Monday, October 20, 2014

A Giveaway Just in Time for Fall: Troy-Bilt JET Gas Leaf Blower

After a long, hot and wet summer, I am so thankful that fall has finally arrived in the desert Southwest.

For many people, autumn brings to mind brightly colored foliage that later falls to the ground and has to be raked, or if you are lucky - cleaned up using your leaf blower.

As a member of Troy-Bilt's Saturday 6, I am fortunate in being able to test a variety of their products in my own garden.


Recently, I was was very excited to test one of their newest garden tools - the TB2MB JET Gas Leaf Blower.

Now, I must admit that autumn leaves do not make an appearance in my garden for the simple reason that I have no deciduous trees.  However, I do get a lot of use out of my regular leaf blower, which I use throughout the year for the following tasks:

- Cleaning up fallen leaves after I have finished pruning my shrubs.

- Getting rid of dirt and small rocks that are lodged in the small cracks in my patio and driveway.

- Moving leaf debris toward the base of shrubs and trees where it can serve as mulch.


Adding leaves to my compost bin.
- Gathering up excess leaf litter and putting it in my compost pile.

- Cleaning up after monsoon storms when my neighbor's leaves blow into my garden ;-)

As a horticulturist (and homeowner), I have used my share of different leaf blowers, so I was excited to see how Troy-Bilt's newest hand-held, leaf blower did in my own garden.


After taking it out of the box, all of the pieces fit together and after looking at it, I thought that this was probably the 'coolest' looking leaf blower I'd ever seen with its aerodynamic lines.

But, looks are one thing - I took it out into the garden to see how well it worked.


I first used the blower to direct the leaf debris toward the base of my new orange tree, where they will serve as mulch and improve the soil as the leaves break down.  


Then, I moved to my driveway and patio to clean out the dirty seams and small rocks.


On a different day, I used it to clean the rock in my garden and direct the leaves toward the base of my flowering shrubs, which will appreciate the mulch.


Here are my observations after using Troy-Bilt's Jet Gas Leaf Blower:

- It was not too heavy to hold.

- Using the pull-start was easy, but the blower can also be started using Troy-Bilt's Jump Start Engine Starter tool.

- The air flow was more focused than other blowers that I have used, making it easier to direct the leaves.  It moved most of the small rocks in the seams in the driveway and cleaned out much of the dirt.

- The handle was comfortable and I really liked the cruise control option, which locked in the air speed.

- It cleaned the debris from my gravel without moving too much of my gravel with it.

- My husband, (who I must admit uses a leaf blower more often than I do), wanted me to mention that he likes that the intake of the Jet Gas Leaf Blower is not on the bottom.  Some leaf blowers do have the intake on the bottom, which can inadvertently suck up small pieces of gravel.


I must admit that I like using leaf blowers and I was having so much fun with Troy-Bilt's newest leaf blower, that I actually enjoyed cleaning my garden.

If you want to learn more about Troy-Bilt's most powerful handheld leaf blower, they created a video, which shows how it works.

**So, would you like to have one of these in your own garage or garden shed?  The folks at Troy-Bilt are giving one away to one of you!

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment.
 For an extra entry, follow me on Facebook Twitter and/or Google+ and be sure to let me know when you leave a comment.
(Be sure to leave your email address if it's not on your profile, or I won't have any way to contact you.)

I will pick a random entry on Monday, October 27th.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Drive-Thru Landscaping: The Good and The Mostly Bad

Do you ever find yourself pulling into the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant?

I do.

Lately, I have been very busy with landscape consults as well as working on a large golf course re-landscaping project, which have resulted in more than my share of visits to the local drive-thru.  Add to that my preparations for a local craft fair in November (along with my sister and mom where I am making basil salt, seed bombs and air plants mounted on creosote roots), preparations for an upcoming family reunion as well as hosting my daughter's baby shower - we will probably be making quite a few more visits to the drive-thru.

Normally, drive-thru restaurants are places where you can see examples of poor design showcasing overplanted and over pruned shrubs that are too large for the narrow landscape spaces by the drive-thru lane.  However, I was truly surprised during one trip through at my local fast food restaurant.

First, let's look at the landscaping you normally find as you visit the drive-thru...



Over pruned feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisioides)
These shrubs would actually work well in this space if you reduced the amount down to three and allowed them to grow to their natural size and form...

Feathery cassia in bloom

Do you think that those overpruned shrubs ever have any flowers appearing in late winter and spring, like this one?

I didn't think so.


In the Southwest, the types of shrubs that you are most likely to see growing along drive-thru landscapes are oleander and Texas sage species.  

Lately, Valentine bush, which is one of my favorite shrubs, has also been showing up more often in these areas.  

Again, the problem is too many plants in not enough space.  Couple that with the compulsive need to strip the natural beauty from these beautiful, flowering shrubs in an attempt to create anonymous green shapes and you have the perfect scenario for drive-thru landscapes.

With so many bad examples of landscaping while visiting the drive-thru, I must admit that I've become somewhat de-sensitized and purposely ignore it.

However, a recent visit to the drive-thru made me take a second look as I drove past this...


Notice anything different?

The plants actually fit into this space and without over pruning!

There is room for the bougainvillea against the wall to grow and while the lantana could use a little more room - it is looking great too.  

What I really liked about this landscape was the use of banana yucca.  Its leaves added great spiky texture and the flowers are just lovely.

*I did notice the overpruned dwarf oleanders in the background, but I'm ignoring them.

Using fewer shrubs and allowing them room to grow is a great start to rethinking the drive-thru landscape.  

The next important part is to stop the frequent pruning of flowering shrubs.

I'd love to see a mix of shrubs and succulents in drive-thru landscapes for more interest, less maintenance and that is more water efficient.

For now, I will keep trying to keep my eyes open for another great example of a drive-thru landscape.


But, I think it may be awhile...

***************************

For other examples of drive-thru landscapes, click here.

If you have shrubs that resemble this and would like to have beautiful shrubs with a pleasing natural shape that actually flowers as well as see some other examples of bad pruning - click here for some of my favorite pruning posts.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blue Palo Verde Decorates the Landscape

Do you like palo verde trees?



I must confess that I fell in love with these iconic desert trees with their green trunks and yellow flowers when I moved to Arizona 28 years ago.

Some people may resent the mess that the fallen flowers leave behind in late spring, but I don't mind - they look like a carpet of yellow.

Blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) are on my 'fuss-free' list of trees that add beauty to the arid landscape.

How about you?  Do you like blue palo verde trees?

Want to learn more about this desert beauty?  Check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.com:



Monday, October 6, 2014

Golden Barrel Cacti - So Many Uses

Do you like cactus?

I find that even people who aren't huge fans of cacti, tend to like make an exception for golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii).  


I think one of the reasons for its popularity is because of its globular shape and yellow spines.


Another reason may be that golden barrel cacti are extremely versatile in the landscape.  Whether you prefer a contemporary landscape with golden barrels planted in neat, orderly rows or in a more natural grouping - they can be used both ways.


I like to place golden barrel cacti next to boulders, where their round shapes and sunny color provide great contrast.


These popular cacti are native to the desert Southwest and can be grown outdoors in zones 9 and above.  However, larger specimens have been known to handle temperatures in the teens.

In colder regions, they can be planted in containers and brought inside in winter.


If you look closely at a golden barrel's spines, you'll notice how they criss-cross each other, forming an interesting geometric pattern.  

You can probably guess one of the spines purposes - to provide protection from predators who may want to eat them.

However, there is another, somewhat surprising way that the spines help the cactus, which you read here:





The care for golden barrels is quite simple.  They do best in well-drained, native desert soil in full sun to filtered shade.

Although they start out small, mature specimens can reach 3 feet tall and wide.  However, they can take years to reach that size, so they are often planted in much smaller areas and later replaced.

Now for the big question - how much water do they need?  Established golden barrels can get by with existing rainfall, but will grow faster and look their best with they recieve a deep watering once a month May through August.  The rest of the year, they should be fine with existing rainfall.

Earlier today, I mentioned on my azplantlady facebook page that I had seen golden barrel cacti growing in a very unusual place.


Well as promised, here is the answer:

I came across this cluster of golden barrel cacti growing in Michigan!

To be precise, they were located in a greenhouse at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, which I visited back in June.  I was looking forward to visiting these beautiful gardens and seeing examples of plants that grow in more temperate climates, so I was quite surprised to come across a plant from home.

So, even if you live in a climate that experiences frigid winter temperatures - you can grow golden barrels....inside.

How about you?  Do you have golden barrel cacti growing in your landscape?  Do you like seeing them in a more formal setting or a natural one such as when planted next to a boulder?


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