Downsizing Is A Good Thing – But Not Always….

Arizona Yellow Bells

Well anyone who knows me well, would definitely have a hard time believing that I actually wrote a title like this one.

For those of you who may not know me personally….I will let you in on a secret – I love getting a good deal and living simply.  My mother (Pastor Farmer) is very good at this as was her mother, so I guess it is in my DNA.  I love shopping sales and coming home with items that normally would have cost much more.

When I quit my full-time job as a landscape designer, we had to make some cuts to our household budget which was a challenge that I actually enjoyed, especially at the grocery store.  My daughter Ruthie is always asking me how much I saved each week at our local grocery store.  I think she is on her way to becoming a saver as well.

I am also a huge proponent on saving money in the garden as well and it is really not difficult to do while still having a beautiful garden.  Now you would expect that the best way to save $ in the garden is by downsizing and you would be partly right.  You can definitely save money by downsizing, but it does not always save you money.

I am going to share with you a great way to add beauty to your garden, decrease your maintenance and save money.  It is really so simple that I hope you are inspired to try this in your own garden.

Okay, are you ready?  All you need to do is to purchase shrubs that will grow to a large size.  You may be asking, is that all?  YES!  

Many shrubs will grow to a large size, which takes up space in the garden.  The more space covered equals fewer plants needed.  Large shrubs also are great at covering up bare walls, hiding pool equipment / air-conditioning units while adding beauty, particularly if you select a flowering shrub.

Add beauty to your garden

Add beauty to your garden

My Arizona Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans) shrub easily grows to 7 ft tall and wide.  Mine covers approximately 30 sq. ft. of area in my garden while providing beautiful flowers 9 months out of the year.  It also helps to cover up my bare wall.

Want more examples?

Add beauty to your garden

Add beauty to your garden

This is a ‘Torch Glow’ Bougainvillea that I placed along my father-in-law’s back garden wall.  Paired with two others, their unique branching habit along with their bright colors really provided a great focal point.

Now people either love or hate Oleanders (Nerium oleander).  For the average garden, I do NOT recommend planting the large varieties.  But, the dwarf forms of Oleanders do grow to a good size and can reach heights of 6 ft.  Since Oleanders are so easy to grow, many people have them in their gardens.

Add beauty to your garden

Add beauty to your garden

So, if you would like to include some in your garden, I recommend trying a red flowered variety since most Dwarf Oleanders seen in landscapes are the pink and salmon colors.  (Be aware that all parts of Oleanders are poisonous).

When you talk to newcomers to the desert southwest, they often ask about the beautiful large shrubs with orange/red flowers are planted along the freeways.  

Add beauty to your garden

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is beautiful in the summer landscape and as you can see, hides a bare wall very well.  Maintenance in my zone 8b area is very simple – just prune back to 1 ft. in January and they will soon grow back to 6 ft. high in the summer months.  **Another helpful tip to help prolong bloom – prune back lightly (by 1/4) in August to extend the bloom period throughout October and early November.

Baja Fairy Duster

I just love the unique flowers of Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica), so do hummingbirds.  I love both the beauty and low maintenance of these shrubs.  Please do not prune them into ‘balls’…..they are so beautiful in their natural form 🙂

If you prefer more green then flowers, then the following shrubs may be more to your taste….


Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa)

Photinia fraseri

You could easily put 5 small shrubs along with 3 groundcovers in this area….where just 2 Photinia (Photinia fraseri) fit very well in the area above.

Many of you may be surprised to find out that many of the shrubs you already have in your own garden can grow quite a bit larger then you let them.  The solution to the problem is quite easy…..stop over pruning them and let them grow.  The alternative is to plant multiple shrubs in a given space and as they grow,  you are forced to keep pruning them back to keep them from crowding each other.

Add beauty to your garden

Well how about buying a single 1-gallon shrub (you don’t need to spend extra for a 5-gallon) and give it space to grow?  You will be rewarded with more $ in your pocket, a large beautiful shrub and fewer plants to prune and maintain.

Yes, your new 1-gallon Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) will look scrawny – but not for long….

Texas Sage

Other suggestions for shrubs that will grow large:

Littleleaf Cordia  (Cordia parvifolia)

Orange Jubilee  (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’)

Pink Beauty  (Eremophila laanii)Feathery Cassia  (Senna artemisioides)

Chaparral Sage  (Salvia clevelandii)

You may be wondering where my next post on our trip to the east coast will come.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure if they were becoming somewhat boring – especially for those who read my blog for gardening topics.  So, I thought that I had better write a gardening post.  I promise that I will write more about our trip  – our visit to Amish country was just fabulous.

Have a great week everyone!

Yellow Bells and Little Hands….

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."
19 replies
  1. Hocking Hills Gardener
    Hocking Hills Gardener says:

    Hi Noelle. What beautiful blooming shrubs. I wish I had room for some more of them. I grew two Yellow Bells from seed and I am hoping they will survive our winters here. Your is so pretty. I love that 'Torch Glow' Bougainvillea. What a wonderful shape it has. Oleanders are so pretty and the sage is gorgeous. So many pretties!

  2. Desert Dweller
    Desert Dweller says:

    I think the Phoenix freeways are proof positive of doing more with less – fewer but larger plants, spaced further apart for freeway speeds. You always make great points many areas can learn from.

    I enjoy your eastern trip posts too…one of my sisters lives in Amish Country, and it IS incredible.

  3. Elephant's Eye
    Elephant's Eye says:

    Amish, yes please. They have always fascinated me, but I won't get to see them. When I worked at the library in Zurich I corresponded with an Amish scholar working on early printed Bibles.

    We have a purple Dodonea, planted to cover the wall, and it has ;>)

  4. The Violet Fern
    The Violet Fern says:

    Such great shrubs! Love that Red Bird of Paradise! I have planned to incorporate more shrubs into my borders for the birds as well as for less maintenance. My dinky little shrubs have grown a great deal in just a year or two – exciting. You're right, shrubs are more for less!

  5. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    I'm always impressed at how vibrant your desert plants are. The other advantage of planting a 1 gallon plant, as we discovered, is you don't have to dig as large a hole! Not a problem if you have loam, but our last garden was clay, which in the heat of summer became rock hard and more akin to concrete than dirt! I loved planting, but loathed digging!

  6. Ami
    Ami says:

    You have listed lots of beautiful shrubs. I face an opposite problem, I try to resist introducing more shrubs into my tiny garden since they do take lots of space! But I do like to buy anything cost less than normal. Everytime I go to Lowes, I check their clearance rack, so that I can buy some sad looking plants in small price, and save them with my care 🙂

  7. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    I wish I could grow some of those here! I've started adding more shrubs for the same reason. It's hard to be patient with the 1 gallon size shrubs, but it's fun to think about how small some of my now huge shrubs were when I first planted them. I usually buy most of mine as 1 gallon because the bigger ones can get really expensive.

  8. Kristine
    Kristine says:

    I'll definitely be using this advice! We have almost an acre that we're working with and landscaping can be so expensive!!! We're starting with the front (a little over 1/4 acre) and it's been a huge task. The back is the largest, so I'm going to bookmark this post so that I can refer back to these larger plants in the future!

  9. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Your plants all look so beautiful, healthy and happy, they don't seem to starve from any requirements. That's a good suggestion for people living in your areas who have large areas to garden.

  10. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Hi Noelle!
    I haven't been here in a while but you are still writing your beautiful posts. Love all these shrub suggestions. I bought a double oleander several years ago and hauled it back and forth to the basement during the winters until I noticed it wasn't being visited by any insects. After that, I let it frost but I've missed it ever since!
    Your idea of planting shrubs and letting them get large to cover a lot of space is a great one. I've sort of done the opposite ~ tried to squish so many different varieties into a small space. Not sure that's working for me like yours.
    That 'torch glow' bougainvillea and the Texas Sage are gorgeous.
    ps It's starting to get cold again now so I'll be wishing I was living in AZ soon!!

  11. Jan (Thanks For Today)
    Jan (Thanks For Today) says:

    Hi Noelle, hope you're doing well! (Hey, that rhymes! Am I silly, or what?!). Anyway, I love all of those bushes and shrubs! Most I've never seen in person as they don't grow here. How beautiful they look. I love buying gallon size shrubs because I can plant them myself by not having to work so hard with the digging! And I can sneak things into the garden that way, without having to ask my husband to dig a hole for me;-) It may take just a little longer for them to grow taller and wider, but it definitely is a time and money saver–as well as back & body saver;-)

  12. Annelie
    Annelie says:

    Just love the picture of the Hopbush planted with the cactus in that corner. Right up my alley (but probably not in a MA alley:) )


  13. Darla
    Darla says:

    Gorgeous shrubs here. Great advice and I am curious to read about Amish Country, I have always found the Amish to be quite interesting.

  14. debsgarden
    debsgarden says:

    I am a huge fan of flowering shrubs! You have featured some beautiful ones. My large garden would be impossible to maintain without large shrubs. Because of budget, I always buy small and wait for them to grow. Smaller plants are also easier to plant and adapt to the climate more easily.

  15. Rose
    Rose says:

    Great tips, Noelle. I'm planning to add more shrubs to my newest garden area; not only do they take up more space, but I realized they're much more low-maintenance than most annuals and perennials. I just wish I could grow a Baja Fairy Duster here!

  16. Southwest Cottage Designs
    Southwest Cottage Designs says:

    Great idea to plant shrubs! I love all of yours shown. My husband and I have started planting oleanders although I'm not sure if they are the dwarf kind or not. I've just planted a couple of pyracanthas, too. Both grow well in our high desert area.

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