Mosquitoes are not only annoying, they can carry dreadful diseases. And yet, the time to enjoy our gardens in the Southwest summer is in the cool of evening – right when those pests are flying. To resolve this dilemma, plus help create an enjoyable evening space, PLUS a space that attracts night-flying mosquito-eating bats and birds (like the lesser nighthawk) – you can create a moon garden.
Create A Moon Garden
A moon garden can be fancy or simple. The idea is to add plants to your landscape that will increase your enjoyment of the space anytime after the sun goes down. The moon may not even be out! Just create a space to go outside, sit down, and let the cool air and slow pace of a desert night seep into your soul.
Night is a truly magical time during our Southwestern summers. As the blazing sun sinks below the horizon and the air begins to cool down, a number of desert plants open their flowers. Many also drench the night air with alluring fragrances, enticing the night-flying pollinators.
Plants for the Moon Garden
One plant that blooms at night is the Arizona State Wildflower, the saguaro cactus. Since planting a saguaro and waiting for it to bloom requires a lengthy time frame, let’s look at some other plants that you can plant now and enjoy this summer.
Datura is a summer annual wildflower that fills the night with a sweet and musky fragrance that attracts bats as well as the giant hummingbird moths to pollinate them. The plants have large dusky green leaves, and they appear to survive on rainfall alone, a real plus in my book. There are a number of species, including: Wright’s datura (Datura wrightii), desert thorn-apple (Datura discolor), and oakleaf datura (Datura quercifolia). These will grow in higher elevations.
Cacti of many shapes and sizes bloom at night, including the Arizona queen of the night (Peniocereus greggii). Look for the huge white blooms sometime in late May or June. A number of night-blooming cacti also provide edible fruit for us humans, including: serpent cactus (Peniocereus serpentinus), vanilla cactus (Selenicereus grandiflorus), harrisia (Harrisia martinii), Peruvian applecactus (Cereus peruvianus) and dragonfruit (Hylocereus undatus).
Moon gardens include plants with silvery leaves that gleam in the moonlight. In that vein, consider the aloysias. They bloom honey-sweet at night, and linger into the day, attracting butterflies. Related to lemon verbena, the vanilla-scented white bush (Aloysia lycioides) and oreganillo (Aloysia wrightii) both are native to the Sonoran Desert.
Start Small, Start Smart
In addition to plants, one of the most important components of a moon garden is a place to sit and enjoy your garden. Bench or chair, edge of the garden or center of it – there is no right or wrong; just make sure seating is comfortable.
There is no specific design for a moon garden. You can start small by adding a few night-blooming plants and some relaxing seating. As time goes by and you use your moon garden, add to it. Create a yard you can enjoy every day of the year, and all 24 hours of the day.
To learn more about keeping mosquitoes out of your garden consider our online course: Mosquito-Free Gardening: An Introduction.
More about Moon Gardens and plants for them is in Jacqueline’s book “Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada” (Cool Springs Press). Note – this link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we will get a few pennies.
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