Have you ever noticed circular areas missing from your leaves? If so, you aren’t alone. The other day I noticed several of my plants with neat semi-circular sections missing. But, was I worried? Nope, and I’ll tell you why in my latest garden video.

Has this happened in your garden? What plants were affected?

Have you ever paused in the shade of a mesquite tree (Prosopis spp.) and noticed that its branches grow every which way? 

I was reminded of this when I was visiting a client earlier this week and was advising him on how to care for his mesquite tree. I looked up and saw a cluster of branches growing up, down, sideways, and in curvy pathways.

In an ideal situation, mesquite trees resemble the shape of more traditional tree species, as shown above. However, they don’t always turn out this way. 

Have you ever wondered why mesquite trees grow in such crazy ways?

The answer is quite simple – in nature, mesquites grow as large shrubs. The branches of shrubs grow in all directions, up, down, sideways, etc., and so do mesquites.  

The problem arises when we train them up as trees, and their branches don’t always behave as a tree’s do. Because of this, mesquites that have been pruned into trees, do best being pruned by a professional, particularly when they are young and certain branches are being chosen to remain while others are pruned off.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and you can see the results of bad pruning practices in many places. 

I do love the shade that mesquite trees provide and I must admit that I enjoy a good chuckle when I see the unusual shapes that some mesquite trees have taken.

How about you? Have you ever seen a mesquite tree with crazy branches?

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) before pruning

We had experienced a delightful spring with hot temperatures staying away for the most part. The weather has been so lovely that I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the garden. One garden task that has needed to get done is pruning back my winter/spring flowering shrubs.

What are winter/spring flowering shrubs you may ask? Well, they are those that flower primarily in late winter and on into spring. In the Southwest garden, they include cassia (Senna species), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata)

The time to do this varies depending on the plant and the region you live in, but generally, you want to prune them back once flowering has finished. 

I’ve decided to show you how I have pruned my cool-season shrubs and I find that using hedge trimmers make quick work of this job. Yes, I realize that I preach against using hedge trimmers for ‘poodling’ flowering shrubs into formal shapes, BUT they are very useful for corrective pruning for the health and beauty of your shrubs. I only use them ONCE a year.

Above, is a photo of my red globe mallow shrubs before I pruned them. They put on a beautiful show for several weeks, but have gone to seed, and they aren’t particularly attractive in this state. 

Newly pruned globe mallow shrubs

This is what they look like after pruning. As you can see, they have been pruned back severely, which is needed to keep them attractive and stimulate attractive, new growth. Don’t worry, while they may look rather ugly, in a few weeks; they will be fully leafed out.

Valentine bush before pruning

Here is one of my Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs. This is one of my favorite plants, and it adds priceless winter color to my garden. One of the things that I love about it is that it needs pruning once a year when the flowers have begun to fade.

Valentine bush after pruning

I prune mine back to approximately 2 feet tall and wide, but you could prune it back even further. This pruning is necessary to ensure a good amount of blooms for next year. Don’t prune it after this as you will decrease a number of flowers that will form later.

Finally, it was time to tackle pruning my feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisoides). I love the golden yellow flowers that appear in winter and last into early spring. They add a lovely fragrance to the garden as well. However, once flowering has finished, they produce seed pods that will turn brown and ugly if not pruned.

I’ve created a video to show you how to prune these shrubs. Unlike the others, I only prune them back by 1/2 their size.

*As you can see in the video, my grandson, Eric was having fun helping out in the garden.

That is all the pruning that these shrubs will receive, which will keep them both attractive and healthy.

It’s worth noting that hedge trimmers aren’t a bad tool to use – rather, the problem is when they are used incorrectly to prune flowering shrubs excessively throughout the year.

I hope that this post is helpful to you as you maintain your shrubs. If the video was helpful, please click ‘Like’ and subscribe to my YouTube channel as I will be making more garden videos to help care for and maintain your Southwest garden.

*What do you prune in mid-spring?

Fall in the garden is a time of celebration with plants enjoying the period after the heat of summer has bid goodbye and before the cold of winter arrives. 


This time of year is filled colorful blooming plants decorating our outdoor spaces.  In the past few weeks, the color purple has made its presence known in several gardens that I have visited recently.


If you love the color purple, here are some plants that you may want to include in your garden.

 
Black dalea (Dalea frutescens) saves its flowering for fall when violet flowers appear above its lacy foliage.
 
This Southwestern native is hardy to 15 degrees F. and does best in full sun.  Black dalea is underused in the landscape and deserves to be used more.
 
 
Desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis) is a shrub that I use it often for my client’s designs.  I love that it flowers throughout the year as well as its attractive foliage.
 
A native of Mexico, this shrub does best in full sun to partial shade and is hardy to zone 9 gardens.
 
 
Sometimes, parking lot medians can put on a spectacular show.  This blue ranger (Leucophyllum zygophyllum) begins blooming in summer but saves its best flowering for fall.
 
The gray foliage adds nice color contrast in the garden.  Hardy to 10 degrees, plant in full or reflected sun for maximum flowering.
 
 
One of the most beautiful purple blossoms belongs to the skyflower (Duranta erecta) shrub.  Delicate purple flowers are arrayed on graceful arching stems.
 
Hardy to 20 degrees, skyflower blooms spring through fall.  
 
 
Last week, while I was doing a landscape consultation, my attention was drawn to a beautiful blue potato bush (Lycianthies rantonnetti) blooming in the front yard.
 
 
The vibrant purple flowers contrasted beautifully with the bright green foliage.  This shrub is hardy to zone 9 gardens.
 
 
Finally, let’s look at the generous blooms of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis).  This lantana groundcover blooms spring through fall and needs very little care other than pruning once or twice a year.
 
Hardy to 20 degrees, this lantana grows in full sun or partial shade.  
 
I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of purple autumn blooms.  
 
What is flowering this fall in your garden?

The newest member of our animal family is unique in that he isn’t furry and just happens to carry his house on his back.

 
I’d like to introduce you to “Aesop”.
 
Aesop is a desert tortoise who make their home in the deserts of the Southwest .
 
You may be wondering why someone would want to adopt a desert tortoise and how the process works.
 
As for the why, as a child, my best friend’s family had a tortoise who lived in their backyard.  His name was “Lopez”.  I always enjoyed watching him munching on grass as he slowly made his way through the backyard.
 
 
In my career as a horticulturist who has spent a lot of time in the desert, I’ve come in contact with these special animals including helping one cross a busy road.
 
Due to loss of habitat in the desert as well captive tortoises breeding, there are many looking for homes.  
 
My husband and I had always liked the idea of getting a tortoise, but with our dogs having free run of our backyard, it wasn’t feasible.
We recently created a dog run along our rather large side yard, so our dogs no longer have access to the backyard.  So, our dream of acquiring a desert tortoise could be fulfilled.
So how do you get a desert tortoise?
 
First, if you live in Arizona, California, Nevada or New Mexico, you visit your state’s Game & Fish Department’s website, where you learn about desert tortoises and then fill out an application.
 
Guidelines on creating a tortoise shelter is found on the website, which must be completed before you till out the application.  
 
The application itself is fairly simple.  You need to take photographs of your backyard space and tortoise shelter, which you submit along with the application.
 
Once you are approved, you are invited to pick up your new tortoise.
 
 
My husband, daughter and I headed out to the nearest desert tortoise adoption facility, which for us was at the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s facility off of Carefree Highway in Phoenix.
*There are several other adoption facilities throughout other areas in Arizona and other Southwestern states.
 
 
We arrived on an adoption day where they were trying to have 50 desert tortoises adopted.
 
We showed them our application, gave a donation and went inside the gates.
 
 
There were several adult tortoises, sitting in boxes just waiting for someone to pick them and take them home.
 
But, we passed them by so that we could see the baby tortoises.
 
 
There were several young tortoises walking around in a plastic swimming pool
 
 
The smaller tortoises in this photo were about 3-years old.
 
 
This tiny tortoise was the size of a cookie and was 1-year old.
 
We weren’t in the market for a baby tortoise, since our new home for our tortoise was not enclosed and we were afraid that they would get lost.
 
It was fun to see them though and get a better understanding on how slowly these reptiles grow.
 
 
We walked back to the row of boxes to examine the adult tortoises inside.  
 
 
There were a few young females, which we decided against since they can carry sperm for up to 4 years and we didn’t want the chance of having baby tortoises.
 
 
And another tortoise who had three legs.  He got along fairly well on his three limbs and we asked whether he was a male or female.
 
 
At that time, we were given a lesson on how to tell the difference between males and females.
 
 
The underside of males are slightly concave while females had a flat underside.  This tortoise was a male.
 
While we liked this one very much, we were worried that the may have trouble navigating the concrete curbing around our lawn, filled with Bermuda grass, which is a favorite food of desert tortoises.
 
 
As we moved down the row of tortoises, we finally found one that was perfect.
 
 
This male tortoise was a good size and was very active…for a tortoise 😉
 
 
 
We took our tortoise and loaded him up in the car.
 
I don’t know who was more excited, my husband or my daughter, Gracie.
 
When you adopt a desert tortoise, you don’t ‘own’ them.  You are caretakers and aren’t allowed to take them outside of the state where you adopted them from.
 
Tortoises live up to 100 years, so people often hand them down to friends of family members.  Of course, you can always take them back to the facility where you adopted them from.
 
 
Once we arrived home, we showed Aesop his new home.
 
We created it out of an old plant container that we cut in half and buried with several inches of soil, which helps to insulate it against extreme cold and heat.
 
 
Aesop was curious about his new home.
 

We decided to name him “Aesop” in a nod to Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

After a minute of looking in his shelter, Aesop headed out to explore his new habitat and then wWe stood and watched him slowly walk around.
 
 
He nibbled on a few red bird-of-paradise leaves as he walked by.
 
 
Grass is a favorite food of tortoises and he was happy to walk on our lawn.
 
**The unevenness of our lawn is a rather recent development since our 13-year old son is learning how to mow.  As you can see, he has a bit more practicing to do before he gets it right.
 
 
Exploring the areas against our block wall, Aesop soon found my globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), which is found on lists of plants that they like.  Our desert willow will also provide him with some of his favorite flowers too.
 
In the 3 days since we adopted him, he had spent a lot of time exploring the entire backyard including the patio and the areas underneath our shrubs and vines.
 
In the morning and late afternoon, we see him grazing on our lawn, taking a stroll on the patio before heading to his favorite spot…
 
 
Underneath our purple lilac vines, where he likes to spend the night.
 
We have fun walking outdoors and looking for him to see where he is.
In October, Aesop will hibernate until spring, but in the meantime, we will enjoy the privilege of hosting one of these desert animals.

**For more information on desert tortoise care and how to adopt them, click here.** 

Have you ever seen a desert tortoise or know someone who has one?

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Do you love hummingbirds?  If asked, most people would say that these tiny birds are among their favorite bird species.

Anna’s Hummingbird whose head and throat are covered in pollen.
 
I always pause whatever I’m doing whenever I see a hummingbird nearby as I marvel at their small size along with their brilliant colors and flying antics.
 
Last weekend, I enjoyed an unforgettable experience observing and learning about hummingbirds at the annual Hummingbird Festival, in beautiful Sedona, Arizona.
 
 
At the festival, I gave two presentations on small space hummingbird gardening, showing people how they could create a mini-hummingbird garden in a container.
 
When I wasn’t speaking, I was enjoying the garden tour, visiting local hummingbird gardens along with attending other lectures given by noted hummingbird experts.
 
 
While there were wonderful events throughout the weekend, this was one particular event that I’ll never forget.
 
Immature Male Black-Chinned Hummingbird
 
Imagine being able to observe hummingbirds up close being banded and re-released. It really is as incredible as it sounds! In fact, I was able to hold and release a hummingbird myself!
 
So, what is hummingbird banding?
 
Hummingbirds are captured, tagged and re-released and is done to track hummingbird migration, the age and health of hummingbirds.
 
Mature Black-Chinned Hummingbird
This hummingbird banding site was located in the backyard of a home in Sedona.  
Multiple hummingbird feeders are set out to attract a large number of hummingbirds.
 
 
A few of the feeders are inside of cages with openings for hummingbirds to enter.
 
 
A hummingbird enters to feed from the feeder.
 
 
 
 
Each little hummer is carefully put into a mesh bag in order to safely transport it to the nearby table to be examined and banded.
 
It’s important to note this process does no harm to them and it is a very quick.
 
The tools needed for banding hummingbirds.
 
 
The birds are carefully removed from the bag and the process begins.
 
Young male Anna’s hummingbird.
 
 
 
They are carefully inspected for general health and to identify the species of hummingbird.  On this day – Anna’s, Black-Chinned and Costa’s hummingbirds were seen.
 
 
Measurements of the beak and feathers are taken to determine the age.
 
 
Feathers on the underside are softly blown with a straw in order to see how much (or how little) fat a hummingbird has.  A little fat indicates that a hummingbird is getting ready to migrate.
 
 
Special eyewear is required for the banders to see what they are doing with these tiny birds.
 
 
For the banding process itself, hummingbirds are placed in a nylon stocking so that one of their legs is more easily manipulated.
 
 
The small band is carefully placed on the leg.
 
As you might expect, it isn’t easy to band hummingbirds because of their tiny size – the bands themselves are so small that they fit around a toothpick.  In fact, hummingbird banding is a highly specialized job and there are only 150 people in the U.S. who have permits allowing them to band hummingbirds.
 
 
After the banding has been done, hummingbirds are given a drink of sugar water before being released.
 
 
This hummingbird bander is from St. Louis, MO and was so excited to see his first Costa’s hummingbird (which aren’t found where he lives). 
 
 
For me, the most exciting part is when observers have the opportunity to hold and release the newly-banded hummingbirds.
 
 
The hummingbirds would sit for a few seconds in the palm of your hand before flying off.
 
Holding a hummingbird in your hand is as amazing as you would expect!  The hummingbird that I released was a young black-chinned hummingbird that had hatched earlier this year.
 
 
One of the observers who got to release a hummingbird was a gentleman who was 100 years old + 1 month old! 
How wonderful to be able to experience new things at that age 🙂
 
 
The garden where the banding was held was beautiful – especially with the backdrop of the red rocks of Sedona.
 
 
I must admit that I was equally split between observing the banding and watching the numerous hummingbirds feeding.
 
Can you tell how many hummingbirds are in the photo, above?
 
Seven!
 
I have got to add more hummingbird feeders to my own garden!
 
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I am so grateful to the folks at the Hummingbird Society who put on a wonderful festival.  I enjoyed speaking and learning about these wonderful “flying jewels”.
 
The festival is held every other year in Sedona, AZ.  There were over 1,000 attendees this year.  I highly encourage you to consider attending this special event next year.
 

“Where do you recommend I go to buy plants?” This is one question that I’m often asked, and Tmy answer varies.

The choices that people have for purchasing plants range from a locally owned nursery, a nursery chain, or a big box store.  

So which is best? Well, that depends on the situation. So, I am going to give you my recommendations based on different factors.

Local Nursery
Situation #1:
You have just moved into a new house and want to add some plants, but you have no idea what kind of plants do well in your new region, how to care for them, or what type of exposure is best.
Answer: 
I would highly recommend visiting a locally owned nursery, which employs people who are knowledgeable about plants. Also, the types of plants they carry are most likely well-adapted to the growing conditions of your area as well.  
Local nurseries also sell a greater variety of plants.
 
The mature size of a plant often depends on what climate they are grown in.  So your local nursery professional can tell you how large the plant will become in your zone, what type of exposure it needs along with watering and fertilizer requirements the plant will require.
You will pay a little more at a locally-owned nursery or a small chain, but you will save money due to the excellent advice and the fact that they usually only stock well-adapted plants for the region.

 

Big Box Store Nursery
Situation #2:  
You have a list of plants that you need for your garden, are familiar with the plants that do well where you live and how to care for them. Also, your budget for purchasing new plants is small.
 
Answer:
When you exactly what plants you need and are dealing with a tight budget, you may want to check out your big box store’s nursery
Another important thing is to be familiar the plant’s needs because, while their nursery personnel may be helpful, not all of them are knowledgeable about plants.
 
The biggest benefit for shopping at a big box store’s nursery is that plants are often less expensive than at your local nursery.  Many also offer an excellent plant warranty as well.
 
One important thing to remember about shopping at a big box store nursery is that just because you see a plant there, does not necessarily mean that it will do well in your area.  I have seen quite a few plants available in my local big box store that is sold out of season or very difficult to impossible to grow where I live.
 
So where do I shop for plants?
Well, it depends on several factors.

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

 
For flowering annuals, I shop at the nearby big box store as it’s hard to beat their variety and amount plants available.
When I need perennials, shrubs, succulents, or trees, you’ll find me at my favorite local nursery. They grow most of their nursery stock, so I know that it is adapted to the climate.

While traveling to areas with similar climates to mine, I take time to see if they have any specialty nurseries and take time to visit.

I do need to confess that my favorite place to find plants is not at a nursery, but at my botanical garden’s seasonal plant sale. They have hard to find plants, and I know that whatever plants I come home with will do well in my garden.

 Regardless of where you shop for your plants, I highly recommend researching plants ahead of time.  

 
Learn how big they get, what type of maintenance they require, watering needs and how it will do where you live.  You can find most of this information easily online by doing a simple search using the plant name + where you live, which will give you links on the plant and how it does in your area.

**Where do you shop for plants?

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Did you know that one of the great things about living in the Southwest is the fact that we aren’t limited to just growing flowering annuals in our pots – succulents make great alternative container plants!
 
Last year, I replaced all of my flowering plants with succulents and I haven’t looked back.  They look great and take very minimal care, which fits into my busy life perfectly.  
 
Recently, I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and saw some great examples of potted succulents, which I thought I’d share with you…
 
Victoria Agave ‘Compacta’
 
Agave parryi ‘truncata’
 
Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)
 
A trio of variegated agave
 
‘Blue Elf’ Aloe
 
As you can see, there are so many options when you decide to use succulents in containers.  
 
Whether you live near the Desert Botanical Garden or even if you don’t – you can visit your local botanical garden for some alternative ideas for filling your containers.
 
Growing succulents in pots is easy – the most important thing is that they are well-drained, so it’s important to use a planting mix specially formulated for succulents.
 
Do you have any succulents growing in pots?

With the imminent arrival of fall, I am itching to get to the nursery to choose plants for some empty spots in my landscape.

 
Are you in the market for some new plants this fall?  
 
 
As a horticulturist, I have designed, planted and overseen the installation of thousands of plants over the years.  
 
As you can imagine, I have learned some tips along the way of how to and how NOT to select the best plants for the landscape.
 
Plant nursery at The Living Desert Museum in Palm Desert, CA
 
Today, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite tips on how to choose plants at the nursery that will save you money and future problems.
 
Last week, we talked about how important it is to research plants before buying, so you can be sure that you are selecting a plant that will thrive in your climate.  
 
In addition to researching plants ahead of time – before you hop into the car and head out to your local nursery, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read the following tips, which could save you from buyer’s remorse.
 
Foxglove for sale in front of an Arizona big box store nursery.  This lovely perennial will not grow well in desert gardens.
 
1. Avoid impulse buys.
 
Believe it or not, some nurseries carry plants that will not grow well in your area.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen hydrangeas offered at my local big box store’s nursery department.  While I would LOVE to be able to grow hydrangea in my Southwest garden, I know that within a few weeks of planting – it will soon languish and die.
 
Don’t assume that just because your local nursery sells a certain type of plant, that it will grow in your climate.  Sadly, this is particularly true of big box stores.
 
Why do they stock plants that won’t grow in the local climate?  The answer is simple – most people are drawn to these plants because they don’t normally see them and they are often colorful and beautiful.  So, they inevitably purchase them assuming that they will grow in their garden.  A few weeks later, they are dismayed when their new plant becomes sickly and dies.  This leads to many people believing that they have a black thumb.
 
Make sure you research plants before buying!
 
 
2. Smaller sizes can be better.
In many cases, skipping over the larger-sized plant in favor of the identical plant in a smaller-sized container is often the better choice.
 
Of course, there is the amount of money you will save, but did you know that the smaller plant has an easier time becoming established after planting?
 
Smaller plants are younger and are better able to handle the shock of being transplanted than older plants.  In addition, they have less upper growth (branches, leaves & stems) to support, so they can focus on growing roots more quickly that is soon followed by new top growth.
 
Bigger and older plants aren’t as adaptable and take a more extended length of time to grow and become established.
 
Planting smaller plants works best with those that have a moderate to fast growth rate.  For plants that take have a slow rate of growth, you may want to select a larger plant size.
 
In addition to saving money, you don’t have to dig as large a hole!
 
Root bound plant
3. Avoid plants that have been in their containers too long.
 
Sometimes, nurseries don’t sell plants as quickly as they’d like.  So what happens when a plant sits in a container too long?
 
The roots start growing around and around each other causing the plant to become root bound.  Once roots grow this way, they have a hard time growing outward into the soil as they should.  Eventually, the plant will decline and even die.
 
So, how can you tell if a plant has been in its container too long?
 
– Look for signs such as weeds growing in the pot, which indicates that it may have been in the nursery for a while.
 
– Are there any dead leaves inside the pot? This is also an indicator that it may have been sitting in the nursery for a long time.
 
– See if roots are growing through the drainage holes – if so, that is a clear indication of a plant that has been its container too long.
 
 
If you have brought a plant that turns out to be root bound, you can help it out.  Take a box cutter or sharp knife and make a series of vertical cuts around the root ball, so that you are cutting through the circled roots.  Do this on the bottom too.
 
By cutting the roots, you are disrupting the circular growth pattern, and they should be able to grow out into the surrounding soil.
 
4. Select healthy plants.
 
While most plants at the nursery are usually healthy and in good shape, this isn’t always the case.
 
Avoid plants with yellowing leaves, which can be a sign of incorrect watering.  Look for signs of any yellow or brown spots on the leaves as well, which can be a sign of disease.  In addition to checking for signs of disease – look for signs of insects such the presence of webs or chewed leaves.  
 
Bringing any plants home with disease or damaging insects can inadvertently infect your existing plants.
If the soil in the pot appears overly moist or has a funny odor, walk away.  Overwatered plants rarely do well.
 
 
5. Select plants that are grown locally whenever possible.
 
In Arizona, where I live, many plants found in our nurseries are grown in California.  (I don’t have anything against things from California – I grew up there 😉
 
However, plants that are grown in a different climate and then brought over to another one can have a tough time adapting to the new climate unless they have had time to ‘harden off’ and adjust to the weather conditions.
 
So when possible, choose plants grown by local growers.  Not only will the plants have an easier time becoming established, but you will also be supporting your local economy.
 
*************************
 
I am often asked for my advice on where to buy plants and I always reply, “That depends.”
 
Here are the guidelines that I follow when deciding where to buy plants:
 
Big Box Store
If you are on a tight budget AND know exactly what plant(s) you are buying ahead of time than going to a nursery department at the closest big box store may work best because they have the least expensive plants.  You can often find that some of their plants come from local growers.
 
BUT, beware that not all plants there can necessarily be grown successfully in your local climate, so research ahead of time.  Also, plants that remain there for a longer length of time are not always cared for sufficiently.
 
I hesitate to say this, but the advice from the people who work in big box store nurseries is not always dependable.  The people are friendly and helpful, but there are many times that I have overheard incorrect information being given or the reply, “I don’t know.”
 
 
Local Nursery
If you want good advice and a large selection of plants that are more likely to be appropriate for your local climate than take a trip to your local nursery.
 
Of course, the prices are higher, but the chance of coming home with an ill-suited plant are reduced.
 
Also, local nurseries are more likely to carry plants that are locally grown and adapted to the local climate.
 
Botanical Garden
If your botanical garden has its own nursery – than consider yourself lucky.  The staff is extremely knowledgeable and some of the plant material is often grown on site.
 
Almost all botanical gardens host plant sales once or twice throughout the year.  I had a great time at the last plant sale held at the Desert Botanical Garden and came home with three different plants to try.
Now for those of you who live in the Phoenix metro area – I have been promising to tell you what two nurseries I go to.
 
 

The nursery that you are most likely to find me at is Treeland Nurseries, located in Mesa, near Guadalupe and Country Club Roads or Summerwinds Nursery, a block away.

I visit about twice a year.  Why not more, you may ask?  Well, those who know me well, know that I get distracted by all of the great plants and new varieties that I inevitably find in both places and I tend to come away with more plants than I had originally planned on.

 
How about you? 
What is your favorite place to buy plants where you live?
 
Give a shout out to your favorite nursery in the comments section below 🙂

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Have you ever had a ‘substitute’ teacher?  As most of you know, a substitute teacher doesn’t do things the same way our regular teacher does.

A few years ago, I was asked to step in as a ‘substitute’ for my father-in-law’s landscape.

Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
 
My father-in-law had always been a meticulous gardener and took a lot of pride in his landscape.
Have you ever seen rounder shrubs?
 
A few years earlier, I had designed the landscape around his new home and tried to convince him to allow his plants to grow into their natural shapes.  But as you can see from the photo above, he didn’t follow my advice.
 
He eventually took out his backyard grass and replaced it with artificial turf and whenever flowers or leaves would fall on the grass, he would vacuum them up – I’m not kidding.
 
We would often joke with each other about our very different styles of gardening – especially when he would come over to my house for a visit and see my plants growing “wild and free” as he would say.  
 
But despite our differences, we shared the same love for plants and the garden.
 
Unfortunately, his gardening days were numbered and he asked me to come over and help him with the gardening tasks that he could no longer do.
 
My father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in October 2010 and it progressed very rapidly.
 
So, I became his ‘substitute gardener’ and I was happy to be able to help out so that he could still enjoy the beauty of his garden, even if he could not care for it himself.
 
 
In early August of 2011, I lightly pruned back his gold lantana.  At this point, my father-in-law spent most of his time indoors sitting down. But, as I was pruning, I saw him slowly make his way out, with his walker, so he could watch me prune his plants.
 
At this point, he could no longer talk due to ALS and I’m certain that if he could have spoken, he might have asked me to make the lantana ’rounder’.
 
After this light pruning, the lantana would grow back to its original size before stopping during winter.  If they had not been pruned, they would have look quite overgrown for my father-in-law’s taste.
Light pruning involves removing 1/3 or less.  The timing of this light pruning is crucial – prune too late and your plants will be extra susceptible to damage from frost.  Don’t prune after early August in zone 9 (July in zone 8) gardens. Pruning in fall should not be done for this very reason. 
 
 
Another part of the garden that my father-in-law took a lot of pride in was his flowering annuals.  Every year, he would plant the same red geraniums and white-flowering bacopa in winter.  Once spring rolled around, he would plant red and white vinca. He never deviated by trying out newer colors or varieties.
 
I found myself taking over this job as well and when I came home and see all there was to do in my neglected garden – I didn’t mind.  It felt so good to be able to control how his garden looked because ALS had taken control of everything else.
 
My father-in-law died in September 2011, just 11 months after being diagnosed with ALS.  
 
It’s been almost 3 years since he passed away, but whenever August comes around and I find myself lightly pruning back my gold lantana – I enjoy the memory of one our last moments together in the garden as I pruned his lantana.

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