressed-out plant. Some organic matter (up to 25% to 30% of the backfill, by volume) will not hurt, however, particularly in very sandy or clayey soils, since it improves the difficult natures of both soils. Overall, we consider it unnecessary, since these plants live in a low-humus environment to begin with and so adapted. It also probably helps to treat the roots with rooting hormone (available at many nurseries) and also to water the new tree in with a water-soluble solution of Super-Thrive or B-vitamins. We do not recommend fertilizer on any newly moved desert plant, since fertilizers can often act as an additional stress factor in cases such as these. Not until the plant has definitely re-grown some roots should additional fertilizers be considered, and then sparingly, as in once or twice a year, if that. Desert plants are slow growers, and do not require high fertility levels for adequate progress, although some, on occasion, wonít hurt.


Watering your new plant is the real trick. We at D:FR feel that there is one common misconception widely promoted in the nursery trade with respect to planting cacti and succulents, and that is the notion that newly installed desert plants should be left in their freshly dug hole for at least a month, if not longer, without watering. The theory, we suppose, is that the plants will put out new roots and avoid rotting this way. Our strongly held view counteracts this. This sort of treatment will possibly suffice for a plump, water-filled barrel cactus (although the barrel will not produce new roots in bone-dry soil, not in Arizona desert conditions), but if followed with a much less succulent Joshua tree or ocotillo, it may very well result in the plantís demise. Your new plant needs water, since it is under a great deal of stress resulting from the transplanting process! You do not want to overwater, this is very true. But a deep, thorough watering once a week or so, especially during the long, hot summers, is what will keep your plant alive until it summons the strength to recover from what was certainly a very traumatic move for it. We repeat, water your plants, especially if grown outdoors in a hot desert climate. This advice applies for certainly the first year, possibly for two to three, depending upon how successfully your plant is recovering and how healthy it was to begin with.

We will caveat these views in just a moment, however, since the watering issue is more complex than it seems. But first, we want to contradict those who tell unsuspecting homeowners that putting a plant into bone-dry soil and letting it bake in hot sun for many summer months with only a "spraying down of the top" is adequate treatment for these plants. If, in fact, the plants do survive, we consider that incidental and due to other factors, such as that it managed to rain in time for the plant to recover, and not that the "spraying down" method was actually ok on its own merits. (By the way, spraying the top is very helpful, as long as the root zone is also watered.) We ask, why does a desert plant, or any plant for that matter, have roots, if it is not to absorb water? Why do ocotillos in nature leaf out within three days of a sufficient rainfall if they did not absorb it through those roots that we so graciously "trim" off, as if the plant did not really need them? It is our contention that the plant-but-donít-water-it school of thought is responsible for more unnecessary and avoidable plant death than any other factor, including the overwatering that this advice is probably intended to thwart. Even a fragment of logic applied to this advice causes it to break down, and we certainly welcome its demise since the ostensible purpose of plant-salvaging was to save the plants in the first place. Right? We apologize for this rant (sort of), but more to the point we want to do our share to send this destructive and deadly myth to its own grave, and save Joshuas and ocotillos from theirs.

We have finished, and will step off the soap box now. Of course, now that we have proclaimed our views, we need to qualify our advice to admonish those who may become overeager with the hose to take it easy, so that the second cause of death, overwatering, may be avoided. It is very true that desert plants, especially those with damaged roots, can easily be overwatered. But first we need to define the term overwatering. Overwatering is a chronic condition, not acute. What we mean is that you cannot overwater most plants by watering heavily one time. Usually, any excess water will drain away, evaporate, or be used by the plant. Overwatering is caused by too much water, too often. Therefore, it is entirely possible to overwater a Joshua tree by giving it five gallons every day for weeks on end, whereas watering it 100 gallons once every month probably wonít result in overwatering, even though the aggregate amount of water is similar. Therefore, it is the timing of the water on desert plants that is the critical factor.


To wrap up on watering, there is a happy medium to aim for. That is what we have termed the Root Not Rot spectrum. You want to keep the soil a bit moist to promote new root development, but not so sopping wet that you encourage rotting. Too wet, it will decay away, and too dry, the plant sits there, injured and in distress, waiting for it to rain or for you to help it out so that it can regrow the roots it needs so that it can absorb more water to regain its vigor so that it can put out more roots and sooner or later new leaves and ... well, you get the idea. How much to water is simply impossible to say, since it depends upon your soil, your weather lately, the time of year, when you last watered, how big the plant is, how deeply it is set in the hole, and how healthy it was to begin with. We will make a handy reference list to assist you in your quest for success, but you will still need to learn how to read the plant and your own particular combination of conditions.

As a general rule, larger plants need less frequent but deeper waterings than young and small plants. They have a larger mass that stores more water in the tissues of the plant than smaller ones, which is an asset you should capitalize upon. But they need larger planting holes, and the base of the plant is going to be deeper than a smaller one, so the soil in lower layers will not dry out as fast as surface layers exposed to sun and dry winds will. Being deeper holes, more water will be needed at each watering to soak that far down, but it will need doing less often, possibly only once a month in summer, less still in winter.

Sandy soils need more watering than medium-textured soils, and sticky clay soil needs the least of all. Conversely, sandy soils that drain well donít need as much at any one time, although it is hard to overwater in sandy desert soils since excess water simply drains away. Beware of clay soils, however. A large tree in heavy clay might need some water only once in six weeks, if it isnít very hot (defined as regularly 100 degrees or more) where you live, once a month if it is. A small tree in clay soil might need it once a week. A small tree in sandy soil should probably get water every few days in summer, truly so. (Weíve inadvertently killed a number of small trees in the sandy soil sections of D:FR by inadequate watering, so we speak from experience.) And so on.

Water less in winter coolness than in summer heat. Spring and fall are in between. Once a week in winter, especially if it is near freezing at night, is definitely too often, especially if it has already been raining, as it will in most of Arizona. Remember that you adjust your watering levels for soil, recent weather patterns, and seasonality. Also think about if your plant is exposed to full sun all day long or if it gets some shade at some time. Furthermore, consider the slope. North and east slopes are cooler than south and west slopes or flat areas. This is why we cannot tell you a one-size-fits-all prescription for watering.

Has it rained lately? Remember, the amount of rain that wets the pavement and spots your newly washed car is not going to help a freshly planted ocotillo, not unless it was enough to truly soak in. A good rule of thumb is that an inch of rain will soak average, loamy soil to about a foot deep, if it falls slowly enough to do so and not in a cloudburst of a thunderstorm where much of it runs off. What looks like a tremendous rain to you may not be helpful to a struggling Joshua tree with most of its roots a foot or more below the soil surface. Pay attention, and think like a plant, is the moral of the story. And remember that you do have some latitude here. A little bit too much water or not quite enough on occasion will very likely be compensated for by the plant. But no injured plant can compensate for no water for eight months while the temperature crests 100 degrees for six of them. Nor can they tolerate swampy muck for weeks on end. Balance is the key, and donít forget common sense.

How healthy was the tree to begin with? Be suspicious of severely discounted trees at nurseries: They may very well be aging and the nursery is trying to unload them before they die, thereby putting the burden onto the homeowner. Just so you know, many nurseries will not guarantee Joshuas, ocotillos, or any bare-root plant given the significant failure rate. (A failure rate, we pointedly note, that is made worse by bad watering advice.) Be ready to have a Joshua tree just sit there for several years before resuming growth. The good news is that after one to two years of sitting there being green, it does mean that the tree is alive, since most Joshuas die in under a year. A properly dug ocotillo, i.e., one with a decent root system, will often show some signs of leafing out within three months, although some take two years.

Tip on how to check an ocotillo for aliveness: Take a thorn near the tip of a branch, anywhere on the plant. Gently bend the thorn back to one side or the other and look underneath where the skin of the plant is now broken. If it is a bright, lime-green color and feels moist that branch is alive. (You can break the whole spine off and touch the green part to your lip, since your lips are moisture-sensitive.) If it is yellow, tan, brown, or a little puff of dust rises out of the broken stem when the thorn snaps, sorry, it ainít living. Try this maneuver on several more stems elsewhere on the plant, and if they are all this way, it means you lost the plant. If other thorns turn up green, then it only means that part of one stem was dead and there is still hope.


And after all this discussion and effort, your new plant still dies, well, themís the breaks, as they say. It is an unfortunate truth that not every tree or cactus makes it after transplanting. After all, they were really not designed to move like we force them to. Theyíd really be better off left alone, but since humans are moving into the desert like they are and taking over, we end up moving them anyway, and some wonít be able to make it. If a Joshua tree is going to die, most of them will do so within one year or so. But all things considered, with proper watering and transplanting techniques, the survival rate on ocotillos planted with decent roots is about 90%, and the Joshua tree re-establishment rate is about 50%, possibly higher if the trees are moved and planted the same day or in less than five days. Not too bad, considering that the alternative of waiting for 50 to 100 years for the plants to attain landscape size on desert rainfall alone.