Caring for and Planting Your Ocotillo
Planting and Caring for Your New Ocotillo

Planting and Caring for Your New Ocotillo

Ocotillo Care

Ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens) are fantastic plants in the desert landscape. They are native to regions near the USA - Mexican border from west Texas to the Palm Springs. Each spring, and after summer rains, the canes suddenly sprout small green leaves along their whole length. Leaves may remain for several weeks before turning yellow and falling off. Fortunately for gardeners in the Southwest, Ocotillo collected from the are capable of re-establishing themselves in landscapes, given certain conditions:

  • Nursery Grown Ocotillos – Do not require a state authorization tag. Because of the regulations regarding wild-collected specimens, it might be a good idea to save your receipt when you purchase an Ocotillo from a nursery.

  • Wild-Collected Ocotillos – All wild-collected Ocotillos from California and Arizona must have authorized State collection tags. It is illegal to sell or purchase collected native plants without these tags. The tags are designed to show tampering, and should be intact when you purchase the plant. Plants collected from Texas do not need tags. Once planted, the tag can be removed, but should be kept to prove that your plant is not illegally collected. Purchase plants from reputable dealers and know their places of origin. Be wary of pickup truck and street corner vendors.

  • When to Transplant – Ocotillos can be transplanted from the wild at any time of the year. There does not seem to be a significant difference in the re-establishment rate of large and small plants. Plants can be also increased by burying cuttings until they root. In some areas, living fence enclosures are often created in this way. To increase the likelihood of survival, replant Ocotillos in the same season they were dug. Also, specimens which aren't permanently planted right away should be temporarily planted in dry sand, either upright or at an angle, or laying flat with sand covering the entire plant. Plants can withstand having their roots exposed for a month or more, although this can affect re-establishment.

  • Soil Drainage – Excellent drainage is needed. Ocotillos do not grow at the bottoms of most valleys for this reason. Make sure that the new planting location either drains well to begin with or is made to drain well by amending soil with sand and gravel or by using raised mounds. A large hole is not needed if the soil drains well naturally, but should be dug if heavy clay is encountered. Organic soil amendment is not needed.

  • Pre-Planting Watering – The planting hole should be wet. If dry, then fill with water and allow to drain before planting. Not only does this create a good environment for success, it allows you to double-check the drainage. The hole should drain completely within 2-3 hours. Line the pit with your favourite natural food supplement. The supplement should contain beneficial bacteria , such as Mycorrhizal. This will assist the roots in bringing nutrients to the plant from the ground. We put in a cup or so of our Wondersoil, which contains several natural beneficial ingredients, such as worm castings. Place the plant in the hole and back-fill with native or mineral-amended soil. Create a volcano-like depression, known as a watering basin, in 2-3 foot radius from the trunk. Water the plant thoroughly.

  • Guy Wire Staking – Larger plants may require stabilization until they root firmly. Use guy-wires connected to stakes in the ground, attached to main whips or limbs with an expandable, non-abrasive connector. Do not use a single stake, which may blow over with the plant in a strong wind.

  • Irrigation Systems – Ocotillos generally do not need automatic irrigation once established. They take water in through their canes as well as the roots. During the first year, especially during the hot summer, you'll want to spray the canes as often as you can (even once or twice a day in the hot dry deserts). You can attach a mister or micro-spray head to one of the canes for automation. On flowering size Ocotillos, you'll get flowers the first spring. But that does not mean it is established yet. The flowers are from energy stored prior to rescue. At some point within the first year, usually in the warm months, you'll need to see it leaf out for the first time in your landscape. That's a pretty good indicator that the Ocotillo will survive. You can then reduce your supplemental watering and eventually let it adapt to the local rainfall levels.

  • Root Establishment – Ocotillo is sometimes slow to re-root. Sometimes is takes two growing seasons. So watering diligence is important.

  • Feeding – We recommend using natural supplements that only need to be used once rather than manufactured fertilizers that have to be applied annually. Our Wondersoil wafers or bricks contain optimal ingredients that all plants like. Use it sparingly for cactus and Ocotillos.

  • Pests – The cultivated Ocotillo is not plagued by significant pests or diseases once established. You can contact your local county cooperative extension for help. Keep in mind that the Ocotillo is a drought sensitive and seasonal plant that drops its leaves in dry weather and winter. You can expect it to be leafless many times throughout the year.

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