July 4: A Miracle Happens in Arizona!

Holy mackerel! It’s almost 8:30 in the morning and the temperature is only 85 degrees! Doors and windows are open, fresh (if somewhat soggy) air is flowing through the house, fans are blowing…air conditioning is OFF! Off off off, for the first time in weeks!!

We awoke at 5 to a solid overcast and bizarrely cool air. This is the first July 4 I can remember that has not been searing, scorching hot. Normally at this time of year the outside air is so hot all you want to do is huddle inside your air-conditioned box. People in Alaska get snowbound in winter; here the residents are heatbound, and just as stir-crazy.

Actually…I may overspeak.

Before the low desert was obscenely overdeveloped, it used to be that summer storms would roll in about 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. Mornings and early afternoons would be hot—though nothing like they are today. Temps would be 105, maybe 110 at most. Then the afternoon rains would drop the temperature, abruptly, to around 80 degrees. This happened every day from early July through the end of August.

Now 110 is a “normal” day, and temperatures of 112 to 115 are routine. I can remember when a 112-degree day was extraordinary, and 115 degrees, unheard-of. We rarely see summer rains anymore, and when we do, it’s long after dark.

Our nasty summers are the direct result of paving over the desert. We’ve created a heat bubble that acts like a big plastic dome over the city. Where thirty years ago rainstorms would flow across the Valley floor, now they bounce off a barrier of reflected, amplified heat. As they cascade in from the southeast, you can see them split aside and pass by the city, the clouds moving out of the Valley and proceeding around through Carefree and Anthem to the north and below the South Mountains and the Estrellas in the other direction. Indirectly, climate warming undoubtedly has something to do with it. Either way, it stems from the same basic primate stupidity.

Oh well.

So de bonne heure it was out the door and into the backyard, there to continue reconstructing the landscaping now that Charley the Golden Retriever Puppy has outgrown the need for dog-sitting and taken up full-time residence at M’hijito’s house.

Yesterday I made a run on Home Depot to pick up some new plants. At first I thought not to get new bedding plants, because it does seem like an exercise in futility. Young annuals are almost bound to fricassee in the hot little bed next to the pool. And putting water in there will just cause all those damn weeds, whose thready roots now infest the soil, to come surging back. But I couldn’t resist.

Picked up two six-packs of zinnias, one of red salvia, and one of something called lisianthus. All of these allegedly crave six+ hours of full sun a day. We’ll see. These plants may define “sun” as something other than “blast furnace.”

Salvia does do pretty well out there. A volunteer between the pots and two plants in one of the pots next to the bed are still alive, despite the heat and drought. As for a lisianthus: never heard of it before. Kinda pretty blue thing, though. All these plants look a little tired. They were sopping wet yesterday afternoon when I set them on the shaded table beneath the patio overhang. This morning they were parched and looking peakèd. We’ll see if they recover after being put in the ground and generously watered.

The two salvia in the pot are sharing space with, of all things, an oleander that volunteered in there! I’ve never seen oleander volunteer before. They do make a seed pod, so it’s not out of the question…but how did the seed get into the pot? Oleander is very toxic and will kill birds (and just about anything else) that eat any part of it. Seeds, flowers, stems, leaves: the whole damn plant is poisonous.

Hm. Come to think of it, there was a dead dove out there awhile back…

However.

It gets quite large (we have 30-foot-high hedges in the neighborhood), and it makes a pretty flower. So I’m thinking that when the weather cools a little, I’ll move this little guy into the center of a larger pot and see if it’ll grow as a patio ornamental. If it doesn’t…well, it didn’t cost anything.

Oleander is expected to go extinct in the Valley within a decade. A bacterial infection carried by a type of leaf-hopper is killing them off. There’s no treatment for it, and nothing seems to be effective against the insect, either. Not a great loss…but another of those changes having to do with too many people doing too many disruptive things that, in concert, alter the nature of our living space.

Two days ago I soaked the flowerbed, to soften the soil so as to dig out the weeds. This morning? Bone dry! So it looks like to keep these things alive I’ll have to water every day and deep-water every two or three days. Another chore added to the daily list.

Well, it’ll be worth it if they grow and prettify the pool area.

Speaking of adding chores, I also picked up a couple indoor plants, too: on sale for ten bucks. One is a fiddle-leaf fig; the other an umbrella plant.

These are both varieties of ficus.

The potted ficus on the back porch thrives, although it’s sunburned right now because the blast of the morning sun has been too much for it. I’ve propped a screen against it, but that thing blows over in the lightest breeze. Guess I’m going to have to put up some hooks along the patio overhang’s beams and hang a length of shade cloth from them.

Later.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if I can keep these things alive indoors. Didn’t realize the fiddle-leaf fig is somewhat xeric. Its soil was very dry, so I put it under the faucet and soaked it. Only then did I bother to go online and discover that it prefers to be dry and does not like soaking. The umbrella tree apparently has more normal watering needs, so watering that is less likely to kill it. But I figure that despite the passing cloud cover, the air here is so dry the fiddle-leaf will soon desiccate to its preference, and after that I’ll be more careful about watering it.

The neighborhood had its annual July 4 parade at 7:30 this morning. I’ve been to it once and almost expired in the heat. But the weather was so clement today I considered trotting over to the park to watch the goings-on. But…

But…so many excuses!

But…by 8:30, when the parade ends, if the cloud cover broke it would be way too hot for Cassie to walk home.

But…at 6:30 it was starting to rain. Did I really want to stand out in the rain to watch an extremely small-time parade and listen to some politicians harangue us?

But…my foot hurts. A lot! (Boy, does it hurt!)

But…my back still hurts.

But…I’m not drivin’ a block and a half and fighting for a place to park, because that would be ridiculous.

But…I’d rather go swimming.

But…I want to sit outside for breakfast.

Can’t believe it’s now nine in the morning and still nice enough to have the doors open.

Time to get up and put some water on the frazzled roses. And so…to work!

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Holly July 5, 2012 at 8:12 am

Congrats on cooler weather! We’ve had 100+ degree weather here in MS for about a week. Would love to get some rain.

As for the plant, could it be a Milkweed (Asclepius tuberosa – sp?)? Looks kind of like it.

funny July 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

LOL! We’re paying for it today. By 7 a.m. it was hot and muggy. The shade screen is back over the fried ficus and the AC is back on, darn it.

Milkweed, eh? Hmmmm…. Well, it might be. But if it is, it’s not one of the varieties that commonly grow in these parts.

This critter has a vigorous, woody, reddish stem and slender, glossy leaves typical of a healthy oleander. Wikipedia has some great milkweed photos. One has a close-up of a swatch of slender leaves. Our suspect doesn’t show that soft hairiness on the milkweed, nor does it have the interesting pattern running up the leaf’s spine.

It’ll be interesting to see what the thing does.

TB at BlueCollarWorkman July 6, 2012 at 5:59 am

It’s funny that you think 85 degrees is a/c turn off time, haha! 85 is prtty warm, but I guess if you’re in Arizona it’s not so hot.

Brandy July 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm

If the plants tat need some shade arent too big, try going to dollar tree, get some umbrellas for a dollar, break the bottom (plastic) off and plant them over the plants. I used to do this for years. Frugal tip, save them to reuse ever year.

funny July 6, 2012 at 9:31 pm

@ Brandy: That’s a great idea!

This is a tree in a pot, though. At this time of year, I have to lash the pot to the patio upright, because the monsoon winds will blow the tree over. With it roped into place, I can’t move it out of the morning sun. But I do have a bunch of shade cloth (speaking of stuff that lasts forever), which can easily be draped or hung over it.

Along the same lines: If you can find those little umbrella-shaped gadgets for keeping insects off picnic food — they’re made with fine nylon mesh like the stuff of bridal veils — those things work really well to keep birds and some bugs from yanking up young plants. I’ve seen them at Cost Plus (World Market)…they’re very cheap.

Jenna August 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I love that fig tree you got! I’ve been looking for one here at my local Home Depot in Mesa, AZ and I realized that you live in AZ too. Which Home Depot did you find this at? I’d love to know!

funny August 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm

@ Jenna: At the HD at Cave Creek and Thunderbird. Later went into the store at T’bird and the I-17 and saw they had a better selection of house plants. And the one at Shea and the 101 always has a better selection of nursery plants, pots, and gardening items.

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