Two Tucson nurseries that rock—and rain!

I’m happy to report that the two Tucson nurseries I visited today more than made up for the largely disappointing experience I had in Phoenix yesterday. That means I’m ending 2014 on a high note as far as plants go!


Picacho Peak 45 miles north of Tucson right off I-10

Stop #1 was at Bach’s Cactus Nursery (8602 North Thornydale Rd., Tucson, AZ 85742; 520-744-3333). I’d first visited it on my December 2013 trip on what had been a warm and sunny day.


Today the weather was quite different. It had been raining early in the morning when I’d left Phoenix, and while the storm hadn’t quite made it to Tucson yet (about 120 miles to the south), the sky was looking quite menacing. Everywhere I went on the nursery grounds I saw scenes like these:




The low tonight is expected to hit the 32°F mark, and tomorrow night is supposed to be even colder.

Winter protection aside, I couldn’t help but be enthralled by the huge selection of fantastic succulents. Oh, to live here and start a desert garden from scratch!

The Yucca rostrata in the next photo were perfect. Unfortunately, all Bach’s had were large sizes, no 5 gallons (sorry, Candy). The smallest specimen was 40” in height, and there was no way I was going to be able to squeeze it into my car.


I’d sworn I wouldn’t photograph any more golden barrel cactus, but once again I couldn’t resist. They might be most common cactus on the face of the earth, but there’s a reason for that. They are beautiful.


Check out the petrified wood, too!


Inside one of the greenhouses, they grow them by the hundreds right in the ground

More vignettes from the nursery grounds:


Saguaros growing in the ground


I think the wrapped tree is an Aloidendron dichotomum (Aloe dichotoma)


1-gallon cactus for $10 each


Inside one of the two retail greenhouses

I ended up buying a few things for myself (a yellow-flowering Hesperaloe parviflora and an Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’) as well as some plants for the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society raffle table. The selection at Bach’s is huge, and the prices are reasonable. Highly recommended!

Stop #2 was at Arid Lands Greenhouses out on the southwestern edge of Tucson (3560 W. Bilby Rd., Tucson, AZ 85746; 520-883-9404). While Bach’s caters to local customers, Arid Lands is one of the premier mail-order succulent nurseries in the country. For serious collectors, virtually no other business can match the breadth of their offerings.

If you’ve never heard of Arid Lands, read this page on their website and then check out their online catalog. Many more plants will be added in the weeks and months to come. While Bob was giving me a tour, his wife Toni Yocum and nursery co-manager Susan Quashne were busy doing inventory. It must be incredibly difficult to keep track of 90,000 plants that are for sale, and another 10,000 stock plants used for propagation!




Walking up to the greenhouses

I will have a separate post about Arid Lands with more details. Here are just a few impressions.


Inside the new greenhouse. These are mostly aloes and agaves, with smaller cacti in the outside rows.


So many plants!


Even more plants! Multiply that by, oh, a factor of 20 and you get the idea.


Adeniums galore


One of Arid Lands’ specialties are sansevierias. I think they’ll be the next hot thing, especially if something writes a definitely guide on the genus (Bob, care to take a stab at it?). This one was one of my favorites, Sansevieria pinguicola. I meant to pick one up but forgot.

141231_Tucson_AridLands_Euphorbia virosa

Arid Lands carries hundreds of Euphorbia species, including some that Bob says haven’t even been formally described yet. The plants in the photo above are similar to Euphorbia virosa but different enough to potentially be described as a new species.


Aloe sabaea in the propagation area. It’s surrounded by netting to prevent hummingbirds that might enter the greenhouse from cross-pollinating it with other flowering aloes in the vicinity, thereby ensuring that the seeds will be 100% Aloe sabaea.


Aloe longistyla, a small aloe that has one of the largest inflorescences in relation to the size of the plant. Another one I should have picked up!


Aloe erinacea, highly sought after by collectors, expensive, and very challenging to grow

After Bob Webb had shown me around, I spent a good hour walking through the greenhouses, picking up a few things for myself and even more plants for the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society February raffle. I should have taken even more time but I can always order what I forgot from their web site.

It turns out that Arid Lands is less than 5 miles from one of the most beautiful churches in Arizona, Mission San Xavier del Bac, lovingly nicknamed “the White Dove of the Desert.” I was going to visit on New Year’s day, but since I was that close, I decided to head over there today. The sky had turned gray and menacing, which made for a great photo:


Unfortunately, almost as soon as I stepped out of the car, it started to rain. Which also made for an interesting photo—but from inside my car.


I took a few photos of the mission grounds, which is nicely planted with cactus and agaves. I’ll feature them in a separate post.

This is my last post of 2014. Thank you for following my blog so faithfully. See you on the other side, in 2015!


2014 Desert Trip index


  1. The last photo looks spooky, like a still from Walking Dead intro. Glad to hear that these nurseries made up for an earlier disappointment and wishing you a Happy New Year!

    1. Walking Dead! Yes, I see what you mean. But San Xavier del Bac is a much more serene place than anything you're likely to see on The Walking Dead :-).

  2. Wonderful. I must get back there and go to Arid Lands--missed it on my last trip. I agree about the Sans--Thais appear to be doing amazing hybridizing with them.

    Now I have to go read about your Phoenix disappointment. Hopefully the rest of your trip is great.

    1. Fantastic trip overall. I saw plenty of new things and revisited a few old favorites.

  3. Oh yes, Arid Lands Greenhouses is going on my list for the next time we're in Tucson. And of course I'll have to return to Bach's, that place is so wonderful! As for that sansevieria I would have put money on that photo being of an agave, how cool.

    1. I was initially drawn to that Sansevieria pinguicola because it looked so much like an agave. There is a lot in sanseviera land that was new to me.

  4. Gerhard, I am wondering if the paper cups placed on top of the cactus is good enough to protect the plant from frost? Did you by any chance have any conversation with the owner about that?

    1. That does seem to do the trick, especially when it's just a few degrees below freezing. The goal is to protect the growing points. I saw lots of styrofoam cups, plastic nursery containers and even bird and pet food bags used as protection at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

  5. So glad you found a fantastic nursery. I have heard of the paper cup idea and actually tried it a couple of years ago on a cactus I planted in front. Alas it still froze. Thanks for looking for me.

    1. Everybody seems to be using Styrofoam cups to protect cacti. Check out my latest post. It must seem to work for them. I don't have any first-hand experience, unfortunately.

      I've resigned myself to waiting for my (small) Yucca rostrata to get bigger. Larger specimens are sooooo expensive because it's such a slow-growing plant.


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