The Saguaro cactus is found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert which stretches from Mexico, into Arizona, and parts of southern California. As a resident of Tucson, chances are you may have a saguaro in your own backyard. However, many homeowners are often confused about how to care for them, or the laws protecting saguaros.
As an arborist owned company, we would like to address some of the important questions frequently asked by our customers:
Q: I just noticed that a big woodpecker made a large hole in my Saguaro cactus! Will the cactus survive? It is a beautiful part of our landscape, and I want to protect it.
A: Having a saguaro cactus in the landscape is a point of pride for residents in our region – including our family! They are truly majestic and awe-inspiring, a symbol of the quiet beauty of the desert. It is perfectly normal for nesting holes (called boots) to be pecked into the saguaro by Gila woodpeckers. They shouldn’t hurt your prized cactus at all. Your saguaro will form a hard layer around the edge of the cavity, which protects the soft interior of the cactus. When the woodpecker family is finished with the nest, you may find that other birds will move in, such as owls or sparrows. I’ve personally seen saguaros that looked like high-rise apartments! As long as your saguaro is otherwise healthy, it should be perfectly fine.
Q: What kind of “services” can you do with a Saguaro? I heard that it’s illegal to do anything to a Saguaro.
A: According to the Arizona Department of Agriculture, as a landowner, you have the right to destroy or remove any plant on your land, including saguaros. As professionals, we are also allowed to move a saguaro, but only if it stays on the same property, and can be done safely. We are allowed to trim without a permit if something is breaking off or leaning. Oftentimes, because of lean or rot, the only thing that can be done is to remove it. If you or any of your friends or neighbors have a problem with a saguaro, we would be happy to give you an estimate.
Interesting Saguaro Facts
- Saguaros can live to be over 100 years old, and some may be close to 200! It can take 60 to 100 years for the first “arms” to appear.
- Saguaros grow extremely slow. A 10-year-old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall, but a mature cactus can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall.
- In late spring saguaros begin to produce large, white flowers (Arizona’s state flower) that grow around the tops of the plant and its arms. These flowers produce a purple, edible fruit that has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years.
- When you look at your saguaro, you will notice vertical “pleats” or “ridges”. These ridges expand as water is absorbed, and contract when water is depleted. After the saguaro dies, the woody ribs that form the cactus can be used as wood to build roofs, fences, parts of furniture, and decorative items.
- When the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3,200-4,800 pounds!
- Saguaro roots are typically only about 4-6 inches deep, but they radiate out as far as the plant is tall. There is one deep root, called a taproot, that can extend down into the ground more than 2 feet.
- The saguaro uses it’s stored water in times of drought. It is also possible for the saguaro to store more water than it can safely hold and sometimes they split open.
- 2 common reasons that saguaros die are a disease called “soft rot”, and overwatering. Protect your saguaro by ensuring it does not get more water than it actually needs. A good way to test this is to squeeze the tissue of one of the ribs of the plant between the thumb and forefinger. If the tissue is soft, the cactus could use a good watering, but if it is hard, it has sufficient water stored.
- Saguaros do not need fertilization. They do just fine with what nature provides. They have the ability to survive without assistance in harsh conditions.