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Like many Mojave gardeners, I have a couple of dwarf trees, plums and nectarines, for my own fruit in the late spring. As long as they receive enough moisture, they grow wonderfully well in the desert. They’re not altogether thrilled with our soil, what with the salt, and the boron and the lack of fertility, but as long as we address those few problems, they’ll grow.

We make sure to water the trees deeply, and not too often. That helps ease the difficulty of our saline soil, and establishes a nice deep root system. Adding compost is the best way to improve fertility, and it helps with the soil’s water holding and drainage. Then, putting a layer of mulch on the top slows down evaporation, keeps the temperatures a bit more moderate, and blocks weed seeds.

All of this is for the fruit! I truly don’t believe that there’s any place where the fruit’s quite so delicious. It’s definitely worth the effort.

This brings me to another issue. Birds. I have this love-hate thing with them. They amaze me. Imagine looking at the world from above. Flying from place to place in a fraction of the time it takes to walk. They’re so beautiful, even if we’re not looking at tropical parrots, just our local mockingbirds and finches.

Unfortunately, they’re really drawn to fruit. It’s something, how they can determine that a particular nectarine, ripening deep inside the tree, is exactly right for a nibble. I don’t think I’d mind if they’d just take the fruit with them, but as you might already know, they’ll simply peck and leave unappealing holes.  Except for the grapes. The mockingbird loves them, and eats them right up. I gave up growing grapes.

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Over the years, I’ve tried a few things to discourage them, some more successful than others. Forget about cats and dogs. Mine are only good for chasing birds off the ground. Useless in the trees. This year, I had good luck putting on bird netting, and hanging old cd’s and reflecting tape all over the garden. What a light show! I added wind chimes, because I had them. Who knows whether that had any bird-deterring effect, but it sounded nice in the evening.

I was able to harvest more unpecked fruit this spring and summer than any year so far. I did miss having the birds around, though.

However, they had not abandoned my bit of heaven! They found something else.

My outside yard is pure desert. Mojave and Sonoran plants exclusively, except for the big pot of aloe vera, which is from Africa. That you absolutely must have because - it’s a medicine chest in a single plant. Aside from the aloe, my desert plants are local.

Like my big nopal cactus. It’s a type of prickly pear, but this kind has no spines, and fewer glochids than a lot of others do. Many people use the pads (which are technically “cladodes”) as a vegetable. They have flowers in the spring, like many other plants. If those flowers are pollinated, they produce fruit.

Yes, cactuses are flowering and fruiting plants. The fruits are the round or oval bodies that grow on the perimeter of the cactus pad. The ones on nopales are called “tuna”. I’ve never eaten them.

Most of my cacti develop fruit in the summer, but until this year, no bird or other life form showed any interest in them at all. That changed when the intrepid mockingbird discovered tuna. I hadn’t been paying attention, until one morning, I looked out the kitchen window. There was a mockingbird sitting on the edge of a pad, pecking at the fruit. This wasn’t any halfhearted peck, either! She or he hollowed out first one fruit, then the next, then the next. Any that fell to the ground became food for the finches.

Now I’m happy to report that I will share fruit with the birds. As long as they can wait until late summer, that is.

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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