“Plant As I Say…..NOT As I Do”

Desert Museum Palo Verde tree

Tuesday was a beautiful, sunny day and the kids were home on spring break.  It was a perfect time to go outside and plant three new plants that I purchased from the amazing nursery at “The Living Desert“.  Did you really think I could leave that wonderful place and NOT buy any plants?

I had just the place to put them.  It was a rather bare area between my Desert Museum Palo Verde tree and my Bougainvillea, which has just been pruned back.

Desert Museum Palo Verde

My daughter is proudly displaying our new plants, below.

spring break

We are planting a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) and 2 Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’).  

Warm days make my son eager to take his shirt off whenever possible, although it was only in the low 70’s.

spring break

The first step was to rake back the gravel (rock) with enough room to place the dirt pile on top of the bare dirt and not mix it up with the gravel.  Then we started digging.

*We bought a set of kid-sized gardening tools over 16 years ago when my oldest daughter was 10 years old.  They have lasted a long time and now our youngest children are using them.  I recommend kid-sized tools for your kids to use which will make gardening much easier for them and increase their enjoyment.

clay soil

Look what we dug up….

Many people are surprised that not all deserts are made up of sand.  I know I was when I first moved here.  We actually have clay soil in our area while the deserts in California are mostly sand.


Okay, back to planting – I taught my son how to check that the hole is at the proper depth by putting the plant, (while still in the pot), into the prepared hole.  The top of the pot should reach the the top of the hole.  Take the pot back out and adjust the hole if needed.


He placed his hand around the plant and carefully turned it upside down over the hole and worked off the container with his free hand – I helped him with this part.


He placed the plant in the hole and filled it in with the remaining soil.

*I typically do not amend the soil for desert-adapted shrubs because they are well adapted to soils with little organic matter.  But you can always add compost if you like.


Press the soil around the new plant and then recover with the gravel if needed.

Plants grow very quickly in our climate, so tiny, straggly looking plants will not look that way for long.

Note about the small clumps of dirt in the photo above – I’m not the neatest gardener and seldom create a large enough gravel-free area in which to dig a hole, so there is always some mixing of the soil and gravel.

spring break

We had two more plants to install and my older daughter decided to help us out.

Okay, the following is what NOT to do, but I confess that I often do.


To save your back, do not use a child’s shovel.  It was convenient and so I used it, but a larger shovel is much more comfortable to use.

I didn’t realize how color coordinated I was with the shovel, which was totally unintentional – I am not a slave to fashion to that degree ๐Ÿ˜‰

carefully press

When you dig holes and carefully press the soil around newly installed plants….it is best not to wear flip-flops.  I don’t have much of a defense for this one but here it is – I am from California and grew up going barefoot or wearing sandals for much of the year.  I don’t wear them in the winter because my feet get really cold.   I was so excited to be able to wear them this week and did not want to take them off to put on my gardening boots.  

If you look closely, I have a ladybug painted on my toes to celebrate the coming of spring, which really has nothing to do with this post ๐Ÿ˜‰

**By the way, a kind reader pointed out that I did not state if we watered the plants in afterward.  Probably one of the most important part about planting and I left it out of my post.  We did water the plants well after planting.  Thank you Edith for bringing it to my attention.

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
25 replies
  1. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    I just love the pictures of your children helping you. My grandkids used to garden with me,,,when we lived close.The love of gardening has rubbed off on one of them.
    I have a friend who recently moved to the Southwest. She and her husband are choosing trees and shrubs. I sent her to your blog. Your posts should be helpful to them.

  2. Ami
    Ami says:

    Noelle: You really give me the inspiration to get kids involved in the garden, and your kids are obviousely love the gardening!!! All of your kids look very happy and cute! Maybe I should try the same in the upcoming spring break (next week), so that they won't be watching TV or playing the video games the whole time.

    I also often wear sandles in the garden, and then of course found my feet got real dirty to not able to get into the house without cleaning first ๐Ÿ™‚ Wonder how you can keep your feet that clean doing the gardening ?! Love the ladybug on your toe nail!

  3. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    I love seeing your children's smiling faces in the garden! I have clearly done something wrong, for, though my children have often helped in the garden, I'm certain they consider it the cruelest type of hard labor! More grumbling than smiles here. Wait…I think it is cruel, hard labor as well. Your smiling photos remind me of my aunt, who always gardened in white shorts and a spring-colored blouse, finished off with coordinating sandals and a cute little hat. And she never looked dirty. Somehow, her garden was always perfect as well. Hmmm…I've got to figure out how to master this craft! (Still reeling from the hours we spent trimming and weeding the garden yesterday.)

  4. FlowerLady
    FlowerLady says:

    What a wonderful spring post Noelle. Great to see your kids youngest to the oldest helping. You do not look old enough to be your oldest daughters mother, you look like sisters.

    I love how your son lovingly is planting his plant.

    Your ladybug painted toes are cute too. I wear flip flops a lot, but mostly slip on keds when working outside. These days my bare feet do not like stepping on uneven, or sharp little objects. Inside I'm always barefoot.

    I love the trunk/limbs of your Desert Museum Palo Verde tree.

    Happy Spring ~ Happy Gardening,


  5. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, This was such fun sharing with your children the planting of your new shrubs. Your son very obviously takes it all very seriously and is clearly a great help to you.

    One thing I did notice, your toe nails apart [lol], was that you did not appear to water in the new plants after planting. This seemed strange to me as it is something I would nearly always do in Britain. Maybe it is, as you mention, these shrubs have already adapted to desert conditions.

  6. Darla
    Darla says:

    This is an adorable post…boys love to ditch their shirts whenever possible, a trait they never outgrow. Gardening in flip flops is so not a good thing…it caused me to run to the doc for a tetanus shot for dropping shears on my toe…..love the ladybug on your toenails, mine are decorated as well, lol…..

  7. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    I am laughing about you using the children's shovel. I honestly just did that about an hour ago moving a small huckleberry bush. I was too lazy to find a real one.
    You have such helpful kids. Think of how much they already know about gardening, probably more than most adults.

  8. Christine B.
    Christine B. says:

    You set a high bar as regards coordinating ones outfit with gardening paraphanelia! But really, I must take exception with the apologetic bit about "only low 70's": that's a hot day in midsummer for us here in
    Anchorage! Some (horrid) years we never even get past 70F…perhaps you could waft some of those warm breezes northward.

    Christine in Alaska

  9. gippslandgardener
    gippslandgardener says:

    I've already learnt so much from reading your posts Noelle and I love how you write. You can pass on so much useful information without ever for a moment making anyone feel talked 'down' to. Seeing you gardening in flip flops with a children's shovel just adds to that sense. Gorgeous!

  10. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    How wonderful that your children already seem to enjoy gardening. I love your choice of new plants, especially the Gaura Siskiyou Pink, I grew that at our last house. It would bloom in the most oppressive heat when little else would, and the flowers are so pretty swaying in the breeze. I can't wait to see yours in bloom!

  11. LC
    LC says:

    There's nothing like gardening with the kids and grandkids… it doesn't happen as much as it used to, but I treasure it when it does! LC

  12. Carol
    Carol says:

    Noelle, I think it is so sweet that your children are so into gardening and helping you out! They are developing an important attachment to nature! I was amazed to see you planting in flip flops and just felt so jealous of how easy it must be to dig your holes! I usually try to fill the hole with water before I place the plant in and then after it is all planted… then the roots are encourage to grown down towards the moisture. I would guess you do that too! ;>)

  13. Gail
    Gail says:

    Noelle, You need to get flip flop socks; then you can wear them year round! I found them on line at a surf shop in California~

    How cool to see your children planting…this is how we grow gardeners! Your son looks like he totally knows what to do~


  14. lostlandscape (James)
    lostlandscape (James) says:

    I'm so glad to see all the help you're getting in the garden. I wouldn't have the love for the outdoors that I do if my parents hadn't instilled it in me. I hope the cleveland sage does well for you. We have it wild in the little urban canyon behind the house, though it's less common than on the hot interior hillsides. It's great when it blooms and oh the great smell of its leaves!

  15. noel
    noel says:

    aloha noelle,

    what a wonderful and seeing your children really take part of a family event and enjoying it…how amazing is that! sounds like two good choices for plants in that hot environment facing a cement wall, it will be huge soon!

  16. Bernie
    Bernie says:

    Great post … it's such a joy to see the next generation excited about gardening!

    As for the flip-flops (we call them 'thongs' … yes I know the connotations!)… they are my everyday gardening feet attire.

    Here in the tropics we try to stay as cool as possible and gardening in great big clod-hoppers is not a choice I've ever made! Gardening in flip-flops did not appear unusual to me.

  17. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Late as usual in getting to visit your blog – but I had to tell you how much I enjoyed the detailed instructions – carefully followed by your crew of helpers – in how to plant your new purchases! Seriously, a learning experience for everyone, and how nice that your children enjoy learning about plants and how to care for them properly (I should be so lucky).

  18. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    HAHAHAHAH!!! Noelle, you've got me in stitches! Too bad we don't live closer…I'm convinced we'd be the best of friends!! First, your tree looks amazing to me. Very awesome color and texture. Second, your children are so very sweet…so proud to show off the plants and to garden like a man! Also, admittedly, I seldom amend the soil. I figure, if the plant can't handle its situation, it doesn't belong in my landscape. I just don't have time. I'm also not a high maintenance girl..you seem like a very down-to-earth, get it done kind of girl, similar to me. But the "girlie" side emerges occasionally as witnessed by your well-maintained toes…great pedicure, my friend! And I noticed the ladybugs way before you mentioned them in your post. ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, great trick to determine if the hole is right for the plant…I always check the depth AFTER I take the plant out of the pot…your idea of leaving the plant in the pot as you measure is simply genious! Finally, your eldest daughter is a doll…I can't believe you're old enough to have a full grown daughter! Amazing! You age ever so gracefully!!

  19. jeansgarden
    jeansgarden says:

    Noelle, I'm going to introduce you to the Maine way of wearing sandals, so that you can keep wearing them when the weather gets cold. (First, you'll need some sandals without the piece between your toes; flip-flops won't work for this strategy — no matter how well color-coordinated they are with your garden tools!) As the weather gets a bit nippy, you add some socks beneath your sandals; and as the weather gets colder, the socks should get progressively thicker and warmer. This strategy allows you to wear sandals until it snows and you have to switch to boots. ๐Ÿ˜‰ -Jean

  20. John
    John says:

    That's great to take the time to work with the kids in the garden. The dividends will come down the road years from now when they show you around their gardens…

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