What do you do when you spot aphids on your plants?

Do you reach for the nearest bottle of insecticide? Spray them off with a hose or remove them with your fingers?  

Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing.

So, is this something I learned in school? No. I figured it out by observing the plants in my first garden.

 
I remembered this early lesson when I passed by a severely pruned oleander shrub in front of my favorite bagel shop.  
 
The oleanders were growing back nicely. However, there were yellow aphids on the young leaves.
 
Years ago, my oleander shrubs had an infestation of yellow aphids like this, and I was anxious to get rid of them. Really, this is our first reaction when we see bugs on our plants – we want them gone.
 
I had several methods at my disposal – insecticidal soap, a strong jet of water or my fingers – all of which, would help get rid of most of the aphids. But, life got in the way, and I didn’t have a chance to get out to treat my shrubs until about ten days later.  
 
Can you guess what I found?  Not a single aphid.  I didn’t have to do a thing, and the aphids were gone, and my shrubs look great.
 
So, what happened to the aphids?
 
When harmful insect pests first appear, it can take a week or two before their natural predators follow. In the case of aphids, lacewing and ladybugs showed up and ate the aphids.  
 
Plants are tougher than we give them credit for and can handle a certain amount of insect pests without any adverse effects.  
 
So, when I come back in a couple of weeks to the same bagel shop, I expect to see no aphids in sight and a healthy oleander shrub.
The lesson here is that you don’t need to freak out when you see aphids as the normal cycle of nature will take care of them. However, you can step in to get rid of them if you see adverse effects on plants such as wilting, smaller blooms, or discoloration.

No matter where you live, you will see the same shrubs being used over and over again in countless landscapes. While the shrubs may be attractive, their overuse throughout neighborhoods creates a boring appearance because they are so common.

 

In California, Nevada, and Arizona, oleanders have held a prominent spot in the landscape for years. Their popularity is due to their lush evergreen foliage, ability to withstand intense heat, and their pretty flowers.

However, their overuse in many areas makes their beauty less impactful and frankly, almost forgettable.

 At a recent conference, this point was put quite succinctly by the head of horticulture for Disneyland who said,

“When things are expected (in the landscape), they become less powerful and impactful”.

His statement sums up what happens when we use the same plants over and over.

In the case of oleanders, there is another problem.

 
 Oleanders are susceptible to a fatal disease called, oleander leaf scorch. This disease has come from California into Arizona where it is popping up in neighborhoods in Phoenix and also Lake Havasu. I have consulted with several cases affecting large, mature oleanders in Arcadia, Biltmore, and Moon Valley areas in Phoenix. 

This bacterial disease is spread by leaf-hopper insects and there is currently no known cure or control available. Infected oleanders slowly decline over 2-3 years before dying. To date, dwarf oleanders have not shown signs of the disease, only the larger forms. But, that could change sometime in the future.

Objectively, there’s a lot to like about oleanders; they thrive in hot, dry climates with minimal fuss, have attractive dark green foliage, and add color to the landscape when in flower. However, their overuse in the landscape makes them less impactful and coupled with their susceptibility to oleander leaf scorch, people want an alternative. 

You can learn more about this disease that affects oleanders here.

Hop Bush: 

 
When asked for another option for the large, tall forms of oleanders, I recommend Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa), also known as Hopseed Bush.
 
This native desert shrub has attractive, evergreen foliage and a similar growth habit to oleander. They grow up to 12 feet tall or prune to a shorter height.
 
 
Use Hop Bush in the same ways as oleanders to provide a nice green hedge or privacy screen.
 
Hop bush flower
 
While they don’t have colorful flowers; they have lovely foliage that is only mildly poisonous as opposed to oleanders which are highly toxic.
 
 
Hop bush has a lovely natural shape or prune as a formal hedge.
 
Want to learn more about this oleander alternative? In my latest Houzz article, I share what types of plants look nice next to hop bush, how to care for them and show a purple-leaf form.
 
I hope that you find a spot for this lovely shrub in your landscape.

Have you ever seen hop bush growing in the landscape?  

Have you ever driven by a newly-planted landscape?  If so, you probably noticed that many of the plants were quite small.  
 
I like to joke that sometimes you need a magnifying glass just to see the new plants. But as small as they are, within a short amount of time, those plants start to grow.  
 
 
Look at the same landscape three years later. The plants are well-established and look great.  
 
Fast forward eight-ten years, and you may start to see signs of some plants becoming overgrown and unattractive.
 
When this happens to shrubs, we can often push a ‘restart button’ (for most types of shrubs) and prune them back severely in spring using a good pair of loppers, which reduces their size. I use my Corona loppers to do major pruning of my shrubs.
However, there are some plants where this approach doesn’t work.
 

Let’s identify a few of these plants and how to deal with them once they outgrow their allotted space or become filled with old, woody growth.

 
Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
 
Desert spoon is one of my favorite plants.  I love how its blue-gray, spiky leaves add texture to the garden and contrast with plants that have darker green foliage.  
 
 
After ten years or more in the landscape, desert spoon can start to take on a ragged, rather unattractive appearance, as well as grow quite large.
 
When this happens, I recommend that they be removed and a new one planted in its place.  
 
Now, some of you may think that may seem wasteful, but I invite you to take another look at your landscape and the plants within it.
 
Your outdoor space isn’t static and unchanging. Its appearance changes with the seasons with plants blooming at different times. Trees gradually extend the amount of shade they provide and plants change in size.  
 
A newly planted garden doesn’t look the same through the years, it changes.  
 
Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’)
Rosemary is a good choice for those who want rich, dark green color in the garden. Bees love the light blue flowers that appear in late winter and spring, and the aromatic foliage can be used to flavor your favorite dishes.  
 
But, as time passes, it does get bigger, outgrowing its original space.  
 
 
When this happens, people start to shear their rosemary, which is stressful for the plant and contributes to sections of branches dying.
 
For those who don’t like the formal look, pruning rosemary back severely would be your first impulse. But, the problem with rosemary is that they don’t respond well to severe pruning.
 
So again, in this case, it’s best to pull out the old rosemary and add a new one, which will provide beauty for several years.
 
Rosemary hedge
To avoid having to remove and replace rosemary too often, allow them plenty of room to grow to their mature size.
 
Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
Red yucca is prized for its succulent, green leaves that resemble an ornamental grass and its coral flowers, which appear spring through fall.
 
 
Once it has been growing seven years or more, red yucca may overwhelm the landscape visually. This is particularly true if the area it’s growing in isn’t very big.
 
Occasionally, some people will try to remove the outer leaves at the base. However, this is laborious and only serves to stimulate red yucca to grow back faster.
 
In those situations, I tell people that their plant has had a nice life, but it’s time to start over.
 
Newly-planted red yucca
 
You may be thinking, why use plants that you’ll only have to replace after seven to ten years?
 
Well, all three of these plants add beauty to the landscape and are low-maintenance.
Another way to think of it is to compare your landscape with the interior of your home.  Do you make small changes to the decor of your home every few years to keep it looking fresh and attractive? The same should be true of the outside.
 
Replacing a few plants after seven years or more isn’t expensive. Don’t you think that the beauty these plants offer to your outdoor space makes them worth it?
What have you replaced in your garden recently?
Do you have plants that need extra water this summer? 
Many of us have a few plants that aren’t connected to an irrigation system. Some people don’t have an irrigation system and use a hose to water plants, which is time-consuming and inefficient.
 
While you can certainly haul out your hose and water each of your thirsty plants, it is not the best way. The main problem is the hose puts out water quickly and the soil can’t absorb it fast enough. As a result, much of the water runs off and doesn’t benefit the plant as much as it should.
So, if the time-consuming task of watering plants by hand isn’t your cup of tea, I’m here for you. You can make life easier by creating your own portable drip irrigation system with a recycled milk jug
This solution is very easy and will have you digging through your recycle bin collecting your used milk jugs.

To get started, you will need an empty plastic milk jug and a nail.

1. Heat the nail using a lighter or stove burner. Then use the nail to pierce 3 – 4 small holes in the bottom of the milk jug.
2. Fill the milk jug up with water, put the cap on and carry it upside down to the plant. Turn it right side up and set it down to the plant that needs irrigation. *You can also set the empty milk jug(s) next to your plants, bring the hose to them and fill with water that way.
3. Slightly loosen the cap, which will allow the water to drip out of the holes at the bottom – this allows the water to penetrate the soil slowly, instead of running off.

Once the water has drained out of the bottom of the jug, pick up your milk jug and move it to the next plant. After you are done, bring the empty jugs inside and store until the next time you need them.

If you live in a windy area and worry the milk jug will blow away, weigh them down with an inch of small rocks in the bottom of the jug – the rocks won’t interfere with the water dripping out.
I usually recommend this method of irrigating cacti monthly in summer.
This portable drip irrigation system is a great aid for those who live in areas that are suffering from drought or where an irrigation system may not exist.
**A semi-permanent variation of this method is to create holes along the sides instead of on the bottom. Then bury the entire jug next to the plant, leaving just the top exposed. To water plants, remove the milk cap and fill with water and replace the cap.
I hope you find this DIY garden project helpful. Please feel free to share it with your friends by clicking the “Share” button below. 

Do you love roses?

I do.

For those of you who have been following me for any length of time, you know that my love affair with roses is something that I like to share with others. For that reason, on a lovely day in May, I made a visit to the Old West town, Tombstone, Arizona.  

This historic town has two different attractions that appeal to me and my husband. He loves old westerns, and walking along the main street and seeing where the famous gunfight took place is something he enjoys. While it’s fun to explore the real-life places from long ago, my favorite destination lies just a block off of the main street…
 
At first glance, you would never know that a famous plant resides beyond the front door of this historic inn that is now a museum. However, it is in the backyard of this building, the “Rose Tree Inn”, which lies the “World’s Largest Rosebush“.
 
Due to my love of roses, and having heard of this famous rosebush I am excited to see it in person.
 
As you walk into the little museum, you feel as if you have stepped back into time within its rose-scented interior. As I venture toward the back where the rosebush is, my first impression is of a beautifully shaded patio area.
 
 
Over the patio, the outer branches of the rosebush create dappled shade.  
 
As you make your way toward the main part of the rose bush, the sheer enormity of its size begins to be evident.  
 
 
In the center of the branches, you can see the large, twisted trunk of the rosebush.
 
It is really hard to get the scale of how big it is from pictures – but look at how small the door looks off to the right side.
 
 
Now, see how big it looks with me next to it in the picture, above. Note – I am fairly tall at 5’9″.
 
The trunk is approximately 12-feet around and very shaggy with strips bark falling off. It definitely looks old.
 
This photo is taken with a flash, which lights up the area considerably. In actuality, it is very shady underneath.
 
 
Even when you stand right next to it, you can’t quite believe the enormous size.
 
This rosebush is not only the world’s largest – but it is also very old. For that reason, the history of the rosebush and how it came to be in Tombstone is quite interesting.
 
 

History

Then the rose came from Scotland in 1887, which makes it over 130 years old. A young Scottish immigrant and her husband moved to Tombstone in 1885.  Her family sent their homesick daughter a box filled with cuttings of her favorite rosebush from home.
 
She gave one of the cuttings to her friend, Amelia Adamson. Together they planted the rosebush in back of Amelia’s boarding house where it has obviously flourished in its new surroundings.
 
Years later, the rosebush began to get attention with its large size. Consequently, it was declared the world’s largest in the 1930’s.
 
Now, the Tombstone rosebush reaches over 8,000 square feet!
 
 
To get an overall view of the rosebush, you walk to the other side where there are steps to climb. Because the only part you see underneath the patio are its branches, the view from above is quite different. As a result, you have a clear view of the lacy foliage and flowers in the spring.
 
 
Can you imagine how beautiful this would look in bloom? It is said that roses absolutely cover the entire upper part of the rosebush with fragrant, white flowers…

 

This is a close-up of the flowers from a different Lady Bank’s rose.

 
As you can imagine, holding up a rosebush this large isn’t easy. Therefore, metal rods form a checkerboard pattern that are large wooden posts hold up.

I spot a bird’s nest within the branches.

After I finish with my photos, I stroll back into the museum where I notice row of small rose bushes.
 
 
Above them is this sign…
 
 
Well, I don’t describe myself as an ‘impulse buyer’,  I just have to buy a cutting from this historic plant.
 
 
I do have a good spot for it where it can grow up on the wall in my side yard. Because it can’t climb without support, I will provide a trellis for it to grow up on.  Lady Bank’s roses also make great ground covers.
 
Although this rosebush was an impulse buy, it requires less maintenance than more traditional roses. I certainly can’t wait to grow a piece of the world’s largest rosebush!

Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Yesterday, I had a rather unexpected encounter with a javelina while taking pictures of a landscape. I think he was as surprised as I was to see him and he retreated back to his arroyo after a couple of minutes. That meeting inspired me to write this post and how they affect the desert garden – primarily what types of plants they like to eat.  

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

To state that I was surprised to come so close to a javelina is an understatement. In the over twenty years that I’ve worked in desert gardens, I seldom see these pig-like mammals as they usually sleep through the day underneath mesquite or other desert trees.

Often referred to as ‘wild pigs’ due to their resemblance to a boar, they aren’t pigs, but are a peccary, which is a medium-sized mammal with hooves. Javelina are found throughout the Southwest, but their range also extends to Central and South America. In urban settings, you’ll find them in more naturalized areas.

They frequently travel in herds, although I only saw these two adults on this day. While it can be enjoyable to view them from afar (don’t get too close as they can be dangerous), dealing with the damage that they cause to gardens isn’t fun.

 

Javelina love to eat the pretty things we plant in our desert landscapes such as flowering annuals, and they don’t stop there. The spines on your prized cactus won’t deter a hungry javelina – they go right in and munch on the base of a prized columnar cactus as well as the pads of prickly pear cactus.

When surveying the damage that they cause to the garden, what makes it worse, is that javelina frequently don’t eat what they dig up.

My relationship with javelina is a long one, which began by working to keep them away from the thirty-six tee boxes that I had to plant with flowering annuals seasonally. Not surprisingly, they were drawn to these colorful islands and would dislodge the plants by rooting them up with their snouts before eating them.

My crew and I had some mixed success with spraying squirrel repellent every few days on the petunias, but it was a lot of work and not foolproof.

Javelina will zero in on popular potted annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, which are like candy to them. While geraniums aren’t their favorite potted flower, they will eat them too if hungry enough.

If you want pretty containers filled with flowers and live in a neighborhood where javelina are present, you’ll need to place the pots in an enclosed area or courtyard where they can’t reach. 

Bacopa

 

Lavender

There are some flowering plants that they usually stay away from and these include Bacopa and Lavender, which can be used in containers.

 

Depending on the time of year, a javelina’s diet changes, based on what is available. In winter, citrus they will grab citrus fruit off of the tree.

In summer, mesquite seedpods are one of their favorite foods.

A Cereus peruvianus cactus that has some bites taken out of its base by javelina.

A fairly common sight is a columnar cactus with some bites taken out of its base, where javelina are present. In most cases, the damage is largely cosmetic and the cactus will be fine. However, to prevent further damage, you can surround the base of the cactus with a wire mesh cage.

While there is no guarantee that javelina won’t eat the plants in your desert garden from time to time, there are some plants that are less palatable to them than others. Here a helpful link for javelina resistant plants, but I must tell you that if a javelina is hungry enough, it will eat the plants on this list – I know this from personal experience. 

The only foolproof way to keep them away from eating your plants is to keep them out with a fence or wall.

Do you have javelina where you live? What type of plants do you notice them eating? Any plants that they seem to leave alone?

 

*This blog post contains affiliate links, to make it easier for you to order supplies for growing amaryllis outside. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). 

Have you ever wondered what to do with your amaryllis once the flowers have faded? Instead of throwing it out, you can plant it outdoors, where it will bloom year to year, even if you live in the Desert Southwest.

Around the holiday season, amaryllis bulbs can be purchased in most grocery stores, nurseries, or online.

I have been enjoying the beautiful blooms of my amaryllis this holiday season and am grateful for the vibrant splash of color on my kitchen windowsill. Soon, the flowers will fade, and I will get it ready to transplant outside. 

Here is how to do it:

1. Cut off the faded flower, but keep the stem and leaves, which will continue to produce food for the amaryllis bulb. Don’t worry if the stem oozes sap after cutting, this is normal. Once the stem and leaves turn yellow and die, cut them off.

2. Select an area out in the garden for your amaryllis. They will require an area that gets filtered shade or a few hours of morning sun. It should have fertile garden soil, which can be provided by amending with potting soil.  If you have a flower bed or vegetable garden, you can plant the amaryllis in there, OR you can plant it in a container – I love this blue one.

3. Once the danger of freezing temperatures has passed, it’s time to plant. At the bottom of the planting hole, add some bulb fertilizer, following package directions. In desert climates, it’s important to bury the bulb to the top, so that only a 1/2 inch remains above the soil. New leaves will soon emerge that will add a pretty element to the garden.

4. Whenever leafy growth is present, water when the top inch of soil is dry and fertilize monthly using an all-purpose liquid fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength. 

5. Amaryllis typically bloom in spring when grown outdoors. After the blooms fade, remove them and allow the leaves to remain until they turn yellow and die. At this point, add a layer of mulch, leaving only a 1/2 inch peeking above the soil. Decrease the watering so that soil remains just slightly moist.

So, in a nutshell, water and fertilize when they are blooming, or leaves are growing, cut off leaves when they are dead – stop fertilizing and decrease watering.

It’s easy to see why amaryllis are a favorite flower when grown indoors and even more so if you plant them outdoors for those of us who live in the Desert Southwest.

Have you ever grown an amaryllis outside?

*Gardeners Supply provided with this amaryllis free of charge for my review.

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Sweet potato vine trail underneath a planting of lantana and ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia.

I’ve spent a busy week on the road traveling back and forth throughout the central and northern parts of Arizona. 

While my road trips were for pleasure, there were some work elements involved, viewing the newest trends of high desert landscaping, and taking photos of pretty plants.

Planters filled with green and black sweet potato vines trail over the railing at Tlaquepaque with Mark Twan (Samuel Clemens) sitting underneath.

During the first part of the week, I spent a few days in Sedona. This colorful, high desert town holds a special place in my heart. It is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon, and we make a point of coming back up to visit every few years.

A must stop destination for us are the shops are Tlaquepaque, which is modeled after an old Mexican village. Fountains and courtyards are scattered throughout the stores, inviting visitors to sit and enjoy the dappled shade while listening to the gentle sounds of water features.

To be honest, I do enjoy perusing the galleries and shops, but the main draw for me is the beautiful container plantings. Sweet potato vine, lantana, ‘Katie’ ruellia, and salvia are artfully arranged within the containers.

A ‘Painted Lady’ butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are also frequent visitors to Tlaquepaque.


Area hotels also feature lovely examples of plants that thrive in the dry heat like the trumpet vine and yucca, above.

While in Sedona, we made side trips to Flagstaff and Cottonwood before it was time to travel back home.

After one night home, it was back into the car and off on another journey. This time, we brought our kids with us for a destination wedding in Skull Valley, which is a half hour outside of Prescott.

The wedding was held in the middle of the wilderness, reached by traveling over 20 minutes on a curving, unpaved road. Wildlife was plentiful as we spotted a coyote, deer, and a roadrunner, while also smelling a skunk along the way.

It was dusk when the wedding began, and the setting couldn’t have been more beautiful. A cool breeze welcomed guests to the venue that backed up onto the Prescott National Forest. 

The ceremony was beautiful, and the groom got all choked up in the midst of his vows. Guests spent a great time celebrating at the reception, held in an old barn, and we got back to the hotel late.

We took a back way back home, which involved driving some curvy mountain roads, but we traveled through little towns that we had never heard of such as Wilhoit and Peeble Valley. 

I love the fact that even after living here for over 30 years, I still enjoy the beauty of our state and yet encounter new places.

**Do you have a favorite place to visit in Arizona?

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Do you yearn to create a beautiful outdoor space that thrives in the challenging low desert climate? Or maybe, you want to inspire others by sharing your experiences gardening in the desert? Whether you are a recent transplant to the desert or an experienced gardener, I’ve created a Facebook group just for you!

As many of you have come to find, the low to mid-desert regions of the Southwest (Coachella Valley, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, among others), that are located in USDA Zones 9-10, are often overlooked in traditional garden literature. This a great opportunity for us to band together and ask questions, provide answers, and share our victories (and failures) to inspire each other toward creating beautiful landscapes that thrive in the low desert.

New Gardeners: You will find help and inspiration here – what plants work best, how to maintain, water, and where to plant.

Experienced Gardeners: Please share your adventures in low desert gardening, especially your successes!

This is a group that values mutual encouragement and support, and I encourage you to take an active part. I’ll see you there…

You would expect that after living in our backyard for two years, that Aesop, our desert tortoise, would have discovered all there was to see. However, that wasn’t the case. His curious nature led him over to where I was working to pull out plants in the vegetable garden and to his joy and my dismay, he was able to climb up into it.

Getting out was a little trickier, as you can see in the video below.

Looks like we will need to raise the sides of the garden to keep him from eating the leafy greens.