Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Creating a Hummingbird Container Garden

Does the idea of attracting hummingbirds to your outdoor space appeal to you?  

It's hard to find anyone who wouldn't welcome these colorful visitors.

The best way to attract hummingbirds is to have a garden filled with their favorite nectar plants, but what if you don't have a garden space or any room for additional plants?  

What can you do to attract hummingbirds besides hanging out a hummingbird feeder?

Create your own hummingbird container garden!

Imagine a pot filled with one or more plants that are irresistible to hummingbirds.  A container takes up little room and enables you to attract hummingbirds to your garden whether your outdoor space is an acre or a small apartment balcony.

Hummingbirds always seem to be flitting around my garden and they love to perch up high in my cascalote tree.

I recently set out to create three different hummingbird container gardens in my backyard.

The reason that I decided to do this was that I was asked by the Hummingbird Society to be a speaker at the Sedona Hummingbird Festival this summer.  The topic of my presentation will be teaching people how to create their own hummingbird container garden.  So, I thought that it would be a fun project to create my own.

Many people rely solely on hummingbird feeders to attract hummers because they don't have enough garden space.  My hope is that I can show them that they can have a mini-hummingbird garden despite their limited space.

I must admit, that I love it when I have to buy plants for a project.  So, I headed out to the Desert Botanical Garden's spring plant sale.  

I had a wish list of nine plants that I wanted to use and I was thrilled to find them all.

The pots that I decided to use were repurposed.  They used to be located next to my vegetable garden where I would plant a mixture of herbs, vegetables and flowers in them.

The problem was that my 7-month-old puppy, Polly, kept eating the edible plants out of them.  So I decided to use them for non-edible plants in hopes that she would leave them alone.

I had bought the pots 3 years ago - they were on sale at Walmart for $5 each.  I had painted them using spray paint that was suitable for use on plastic.  

For my portable hummingbird garden, I moved the pots to an area that receives filtered shade underneath my 'Desert Museum' palo verde tree.  I also gave them a new coat of paint to freshen up the colors.

To add height and definition, I raised the orange pot by placing it on some leftover step stones.

Each container was to have 3 different plants.  I had some fun deciding on the combinations for each pot.

For the orange container, I decided to plant a succulent mini lady's slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus), Mexican fire (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) and Waverly sage (Salvia 'Waverly').

I confess that I have never grown any of these plants in this container before, which makes this project even more fun.  

While I have grown the regular-sized lady's slipper I didn't know there was a mini variety until I saw it at the sale and I knew that I just had to have it - it would be a perfect size for a container.  (One thing that I love about the Desert Botanical Garden's plant sales is that you can often find unusual or rare types of plants).

Mexican fire will bloom spring through fall, producing red flowers.  I don't have any experience growing this shrub at all, so this project will be a learning experience. 

The salvia, 'Waverley' sage, has white and lavender flowers, which are beautiful.  Like most salvias, it will do best in filtered shade in the desert.

Polly is checking out what we were doing.

My son, Kai, was excited to help out with the project.  He decided that the orange pot would be his so he wanted to add the plants himself.

Next up was my purple pot.  In it went Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana), Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and red autumn sage (Salvia greggii).

Blue Bells is a relatively new plant on the scene and this Australian native flowers all year long and has evergreen foliage.  I have used it a lot in recent designs but this is the first one in my own garden.

Autumn sage has always been a favorite of mine - especially in areas with filtered shade where their red flowers will decorate the landscape fall through spring.

Mexican honeysuckle had been my go-to choice for shady areas where its bright green leaves and orange flowers look great all year.  After 17 years as a horticulturist, there is finally one in my landscape.

The blue pot contains a newer plant variety, an unknown and an old favorite. 

Sierra Star (Calliandra 'Sierra Star'), garnet sage (Salvia chiapensis) and purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) made up the last trio.

Sierra Star is a hybrid with two famous parents - pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) and Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica).  It blooms throughout the year, producing reddish-pink flowers.  I have used in several new designs and am so excited to have it in my garden.

Garnet sage is another salvia that I am looking forward to learning more about.  It has lovely magenta flowers and attractive foliage.  

Some people may be surprised to learn that purple trailing lantana attracts hummingbirds, but you'll find it on most hummingbird plant lists and I've seen them feed from lantana before.  

As with all container plantings, I used a high-quality planting mix.

As I stepped back to admire my work,

Unfortunately, someone else decided to come and admire my hard work too.

I admit that I haven't had much trouble with dogs eating my plants until Polly and her sister Penny came along.

My hope is that after she gets used to them, the newness will wear off and she will learn to ignore them.

Until then, we put up a temporary barrier.

Thankfully, the barrier won't keep the hummingbirds away.  In my experience, it takes a few days for them to notice new plants (and hummingbird feeders).

I'll keep you updated as to how my hummingbird container does and will take photos along the way that I can use in my upcoming presentation.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Made in the Shade: Gray-Foliage and Spiky Plants

Do you visit your local botanical garden?

I try to make it to my local garden at least 2 - 3 times a year, which just happens to be the world-renown, Desert Botanical Garden.

Last week, I visited twice - once for their spring  plant sale and again with my kids.  Spring break is a great time to visit when the garden is in full bloom.  The kids were excited to go, so we made the 30 minute trip.

I must admit that they were getting a little cabin fever over their spring break.  The problem is that spring is my busiest time of year for landscape consultations (spring for a horticulturist is like tax season for an accountant), so we can't go out of town.  So, we try to carve out outings throughout the week.

The kids enjoy visiting the garden and one thing that we like about visiting the garden several times a year, is that it never looks the same.  Each season brings a different look as different plants take center stage as they flower or show off their foliage.

One part of the garden that really caught my eye was a bed filled with plants with gray foliage interspersed with spiky plants.

As you can see, there are layers of plants in this area, most of which have fine-textured, gray foliage.  They are interspersed with greener spiky succulents for a great color and texture contrast.

In this area, the garden enjoyed filtered shade from a Texas honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), including the aloe vera in the background.

The feathery foliage of artemisia 'Powis Castle' filled the back spaces of the garden.  This is a great choice for gray-blue color in the garden.  It appreciates filtered shade in the Arizona desert.

The spiky plants in the center are two young yucca  - I'm not sure of the species (I must confess that I'm not a fan of yucca, but I'm in the minority).  Young yucca are often mistaken for agave.

At the base of the yucca was moss verbena (Glandularia tenuisecta formerly Verbena tenuisecta).  I love the carefree nature of this trailing ground cover with its purple flowers and bright green foliage.

The next section of the garden was filled with Caribbean agave (Agave angustifolia 'Marginata'), lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) and the small black-spined agave (Agave macroacantha) in the front.

Along the side of this garden bed were Agave ocahui, which is a nice small agave that looks great in this staggered arrangement.

These were just a few of the beautiful plants that have gray-toned foliage that we saw that day.  Introducing the plants with shades of gray that range from green to blue tones of gray, create a cooling effect and contrast nicely with the darker greens in the landscape.

Next time we will look at some of my favorite plants with shades of gray.


For now, I need to get my 3 youngest kids ready for school, which starts tomorrow.  Just 2 more months until summer!

On another note, my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, returns to work after 2 months off for maternity leave.  I remember how hard it was to go back to work after she was born - especially those first 2 weeks.  

Rachele and baby Eric are back on her Navy base and I can't wait to go and visit them in a few weeks!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Plant Disease: Oleander Leaf Scorch

Love them or hate them, oleanders have a firm foothold in the desert landscape where they are usually seen creating living green 'walls' in order to provide privacy.  

Their popularity is due in large part to several characteristics:

- Their evergreen foliage provides the rich, dark green color that many miss living in the desert.

- Oleanders are easy to grow, with little to no fertilizer and are drought tolerant once established.

- They add beauty to the landscape spring through fall with their flowers.

While the popularity of oleanders is still holding on, there is a fatal disease that affects them that has made its way from California and is now being seen increasingly in Arizona.

Oleander leaf scorch (Xylella fastidiosa) is a bacterial disease that plugs up the vascular system of affected oleanders, eventually making the movement of water throughout the plant impossible over time.

This disease is spread by flying insects, called sharpshooters.   These small insects (1/4 inch long) become carriers of the disease when they feed upon an infected oleander.  Thereafter, they spread it to every other oleander they feed upon.

Oleanders in Southern California were first diagnosed with the diease in the early 90's and it was just a matter of time before it spread to Arizona.  

Advanced stages of oleander leaf scorch

Oleander leaf scorch was first diagnosed in Arizona in 2004.  Its spread has been slow, but inexorable.  

I have seen several cases of this disease during landscape consultations, including one that I did yesterday.

The homeowner had a very large oleander hedge that was over 20 years old, which provided privacy from his neighbors.

What may look like some browing leaves in this small branch is one of the classic symptoms of oleander leaf scorch.

Oleander leaf scorch

Close up, you can see the brown, outer leaf margins, which is characteristic of oleander leaf scorch.  (Not to be confused with drought symptoms, which cause discoloration of the middle of the leaf).

As we continued to walk along the row of oleanders, the infected oleanders were interspersed between healthy ones.  The reason for this is that the nature of flying insects is that they hop from one plant to another, but not necessarily the next plant - they may fly 3 shrubs away before feeding again or to the next yard or block.

Symptoms of oleander leaf scorch

This oleander showed another type of browning symptom of oleander leaf scorch with the tips looking 'scorched'.  

It's important to note that salt burn resulting from drought or shallow irrigation can cause similar symptoms as shown in the photo below:

Drought-stressed oleander leaves

Note the middle of the oleander leaf is affected in the case of drought stress.  While unsightly, the oleander pictured above, does NOT show signs of oleander leaf scorch.

Initial signs of oleander leaf scorch.

Back to the oleanders showing signs of oleander leaf scorch - by looking closely at seemingly healthy oleanders, I could see the beginning of symptoms with lighter green alongside darker leaves.  The signs of the disease don't show up all at once in the beginning.  Often, it starts out with a branch here and there showing signs initially that will gradually progress throughout the entire plant.

It's important to note that once an oleander has been infected with this disease, the entire plant has it - not just the branches that initially show the first signs.

Lower leaves showing the beginning symptoms of oleander leaf scorch.

So, what is the treatment for oleander leaf scorch? Sadly, there is no cure and it will eventually kill oleanders over a 3 - 5 year period once infected.

Some experts recommend pruning out affected branches to improve the appearance of infected oleander shrubs for the short term.  But, they will die.

I recommend removing infected oleanders right way to help keep the disease from spreading.  

Personally, I have seen the disease affecting large, old oleanders in North Central Phoenix and in the Arcadia area.  It's simply a matter of time before I will see it in outlying areas.  

Initial signs of oleander leaf scorch

Consult with an expert if you suspect that your oleanders are infected.  Problems with irrigation, nutrient deficiency and salt burn can mimic some of the symptoms of oleander leaf scorch and a horticulturist or other landscape expert can help you rule out other causes.  Ultimately,
positive identification of oleander leaf scorch can only be made by a lab tests through your local cooperative extension office.

Can you can simply get rid of infected oleanders and start over with new ones?  The anwer is, "no".  The reason for this is that the disease is already present in the local sharpshooter insect population and it is only a matter of time before the infect your new oleander shrubs.

I recommend using hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) as an alternative to oleanders.  It is evergreen, recommended for use near pools, makes a great hedge, is drought tolerant and attractive.

For more information on oleander leaf scorch, you may want to check out the following links:


I hope your day is off to a great start!  I'm off to the Desert Botanical Garden's spring plant sale.  I just hope my car has enough room to fit all the plants I will want to buy :-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Badly Pruned Trees OR How Not to Prune Trees

I have a love affair with trees.

It's true.  I love their beautiful branch architecture, foliage and the dappled shade that they provide.  Living in the desert Southwest, shade is a valuable commodity with the relief it offers from the intense sun and cool temperatures it offers.

For all these reasons and more, I can't fathom why people would prune their trees like this, stripping them of all their beauty and much of their function.

The phrase that comes to mind when seeing something like this is badly pruned trees or how 'not' to prune trees.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many trees in this parking lot that have fallen prey to terrible pruning practices.

As a certified arborist, I see many bad examples of pruning, but I can honestly say that the trees in this parking lot are the worst.

Years ago, my husband and I used to live next to the area in Scottsdale and the appalling pruning that was done to the trees was well known by me.  

 On this lovely day, the kids and I were on our way home from the Desert Botanical Garden when we drove past this shopping plaza.  I quickly made a detour to see if anything had changed.  

Sadly, they hadn't.  So, I took out my camera and started taking photos.

See if you can guess what each badly tree is:





Feel free to leave your answers in the comments section.  After guessing, click here for the answers with examples of what the trees should look like when properly maintained.  

Needless to say, you don't need to know what type of trees they are to realize that they have been 'butchered'.


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