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 most would expect, water is considered a precious resource in the desert. But, did you know that there are more plant problems caused due to over-watering then under-watering?  
 
Believe it or not, it is true. Most people are surprised to hear that up to 70% of residential water usage goes to watering trees and plants in your landscape. This high percentage is because many homeowners over-water their trees and plants.
 
Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris) and Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
 
During college, I was fortunate to intern at the City of Mesa Water Conservation Office. The lessons that I learned there would last a lifetime. Nowadays, when I visit clients to help them with their landscapes, over 90% of the time I find that their irrigation schedule is incorrect – they water too lightly and too often.  
 
This results in shallow roots and salt build-up in and around the root zone. (If you have seen a white substance around your plants, there is a good chance that it is the salts from the soil. And just an FYI – just like high amounts of salt are not good for us; they are not good for plants either).
 
Another result from over-watering is that your plants are more easily stressed by the heat since their roots are close to the surface where they become hot and dry out much more quickly.
 
Trailing Yellow Dot (Wedelia trilobata), Rain Lily (Zephyranthes candida), Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
 
It’s important to note that plants need to be watered deeply, which does two things. First, it causes the roots to grow deeper into the soil, where it is cooler and stays moister longer. Secondly, it helps to reduce the salts in the soil and keeps them away from the root zone.
 
Your plants do not need the same amount of irrigation all year. Their needs are dictated by the weather – the hotter it is, the more water they need and when temperatures dip, the less that they need.  For example, I water my garden once every 20 days in the winter, (excluding grass and annuals), and it is healthy and looks great.  If you only take one thing from this article, then please let it be this; CHANGE THE WATERING SCHEDULE ON YOUR IRRIGATION CONTROLLER SEASONALLY. 
 
 
Now, you are probably asking “How do I know what schedule my plants and lawn should be on?”  Well, the folks at Water Use It Wisely are coming to your rescue. They have excellent information for the homeowner on the proper irrigation schedule for your plants. You can view it here:  Landscape Watering Guide  
 
This guide was prepared for people who reside in the Phoenix metropolitan area. However, people who live in dry climates everywhere will find useful information regarding irrigation, and you can also contact your local extension office for locally published materials. **Most cities have information for their residents regarding watering schedules for their local climate. You can also contact your local cooperative extension office who often have this information as well. 
 
If you find that you have been over-watering your plants, make sure that when you switch to the correct irrigation schedule, that you gradually change the schedule so that your plants have a chance to adjust. 
 
 
By spending a little time to make sure that your plants are on the correct irrigation schedule, you will have healthier plants, a less expensive water bill and the knowledge that you are helping to protect our precious resource.
 
**For those of you not familiar with drip irrigation. It is the primary way that plants are irrigated in the Southwestern US deserts as well as many other regions of the world. Water is brought to the plant by a series of plastic pipes, tubing & emitters. The emitters drip water slowly to the root zone of the plant, reducing runoff and allowing the water to permeate deeply into the soil, which saves water.

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is a must-have for the desert garden.  There is so much to love about this shrub.  

 
My favorite attribute is that it flowers off and on all year.  Its red flowers are shaped like miniature feather dusters.  Also, this plant attracts hummingbirds, is low-maintenance, drought tolerant and great by swimming pools because of its low litter.
 
Baja fairy duster has a vibrant red flower, which is often a color missing in the desert plant palette.  The majority of flowering occurs spring through fall, but some flowering can occur in areas that experience mild winters.  
 
It is native to Baja California, Mexico and is also called red fairy duster by some.  It is evergreen to 20 degrees F.  During some unusually cold winters when temperatures dropped into the high teens, I have had some killed to the ground, but they quickly grew back from their roots. 
 

USES: This shrub grows to approximately 4 – 5 ft. High and wide, depending on how much you prune it, so allow plenty of room for it to develop.  

 
It makes a lovely screening shrub, either in front of a wall or blocking pool equipment, etc.  It also serves as a colorful background shrub for smaller perennials such as damianita, blackfoot daisy, Parry’s penstemon, gold or purple lantana and desert marigold.  
 
Baja fairy duster can take full sun and reflected heat but can also grow in light shade.  It is not particular about soil as long as it is well-drained.
  
 Baja fairy duster in the middle of a desert landscape, flanked by desert spoon to the left and ‘Torch Glow’ bougainvillea to the right.  Red yucca is in the foreground.
 
MAINTENANCE:  As I mentioned before, this is a very low-maintenance shrub.  Some people shear this shrub, which I DO NOT recommend.  This removes most of the flowers and takes away from the natural shape of this shrub.  However, it’s size can be controlled with proper pruning.  Pruning should be done in late spring and should be performed with hand-pruners, NOT hedge clippers.
 
Baja fairy duster does require regular irrigation until established but then is relatively drought-tolerant.  However, proper watering is needed for it to look its best and flower regularly, which is what I do.  


Other than adding compost to the planting hole, no other amendments or fertilizer is needed.  Most native desert plants have been adapted to growing in our nutrient deficient soils and do best when left alone in terms of fertilizing.  I tell my clients to fertilize only if the plant shows symptoms of a nutrient deficiency.
 
So, go to your local plant nursery and get some of these beautiful shrubs for your garden.  Then, while you sit and enjoy its beauty, you can debate what you love most about it….the beautiful year-round flowers, the hummingbirds it attracts, it’s low-maintenance, or come up with your reasons.

Do you ever wonder what plants look good together?  Below are pictures of some of my favorite plant combinations along with some general guidelines that I follow when designing a garden.

Sometimes red and pink colors always compliment each other.  Introducing yellow flowering plants provide a high color contrast that brings out the red and pink colors.  Above is a golf course landscape that I planted with Valentine shrub (Eremophila ‘Valentine’), Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) against the backdrop of foothill palo verde trees.

 

Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) with purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Also, succulents paired with perennials almost always compliment each other with their contrasting shades of green and textures.  Other recommended succulent and perennial pairings include desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) alongside black dalea (Dalea frutescens), prickly pear species with penstemon or try octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) with purple or white trailing lantana.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’)
   
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

I use plants with white flowers as a backdrop for plants with red, pink and purple flowers; I like the way the white flowers emphasize the other colors.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae) & Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Most of the time the pairing of purple flowering plants with those that have orange flowers always looks great.  When deciding what colors look good when paired together, it helps to look at a color wheel.  In general, the colors that are opposite each other look great when paired together because their colors contrast so well.  Other orange, purple plant combinations to try are cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) with (Leucophyllum species), or  Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) with purple lantana. 

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
 

Also, I believe that any garden looks better with some yellow flowering plants.  As I mentioned earlier, the color yellow makes the other plants look better, (think of the color wheel).   I have had clients that have said they do not like yellow until I show them how much better their other plants look when we introduce just a few yellow flowering plants to their landscape and they quickly change their mind.

 
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)
Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’
 

I often recommend the following for those who are looking for large shrub combinations.  Okay, I realize that many people either love or hate bougainvillea. Personally, I love them.  I have two bougainvilleas and since I don’t have a swimming pool, so I am not bothered by their litter. Their beautiful and vibrant colors are amazing.

I pair my bougainvillea with yellow bell shrubs.  Their colors contrast nicely, and they screen out the back wall of my garden.  I give them plenty of room to grow, and they produce beautiful flowers spring through fall.  If you do have a swimming pool and don’t like bougainvillea, how about trying orange jubilee (Tecoma hybrid ‘Orange Jubilee’) and Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) together?
 
Weber’s agave (Agave weberi) and purple trailing lantana
 
I have just one more tip –  if you want to pair flowering plants together to enjoy the contrasting colors, make sure that they bloom at the same time of year.  It is so easy to visit the plant nursery and see the pretty photos of flowers on the different plants and pick what ones you think will look great together only to discover later that one flower in the fall while the other blooms in spring and so you never see their flowers at the same time.
 
So, visit your local nursery and try some of the suggested plant combinations or see what beautiful plant pairings you come up with for your garden.
Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) brings a unique “cottage-garden” feel to the desert plant palette along with some surprises. In spring a flush of beautiful flowers are produced that will cause people to stop in their tracks. After that, globe mallow will bloom off and on throughout the summer and fall.  
 

This shrubby, perennial is native to the Southwestern areas of North America where it is found growing along washes and rocky slopes. They grow quickly and reach approximately 3 ft. X 3 ft. in size. Globe mallow is cold hardy to about 20 degrees F.

Although most globe mallow plants produce orange flowers, they are available in other colors including pink, purple, white, red and shades in between. At the nursery, you will usually see the orange flowered variety available. However, some growers are beginning to stock selections of globe mallow in different colors. But buyer beware; unless specially marked or blooming, you don’t know exactly what color flower you will end up with make sure if you want a certain color to check for mark.  
 

Often, the surprise occurs after you plant them and wait to see what color the flowers will be. I bought four globe mallow, out of bloom, for my garden and ended up with one red, two pink and one white. For those who do not like surprises in the garden, you can wait and buy them in bloom in the spring.

USES: Globe mallow attracts hummingbirds as well as butterflies. They serve as a colorful backdrop for small perennials or small cacti. Consider planting with any of the following plants for a colorful desert flower garden – penstemon, desert marigold, ruellia, and blackfoot daisy. This beautiful but tough plant does best in full sun and performs well in areas with hot, reflected heat. Do not plant in shady areas as this will cause them to grow leggy.

Globe mallow do self-seed, and the seedlings can be moved and transplanted in the fall if desired. They are used frequently for re-vegetation purposes because they grow readily from seed.

MAINTENANCE: This pretty perennial is very low-maintenance.  No fertilizer or amendments to the soil are required. Prune once a year to approximately 6 inches to 1 ft. after it has finished blooming in late spring/early summer, which will help to prevent them from self-seeding, maximize future blooming and minimize unproductive, woody growth. Globe mallow is not the type of plant to repeatedly shear into a formal shape. When pruning, wear gloves and long sleeves since the tiny hairs on the leaves can be irritating to some as well as an eye irritant.

Once established, globe mallow is quite drought-tolerant, but will require supplemental irrigation for the best appearance and flowering. My globe mallow plants are connected to my drip-irrigation system and do very well when watered three to four times a month, spring through fall.

ADDITIONAL FACTS: Historically, globe mallow were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes such as treating diarrhea, sore throats, eye diseases as well as skin disorders. Their roots were used for upset stomachs and poultices were made for treating swollen joints and broken bones.

*Have you ever grown globe mallow?

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Do you like prickly cactus?  

I have a few favorites, one being santa-rita prickly pear (Opuntia violaceae var. santa rita). The color contrast of their blue-grey pads and the shades of purple are so striking in the landscape.  

This cactus makes a beautiful accent plant for the landscape. Both the pads and fruit are edible, (but you might want to remove the spines first ;-). Cold temperature and drought intensify the purple color.

Santa-rita prickly pear is native to the Southwest regions of North America. They can grow as large as 6 ft. X 6 ft., but can be pruned to maintain a smaller size.  Pruning is done carefully, by making pruning cuts at the junction where the pads connect.


Lovely yellow flowers appear in spring followed by red fruit in the summer months.  Javelina, rabbits and pack rats will sometimes eat the pads. Pack rats use the pads to make their homes.

The pads of the prickly pear are covered with clusters of 2″ spines as well as tiny spines known as glochids. Glochids are incredibly irritating to the skin and detach from the pad very easily. Their tips have a small barb, which makes them difficult to remove from your skin.  If you need to handle them, use a few layers of newspaper or a piece of carpet. Do not make the mistake of touching the pads with gloves because the glochids will attach to your gloves and render them useless, (I ruined a perfectly good pair this way). 
 
 **There are different ways to remove these small spines, including applying Elmer’s glue (letting it dry and then pulling them off), but many people have reported greater success using duct tape. 

 

 
USES: In addition to serving as an accent plant in the landscape, this prickly pear species can also be used as a screen. Some may be surprised to learn that they also make excellent container plants, just make sure they are not near any foot traffic areas. They do well in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.
 
MAINTENANCE: Prickly pear is very low-maintenance plants. I always use tongs to pick up the pads that I have pruned, or you can use newspaper.  
 
Although they are incredibly drought-tolerant, watering once a month during the hot summer months, in the absence of rain, will be appreciated and will improve the appearance of your prickly pear. Shriveled pads indicate acute drought-stress.
 
 

Many people believe that the appearance of white, cotton-like areas on the pads is a sign of a fungal infection. However, it is caused by a small insect that secretes the white cottony mass, called cochineal scale.  Control is straightforward – simply spray off it with a strong jet of water from the hose – that’s it!

 
PROPAGATION: Prickly pear can be planted from seed, but there is a much easier way. Just cut off a pad that is at least 6 inches tall. Put the pad upright, in a shady, dry place for at least about two weeks. This allows a callus to form at the bottom.  
 
Plant with the cut end down, do not water for the first month because the bottom is susceptible to fungal infections. After the first month, water every 2 – 3 weeks until established.  If planted in the summer, provide shade until established (about three months). *I generally do not recommend planting in the winter but encourage waiting until spring when the soil warms up. 
 
If you have a large prickly pear, you can prune it, or you can start over by taking it out and cutting off some of the pads and plant them in the same place. Many of my clients have done this and been happy with the results.
 
INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACT: The Aztecs would cultivate prickly pear cactus infected with cochineal scale because the insects secrete a dark red dye with crushed. This was used to dye cloth. The Spanish exported this dye from Mexico back to Europe where it was used to dye royal garments and British military uniforms. The dye was highly valued by the Spanish, next to gold and silver. It takes 70,000 insects to produce 1 pound of dye.
 
*This is but one of many beautiful prickly pear species available to the home gardener.   Do you have a favorite species of prickly pear cactus?
 
 There are some signs that summer is beginning to fade and that fall is around the corner.  The stress that the high temperatures of summer bring has caused many plants to slow down their growth.  
 
However, the slightly lower temperatures in September bring on a flush of new growth for many trees, shrubs, and succulents in the garden.  I enjoy being out in my garden this time of year and seeing many of my plants rejuvenated.
 

With the somewhat cooler temperatures, I am now seeing many gardeners venturing outside and taking stock of the condition of their landscape.  Fall is a busy time in the desert garden because it is the ideal time to install many types of plants, which will be discussed in a separate post in early October.

  
SHRUBS: I just finished lightly pruning my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae).  Summer flowering shrubs that are cold-hardy look their best when lightly pruned at this time to help reign in rangy, sprawling growth. This should be only done with hand pruners only.  Do not use a hedge trimmer and shear your shrubs.  They should have a pleasing natural shape when you are finished.  Do not prune back frost-sensitive plants at this time.
 
 ANNUALS:  Although the local nurseries are abundant with winter annuals, I don’t recommend planting them now.  The temperatures are still quite hot, and there is a good chance that they will not make it.  
 

In the past when mid-September came, I would load up the truck with 100+ flats of annuals to plant around the community where I worked as the horticulturist.   I would then spent the next four weeks making repeated trips to the nursery to replace dead plants that just could not handle the heat of early fall.  From then on I would wait until October to change out summer annuals and replace with winter annuals.  As a result, we suffered very little plant loss.

TREES:  Mesquite and Palo Verde trees that are overgrown can be lightly easily pruned back.  Resist the temptation to heavily prune at this time.  January and February is the time for heavy pruning to occur for these trees.
 
SUCCULENTS:  Cacti, agaves and other succulent plants do best when planted when soil temperatures are warm, which makes September a great time to install them before cooler temperatures arrive.   Prickly Pear cactus can be pruned back this month if needed.  Problems with agave may show up this time of year. 
 
If your agave suddenly collapses, there is a good chance that they have gotten an infection with agave snout weevil.  There is no cure and the agave should be removed, it will be smelly due to the decay the weevil causes – and not just a little stinky.
 
One of my (least) favorite memories happened years ago when I worked as a horticulturist on a golf course.  One year, we had to remove countless agaves throughout the landscapes due to a large infestation – the smell was awful.  If this happens to your agave, do not plant another agave in the area – use another type of plant instead.
 
ROSES:  Roses should be lightly pruned and fertilized this month (see earlier post for details).
 

CITRUS:  Make sure to fertilize your citrus trees if you have not already done so (see earlier post for details).

 
NEXT MONTH – get ready for planting and wildflower garden preparation!