Does the idea of having to venture outside, when temperatures are above 100 degrees, to care for your garden have you thinking twice? I must admit that there have been times when I have let the plants in my landscape fend for themselves in summer after setting the irrigation controller. But, there is often a price to pay afterward when you have to play catch up with extra pruning and other maintenance.
There are however many different plants that thrive in summer with little fuss allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your air-conditioned home while viewing your beautiful garden through the windows. Here are some of my favorite fuss-free plants for the summer garden.
Mexican honeysuckle has lush green foliage and produces tubular orange flowers throughout the entire year. They do best in filtered shade and attract hummingbirds. I like to plant them underneath trees such as mesquite or palo verde.
Learn more about Mexican honeysuckle.
Artichoke agave is highly prized for its rosette shape, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The blue-gray color and maroon edges add great color contrast to the garden when it is placed alongside plants with dark and light-green foliage.
Of course, these are but one species of agave that would make a delightful, fuss-free addition to the summer garden. I also recommend cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), smooth-edge agave (Agave desmettiana), and Victoria agave (Agave victoria–reginae) to name a few.
‘Summertime Blue’ is a delightful shrub that needs next to no maintenance throughout the year and decorates the garden with its bright green foliage and violet-blue flowers that appear spring through fall. It grows slowly but will reach approximately 6 feet tall and wide. If given enough room, it can go a year (or two) before needing pruning. While you may have to look around for a nursery that carries it, it’s well worth the effort. It is also usually found at the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales.
Lady’s Slipper is a uniquely shaped succulent with thornless stems that have a ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit that is more pronounced in light shade. The upright stems add a welcome vertical element to the landscape, and small orange flowers are produced off and on through spring and fall. They can be grown in containers or planted in the ground and do well in full sun or light shade.
Bush lantana is a familiar sight to many who live in arid climates like ours. This species of lantana is slightly different than the trailing gold and purple lantana. It has larger leaves, grows taller, and has multi-colored flowers that vary according to the variety. Bush lantana is a great choice for a colorful summer garden as they are seemingly heat-proof.
Totem Pole ‘Monstrosus’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’)
Totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ has become quite a popular addition to the desert garden and it’s easy to see why with its knobby shape. Another bonus is that they are almost always thornless, which makes them suitable for areas near entries or patios where a prickly cactus aren’t welcome. Plant in full sun in a row for a contemporary look or place next to a boulder for a more natural appearance.
Learn more about totem pole cactus.
‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas sage is well worth adding to your landscape for its lovely purple blossoms that appear off and on throughout the warm season, often in response to increased humidity. All species of Texas sage do well in summer and can be nearly maintenance-free if allowed enough room to reach their 8 foot tall and wide size as well as left to grow into their natural shape. This particular species blooms more than the more common ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage.
Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
Golden barrel cactus are wildly popular, and it is easy to see why with the globular shapes and yellow coloring. This cactus is quite versatile, able to grow in both sun and light shade. I like to use it in groups of three next to boulders or in a row. They also do well in containers planted singly or along with other succulents.
Learn more about golden barrel cactus.
Today as I was downloading photos from my phone, this one caught my eye. It is a picture of an artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) along with her babies. For some reason, it spoke to me about family relationships. Some of her tiniest children are venturing a bit too far like our kids do as toddlers when they walk into the street without any fear.
Some of her tiniest children are venturing a bit too far like our kids do as toddlers when they walk into the street without any fear. Then there are those slightly older babies who I like to describe as ‘tweens’ who still enjoy their mother’s protection while looking outward into the world.
Then there are those slightly older babies, nestled under their mother’s protective leaves, who I like to describe as ‘tweens’ who still enjoy their mother’s protection while looking out toward the wonders of the world.
The medium-sized agave baby is the teenager who enjoys the illusion of independence while still being attached to their mother by an underground root – kind of like relying on their parents for allowance, paying for their phone, and driving them where they need to go.
I especially love the largest of the babies and the relationship to its mother as it speaks of my relationship with my two oldest daughters. They are individuals, yet they enjoy being close to their mom and go to her for advice and even enjoy hanging out together.
Many species of agave propagate themselves by producing ‘pups’, which are attached to the parent plant by an underground stem. These new agave can be removed and replanted elsewhere in the landscape. It’s not hard to do and I wrote about how to do this, which you can read here.
Have you ever replanted an agave baby?
February is what I like to call a ‘bridge’ month. In regards to work, it is a transition month for me. It is the month between January, when work slows down as it’s cold with not much is growing and March, when the weather is delightfully warm and everybody seemingly wants to redo their landscape. If I could choose the perfect month in terms of work load, it would be February.
Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients whose landscape has been a work in progress. The backyard was finished last year and now, it was time to pay attention to the front. Of course, I took a few minutes to see how things were doing in the back and my attention was immediately drawn to this colorful container filled with colorful succulents. The orange stems of ‘Sticks on Fire’ Euphorbia adds welcome color to the garden throughout the year while elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra) trails down the side of the pot.
I am a strong proponent of using colorful pots filled with low-maintenance succulents in the garden. Why mess with flowering annuals if you can enjoy vibrant color without the high maintenance?
Full disclosure: I do have a couple of pots filled with petunias, but the vast majority are filled with succulents 😉
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is assisting my clients with their landscape dilemmas. Often, the solution is much simpler than the client imagined. Last fall, I visited this home which had a large, shallow depression that wass filled with dying agave. The interesting thing was that there was no obvious reason for its presence as no water drained into it. It definitely wasn’t what the client wanted in this high-profile area.
So what would be a good solution for this area? The client wanted to plant a large saguaro cactus in this area, but didn’t want to add a lot of plants. My recommendation was to get rid of the dying agave and turn the depression into an attractive feature of the garden.
This is what it looks like now. Filling the area with rip-rap rock, adds both a texture and color contrasting element to the landscape. Well-placed boulders with a century plant (Agave americana), Mexican fence post (Stenocereus marginatus), and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) help to break up the large expanse of the shallow depression with their spiky and globular shapes. Finally, a saguaro cactus was added, which stands sentinel over this renovated area.
One would never imagine that this part of landcape hadn’t been planned this way when it was first planted years ago.
Lastly, February is all about Valentine’s Day. I sent my granddaughter a care package filled with goodies for Valentine’s Day. Dinosaur cards for her classmates, a little craft, a hanging mobile, stickers, and of course chocolates – all with a Valentine theme.
For me, Valentine’s day comes with mostly great memories. As a child, I looked forward to handing out Valentines to my classmates and getting them in return. During teenage years, there was one particularly memorable one when I was 17 years old. My boyfriend didn’t get me anything, however, another boy gave me a card and a flower, which was some consulation. And to finish off that infamous Valentine’s Day, I came down the chicken pox that very day. Guess who also got the chicken pox? The boyfriend who forgot Valentine’s Day. Now, I look forward spending the 14th with the main man in my life, who after 31 years, still makes me feel special.
*What do you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
The appearance of a package in my mailbox always brightens my day. Sometimes, it is the latest garden product that a company wants me to try out, or new plants to try out in my garden. But, this small box contained three small items that I had long been waiting for.
For those of you who have followed my blog for awhile, you know that agave are my favorite type of succulent. I love the beauty of their fleshy leaves arranged in rosette patterns with their pointy tips and finely toothed edges.
My friend and fellow blogger, Pam Penick, also knows how much I love agave. So, when her whale’s tongue agave (named ‘Moby’, after the book Moby Dick) flowered earlier this year in her Austin, Texas garden, she kindly gifted me with three of Moby’s offspring.
The three baby agave, which arrived a week ago, came from an agave that is well known throughout the garden blogger community. Pam’s agave was the focal point of her backyard and appeared in many of her blog posts.
I must admit that I fell in love with whale’s tongue agave after seeing ‘Moby’. The leaves of this agave has a unique shape with a concave dip that makes the leaves resemble the tongue of a whale. I would often stop and take pictures whenever I saw one while working and began to incorporate into my landscape designs.
Pam began to chronicle the beginning of the end of Moby’s life as it began to flower and at the end, she harvested the tiny bulbils (agave babies) from the flowering stalk.
I was so honored when she emailed me to tell me that she had reserved three little ‘Moby Juniors’ for me. I’ve been anxiously awaiting their arrival and now they are finally here!
Right now, they are re-hydrating for a day or two until I get organized and get them planted. I have a few spots in mind for them in the garden. While they can grow in full sun in Texas, whale’s tongue agave does best in filtered shade or morning sun in Arizona gardens. I’ll probably plant them underneath the shade of my palo verde trees.
I am so grateful for this special gift of agave and look forward to seeing the beauty of three Moby Juniors grace my Arizona garden.
|Victoria Agave ‘Compacta’|
|Agave parryi ‘truncata’|
|Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)|
|A trio of variegated agave|
|‘Blue Elf’ Aloe|
|Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale|
|My husband and daughter checking out the young saguaro cacti.|
|The price for a 1 ft. high Totem Pole cactus was $48.|
Now, you may think that I am talking about soft, cuddly puppies finding a new home. But, I am actually talking about my agave pups. The word ‘pups’ refers to the small agave offsets that sometimes form from the adult agave.
Some agave species produce quite a few pups, while other species rarely do. I do try to stay from agave species like Agave americana because they produce so many pups that it becomes quite a maintenance chore to constantly remove them all. But that being said, I have many friends and clients who just love this particular agave.
|Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)|
Our society usually doesn’t equate beauty with age. Instead, we celebrate youthful beauty and spend our money on trying to stay looking younger than our years. Thankfully, in the world of plants, maturity is something to be celebrated.
|Cow’s Horn Agave (Agave bovicornuta)|
|Agave ‘Durango Delight’ (Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’)|
Some agave leaves have filaments along the edges. Most agave end with a sharp terminal spine, which should be taken into consideration when you decide where to plant them. You do not want them in high traffic areas where people can be pricked, (believe me, it hurts).
|Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata)|
Because agave store water inside their leaves – their leaves are thick and succulent. Some of my favorite agave species are Artichoke Agave, Mescal Ceniza, and Victoria Agave.
|Century Plant (Agave americana)|
There are between 200 – 250 different species of agave, in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Some of my favorite features of agave are how beautiful they are with their leaf shapes and imprints. Secondly, their low-maintenance and drought-tolerance also make them a favorite in my garden.
|Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)|
Agave is amazing plants, and I am a huge fan. There is much more information to cover, which I will address in a future post. But, I will answer the most common question that I am asked about agave, “No, they do not live for 100 years.” You may be surprised at the real answer…
This beautiful Saguaro was one of the first cacti that greeted me on my walk.
The first skeleton I came across was from a Saguaro cactus; part of it still standing upright. You can see where top part of the skeleton has fallen to the ground.
Here it is close up. The decay is till present as you can see inside. The woody remains of the saguaro are called ‘ribs’ and are what supports the Saguaro cactus.
Above, is a photo of a Saguaro that had just fallen. You can easily see the ribs. Whenever a Saguaro cactus would fall in a landscape setting, we would move it to an out of the way area where it could decay. Then we would take the ribs and put them back into the landscape as a display. Saguaro ribs are considered a beautiful accent in the desert landscape and are prized by many.
Native Americans used Saguaro ‘ribs’ to build roofs, walls and even furniture. Another use was that they would make long poles that they used to knock off the Saguaro fruit, which is edible.
Saguaro are not the only types of cacti that leave behind skeletons….
Teddy Bear Cholla (above), also has an interesting skeleton.
Above, is a photo of a segment of Teddy Bear Cholla that is in the process of decaying. You can see the woody skeleton starting to show.
It is illegal to remove Saguaro and Cholla skeletons from the desert, unless you have permission from the owner. Specimens can sometimes be purchased at certain plant nurseries that specialize in cacti.
So do as I do…..enjoy them out in the desert and take lots of photos.
|Agave macroacantha with ‘Firesticks’|
Let’s talk a little about how to care for cacti and succulents.
|Silver Spurge (Gopher Plant)|
Agave, cactus, yuccas, as well as other succulent plants, can continue to be planted during this month. Warm soil temperatures are necessary for succulents to grow and they do best when planted during the warm season.
Contrary to popular opinion, newly planted succulent plants need to be watered in order to become established and grow a healthy root system.
Established cacti appreciate some supplemental water during the summer months, (especially this summer with our non-existent monsoon). I typically water large cacti with a garden hose about once a month in the summer unless we have had a lot of rain.
|Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’|
Some cacti and agave plants may show signs of yellowing in the summer. This is usually due to high temperatures. Be sure to give them some supplemental water if you notice the yellowing. Usually, the yellow color disappears once temperatures cool down in the fall.