Joshua trees and ocotillos are probably best planted outdoors only in the arid and semi-arid warm regions of the western and southwestern United States. The geographical area covered under this definition is extensive, although it still represents a minority portion of the US as a whole. We can with fair confidence recommend planting in the ground in an area stretching from the chaparral zones of central California and the San Francisco Bay Area (although the cool and foggy coastal climates can be a bit questionable) up through Las Vegas and even up to Reno, Nevada, as well as St. George, Utah, over to about Albuquerque, New Mexico, and over to West Texas (especially El Paso to the Pecos River) and possibly as far east as Austin or San Antonio if attention is paid to proper drainage in the wetter and more humid parts of central and southern Texas.
If you live outside of those areas, it is probably possible to make Joshuas and ocotillos survive in specially protected outdoor microclimates as far north as California's northern Central Valley; Moab, Utah; Grand Junction, Colorado; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Amarillo and Dallas, Texas, but be forewarned that it would be a gamble some extra-cold years. We have seen Joshua trees successfully overwinter in climates as cold as Boulder and Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Boise, Idaho; and Wenatchee, Washington. But it should be mentioned that the plants are well outside of their normal ranges in those areas and need to be treated carefully during Arctic cold snaps (this might mean covering them with thick blankets or other insulation on sub-zero nights) for the best chances of success.
Almost all succulent plants and cacti are well-suited to pot culture in any climate if the pot is moved outdoors in the spring and back indoors during the few coldest and wettest months of winter and early spring. We will be happy to offer any information we can to assist you in growing these interesting and charismatic plants in any climate.
Joshua trees in nurseries tend to be priced between $100 and $400 for the most commonly sized trees. We have loosely defined a "typical" sized tree for homeowner and landscaping purposes as being about 5 to 6 feet tall with two or three branches on it. A Joshua tree of this so-called "typical" size is going to cost about $150 to $175, with prices going upwards or downwards from there depending upon the actual size and quality of the tree, including the number of branches it has. It is impractical or impossible 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 that large, we recommend a visit to D:FR and picking one up and taking it back home yourself. Many people have done this with us and it is not difficult to arrange in most cases. Alternately, it has on more than one occasion worked out that we were making a trip to a given area (almost always somewhere in the west or southwest) anyway and were able to drop off larger trees to a buyer via direct delivery, so sometimes things just work out well in that regard.
We can ship smaller trees within the United States up to about 3 or maybe 4 feet tall. Trees like this usually have only one bottlebrush-like stem, or perhaps two very short branches that are just getting started but will lengthen with time and age. Depending upon the size, a single-stemmed tree like this usually costs about $75 to $100, although freight needs to be added on top of this and is expensive for such a large and bulky plant. We have learned that FedEx Ground is usually the best shipping option in terms of speed, guaranteed arrival, and overall expense, but even then it usually costs between $50 and $70 to send a 3- to 4-foot tall Joshua tree. The variability in price of course depends strongly upon your location as well as the size of the tree. Smaller plants cost less for both the plant as well as the S&H, but will not have the branches that offer Joshua trees so much of their character at such a juvenile size.
It is possible to ship plants internationally, although there is some significant expense involved with regard to shipping. It is not uncommon for the S&H via USPS Priority Mail to actually exceed the cost of the plant itself. (USPS is the cheap option, too.) We cannot be repsonsible for any additional fees, taxes, or permits required by the customs and import authorities in your country, so be aware of these issues before you buy.
Ocotillos range in price from $25 to $150. Smaller plants tend to be about 2 to 3 feet tall, with 4 to 8 arms, costing about $35 to $50. Very large plants might be 12 to 14 feet tall, have 30 to 40 canes, and cost $250 to $300. Middle range plants are the most typically used in landscapes. Once again, we have defined a "typical" homeowner/landscaping sized plants as being about 8 to 9 feet tall with somewhere from 12 to 20 canes. Plants like these go for about $125.
One good reason to get an ocotillo plant (or a Joshua tree) from us is that they are fresh. We usually dig to order as opposed to keeping them laying about in the nursery for weeks or months on end before selling them. Since plants like ocotillos and Joshua trees 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 with the roots exposed to the baking sun and drying wind. At best they might be 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 we guarantee they are at D:FR.
Another thing we do here with the ocotillos is to dig them with a good root system. All too often, the people (usually Average Joe types who don’t actually have any botanical awareness or common sense on how to treat these plants for best viability) who dig the plants initially for sale to nurseries will lop off all the ocotillo’s roots to six-inch-long stubs that are barely able to support the tree physically as well as metabolically. This makes ocotillos easier to handle, and semi trucks are seen leaving West Texas with ocotillos stacked to the roof like so much cordwood. The problem for the final homeowner is that the plants have no roots left to either support themselves in the wind or to absorb water with, and at least 50% if not more than 70% of the plants will end up dying. Believe us and your own common sense when we say that an inexpensive $35 rootless ocotillo from the local Home Depot is no bargain if it dies. Even if it recovers, it will be three to seven years before the plants start to grow normally again.
To expand upon the problem with ocotillos with no roots and the recovery problems they will face, in order 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 plant that usually is never exposed to damp soil. This underscores the importance of getting ocotillos with a good root system.
When digging a larger ocotillo we aim to preserve at least 18 - 24 inches of length to each of the three to five main roots. By doing so we find that the survivability jumps about 90%, if not more, and that the plants often leaf out within three to six weeks (in the warm growing season) and put on new growth within a year. Much better odds. If you don’t get a plant from us, at least look for one with the best odds of survival. Ask to see the roots before you buy, and ask how long ago they were dug and how long they have been in the nursery. If you feel that you can trust the answers as reliable and see the roots being of appropriate size for the plant then you can consider buying with fair confidence that your new plant will recover.
Here is a 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 ain’t 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 that there is still hope.
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 to two weeks ago, then your chances of success will be significantly improved. We here at D:FR typically do not sell trees that were dug longer ago 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-to-gravelly, 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 plant’s 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 are therefore adapted to such soils.
If you are so inclined, 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, won't hurt.