Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite communities visiting a client’s sick Hibiscus plant.

(I’m not kidding about making a ‘house call’ about a single, indoor plant.  I will tell you more about that story in another post).

So, I was finished with my visit and decided to drive around the neighborhood.  This particular community has many beautiful examples of landscape design and great opportunities for taking pictures of plants.

On the other hand, this same community has many examples of “What NOT to Do” to your plants and I like to capture photos of those things as well.


As I was driving, I saw the following example of improper pruning of shrubs.  But instead of round green balls, I saw this….


 At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Then I tried to figure out what the purpose of the unusual shapes were meant to be.

I slowly drove back so that I could take a picture.

Now, I have spoken at length about the unhealthy and sometimes unattractive results from pruning using hedge-trimmers for flowering shrubs.

But I must admit that if I had to choose between round, green balls or a “modern shrub sculpture”, that I would probably lean towards the “shrub sculpture” because it is way more interesting 😉
What do you think?  Would prefer ‘green balls’ or more of a ‘free-form shrub sculpture’?

The other day, my youngest daughter, Gracie, came home from school and informed me that she “got a heat index” at school that day.

At first, I wondered what she was talking about.  I asked her how could she get a heat index?  She replied that when it gets really hot, that they keep the kids indoors for recess and even for PE.

To be honest, it was kind of humorous to hear my daughter speaking in such scientific terms.  

Now back when my two oldest daughters were in school, they didn’t have “heat index” days at school.  They played outside no matter what the temperatures were.
My husband also recalls riding his bike to school 3 miles each way when he was a kid even when it was hot.
I understand the dangers about being outdoors in the heat.  As a horticulturist I have sweated my way through many summers.
Whenever I watch the weather reports on television and they call for a “heat advisory” it is almost certain that the kids will have another “heat index” day at school.
The schools need to to be careful about exposing kids to extreme high temperatures.  I went on our school district’s website to find out at what temperature they say that the kids need to be indoors.  Here is what it said:
Example: 105 degree F. + 35% RH = 140 (Danger Zone) 
 I understand the need to warn people about extreme heat and the need to protect our children.

As a horticulturist, I would have to send my crew out to work no matter what the outside temperatures were.  But, I would usually have them prune trees on those days so they could work in the shade.

You know what though?  The power of suggestion just seems to make a hot summer’s day that much hotter when you attach the terms “heat index” and “heat advisory”.

I almost want to stamp my foot and say, 
“This is Arizona….of course it’s hot in the summer.”

Maybe, they would consider changing the terms for very hot days to something that would make you feel cooler somehow.


How about having a “Shade Day” where you need to stay in the shade or maybe an “Air Conditioning Day”.  Doesn’t that sound nicer than “Heat Index” or “Heat Advisory”?

*********************

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your supportive comments.  They mean so much to me.


My father-in-law is being moved into a Hospice in-patient facility today.  The hope is that he will eventually be able to return home under hospice care 🙂

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.
online-class-desert-gardening-101

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

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

Bottle Tree
(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”.

Who doesn’t like ‘natural beauty’?  I have a renewed appreciation for my ‘natural beauties’ out in the garden during the summer months.  Now, I realize that there are some who do enjoy the satisfaction of working hard with their plants and being rewarded with a beautiful display and I think that is great.  But for me, the last thing I want to do is have to fuss over a plant in the middle of the summer heat so that it will look beautiful for me.  I would much rather enjoy the ‘natural beauty’ of my summer plants looking through the windows from the comfort of my air-conditioned home.


Earlier this summer, I wrote about one of my favorite ‘natural beauties’ in the garden, Yellow Bells.  Today, I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite summer vines which is a wonderful example of ‘natural beauty.’

Queen’s Wreath vines grace the Arizona State University campus.
 
Queen Wreath Vine (Antigonon leptopus) is a colorful asset to my garden This ‘natural beauty’ is a vine that is native to Mexico and Central America.  Stunning pink sprays of flowers appear in spring and last until the first frost.  *In tropical areas, it can be considered invasive, but here in the desert, it is easily managed.
 
 
In our desert climate, they do require supplemental water, but no fertilizer is needed.  Bees are attracted to the beautiful flowers, and I love the pretty heart-shaped leaves. 
 
 A wall of Queen’s Wreath at ASU
 
Queen’s Wreath is a robust vine.  It can grow in full sun including areas of reflected heat.  It will also grow in light shade although flowering will be reduced.   
 
The only maintenance required in my garden is pruning it back in winter once it dies back after the first frost.  However the roots are hardy to 20 degrees F, and in the spring, it quickly grows back with a trellis, fence or an arbor for support.

**My first experience with queen’s wreath was in our first home in Phoenix, where there was a support made up of twine tied between two palm trees.  We had no idea why it was there, but it sure looked ugly.  Well, before we had time to remove the twine, beautiful, light green, heart-shaped leaves began climbing up the support and quickly covered it.  Gorgeous sprays of pink flowers rapidly followed, which was a pleasant surprise.  




What natural beauties are enjoying in your garden this month?  
I will be sharing another favorite ‘natural beauty’ from my garden soon.

Now, you may think that I am talking about soft, cuddly puppies finding a new home.  But, I am actually talking about my agave pups.  The word ‘pups’ refers to the small agave offsets that sometimes form from the adult agave.

 Agave americana surrounded by her ‘pups’.

Some agave species produce quite a few pups, while other species rarely do.  I do try to stay from agave species like Agave americana because they produce so many pups that it becomes quite a maintenance chore to constantly remove them all.  But that being said, I have many friends and clients who just love this particular agave.

Well, the day finally came in my garden for my agave pups to move away from their childhood home.
Can you see them?  There are 4 in the picture above.  Three are quite small still, but more then ready to leave their mother, my Agave parryi.  I am actually quite excited to be getting pups from this agave because in my experience, they do not produce many pups.  It may be that this one has because it does receive overspray from my lawn sprinklers.
Okay, this may seem obvious, but you would be amazed at how many people just start digging in the middle of their gravel (granite) without clearing it away first.  Believe me…you want to clear it away first or else you will be left with a mixture of rock and soil mixed together.
 
Aren’t they cute in a prickly sort of way?  They really are quite tiny.
I carefully removed the soil around the pups, leading to the mother plant because the pups are still attached to her by a thick, fleshy root.  You can see that the pups are beginning to form their own roots, branching out to the side.
Just cut the root connecting the pup to the adult agave….that’s it.  It is really very easy.
Now, this same adult agave also has another pup, which has grown much closer to home then these tiny pups.
 
This one did not want to leave home, even though it was quite grown up.  When the pups are growing right up alongside the adult plant, just insert a shovel and push down firmly, cutting the connecting root.  **Sometimes you have to be a bit forceful in getting some pups to leave home  😉
I was able to harvest 5 pups.  I was so happy and had fun selecting where I wanted to put them in my garden.
Before you plant them, you need to put them in a dry, shady spot for 4 – 7 days so that the cuts have a chance to dry first.  This helps to prevent rot when they are planted.  Don’t worry about them surviving without water for a few days….they have plenty stored inside – they are succulents after all.
Once you have planted them, they will need supplemental water to help them establish and grow roots.  Agave do best when given supplemental water, even when mature.  Most are connected to my drip irrigation system.  The others receive overspray from my sprinklers, which is enough for them.
If you haven’t noticed this before, I am not a perfect gardener and am likely to tell people, “Do as I say, not as I do”.  But, I do not profess to be a perfectionist and so I will show you one of my larger agave, whose pups should have left home long ago…
smooth-edge-agave-pups
This is my Smooth Leaf Agave (Agave desmettiana).  I love this type of agave.  It is medium size, and the sides of the leaves do not have thorns.  The thorns on the tips can easily be cut off if desired for a more pedestrian friendly agave.
As you can see from the photo above, the pups are quite large and should have been kicked out long ago.  So, I brought in the muscle (my husband) to help get them out.
Because the pups were growing close to the parent plant, a shovel had to be used to separate them.
 
Agave desmettiana is known for producing offsets (pups), but in my experience, there are not too many.
Actually, the adult agave below was grown from a pup.
A proud parent and her 8 offspring.  I planted a few and gave some to my mother, Pastor Farmer, of Double S Farms.
There were times when I worked on golf courses that my budget was tight, so I would ask residents to bring their agave pups to me so that we could use them in landscape areas around the courses.  The residents were very generous and after a while, we had more then we knew what to do with.  So, if you have some agave pups, plant one in a pretty container and give to a friend or donate them to your city, church or other organization.
**My son continues to do better each day.  We did have a little bit of a setback on Saturday, but yesterday and today, he is feeling much better.  Thank you again for your support and prayers!

May has arrived, and you may notice that your container plants aren’t looking to hot right now.  Petunias, pansies and snapdragons usually start to dry out and droop as the weather approaches the century mark. 


It is time to switch out your winter flowering annuals for those that can handle our summer sun and heat.


This is always somewhat bittersweet for me.  I do not like tearing out beautiful flowers.  They have performed so beautifully for me since last October.



But the truth is, is that if I don’t pull them out, the heat will finish them off sooner or later.  Also, it is helpful to plant summer flowers before the heat arrives so that they can have time to establish before dealing with the stress of summer temperatures.  

And so for those reasons, I gritted my teeth and began pulling.


Now, I am ready to start with a clean slate or should I say, clean soil.  

Now, not all of the following photos are particularly beautiful, but are helpful in illustrating how I planted my new summer flowers, which will look great soon.

Now, I couldn’t find my small hand spade this morning, which is probably a result of having four children still living at home.  I am sure one of them knows where it is, but they were at school and so I improvised.


Okay, I realize that those of you who have had the opportunity to come over and eat at my house may never do so again after seeing me use my large serving spoon.  But, it really worked out ideally and I put it in the dishwasher afterwards 😉

First, I dug up the top 6 inches of soil, taking care to remove large clumps of roots.


**I warned you that some of the pictures were not going to be particularly pretty….

The next step was to add 6 inches of compost and mix it in with the existing soil.  Unfortunately, I do not have my own compost pile, so I used bagged compost available at my local nursery.  The brand is not important, just use what your nursery has in stock.

 
I made a single hole for my new plant, which is 1-gallon in size, instead of the smaller sizes – I’ll explain more about that later.  I made sure that I did not add too much soil, because I do not want to deal with soil overflowing whenever I water.


The area my pots are located in faces west and receives afternoon sun in the afternoon.  As a result, I need to use a plant that can withstand the intense sun and heat of summer.  From my experience around golf courses and commercial landscapes, Lantana and Vinca do best.  

Last year, I planted Vinca and so this year, I will use Lantana.  Since it is not always easy to find Lantana in a small size, I just purchased a single 1-gallon Lantana for each container.


Now, I must admit that the picture on the plant tag, does not exactly match the flowers.  But, they have not opened up completely, so we will see what they look like.


Okay, I admit that it does not look too impressive right now.  You may be asking why I am not adding any more to the pot?  Well, first of all, my tastes are somewhat simple.  But, the major reason is that the Lantana will grow rapidly and cover the bare areas very quickly.  

Soon, it will hopefully look like this one….


The last and maybe best reason that I love to use Lantana in containers is that when I dig them up in the fall, (in order to plant winter/spring flowers), is that I can plant the Lantana in my garden and enjoy them year-round.

What summer flowers are you planting in your containers?
Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)

Our society usually doesn’t equate beauty with age.  Instead, we celebrate youthful beauty and spend our money on trying to stay looking younger than our years.  Thankfully, in the world of plants, maturity is something to be celebrated.

 
In the case of the agave, age equals beauty.  A leaf of an agave plant can live for up to 15 years.  The leaves are etched with beautiful patterns called ‘bud imprints.’   These delicate patterns decorate the leaves in numerous different ways depending on the species, as you can see in the photo of my Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi var. truncata) above.
 
 
Cow’s Horn Agave (Agave bovicornuta)
Along the sides of agave leaves are small thorns, called ‘teeth.’  Agave leaves stay in bud for 2 – 3 years.  The teeth from the leaves imprint on the other leaves while they are held tightly within the bud, which is how their delicate patterns are formed.
 
 
Depending on the species, some bud imprints are more obvious, while others are more subtle.
 
The fibers from the leaves of the agave are used for weaving items such as bags and mats.  The leaves are also used to feed cattle in areas of Mexico.
 
Agave ‘Durango Delight’ (Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’)

Some agave leaves have filaments along the edges.  Most agave end with a sharp terminal spine, which should be taken into consideration when you decide where to plant them.  You do not want them in high traffic areas where people can be pricked, (believe me, it hurts). 

 
Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata)

Because agave store water inside their leaves –  their leaves are thick and succulent.  Some of my favorite agave species are Artichoke Agave, Mescal Ceniza, and Victoria Agave.

 
Agave salmiana
I saw this agave (above) next to my gym, and I was very impressed by its teeth.  They remind me of ‘claws.’
 
Century Plant (Agave americana)

There are between 200 – 250 different species of agave, in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  Some of my favorite features of agave are how beautiful they are with their leaf shapes and imprints.  Secondly, their low-maintenance and drought-tolerance also make them a favorite in my garden.

 
Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)

Agave is amazing plants, and I am a huge fan.  There is much more information to cover, which I will address in a future post.  But, I will answer the most common question that I am asked about agave, “No, they do not live for 100 years.”  You may be surprised at the real answer…

 
But, that is for a later post…
As I began my trek through the desert, I found beautiful specimens of cacti, plants and even some wildlife, but I also found a few skeletons as well…..
   
Mature Saguaro

This beautiful Saguaro was one of the first cacti that greeted me on my walk.

The first skeleton I came across was from a Saguaro cactus; part of it still standing upright.  You can see where top part of the skeleton has fallen to the ground.

Here it is close up.  The decay is till present as you can see inside.  The woody remains of the saguaro are called ‘ribs’ and are what supports the Saguaro cactus.

Above, is a photo of a Saguaro that had just fallen.  You can easily see the ribs.  Whenever a Saguaro cactus would fall in a landscape setting, we would move it to an out of the way area where it could decay.  Then we would take the ribs and put them back into the landscape as a display.  Saguaro ribs are considered a beautiful accent in the desert landscape and are prized by many.

Native Americans used Saguaro ‘ribs’ to build roofs, walls and even furniture.  Another use was that they would make long poles that they used to knock off the Saguaro fruit, which is edible.

Saguaro are not the only types of cacti that leave behind skeletons….

 
Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii)

 Teddy Bear Cholla (above), also has an interesting skeleton.

 

Above, is a photo of a segment of Teddy Bear Cholla that is in the process of decaying.  You can see the woody skeleton starting to show.

Cholla skeletons are sometimes used as walking sticks.  Artisans also use cholla skeletons to make southwestern forms of art.

It is illegal to remove Saguaro and Cholla skeletons from the desert, unless you have permission from the owner.  Specimens can sometimes be purchased at certain plant nurseries that specialize in cacti.

So do as I do…..enjoy them out in the desert and take lots of photos.

I want to share with you three amazing plants that I encountered on Saturday, each with pink flowers, yet each one so different from the other.  I spent the afternoon at the Arboretum at Arizona State University (my alma mater).  Many people are surprised to find out that they have a wonderful arboretum that encompasses the entire main campus.  I had a wonderful time just walking around and taking pictures of beautiful trees and plants, my husband patiently trailing behind me with the kids.

OK, first the pretty…

 Queen’s Wreath, Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus)
Queen’s Wreath is a beautiful vine that is native to Mexico and Central America.  Stunning pink sprays of flowers appear in spring and last until the first frost.  The most common variety has vibrant pink blossoms.  However, there is a scarlet variety ‘Baja Red’ and also a rare white variety as well.  Bees are attracted to the flowers, and the leaves are an attractive heart-shape.

Queen’s Wreath can grow in full sun including areas of reflected heat.  It will also grow in light shade although flowering will be reduced.

This beautiful vine will die back at the first frost, but it’s roots are hardy to 20 degrees F.   In the spring, it quickly grows back and requires a trellis, fence or an arbor for support.
**When we bought our first home in Phoenix, there was support made up of twine tied between two Palm trees.  We had no idea why, but it sure looked ugly.  Well, before we had time to remove it, beautiful, light green, heart-shaped leaves began climbing up the twine support and quickly covered it.  Then gorgeous sprays of pink flowers promptly followed, which was a pleasant surprise.
Next, the amusing…..
 

Chinese Lantern Tree, Sickle Bush (Dichrostachys cinerea)

I had to laugh when I saw this flower.  I think it looks like it is having a bad hair day.  You can see why some people call it Chinese Lantern tree because the flowers do resemble them and it sounds better than calling it “Bad Hair Day Tree.” 

The tree itself is relatively unremarkable.  The flowers are not distinct.  It is native to the tropical areas of Africa, parts of Southeast Asia and Australia.  It grows well in full sun or filtered shade.  In wet, tropical areas, it can be invasive.  However, in our dry climate, that is not a problem.

 Seed Pods

**Okay, I have to admit, that I had to look up information on this Chinese Lantern tree – I hate admitting that.  I do not profess to know about every type of plant; this is easily evidenced by my travels to colder climates where I know about only a fraction of what the plants are there.   But this one was in my backyard.  I had never seen this type of tree before and had never learned about it either.  So, I went through my countless dry climate plant books hoping to find what type of tree this was, and only one book had it listed, (which made me feel better).  It is not common here in Arizona, but I guarantee that I will never forget it.

Now finally, the unique
Floss Silk Tree (Ceiba speciosa, formerly Chorisia speciosa)
The flowers of this tree make you stop in your tracks – they are that beautiful and unique.  Unfortunately, the flowers were all gone except for the one above, which was almost ready to fall.  The flowers are produced primarily in fall and winter months.  Some trees will produce flowers once they drop their leaves in winter, while other varieties flower both with and without the leaves being present.  Although the flowers are a striking feature, there is more

Their trunk is covered with cone-shaped thorns.

This beautiful tree does well in full sun or part shade.  They do grow quite large, up to 40 ft. Wide and 50 ft. Tall.  Silk Floss trees are native to Brazil and Argentina.
**So, I was done for the day.  I had two memory cards full of photos, sore feet, and a patient husband and kids, walking with me to the car.  I was about to get in when I saw the Silk Floss tree next to the parking garage.  So my husband, who knows me all too well, wordlessly unpacked the camera so I could take the last few photos.  Occasionally see these trees around the Phoenix area, but rarely, so I was thrilled to get these pictures.
I hoped you enjoyed my visions of pink.  I will post more of my expedition at a later time.  I’m pretty sure it will take me a long time to catalog all of the photos I took.

Has this happened to you?  You walk through the nursery, and you spot “the perfect plant.”   You can envision it in your yard and know precisely where you will put it.  


After coming home and planting it, you pat yourself on the back for finding such a great plant.  Time passes, and your beautiful plant starts to grow, and grow and grow.

Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) 1-gallon
Approximately 1 ft. Wide and tall. 
 
 
Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ pruned like ‘cupcakes.’
 
Fast forward a year or two now it looks bad unless you constantly prune making it high maintenance.  Now your beautiful plant no longer looks so lovely (above and below).  It now looks more like a ‘cupcake’ because you have had to prune it back to keep it small enough for your space.  


No more flowers, no nice foliage…

More ‘cupcakes.’

Unfortunately, there is an epidemic in our area of homeowners and landscapers who prune flowering shrubs so that they end up looking like ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodles’ just so that they fit into their allotted space.  More about that in another post…
Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ in its natural shape.
They can grow up to 8 ft. high and wide but can be easily maintained at a more moderate 4′ x 4′.
Texas Sage Flower 
Also with flowers this beautiful, why plant it somewhere where you will have to prune them off so that it can fit?  
 
So our lesson is…. be sure to READ THE LABEL of plants before you buy them, which should list how large they will grow, along with the correct sun exposure.  If it’s not listed, ask the nursery salesperson for this information, or use your smartphone to get the information.  


Then you can go home and place your new “perfect plant” where they will have plenty of room to ‘stretch out’ and dazzle you with their beauty. 


**Allowing enough room for plants is just part of what it takes to grow attractive shrubs.  Pruning is the next part of the equation.  Click here for guidelines on how to properly prune your flowering shrubs.