Holiday Lights for the Southwest

Light is miraculous. Life on Earth as we know it would not be possible without light. This season many different religions celebrate both spiritual and physical light and do so with light. Lots of light. Strings and stands of shining light. While festooning your home and landscape with light is a wonderful way to celebrate the season, here in the Southwest some caution is needed.

First, some of our Southwestern plants can be harmed by holiday lights, especially cacti and palm trees. Dr. Mark Dimmitt, former Director of Natural History at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona explains that all cacti, including the stately saguaro, have a very special system for photosynthesis in the arid desert which saves as much water as possible. They start photosynthesis in the light of day, wait, and in the dark of night, they open their pores, release water, and make the sugars they need for life. Dimmitt says, “Holiday lights wrapping cacti and left on all night could slowly starve them to death.”

Palms and plants of tropical origins are also threatened by holiday lights Dimmitt notes. Palm trunks are ok to light, but avoid lights in the crown, the top leafy part. Palms are encouraged by the extra light to send out new leaves too early in the year. Dimmitt says, “Frosts can kill any new foliage that appears too early. If the palm is already weakened, because of drought or other stress, this can lead to it’s death.” Dimmitt notes that a number of other frost sensitive tropical sub-tropical and desert plants, such as yellow bells, bird of paradise, Texas olive and desert willow can also be affected.

The solution to these two problems is easy. Turn off the holiday lights by midnight and only use them during the holiday season! Simple things so that you and your yard can have a happy holiday season, this year and for years to come.

If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures. Check the events page for locations and times. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada (Cool Springs Press, $26).  Note this link will take you to Amazon and if you buy the book I get a few pennies.

© Article is copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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