Freshly Grown Tomato

I think that there are few plants that gardeners get more excited about than growing tomatoes. There is just something so rewarding about biting into a juicy, flavorful tomato.

For those of you who have tasted a freshly grown tomato, you know that store-bought tomatoes do not even begin to compare in both taste and texture. There are a few reasons for this. First, the varieties grown commercially are bred to have tougher skins, so that they can make the trip to the grocery store with few blemishes. Another reason is that commercial tomatoes are picked when they are still green and then treated with ethylene gas to make them turn red.

So, maybe you have decided to try growing tomatoes this year. Or, perhaps you have tried and have not had a whole lot of success. Well, I would like to give you some helpful tips that may help you to grow beautiful tomatoes.

Now, most gardeners who grow tomatoes have their list of tips for producing the best tomatoes, and many have differing opinions on the best way. But like growing many things, there is often more than one right way to grow things.

Since I have only grown tomato transplants, that is what I will talk about. Although someday, I would like to start them from seed.

Decide where to plant your tomatoes. 

Tomatoes transplants can be planted once the threat of frost is over. Place them in an area that receives about 6 hours of sunlight a day. They will require shade once the fruit begins to form, which can be done by creating a portable shade structure. I use 30 – 50% shade cloth, putting it over my tomato support.

By the way, tomato plants can grow up to 6 ft. tall, so they do need a support system. Tomato cages or stakes are available. Because I plant my tomatoes next to the fence of my vegetable garden, I use a combination of a tomato cage and my fence for staking my tomato plants.

*Tomatoes really don’t do great when planted in containers, unless you decide to plant a determinate variety (bloom and produce tomatoes just once). Roma tomatoes are determinate and would be a good selection for pots. Other types of tomatoes are indeterminate, which means that they produce tomatoes over a long period and the tomato plants get too large to do well in a container, and their roots get quite hot as well.

Prepare your soil.

Add aged compost, bone meal (source of phosphorus), blood meal (source of nitrogen), and aged (composted) steer or chicken manure and mix with your existing soil. Read the labels of your blood & bone meal for how much to add. Compost should make up at least 2/3 of your planting mixture. Let your prepared soil rest for 1 week before planting.

Select your tomatoes – this is the fun part.

Decide what uses you will put your tomatoes too. Do you want tomatoes for slicing, salads, cooking, or cherry tomatoes?  

*You may also be wondering what all the fuss is about heirloom tomatoes and how are they different from hybrid tomatoes? Well, basically, heirloom tomatoes are non-hybrid tomatoes and can be open-pollinated. Heirloom tomatoes are said to possess the ‘old-fashioned’ flavor that many people love in tomatoes and are grown from seed.

As a gardener, you can grow either heirloom or regular hybrid tomatoes. It is your choice.

A good beginner tomato to start out with are cherry tomatoes. In my garden, I have used a variety that is great for making sauces – San Marzano (heirloom), although Roma (heirloom) tomatoes are good for cooking and preserving as well.

Many people are very passionate about which type of tomato varieties that they like to grow. In addition to the cooking tomato varieties listed above, here are just a few suggestions for other types of tomatoes:

‘Celebrity’ (hybrid) and ‘Brandywine’ (heirloom), are good sliced tomato varieties.

‘Stupice’ (heirloom) and ‘Early Girl’ (hybrid) are great varieties for using in salads.

‘Gardener’s Delight’ (heirloom) and ‘Beam’s Yellow Pear’ (heirloom) are good cherry tomato varieties.

Freshly Grown Tomato

Dig a hole that is four times deeper and four times wider than the root ball of your tomato plant. 

Sprinkle about 1/2 a cup of bone meal in the bottom of the hole, which will aid in rooting (some tomato experts say you can add 1 cup of bone meal to each hole).

Freshly Grown Tomato

Take your tomato plant and remove the bottom three sets of leaves.  Believe it or not, your tomatoes will root out where you remove the leaves. More roots equal more water and nutrients that your tomato plant can take up.

Freshly Grown Tomato

Remove the little container and plant it. Cover with soil so that the soil level sits just beneath the lowest leaf.

Build a small basin around your tomato plants and cover with mulch.    

Water in your newly-planted tomatoes. Fill the basin with water. Your tomatoes like for their soil to be moist, but not soggy. 

Many problems with tomatoes arise from improper or irregular watering. Water deeply (their roots grow 3 ft. deep), and regularly.  Because irrigation systems are so different and there are so many variables, there is no way to tell you exactly how much and how long to water. So, it is important to observe your tomatoes and monitor their soil moisture.

Drip irrigation works well and can hook up to your hose bib, with a battery-operated irrigation controller. Use at least two emitters for each tomato plant. Bubblers work very well for tomatoes. You can always use a watering can, but avoid getting dirt splashed upon the leaves.

Fertilize your tomatoes monthly

Fertilize your tomatoes monthly.

Now you can use either organic fertilizers or inorganic. The choice is yours. Add fertilizer during the cool part of the day and water in well after you apply.

Help to attract pollinators and keep damaging insects away by planting companion plants.

I have used both alyssum and marigolds this spring, although they will die off once summer comes.

hot desert climates

Towards the end of July, tomatoes often stop producing fruit in many, hot desert climates.

The reason for this is that tomato pollen is most viable when nighttime temperatures are within 60 – 90 degrees F. So, don’t worry if your tomato plant stops producing in the summer. Keep the shade cloth on and water well. When temperatures begin to drop in the fall, you can often enjoy seeing tomatoes on the same plant.

Watch closely for pests.

Watch for caterpillars and pluck them off.  (I confess that I wear gloves for this job because I am a bit squeamish about handling a live caterpillar).

Aphids are generally not a huge problem and usually go away on their own.

Whitefiles and spider mites are treated using insecticidal soap or neem oil on the bottom of their leaves.

If birds are a problem, use bird netting.

I hope that you will find some of the information helpful in growing your own tomatoes.

For more information on growing tomatoes in the desert Southwest, check out the following link.

Harvest, Canning and a Flight

Purple lilac vine

Purple lilac vine

I am here to showcase a lesser-known plant for you to try in your garden.  

In winter, the garden can often look blah and colorless. But, it doesn’t have to be that way in the desert garden. There are many plants that bloom in winter.

And so, I am very excited to show you this lesser-known plant.  

Are you ready?  Drum roll please…

Purple lilac vine

Isn’t it beautiful?

This Australian native is known by different common names with Purple Lilac Vine(Hardenbergia violacea) being commonly used in our area of the Southwest.

It is not actually a lilac, but because we cannot grow lilacs in the low desert, this is a wonderful substitute.

Purple lilac vine

My first experience in using Purple Lilac was over 20 years ago where I used it in a feature area on one of the golf courses I worked for.

Although traditionally, used as a vine, I used it as a ground cover and believe it or not, it did beautifully.

One of the best attributes of this vine is that it blooms during the month of February in our zone 9 gardens.

Now be honest, there is not much going on in your garden in winter, is there? Wouldn’t it be great to have gorgeous purple flowers blooming when little else is?

Purple lilac vine

Here are more reasons to try out this vine in your garden:

  • It flowers in winter.
  • When not in flower, attractive leaves cover the vine year round.
  • Fairly low-maintenance.  Prune to control size if needed.  Supplemental fertilizer is usually not needed.
  • Requires a trellis or other support to grow upwards.
  • Hardy to zone 9.

Under normal winter temperatures, it doesn’t suffer frost damage.

It decorates a bare wall beautifully or can screen out an unattractive view.

Purple lilac vine

When people ask me if I recommend a particular plant, I tell them that the highest recommendation that I can give is is if I have that plant growing in my garden.

You see, I do not have the patience to grow a plant that struggles and/or takes too much maintenance.  It also has to look beautiful most of the year.

So if you ask me if I truly like this vine, I answer by saying that I have four growing in my backyard 🙂

**One complaint that I have hear often is that it can be hard to find in your local nursery. Don’t worry, most nurseries normally have them in stock when they are in flower in winter.  

lesser-known plant

**It’s important to note that although the flowers look a bit like lilacs, they are not particularly fragrant. But, they are so beautiful, it’s hard not to care.

One of the things that I love about gardening in the desert is how many beautiful plants that can not just survive our arid climate, but thrive in it.  

Besides our native desert plants, many tropical plants also do very well here due to our relatively mild winter in our semi-tropical climate.  Quite a few of these plants are native to Mexico.

So far in our lesser-known plant spotlight, we have highlighted two flowering shrubs that will add interest to your garden…..Valentine and Chaparral Sage.

So now for our next featured plant.  

If you love the shape of water as it cascades from a fountain and the bright colors of coral, then you definitely want to include coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) in your garden.

tropical plants

Aren’t the flowers just so beautiful?

Although this beautiful plant is native to Mexico, it does exceptionally well in our arid climate – in fact, the coral fountain in the photos is planted in sandy soil.  The leaves are hard to see and are small and scale-like in appearance.

tropical plants

Here are some reasons that you should definitely try coral fountain out in your garden:

– Striking coral colored flowers continually grace this shrub during the warm months of the year.

– It can reach a mature size of 4 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide.

– Hummingbirds will be in heaven if you plant this pretty flowering shrub.

– Coral fountain is tolerant of a variety of conditions.  Well-drained soils or wet soils, arid climates or tropical climates and handles full sun or filtered shade.

– It grows quickly, so you do not have to wait a long time for its showy display of flowers.

– Because of its tropical origins, it is not cold hardy.  It does suffer frost damage when temperatures dip below 32 degrees F.  You can help to protect coral fountain from frost by covering it when temperatures fall.

Because our soils have so little organic matter, coral fountain does best when given some fertilizer.  I would recommend using a slow-release fertilizer and apply in the spring and fall months.

Try planting it alongside yellow or purple flowering plants for great color contrast.

The cascading form of coral fountain looks beautiful when used next to a water feature or in a container.  You could also use it a raised bed where the flower plumes will gracefully fall over the wall.

Have I tempted you enough to try this plant?

Here is another look…..

tropical plants

I took all of the photos at The Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park in Palm Desert, CA.  I visited there with my sister last March.

Why didn’t I take a picture of my own coral fountain?  Well, I must admit that I do not have one in my garden.

Okay, so you may well be asking why do I not have a plant that I highly recommend in my garden?  Well, that is an excellent question, and I must confess that I do not have a really great answer for you.

I could say that my garden is over 11 years old and already full of plants.

I could then add that if I planted every kind of plant that I loved, that all sense of design in my garden would go out the door because I would have a mish-mash of too many different plants, which is not pleasing to the eye from a design standpoint.

But, those excuses sound kind of pitiful to my own ears.  Every time that I drive to Double S Farms (my mother and sister’s home), I pass by a beautifully designed garden which features a coral fountain shrub on the corner.  I always look for this plant, and I am still admiring it.

And so, I must admit the truth to myself…… I would love to have this plant in my own garden and will be on the lookout for one the next time I visit the nursery. UPDATE: I now have three of the beautiful plants, growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree.  

I am faced with a wonderful dilemma……

My last post dealt with the loss of one of our beautiful ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees. So now we are faced with the question of which type of tree should we choose to replace the one that I lost? We worked hard the past couple of days to remove the fallen tree and now have a bare space to fill.  

I have lived in my home (and garden) for over ten years. As our houseome was being built, we designed the surrounding garden. I enjoyed deciding which trees I would choose to grace our desert garden with not only beauty but shade in the summer months. I honestly do not understand people who don’t plant trees in the garden – especially in desert climates. They not only provide wonderful shade in the summer months but also add a lot of value to your property.  

*This blog contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission with no additional cost to you.

Desert Museum Palo Verde

 Desert Museum Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’)

I loved my palo verde tree that fell…..I have two others just like it, including the one pictured above. There is much to like about these trees beside the beautiful green trunks – they are fast growing, thornless, evergreen and yellow flowers in the spring. The only drawbacks are that there is litter from the fallen flowers in spring, which means that it should not be planted by a pool. The fallen flowers do not bother me at all – I rather enjoy the carpet of yellow.

But, even with all of the wonderful attributes of this tree, I have decided to select another type of tree as it’s the replacement. Why may you ask? Well, because they grow quickly, I do have to prune them quite a bit. I do not mind pruning, but pruning three of these trees each year was becoming much more of a chore.

Another reason is that in addition to being a horticulturist, I am also a certified arborist and I do love trees and have grown many different kinds in the landscapes that I managed. Right now, I have 14 trees (8 different types) growing in my front, back and side gardens. I would enjoy adding another kind of tree to my plant palette.

So, here comes the fun part…which one to choose?

Desert Fern

Desert Fern (Lysiloma thornberi, Lysiloma watsonii var. thornberi, Lysiloma microphylla var. thornberi)

One of my favorite things about the desert fern is the beautiful, fern-like leaves – hence its common name.

selecting desert tree

Another plus is that is a native, desert tree and is thornless.  The leaves turn a slight maroon color in the winter in our zone 8b climate.  In colder winters the leaves may drop altogether.  Although what I would call a medium sized tree, it typically grows from 15 – 45 feet high and wide.

One drawback is that it does produce brown seed pods, which some people do not like, but I have no problem with them at all. 

*I do have a desert fern tree already, and although another one would look great in my newly bare area, I think I will try to choose a different type of tree.

Sweet Acacia

Sweet Acacia(Acacia farnesiana, Acacia smallii)

In the springtime, air is perfumed with the fragrance of the bright yellow puffball flowers of the sweet acacia.  When not in flower, the tiny, dark green leaves are easier to see.  

selecting desert tree

Although found in other areas of the United States, it is also native to the southwest.  The mature size is approximately 25 feet high and wide.  In areas with mild winters, the leaves will remain on the tree.  Dark brown seedpods are produced once flowering has finished.

Some drawbacks to consider are the thorns having to be careful when pruning is necessary (requiring gloves and long sleeves).  Now, I am more of a “Do as I say” person rather than a “Do as I do” person.  I always wear gloves when I prune, but I rarely wear long sleeves in the summer months.  As a result, I have some small scratch scars on my forearms from pruning sweet acacia in the past. 

Although I love the beauty, size and the springtime fragrance of this tree, I don’t think I want to accrue any more scars on my arms 😉

Southern Live Oak

Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Believe it or not, oak trees do very well in our desert climate.  Southern live oak, cork oak, and holly oak are all found in the suburban landscape.  Southern live oak is the most prevalent, however.

There is little not to love about these trees – they are thornless, have evergreen foliage, are tolerant of full and reflected sun making this tree very low-maintenance.  In non-desert climates, they can reach heights of up to 40 – 60 ft., but will not grow that large in the desert.  In the landscape areas that I managed, they were a favorite because there was so little maintenance required.

online-class-desert-gardening-101
Tired of struggling in the desert garden? Sign up for my online course, DESERT GARDENING 101.

I may be crazy, but this tree seems a little boring to me.  I don’t know why.  I spent my teenage years growing up in the town of Thousand Oaks, California and the hillsides are dotted with large, specimen oak trees.  The oak trees that I see growing in our area do not resemble the ones from my childhood, so maybe that is the reason that I do not have any in my garden.  But, I would wholeheartedly recommend this tree to anyone who wants a lovely, low-maintenance tree.

Bottle Tree

Bottle Tree (Brachychiton populneus)

Some of you may be surprised to know that many of our trees and shrubs are grown in our arid climate are native to Australia.  The bottle tree is one of them.  First of all, I love the shape of the leaves and how the sun reflects off of them in a gentle breeze.  I also like the slightly pendulous way that the branches hang down.  Evergreen in areas with mild winters and a smooth trunk make it an asset in the garden.  Its mature size of 30 – 45 feet high and 30 feet wide, makes it suitable for narrower spaces.

As a child, growing up in Los Angeles, we had one in our front garden.  My sister and I used to pretend that the little flowers were ‘fairy caps and the flowers were soon followed by large, brown seedpods.

selecting desert tree

The pods themselves are quite cool looking, and my mother would use them in making wreaths out of seedpods.  But what I most remember about the seedpods is getting some of the ‘fuzz’ from the inside stuck on my bare feet, and it hurt.  I think that is maybe why I do not have this tree in my garden.  But, many people I know who have a bottle tree love them.

**One note of caution, this tree is quite susceptible to Texas (Cotton) root rot (a fungal disease that infects the roots).  So if you know of cases of Texas root rot in your neighborhood, I would advise growing another type of tree.

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)

If you have not already noticed already, I am somewhat biased about certain types of trees.  This one is one of my favorite smaller trees.  The word ‘palo blanco; means “white stick” in Spanish and refers to the white trunk of this tree – considered to be one of its most attractive assets.

selecting desert tree

 The bark peels off in papery sheets.  Palo blanco trees look great when planted near each other in groups of 3 or 5 where their distinctive tree trunks can be shown off.

I also like the bright green foliage of the trees and their tiny leaflets.  In winter, the leaves do fall from the desert native, but they are so small and do not create much litter.

selecting desert tree

 When mature, it reaches a height of 15 – 20 feet and spreads to 10 feet wide which makes it suitable for a patio tree or other small area.  Maintenance is minimal, only requiring a small amount of pruning.

selecting desert tree

Tiny flowers grace the tree in spring, followed by decorative seed pods.

Excellent book about what to do in the garden and when

I like these trees so much that I have three of them.  They are growing against my west-facing garden wall and do great in the reflected sun.  But, I will probably choose something else for my bare area since I would like a tree that is a little larger for that area.

Indian Rosewood

Indian Rosewood / Sissoo  (Dalbergia sissoo)

It’s hard to beat the sissoo tree for fast growth and shade. However, they ARENT recommended for average size residential landscapes. The photo of the tree above was taken four years after it was planted from a 15-gallon container and it rapidly grew even larger – soon, it had to be removed due to its invasive roots. This tree made its debut in the Phoenix area about 15 years ago and rapidly became quite popular for its lush green beauty. However, as sissoo trees have been grown in the southwest landscape for several years, problems have begun to crop up. They have invasive root systems that cause problems with sidewalks, patio decks, pools, and block walls. Also, their mature size is so big that they dwarf the landscapes they have been planted in. 

Shallow watering often causes the roots to grow along the surface. 

Sissoo trees are best used in large outdoor areas such as parks.

Olive

Olive  (Olea europaea)

Olive trees are also an option. Most are multi-trunk with beautiful olive green leaves. They are evergreen and thornless. Regular fruiting olives are no longer sold in many cities due to their highly allergenic pollen. Thankfully, there is a non-fruiting cultivar called ‘Swan Hill,’ which is available.

Reaching a mature size of 20 – 30 feet high and wide, olive trees make excellent shade trees and are slow-growing. Some olive trees have fallen prey to some creative pruning.

selecting desert tree

Not quite my taste and I would like a tree that will not take too long to grow, so let’s press on to other trees.

Texas Ebony

Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis/Pithecellobium flexicaule)

 Texas ebony is an excellent choice for those who like a dense, dark green canopy of leaves. Native to both Texas and Mexico, this tree does very well in the Arizona desert.  Everything about this tree is dark – the green leaves the dark brown trunk. 

This evergreen tree, has thorns and large brown seedpods.  Texas ebony grows slowly to about 15 – 30 feet high and 15 – 20 feet wide. 

This is a favorite tree with my clients, but again, I am looking for a tree that grows more quickly.

Chinese Pistache

Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

An excellent tree for those who like lush, green trees that lose their leaves in winter.

Chinese pistache grows to 25 – 25 feet high and wide and has some welcome surprises.

selecting desert tree

It is one of the few trees in our area that produces a rich fall color.  Female trees produce clusters of little berries in the fall.

I like this tree, but I want to see more trees before I decide…..

Cascalote

 Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco)

Another tree that also provides beautiful color in fall and winter is the cascalote.  Plumes of yellow flowers start to appear in November and stay through December.  At maturity, they reach approximately 15 feet tall and wide.

selecting desert tree

I love the clusters of small round leaves that are evergreen.

selecting desert tree

Now I am not a fan of thorns, but the thorns on this tree are almost pretty.  But, you want to plant this tree away from pedestrian areas.  You can remove the thorns if you like, which is what I have done in the past.  However, there is now a thornless variety, called ‘Smoothie.’

selecting desert tree

The first flowers of the season begin to open.  I bought my first one on a field trip with my Plant Identification college class to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  I brought it home and planted it in a container because we were renting a house at the time, waiting for our new home to be built.  Later, I planted it in our front garden, and I look forward to the beautiful yellow flowers in the fall.

Aleppo Pine

Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis)

Believe it or not, some pine trees also do well in the desert.  I love the sound of the wind as it blows through pine trees.  Aleppo, Canary Island (Pinus canariensis) and mondel pines (Pinus eldarica) are all found in suburban areas of the lower desert areas of the southwest.  

Depending on the species, they grow anywhere from 30 – 60 feet tall and most should not be planted in a residential landscape unless there is ample room for growth. They can suffer from soils and water with high amounts of salts.

Pine trees offer heavy shade that will prevent most grasses from growing underneath.  Pine needles litter the ground as well.  But did you know that pine needles make an excellent mulch?  As they break down, they help to acidify our alkaline soils.  And so, if you have a neighbor with pine trees, offer to rake some pine needles up to put in your garden.  Your neighbor will be so happy 🙂

I am pretty sure that I will not plant a pine tree because I have memories of many hours spent nursing along many pine trees growing on golf courses that were irrigated with reclaimed water.  Most of the pine trees did not do well with the high level of salts in the effluent water.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

A summer favorite is the desert willow tree. Beautiful, willow-shaped leaves and flowers brighten up the summer garden. It can grow anywhere from 8 – 30 feet high and wide. Available in both single and multi-trunk, I prefer the beauty of the multi-trunk shape.

You will find this tree growing in parks, roadside plantings as well as in residential landscapes. Its small-medium size makes it suitable for smaller areas. It does lose its leaves in winter and forms narrow seed capsules. While not the prettiest tree in winter, the flowers produced spring through fall make it more than worth it and there are new (almost seedless) varieties such as ‘Bubba’ and ‘Timeless Beauty’ that produce little to no seedpods.

selecting desert tree

That is why I have four currently growing in my garden.  

I would still like to find something different, that I do not currently have growing in my garden.  

I need to continue looking at possible tree choices. (You can check out my second post of possible tree selections, here 🙂

P.S. Do you have more questions about choosing a tree for your landscape? I share my experience as a horticulturist and certified arborist and profile my top 20 along with all of their characteristics in my mini-course “How to Select the Right Tree for Your Desert Garden”.

Well, the title says it all.  I love plants and shopping.  Pair those two things together and I am in heaven.

Back when I managed landscapes, I had a company credit card which allowed me to purchase to my heart’s content….okay not really, I did have to stay within my plant budget, but it was so nice to spend someone else’s money.

My most recent journey into the plant shopping occurred last week with my mother, Pastor Farmer of Double S Farms.  She was purchasing some trees for their farm and wanted my assistance in selecting them.  And so, we journeyed to a local nursery (not a big box store).

Plant shop

Plant shop

Now this particular nursery is not what I would call a native plant nursery, although they do carry many native plants.  But they also sell tropical plants that thrive in our semi-tropical climate.  You can see Gabriel coming up to help us to tag the trees we selected.

On our way to the tree section, we passed a mass of Bougainvilleas.  It looked like a Bougainvillea forest.

Plant shop

Plant shop

Then we passed through the shaded area of the nursery where frost-tender tropical and shade-loving plants were kept.

Plant shop

Plant shop

Now, we were beginning to get into the tree section of the nursery.

Plant shop

You may have noticed that my pictures are taken from behind my mother and our helper, Gabriel.  Well, put me anywhere with plants….a nursery, a garden, it doesn’t matter – I will always be lagging behind as I love to look, touch and take pictures of plants.

We passed the flowering Palo Verde trees….

Plant shop

We passed some Olive trees….

Olive trees

Did you know that the pollen of the Olive tree is highly allergenic?  It’s true.  Actually, because of this, you can only plant a certain variety of Olive tree in our area, called ‘Swan Hill’, that do not produce pollen and therefore do not produce any flowers.

The ‘Swan Hill’ cultivar was found in Australia years ago from a 30 year-old Olive tree that had never fruited.  It is an interesting story and you can read more about it here.

Okay, back to our search for our tree.  Well, I wish I could say that I had a great picture to show you of the Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis) tree we selected.  But, it turns out that I was so busy helping to select the tree, I forgot to take pictures of it.

On our way out, I did take pictures of a bunch of Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta), which aren’t actually palms at all, they are cycads.  They grow extremely well here, but must be protected from full sun or their fronds turn yellow from sunburn.

Sago Palms

Well, we were at the end of our plant shopping journey, or so I thought….

our plant shopping journey

As my mother was paying for the trees, I noticed one of the resident chickens. 

resident chicken

Can you see her?  She is poking around the base of this plant fountain.

**By the way, I think I would love to have a plant fountain someday 🙂

One of the employees noticed my interest in the chicken and motioned me over to the side of the building, where on a potting table, there was a large container.  I looked inside and saw how busy the chicken had been….

Shopping For Plants

Every afternoon, at about 4:00, she sits up there and lays another egg.

Now, the father, is no absentee father.  He takes his job very seriously.  He was keeping a keen eye on us until we left the nursery.

local nurseries

Well, I had a wonderful time, I just love visiting local nurseries.

We selected some beautiful trees and the new Mesquite tree will grow very quickly and will be quite large.  Pastor Farmer envisions having an old tire swing being put up in the tree in a few years for the grandkids to play on.

You know how some people are described as ‘natural beauties’?  They look great without makeup and their hair only pulled up into a ponytail.  Well, I am not describing myself.  It takes some work in front of the mirror before I will venture outside 😉

But, I absolutely love using plants that are what I would call ‘natural beauties’ because they look great without having to fuss over them.  Now, I do love to be out in the garden, but I do not particularly like digging, dividing, pruning and deadheading often – especially in the summer months.  And so, many of the plants in my garden are ‘natural beauties’.  They look fantastic with minimal effort.  

I would like to share with you, periodically, some of my favorite ‘natural beauties’.  Today, I would like to introduce you to Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans var. stans).

natural beauties

One look at this picture and it is easy to see why I love this shrub so much.  They are covered with gorgeous yellow flowers from April to October.  

natural beauties

Yellow Bells grows into a large shrub (6 ft. high and 4 ft. wide), with beautiful leaves and clusters of yellow, trumpet shaped flowers.

Interestingly, even though hummingbirds usually flock to flowers with red, orange and purple flowers….they can’t get enough of my Yellow Bell flowers.

Yellow Bells

I do not fertilize my Yellow Bells shrubs or give them any special treatment.  They have not been bothered by pests of any kind.

You can find them growing in many tropical and semi-tropical areas such as the southeastern areas of the United States, Central America and in the Caribbean.

Yellow Bells

They are somewhat susceptible to frost (hardy to zone 8), and mine suffers damage to the tips of the branches.  As a result, the only maintenance that I perform is an annual pruning in spring, once the threat of frost is over.

A plant like this has a prominent place in my garden and provides beautiful color throughout the summer, when I tend to hibernate inside within the comforts of my air-conditioned house.  I do venture out into the garden in the mornings and evenings when the temperatures are cooler to do some work.  I much prefer looking through my window at my ‘natural beauties’.

I hope you enjoyed my first ‘natural beauty’ post.  I will be featuring more in the future.

What ‘natural beauties’ do you have growing in your garden?

I am very blessed to have my mother and my sister live very close to me.  However, this was not always so.  Twenty-four years ago, I moved to Arizona from California as a new bride.  The rest of my family remained in California.  Of course, there were many visits back and forth.  But I never really knew how wonderful it could be to have them living close by.  Until about 3 years ago.

My sister and her family along with my mother purchased Double S Farms just over a year ago and so began a weekly tradition of us having dinner over there once a week.  I always look forward to this day because for one, I don’t have to cook dinner – but more importantly, it is a wonderful time of visiting with my mom and sister.

With our beautiful weather, we have recently been eating outside in the backyard, surrounded by their garden full of flowers, the vegetables, the fruit trees and some feathered visitors.

Each week, as soon as we drive up, I love to check to see how the fruit trees are doing in the front garden.  It looks like the peaches will soon be ready…

Double S Farms

My son is always the first to reach the front door and upon entering the house, he is promptly wrestled to the floor by his two little cousins (Little Farmer and Littlest Farmer).

Double S Farms

Each week, my mom (Pastor Farmer) always cooks something new for us to try along with fresh-baked bread.  We love to eat outside and enjoy the sunset and our food.

Beautiful weather

Beautiful weather

Then it is time for the kids to play and the adults to sit back and relax in the garden.

Of course, there are usually new vegetables to check out….

Beautiful weather

As well as seeing how the apples are growing on the trees….

Double S Farms

The kids love to play as well on the cool, green grass.

Beautiful weather

Beautiful weather

About this time, the newest residents of Double S Farms come out of their chicken coop to come and visit.

Double S Farms

Ramona is the first to come out to visit.

Double S Farms

Followed by Flo.

By the way, did you know that chickens like macaroni & cheese?  Well, these chickens do…

Double S Farms

Especially Lucy.

We enjoy watching all of the chickens and their antics.  But, our favorite is Effie. 

Double S Farms

 Now, Effie will not win any chicken beauty contest.  She is decidedly awkward looking and has fluffy cheeks.  But, it is her personality that is so endearing.  She is very friendly and lets us all hold and pet her – even the kids.  

Beautiful weather
Double S Farms

Effie is not camera shy, like Flo can be and the other day, she hopped onto my sister’s (Chicken Farmer), lap and promptly lay her head down and fell asleep.

Double S Farms

Not to be outdone by some chickens, Double S Farm’s resident hummingbird, Jose, makes an appearance as we eat our dinner.

Double S Farms

The sun is setting and it is time to go home.

Double S Farms

I hope you have enjoyed our evening visit to Double S Farms.

Double S Farms

Good Night….

Vibrant blooms, Annual Vinca

Vibrant blooms, Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)

One of my favorite summer annuals is vinca.

Vibrant blooms

Stop by any nursery this time of year, and you will find flats full of their vibrant blooms, and there are many different colors available.

Vibrant blooms

From purples and pinks to bright reds.

Vibrant blooms

Vinca works excellent in containers or when planted in the ground.  They prefer well-drained soil in a warm, sunny area.

This warm-season annual enjoys regular watering and does best with some fertilizer, but don’t overdo it.  I usually apply a slow-release fertilizer when planting and follow up with monthly applications of a liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro.  If you want to go organic, then you can just use a mixture of good potting soil mixed with compost.  

Vibrant blooms

Now some of you may have had the experience of growing beautiful vinca one year and the next year; you have a terrible time with them. Shortly after planting you notice your vinca beginning to wilt, and no amount of water seems to help.

Vibrant blooms

Has this happened to you? Extra water will not help because the vinca is suffering from a case of ‘Vinca Wilt’.  This is not the scientific term, but for those of you who like long scientific names, your vinca is likely the victim of a Phytophthora fungus, which affects the roots, preventing them from absorbing water – hence the dried out look of the vinca.  

This fungus lives in the soil and infects the roots, causing them to rot. It loves moist conditions, and so more water hastens the demise of vinca.  

So, what can you do? The fungal spores can last for months or even years in the soil. You can usually rely on one good year of vinca growth, but then the spores start to multiply, and by the next year, they begin to affect your new plants.

Vibrant blooms

I recommend using vinca for one year and then use something different the next three years. Of course, you can remove all the soil from your containers and sterilize the inside with a bleach water mixture and then add new soil, which can work for a few containers at home, but it is not cost-effective in a larger setting.  For me, it is not worth it either, because there are so many other beautiful summer annuals that you can use. 

I hope this solves any mystery surrounding vinca.  They are beautiful and well worth growing – for a year at least.

Although I greatly enjoy being able to grow many frost-sensitive plants such as Bougainvillea and Arizona Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans), I do not particularly like how they look in the winter, once frost has hit our area – zone 9a.

And so, when hints of spring are in the air….I am itching to get back into the garden to prune them back.  In our area (the Phoenix metro area), this is generally the beginning of March which is usually after the last frost has occurred in our area.

First on my list is the Bougainvillea.  I have three in my back garden. 

Frost Damage

Not too attractive is it?  You can clearly see where the frost damaged the top growth.  The bottom growth is still green as the top branches protected them from frost damage.

Now you would assume that you just cut back all the leafless branches, but DON’T.  Many of the naked branches are still alive.  Look closely at the branch below and you can see that the part of the branch on the left is brown with no hint of green – prune the brown part of the branch off, leaving the green shaded part alone.

Frost Damage

You can also look and see tiny leaflets starting to emerge.  This is also a sign to look for when determining what part of the branches to prune.

Spring Pruning

Why not prune earlier to remove the ugly, naked branches you may ask?  Well, the answer is simple….if you prune too early and frost hits your area, it will damage the newly emerging leaves and could easily kill the live tissue inside of the branches, leaving you with a much smaller plant or a dead one.  So, as ugly as it looks in the winter….leave it alone, please?

Spring Pruning

Spring Pruning

All finished!  Okay, I admit, that it still does not look all that attractive and many may feel compelled to remove all of the naked branches.  But, look closely below….

Spring Pruning

Spring Pruning

 This is why you do not want to remove all of the naked branches.  This is my Bougainvillea one week after pruning.  Beautiful leaves are beginning to grow out from those formerly naked branches.

**Tips for pruning Bougainvillea…WEAR LONG SLEEVES to protect yourself from the thorns.  I used hand-pruners and loppers to prune all of my shrubs. 

I am working hard today at pruning back many of my other desert shrubs and will be posting about them this coming week, so please visit again :^) 

Peacful Day and Spring Pruning…

type of grass

Okay, you were probably thinking that I meant the ‘other’ type of grass.  But the type of grass I am referring to cannot be smoked, (at least I don’t think it can).  ‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’), is a beautiful ornamental grass to include in your landscape.  It is low-maintenance, thrives almost anywhere and has stunning burgundy foliage in late summer and early fall.

type of grass

USES:  This Texas native looks best when planted in groups of at least 3, but I think groups of 5 or 7 are better.  This ornamental grass grows to approximately 3 ft. High and wide.  However, when flowering, add 1 – 2 ft. to their total height.  They can be planted in full sun, areas with reflected heat and even in areas with partial shade.  

type of grass

This ornamental grass is tolerant of most soils.  Regal Mist is a great choice for planting around pools, boulders and in front of walls.  I have planted them around golf courses, and many people would ask me, “What is that plant?  It is beautiful.”  It is evergreen in areas with mild winters, but it is hardy to -10 degrees F (Zone 6).  Frost will turn them light tan in color. 

Regal Mist

 Regal Mist when not in flower

MAINTENANCE:  You can hardly get more low-maintenance then this – prune back severely in the winter, almost to the ground, to remove old foliage and spent flowers.  I do not fertilize Regal Mist, and they look just great.  Although drought tolerant once established, supplemental water is necessary for them is needed for them to look their best and to flower.  Self-seeding is not usually a problem when they are irrigated with drip-irrigation.

type of grass

So, for those of you who are frequently asking me for a beautiful, low-maintenance plant – this is it.  Include a few in your garden, and I promise you will have people asking you, “What is that beautiful grass?”

Skeletons in the Desert