Do you have a citrus in your garden? I do.  
 
Mine are quite young – I have an ‘Arizona Sweet’ orange tree and a ‘Meyer’ lemon.
 
Growing up in California, we always had citrus trees. When I was a young girl, I remember picking lemons from our large lemon tree in the backyard. We later moved to a larger ranch-style home which had several citrus trees and I honestly never paid much attention to these them, largely because I was a teenager and had much more important things to think about – like boys and how to get the perfectly-permed hair (it was the 80’s).
 
Now that I am all grown up and permed hair is thankfully in my past, I do pay attention to my citrus trees. Every winter, I look forward to the fragrant blossoms that cover citrus trees. These blossoms slowly turn into tiny citrus fruit. As spring progresses, some of these small, green fruit end up dropping to the ground, which leads to a host of questions from worried gardeners.
 
Well, I want to put all your worries to rest.  This is a normal occurrence. Citrus trees produce more blossoms than it can grow into mature fruit. They do this in order to attract the most pollinators and after the flower petals drop, little green fruit is left behind, which ideally grow into large delicious fruit that will be harvested in winter. However, the tree cannot support that much fruit, so the tree figures out how much fruit it can grow to maturity and then drops the rest.
 
For those of you who have young citrus trees, most of the little green fruit will drop.  Citrus trees have to have a large root system and a lot of leaves to support a good amount of fruit and that only comes with age. So, if you see tiny, green citrus on the ground every spring – don’t panic.  It is all part of the normal cycle of growing citrus.

If you like to grow tomatoes AND you live in the desert, then you know how important it is to shade your tomato plants during the summer months.


Most vegetable gardeners haul out 50% shade cloth, which does a great job at shading tomatoes and protecting them from the intense desert sun.  


Personally, I don’t particularly like how shade cloth looks.  As a horticulturist and landscape designer – I like gardens to look beautiful and that extends to vegetable gardens.


So instead of putting up shade cloth over my tomato plants this year, I decided to create natural shade for them.

 
My tomatoes are surrounded by giant sunflowers on their east, west and southern sides.  If you can only add sunflowers to one side, then choose the west side to protect them from the intense afternoon sun.
 
 
Throughout the day, they experience filtered shade.  My tomatoes look great without any signs of sunburn.
 
Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and you can start planting them in March and continue throughout the summer.
 
 
Because sunflowers only live a few months, I have planted a second crop of sunflowers in between my existing sunflowers.  I will soon plant a third crop in order to provide shade all summer and into early fall for my tomatoes.
 
An added bonus to planting sunflowers is that they provide food and shelter for birds and you can enjoy their delicious sunflower seeds.
 
 
Another reason to use sunflowers instead of shade cloth for tomatoes is that sunflowers are a lot less expensive then shade cloth and are an inexpensive and sustainable solution.
 
How about you?  What do you use to shade your tomatoes?

The cold weather has arrived in my neck of the woods with even colder temperatures on their way later this week.  

When temperatures dip below 32 degrees, you will find me wearing warm socks, slippers, a sweater, and cardigan when I’m indoors.  But, besides me – frost-tender plants are also affected by the cold temperatures.

Have you ever wondered why your plant’s leaves turn brown and crispy after a freeze?  Well, ice crystals form on the top of the leaves, which ‘sucks’ out the moisture from the leaf, leaving it brown and crispy.

 
Many plants handle cold weather just fine and have no problems with frost.  However, if you have frost-tender plants, such as bougainvillea, lantana, or yellow bells, you face a choice; Do you leave them unprotected from freezing temperatures and live with the unattractive frost-damaged growth?  Or do you protect them when temperatures dip below freezing?
 
Either choice is fine and is a matter of personal preference.  Frost-damaged growth can be pruned back once the last frost of the season has passed (early March where I live).  But, if you don’t want to live with brown, crispy plants for a few months, then protecting your plants when temps dip below freezing is necessary.  
 
In the daytime, the sun shines on soil, warming it.  At night, the soil releases the warmth from the ground.  When you cover your plants – the heat is captured keeping your plants warmer.
 
 
Plants aren’t fussy about what type of covering you use (with one exception); old sheets and towels are usually on hand and are easy to use.  Burlap and newspaper are also useful as coverings.  Cover your frost-tender plants in the evening, making sure that there aren’t any gaps where the heat can escape.  You can use large rocks or clothespins to secure them in place.  In the day, remove the covers once temperatures have risen above freezing, and allow the sun to warm the soil again.  
 
 
Don’t keep the coverings on your plants for more than two days in a row without removing them in the day since this can cause water to become trapped underneath, leading to fungal diseases and can cause plants to produce new growth that can be easily damaged by cold.
 
The best type of frost protection is frost cloth, which is a breathable fabric because it can ‘breathe,’ you can leave the frost cloth on your plants for a longer period.  But, use it only when there is a threat of frost.  After three days, uncover your plants during the day to allow the sun to reach your plants.
 
My neighbor made things worse by using plastic as a covering for his citrus trees.
One type of covering that you shouldn’t use is plastic, which transfers the cold to your plants and damages leaves when it touches the plant itself.
 
In my garden, I only protect my frost-tender trailing lantana which is in a high-profile area next to my entry.  The rest of my frost-tender plants, I leave alone until it is time to prune back their frost-damaged growth in spring.
 
So whether you cover your plants or not, the choice is yours 🙂
 
For more information on frost protection, check out the following link from the University of Arizona: Frost Protection
Do you have any plants that need extra water? Maybe you have some plants that aren’t connected to your irrigation system, or maybe you don’t even have an irrigation system and use a hose to water your plants instead. It may be that you have cactuses or other succulents that only need water every few months.
 
While you can certainly haul out your hose and water each of your thirsty plants, the problem is that the hose puts out water too quickly and the soil can’t absorb it fast enough.  As a result, much of the water simply 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, there is a way to make it easier by making your own portable drip irrigation system using a recycled milk jug
This solution is very easy, and I’m sure that you’ll be collecting your used milk jugs instead of throwing them away.

 

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

 

1. Heat the nail using a lighter or stove burner and use the nail to pierce 3 – 4 small holes in the bottom of the milk jug.

 

 

2. Fill the milk jug up with water and put the cap on and carry it upside down and turn right side up and place it next to the plant that needs irrigation. *You can also set the empty milk jug(s) next to your plants and fill with water from the hose.

 

 

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, simply bring your milk jug back inside or hide it behind the plant out of sight. 

 

To keep it from blowing away when it’s empty, you can add an inch of small rocks in the bottom of the jug, which will help weigh it down – the rocks won’t interfere with the water dripping out.

 

 

I usually recommend this method of irrigating cactus, which appreciates getting some extra water during the summer months.

 

This portable drip irrigation system is a great aid for those who live in areas that are suffering from drought where an irrigation system may not exist.

 

**Another semi-permanent variation of this method is to create holes on the sides on the milk jug, instead of on the bottom. Then bury the entire jug next to the plant, leaving just the top exposed. To water your plants, remove the milk cap and fill with water and replace the cap.

 

If you find this DIY garden project helpful, click the “Share” button below. 

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

Last winter, I was enjoying a rare moment of peace….no kids or husband in the house, the garden didn’t need any attention and no articles to write. So, I decided to see what was on television.  As I was channel surfing, I saw a gardening show and of course, I stopped and watched.

What I saw was the host and featured garden expert, showing how to grow vegetables and flowers together in containers. Since I love both vegetables and flowers, I was intrigued.  So I bought the book written by the featured garden expert and got started.


I found nice plastic containers on sale along with some tiny trellises, as well as planting mix (NOT potting soil, which gets too soggy for container plants).
Planting mix is specially formulated for containers – it has a light texture and holds just the right amount of moisture for plants.


Then, I started planting.  I came up with the vegetable and flower combinations on my own and I must admit that I was happy how they turned out…




The first container has purple violas, spinach, bell pepper plant and nasturtiums. I started all of these from transplants, except for the nasturtiums, which came from seed that I planted.
 
I periodically snip the spinach for salads and I have harvested a single bell pepper so far.  However, there are flowers on my pepper plant, so more peppers are on the way.
 
 
This container was planted with red and green leaf lettuce, pink dianthus and cucumbers.
 
I snip the lettuce for salad and the dianthus has been blooming nonstop. The only problem that I have had with this container are the cucumbers.
 
Cucumbers do best when started from seed, not transplants.  I have grown a lot of cucumbers over the years.  So, I placed two small trellises in the back of the container and planted cucumber seeds at their base. I picked a variety of cucumbers that were small and would do well in a container.
 
Unfortunately, they never came up.
 
I tried planting them in my regular vegetable garden and they never came up.
 
I tried starting them indoors and they didn’t sprout.
*I had purchased the seeds online from a very reputable seed company, but the entire package of seeds was defective. 
 
So I planted my go-to cucumber seeds and they are starting to grow beautifully.

 

My last vegetable/flower container has romaine lettuce, sugar snap peas and Icelandic poppies.
 
The lettuce has done very well, BUT my little dog discovered that he likes lettuce, and he would take some little bites from the sides of the lettuce.  I simply put some plastic patio chairs around the pot and he kept away.  Later, I took the chairs away and he left the lettuce alone.
 
The poppies haven’t bloomed yet, but I can see their buds, so it won’t be long now.

I have been picking off sugar snap peas every time I am in the garden and eating them on the spot.
 
So, does the idea of growing vegetables and flowers together appeal to you?
 
The book I read was “Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers” by Pamela Crawford. (I haven’t been asked to promote her book – I bought it myself and really enjoyed it so much). 
 
I can’t wait to try some different combos this summer once the lettuce fades away.  I promise I will share 🙂
 
**One thing I love so much about gardening is trying new things. This one was a home run for me.

Lately, I have been collecting toilet paper rolls.  Now I know that may sound a bit weird to some of you, but I needed them for my garden.

So how on earth can toilet paper rolls help you in the garden?

Well, they are an inexpensive, environmentally friendly tool in which to start seeds indoors.

From upper right – bush beans, marigolds, Kentucky beans, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and spinach.
 
I thought this would be a good project to do with the kids, so we gathered our seeds.
 
 
We cut each toilet paper roll in half (you can use paper towel rolls and cut them into thirds for this too.)
 
 
We used a planting mix that had slow-release fertilizer already included and also had water-holding granules. I advise wetting the soil before adding it to your toilet paper rolls.
 
 
Now that we had everything, we were ready to start. The kids used tablespoons to ‘spoon’ the planting mix into each tube.
 
 
Then we lightly pressed down the planting mix and added more.
 
 
Now it was time to plant.
 
 
Then we used a spray bottle filled with water to thoroughly water each planted seed.
 
Now we had to create a ‘mini-greenhouse’ effect by covering our toilet paper rolls with clear plastic wrap with some holes in the top.  Then we placed them on top of the refrigerator, where it was warm enough to help them germinate.

 

Every day, we checked the moisture of each toilet paper roll and added more water if necessary.  

 
Once the seedlings germinated, we removed the plastic wrap permanently and placed our seedlings by our bright, sunny kitchen window.
 
We are keeping the soil moist, but not soggy.
 
Soon, we will be able to plant our seedlings (with their toilet paper rolls) in the vegetable garden.  The cardboard from the toilet paper rolls will disintegrate into the soil.
 
Of course, you can always use the ready-made plastic seeding trays, but I must admit that I like this method better 🙂

**Are you new to vegetable gardening in the desert?  We are fortunate that we can grow a large variety of vegetables, as well as fruit.  I invite you to click the ‘Shop’ tab where you’ll find some great information on growing vegetables.

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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.

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.
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…..
 
 
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.

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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 (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
(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.

 

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
(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.  


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
(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.
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
(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.

 
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
(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.

 
 
 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.
 
 
 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.

 

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 / 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 
(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.


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 (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 (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.


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
(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.

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


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
(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
(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.

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”.

Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)

One of my favorite summer annuals is vinca.

 

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.

 

From purples and pinks to bright reds.

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.  
 

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.

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.
 
 
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.
 

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As I was walking along a desert nature trail, I came upon this unusual feature.  To be honest, I was surprised by its presence.  But then I got to thinking, don’t live things, or those things that were formerly alive belong in a garden?

What do you think it is?  Need some clues?  Here are the first ones:

I was once part of a beautiful semi-tropical forest near the equator…

My current location is quite a ways north of the equator, although I never left the land I origin from…

I was buried in layers of mud until I was unearthed…
I am much heavier now then when I died…
I used to be alive, but that was a long, long time ago…

Volcanoes, wind, and water helped to create what I am today…

When I was young, I was soft enough to be able to be cut with a knife but am now harder than steel…

Much of my color comes from iron…

You can find me in many different areas of the world, (Denmark, Mexico, China, New Zealand, and Indonesia), my home has always been in the land that makes up Arizona…

Parts of me are stolen every year by tourists…

 

Have you figured it out?

Here is the answer…

Did you guess correctly?  These pieces of petrified wood are made up of the remains of trees that are approximately 200 – 250 million years old.  They are no longer made up of any living material.  They are now made completely of stone.  The semi-tropical forest where they once stood in, has since disappeared.

Over 200 million years ago, Arizona was close to the equator, and the climate was much more humid, hence the presence of a sub-tropical forest that the trees originated from, before being transformed into petrified wood.

I came upon these beautiful specimens while I was walking along the Nature Walk, which is located next to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.  These specimens were brought here from the Petrified Forest National Park, which is in north-eastern Arizona in the Painted Desert.

More information about petrified wood and their origins can be found here at Petrified Forest National Park.