Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

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

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

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

Javelina resemblance to a boar

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

Javelina in the Desert Garden

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

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

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

Javelina in the Desert Garden

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

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

Javelina in the Desert Garden

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

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

Bacopa

Bacopa

Lavender

Lavender

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

 citrus fruit

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

mesquite

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

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

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

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

javelina

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

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

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

Grow Amaryllis Outdoors in the Desert Southwest

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

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

Grow Amaryllis Outdoors in the Desert Southwest

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

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

Here is how to do it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever grown an amaryllis outside?

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

Arizona Road Trip: Sweet potato vine trail underneath a planting of lantana and 'Victoria Blue' salvia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet potato vine, lantana, 'Katie' ruellia, and salvia

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

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

A 'Painted Lady' butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

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

Butterflies and hummingbirds are also frequent visitors to Tlaquepaque.

trumpet vine and yucca

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

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

Arizona Road Trip

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

Arizona Road Trip

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

Prescott National Forest.

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

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

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

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

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

desert tortoise

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

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

 

 

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

Aesop, the Desert Tortoise Gets a Bath

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

As a garden writer and horticulturist, I am often asked to review new gardening books, which is one of my favorite things to do; especially if the books are about growing plants in the desert.

Years ago, there were precious few books that dealt with the unique challenges and solutions to creating a beautiful outdoor space in a hot, arid climate. Nowadays, there are several books that focus on desert gardening, but most just scratch the surface of how to do it. When I was contacted by The Desert Botanical Garden to see if I would review their new book, Desert Landscape School: A Guide to Desert Landscaping and Maintenance, I said yes.

The origins of the book arose from the Desert Landscape School at the gardens, which offers classes for individuals who are interested in specializing in certain aspects of desert landscaping. Graduates earn a certification in one or more areas, including desert plant palette, planting and maintenance, and desert design. A large group of experts was brought together in the creation of this book, including many that work in the garden.

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

Thumbing through my copy, I looked to see how the information was laid out and whether it addressed common landscape dilemmas that are unique to desert gardening. As you may expect, a book from this prestigious garden didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading through its pages and reliving my early days as a horticulturist learning not only the basics of arid gardening principles but also strategies and tips for growing plants that I didn’t learn until later.

This book is for those who want to learn the reasons why we garden the way we do in the desert to more fully understand it. There is also valuable information regarding plant selection, design, sustainability, installation guidelines, and how to properly maintain the landscape. 

I’ve always said that “gardening in the desert isn’t hard, it’s just different” and the book offers practical tips that make growing plants in an arid climate, easier. For example, connecting tree wells using swales and gravity to allow rain water to flow to where it’s needed instead of down the street.

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was interested in the pruning and maintenance section, as I am passionate about teaching people correct pruning practices. One illustration that grabbed my attention was the right and wrong way to prune palm trees.

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

Badly pruned palm trees

I had taken this photo a couple of weeks ago of palm trees that had been pruned incorrectly with too many fronds removed. Overpruning weakens the tree and leaves it open to other stresses, which the book addresses.

The structure of the book is set up so that each section can be read on its own, so readers can focus on what they are interested in learning most. Of course, I recommend reading the entire book as it contains invaluable information which leaves the reader well-informed and confident in their ability to garden successfully in the desert southwest as well as other desert regions.

Desert Landscaping & Maintenance is truly a one-of-a-kind book that serves the role of several desert gardening books in one, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this brand new desert gardening guide.

Right now, the book is available for purchase for visitors to The Desert Botanical Garden or you can buy it online.

peaches in Arizona

Growing peaches and making peach jam

It’s one of my favorite times of year in the garden – my peach trees are heavily laden with delicious, sweet fruit ready for picking.

Many people are surprised to learn that you can grow peaches in Arizona, but they do very well. However, they do ripen earlier than in cooler climates. May is peach season here in the desert.

 peach trees

My peach trees sit outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been keeping my eye on them to see when they were ready to harvest.  Finally, the day arrived, and I brought out my bushel basket and got to picking.

Making Delicious Peach Jam

One peach tree can provide you with most of the peaches you need. Last year, I made peach blueberry jam, which was so good, that it didn’t last long. Today, I’m planning on making regular peach jam, but I can always buy peaches from the store at another time to make other variations if I choose to.

Every May, I haul out my water bath canner, canning jars, and spend 2 hours making delicious peach jam.

Growing peaches and making jam isn’t difficult or expensive. Here is a link to the guidelines that I follow.

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Did you know that some flowering, desert perennials are grown easily from seed? It’s true. Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from my established plants.

I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.

Gather Flower Seeds , Pink globe mallow 

Pink globe mallow 

My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.

White globe mallow

White globe mallow

When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased.  Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.

Light pink globe mallow

Light pink globe mallow

Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag.  It’s important to keep the colors separate so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

There are other desert perennials that come up easily from seed, such as the ones pictured above in a garden I visited a few years ago. 

So how do you grow these drought tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go to a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used. 

Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout.  Not all will come up, but those that do, will add beauty to your garden and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.

What type of plants have you had come up in your garden from seed?

White Flowers for the Southwest Landscape: Part 2

Growing Garlic? Use the Greens to Flavor Your Favorite Dishes

Do you grow garlic in your garden? If so, you know that it takes a long time to grow with planting in October and harvesting it in May. During the long growing period, the leafy green tops of the garlic plant are all that is visible while the garlic bulb is growing below ground.

But, did you know that the garlic greens can be used in some of your favorite dishes? Here is how I use them…

It’s always fun to find new ways to enjoy the vegetables in your garden. Have you ever tried garlic greens or other non-traditional parts of vegetables?

Growing Garlic? Use the Greens to Flavor Your Favorite Dishes

For tips on how to grow your own garlic, click here.

Lovely Perennials, Friendship Sage (Salvia 'Amistad')

Lovely Perennials, Friendship Sage (Salvia ‘Amistad’)

Talk to most homeowners about what they want in their garden and they will usually reply “color”.  I am no different and when I was given the opportunity to try out two new plants, courtesy of the folks at Monrovia, I jumped at the chance to showcase more examples of their plants, which are available at Lowe’s or at your local garden center.

I would like to share with you two plants that will add a pop of color to your garden.

The first is Friendship Sage (Salvia ‘Amistad’). Recent visitors to my garden couldn’t take their eyes off of the vibrant purple flowers and the lush green foliage of this new plant.

This particular salvia does best in filtered shade and should be kept away from full sun, especially in hot, inland areas.  Hardy to zone 9, it is suitable for climates with mild winters.  

Lovely Perennials, Friendship Sage (Salvia 'Amistad')

I would recommend pairing it with yellow-flowering perennials like angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), or gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold Mound’). I can hardly wait to see the hummingbirds flock to the tubular blooms.  Flowering occurs in spring, summer, and fall.  However, in hot climates, flowers may disappear in the summer only to resume in fall.

Hummingbirds will flock to the tubular blooms so be sure to place friendship salvia where you can view it up close.  Flowering occurs in spring, summer, and fall.  However, in hot climates, flowers may disappear in the summer only to resume in fall.

Salvias have always been a huge favorite of mine and I am so happy to have this new addition to the garden.

*Learn more about this and other colorful plants at Monrovia.

'Little Janie' Gaura

‘Little Janie’ Gaura

The second perennial that I’d like to show you is a variety of pink gaura.  ‘Little Janie’ gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Little Janie’) produces masses of small, pink flowers, which are shaped like butterflies.

They thrive in full sun to light, filtered shade and are drought tolerant.  

'Little Janie' Gaura

Gaura have a long bloom period, beginning in spring and lasting through fall.  They are also very cold and heat tolerant and can be grown in zone 6 gardens (-10 degrees F.) while easily handling summer temperatures over 100+.

I like to group 3 gaura together and plant them next to boulders or plant them in perennial beds along a front entry.  

My new ‘Little Janie’ gaura has lots of buds, ready to open up to reveal their pretty, pink flowers.  They look great next to purple-flowering plants such as Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) or purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis).

These are just two of the beautiful plants from Monrovia that you can find at Lowe’s or your local nursery.  Simply look for plants in the green ‘Monrovia’ containers.

*Learn more about Monrovia and their ‘Grow Beautifully’ campaign to help you create a colorful outdoor space.

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

While spring break is a time where masses of people escape the cold for warmer climates (like Arizona), we decided to do the exact opposite.  We flew out of warm, sunny Phoenix and headed to cold and snowy Michigan.

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

Now before you start to question my sanity, I have an excellent reason for bundling up and bracing myself for the cold, windy weather. My daughter and her family call Michigan their home now, and since then, we try to make it out at least twice a year, and spring break just happened to be the best time to do it.

Petoskey, Michigan

I always look forward to visits to their town of Petoskey, Michigan which sits on the shore of Little Traverse Bay.  It is a popular summer destination, and I spent several weeks here last year helping my daughter move into her new house and add new plants to her garden.

Petoskey, Michigan

It is always fun pulling out my warm weather gear, which seldom gets used at home.  I knit these fingerless mittens a few years ago and rarely have a chance to wear them.

Petoskey, Michigan

As a Southern California native and Arizona resident, I must admit that I have relatively little experience with cold weather so, it has been fun exploring the landscape and seeing the effects of winter.  Seeing the bay frozen in time where we waded in with our feet last June was exciting.

At the beginning of our week, the temperatures were in the mid 20’s with a brisk wind, and we were excited to see an unexpected snow shower.

I realize that many of you who have lived in areas with cold winters may be rolling your eyes at this point, but for someone who has always lived where winters are mild, the weather has been a novelty.

Petoskey, Michigan lighthouse

However, the novelty quickly wore off this morning when I stepped outside, and it was a frigid 16 degrees, and I learned why people start their cars a few minutes before they get in to let them heat up inside.  But, I braved the few steps from the house to the car, and we were off to my granddaughter Lily’s preschool class where I was to give a presentation on the desert and Arizona.

AZ Plant Lady

I brought photographs of the animals, cactuses, and flowers of the desert.  The kids were a great audience and seemed especially impressed with the following pictures:

  • The height of a saguaro cactus with people standing at its base 
  • A bird poking its head out of a hole in the saguaro
  • Cactus flowers
  • Aesop – our desert tortoise

I was struck by how different the desert is from the Michigan landscape and felt honored to expand their horizons.

Petoskey

On the way back from pre-school, we were tasked with bringing the classroom pet, ‘Snowball’ the guinea pig home where he will stay with Lily for spring break.  Doing little tasks such as this bring back happy memories of when our kids were little.

We will be home soon, and spring is a busy time for me.  I have new plants coming in the mail (straight from the grower) for me to test in my Arizona garden, I’ll be showcasing two new plants from the folks at Monrovia, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be traveling again – this time to Savannah, Georgia for a fun project that I’m excited to share with you soon.

*What are you doing for spring break?