Cal Hightower

Cal Hightower went to some elaborate means to prop up a stately saguaro cactus in Ahwatukee that had been getting too much water.

A magnificent saguaro cactus has been saved from a catastrophic fall that would have ended its life – a life estimated to be between 250 to 300 years. It appears to be about 20 feet tall and has five huge arms.

Located on the northwest side of Chandler Boulevard and 28th Street in Ahwatukee, it looked like it was going to fall as it leaned ever closer to the street. 

The Saguaro takes its time growing. It only grows at the rate of 12 inches every 10 years. 

 When the rains come, it absorbs water down the thousands of thorns into the main trunk, taking in 60 percent moisture. The barbs are arranged in vertical rows that deliver every last drop of rain water inside the cactus. It sheds some thorns once every 100 years, and grows new ones.

 This information came from the expert who saved the one on Chandler Boulevard. Cal Hightower, who has been a custom cactus and native plant landscaper dealing with saguaros for the last 50 years, said the problem was that it had had too much water.

“This one got excessive amounts because two irrigation emitters in front of it blew off and water was freely flowing for months, maybe even years,” he said. “And it’s gotten too big, too fast. The saguaro doesn’t need an assist from landscaping irrigation systems. It’s survived just fine for thousands of years getting water from Mother Nature’s rainfall.”

I asked what he could do.

“This one needs to be dropped down into the ground another foot or two because its top heavy and those arms are all on the same side.”

 “I customized my truck a long time ago to handle saguaros. I built a 20-foot-long wooden cradle with side wings, top and bottom. The cradle is mounted on top of a metal frame with a heavy-duty motor that rotates forward and moves up and down. I lined the cradle with carpet so the needles would rest in-between the carpet fibers helping to prevent it from rolling around.” 

“You can only dig out around the base so much to loosen it, then I have to pull it up and out. I backed the truck up, wedged it into position around the existing landscape, and moved the cradle parallel to the cactus. I wrapped four nylon straps around the cradle and saguaro… That stabilizes it while I dig out around the base. After it’s dug out, the motor can slowly pull the heavy cactus up. Now I can finish digging down another two to three feet for this guy and get it ready to transplant it deeper.”   

“The next thing is to lower the saguaro into the deeper hole and fill in with quarter minus granite and dirt to keep it upright and in place, I built a support girdle around it with five, two by fours and two straps to keep it in place.”

I wondered how long the support frame needs to stay in position.

“It will be necessary to stay like that for eight months to a year until it can be reestablished in the ground.” 

The morale of the story is, don’t over water your saguaro. 

Cal Hightower can be reached at 623-434-5106. 

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