The dragon fire of summer

Posted: September 28th, 2018 | Featured, Features | No Comments

By Nancy Johnson | La Mesa Beautiful

In summer, I like to sip margaritas and watch our gardens grow. But unfortunately, there has been a dragon in my yard for most of the summer seriously getting in the way of my relaxation mojo. That dragon was a long heat wave.

At first, that dragon just spit his fire in general gusts all over my husband and I as we began xeriscaping in the hottest months of summer. He burned our skin, gave us blisters, and sent heat into our knees and backs. He was there laughing as we dug out 50 feet of grass, sifted rocks, clay and weeds out of said clumps, and then shoveled huge mounds of dirt into small mountain ranges all over the front yard. He settled down on the mountain ranges each evening and waited for us to limp out the following day.

A dragon fruit cactus in bloom (Courtesy Nancy Johnson)

My husband built a large plant bed all along our front porch and then we moved one of the mountains into the bed. We used picks, shovels, rakes, and even a roto-tiller. We shoveled sifted dirt into two more plant beds and hired a contractor to build a brick walkway between the beds. We sweat and drank water and sweat some more. The dust of our work stuck to our sunscreen, until our entire bodies looked as if we had been breathed on by a you-know-what.

The good news is we eventually began to plant. I want to talk about some new plants we added, and one very old knightly plant that brought us a different kind of dragon fire.


As one would expect in the summer, sunflowers still bloom in the fiery days of August and September. I bought five 3-foot-high plants for the new plant bed in front of the porch because I sorely needed some joy and some watching. I watched and enjoyed for a couple of weeks, and then began to notice that many buds on the plants were no longer blooming.

Tip: Little gray/white moths like to hide their eggs in the buds before the flower blooms. The baby critters that hatch are tiny green worms that eat the leaves and the buds, so overnight the flowers stop blooming — and the plant looks like our dragon gave a tiny exhale and burnt the tips of all the leaves. If your buds and leaves begin to look unhealthy, spray with a friendly insecticide and they will start to bloom again.

Dragon fruit cactus (Hylocereus undatus)

This scraggly cactus plant represents everything good about dragons. We planted him several years ago, and he’s limped along like old knights do. I had ignored him, giving him a bit of water with the rest of the plants, but really thinking, “What an ugly little fellow.”

I had other dragons to fight. He had never bloomed before, but as if knowing that I needed a more passionate kind of fire, he lit up one night with a huge, white bloom. In the morning, I was greeted by the knight’s fiery bloom, and the dragon was nowhere to be found.

Tip: If you create a wooden stand for this plant, you can train it to grow high (as high as 33 feet!), and then it will grow over the top of the stand, billowing fiery blossoms and flowers — and passion dragon fruit if you’re lucky.

—Nancy Johnson writes on behalf of La Mesa Beautiful, of which she is a member.

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