I absolutely love spring.  Some years, spring never arrives.  Sometimes spring goes missing and winter turns right into summer.  But not this year.  We have had beautiful weather and I have enjoyed being outdoors.  

But, all good things must come to an end.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I do like the summer, but you will find me inside much more often then outside.  Sometimes I wonder if some of my plants would rather be inside enjoying the air-conditioning.

Did you know that May and June are the most stressful months for plants in the desert southwest?  Well, it is.  Although the hot summer temperatures cool down in the evening, the daytime heat coupled with the extreme dryness of our climate is quite stressful for plants.  When the monsoon season arrives in July, the increased humidity and rain bring relief to the plants.

So, what is a plant to do when it cannot escape indoors from the heat?  Well, I would love to show you one example of what some shrubs do to deal with the dry heat.

To really see what I am talking about, look closely at the photo below…

love spring

love spring

Can you see it?  Can you tell what helps to protect the flowers from the sun?  

Hint: Look at the little hairs on the petals.

love spring

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) and all other Leucophyllum species have tiny hairs on their flowers, stems and their leaves, which help to deflect the sun’s rays and helps to reduce the amount of water lost to the air. It is these tiny hairs that give the leaves a gray-green color.

love spring

Drive down any street in the Desert Southwest and you will see these beautiful shrubs throughout the residential landscape.

love spring

Even though I have worked as a horticulturist for over 10 years, I am still amazed at how plants adapt to their environment. 

By the way, you may be thinking that I took these close-up photos to show the tiny hairs covering the blossoms, but actually, my goal was to show how beautiful the flower was. It was only after I downloaded the pictures that I saw the tiny hairs.  

It makes you wonder what else you may find just by taking close-up pictures of plants….

Do you like to use fresh herbs when you cook?

What if you could just step outside your door and snip some herbs without having to go to the store? 

Have you seen how expensive fresh herbs are at the supermarket by the way? And, who want floppy herbs when they can have fresh ones?

I am often asked whether it is easy to grow herbs in the desert garden and I always answer, “yes!”

container herb garden

Herbs come from mostly arid regions and so they flourish in our climate. They also like sun, which we have plenty of.

One of my favorite ways to grow herbs in containers. In fact, they do extremely well in pots – especially when planted together. Imagine having a variety of herbs growing in a container near your kitchen door?

It’s easy to do and here is how:

1. Place your container in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun.

Basil, container herb garden

Basil

2.  Fill your container with planting mix, which is sterile, has a light texture and is specially formulated for container plants.  It retains just the right amount of moisture for plants. Potting soil can become soggy.

3. Add a slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, and work it into the top 2-inches of soil.

Oregano

Oregano

4. Plant your herbs. Oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme are easiest to grow when you start out with transplants. Basil grows easily from seed, but can you also use transplants.

Sage

Sage

5. Water deeply. Do not wet the foliage when you water them as they prefer to stay dry.

Thyme

Thyme

6. Herbs like to dry out between watering. To check when they need water, simply stick your finger down to 1-inch deep – if the soil is moist, don’t water. However, if it’s almost dry, then water deeply until water runs out the bottom drainage hole.

container herb garden

Purple Basil (Not the healthiest specimen, but it was the only one they had – it was over-watered at the nursery).

7.  Don’t add any additional fertilizer after planting.  Herbs don’t like extra fertilizer since it causes them to grow larger leaves with fewer oils, which is what gives them their flavor.

I like to place my herbs near my vegetable garden.

Here in the desert, we can grow herbs all year long. However, I do like to dry herbs like basil, which don’t live through our winters.

I encourage you to dip your toes into growing your own herbs. You can find transplants at your favorite nursery, so find a sunny spot and get started!

Click below for my container gardening tips…

Creative Container Gardening Tips

Last week, as my husband and I were pulling out our local Home Depot when I saw what looked like mini Christmas trees throughout the parking lot islands.

mini Christmas trees

mini Christmas trees

I grabbed my cell phone and took a picture of these funny-shaped plants.

Do you want to know what they are?

No. They aren’t Christmas trees…

badly pruned

Those cone-shaped plants are in reality badly pruned Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grasses.

These are my favorite ornamental grasses for the desert climate and although they are badly pruned, they did get some things right.

– For one, Pink Muhly is a great plant for parking lot islands as they can handle full sun.

In addition, they were pruned at the right time of year.

Just not the right way…

Pink Muhly grasses should be pruned back to 3 inches in height, straight across when the last frost date has passed. In the Phoenix area, where I live, that is early March.

Believe it or not, pruning them the correct way is easier then making them cone-shaped and once the warmer temperatures of spring arrive, these beautiful ornamental grasses will leaf out again.

badly pruned

Once fall arrives, they produce lovely, burgundy plumes…

badly pruned

In winter, the plumes will fade and become straw colored, which adds a nice touch of wintery color.

badly pruned

The Pink Muhly grasses, below, weren’t pruned the right way either.

badly pruned

They resemble rounded balls and weren’t cut back enough.  But, they look much better then the mini Christmas tree shaped ones.  Don’t you think?

I love these grasses and have planted them in many areas, including along golf courses, churches and other common areas. And, I just recently planted them in my backyard around my flagstone seating area.

badly pruned

Aren’t these shrubs beautiful?

Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

Thunder Cloud Sage (Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’)

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’)

You would think that the beauty of these shrubs, in flower, would be enough for people to stop pruning them into absurd shapes, but sadly, this is not the case. In the Desert Southwest, there is an epidemic of truly horrible pruning that affects not only Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species), but also Cassia (Senna species), Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and even Oleander.

Unsurprisingly, excessive pruning like this is NOT healthy for shrubs and it strips them of their beauty.

You don’t have to go far to see these sad shrubs. All you need to do is drive down the street, like I did…

Okay, it should be rather obvious, but I will say it just the same,  “Do not prune your shrubs into the shape of a ‘frisbee’.

I kept driving and found even more examples of truly awful pruning.  Sadly, all within a 5-minute drive of my house.

I call this ‘pillbox’ pruning. These Texas Sage & Cassia shrubs were located across the street from the ‘frisbee’ shrubs.

An attempt at creating a ‘sculpture’? Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

 A second attempt at creating a sculpture?

Let’s get real. Shrubs pruned this way do nothing to add beauty to the landscape. And, when pruned this way, they cost more, take more time, and use more water – it’s true!

Now on to some of my favorite ‘cupcake’ examples:

An entire line of ‘cupcakes’. ‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’) 

Do you think they use a ‘level’ to make the tops perfectly flat? I honestly wouldn’t put it past them.

You can see the dead area on the top, which is caused from this shrub being sheared repeatedly.

This dead growth is caused by lack of sunlight.  Repeated shearing (hedge-trimming) keeps sunlight from reaching the interior of the shrub.   As a result, branches begin to die.

After driving around for awhile, I drove toward home when I saw the saddest ones of all…

 Now if you look closely, you can see a light layer of gray-green leaves, which really don’t begin to cover the ugly, dense branching that has been caused by years of repeated shearing.

 I actually like topiary, but not when done to a Texas Sage. Some people prune up their shrubs so that they can clean up the leaves underneath more easily.

Now, I am not against formal pruning, when performed on the right plants.  But, it is not attractive when done on flowering, desert plants and it is also unhealthy for the shrubs themselves and contributes to their early death in many cases.  Add to that the fact that it greatly increases your maintenance costs due to repeated pruning and having to replace them more frequently.

Now if you have shrubs that look like any of these pruning disasters, don’t panic! They can be fixed in most cases.

 Now, why would anyone want to remove the flower buds from your shrubs by shearing,  when you can have flowers like this?

If you are tired of unnaturally shaped shrubs in your landscape, I understand.

Believe it or not, most flowering shrubs need pruning once or twice a year at most – and NOT the type of pruning into weird shapes.

I find it ironic that your yard will look better when you do less.

So, if you are wanting to declare your landscape a ‘cupcake-free’ zone, I have something I think you’re gonna love. I invite you to check out my popular online shrub pruning workshop where I teach you how to maintain flowering shrubs by pruning twice a year or less. Hundreds of students have taken the course and are reaping the rewards of a beautiful outdoor space filled with colorful shrubs at a fraction of the work.

Are you ready to break out of the cycle of green blobs?

palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

Do you have parts of your backyard landscape that you would like to change? 

Perhaps you have areas you like, but there are plants you are tired of or are struggling with.

I want to show you what I did in my backyard, where I blended both old and new elements.

First, a little history:

I was fairly happy with with the areas bordering the walls of the backyard. They are filled with colorful shrubs such as Bougainvillea, Coral Fountain, and Yellow Bells.

However, the center of my backyard space was dominated by a large lawn, which we had removed last year.

The decision to replace the grass was made with a focus on plants that I love and would blend well with the existing plants.

The focal point is a new flagstone seating area with Adirondack chairs arranged around a portable firepit. Around this area, boulders add height and texture. Angelita Daisy, Artichoke Agave, Blackfoot Daisy, and Pink Muhly grasses surround the seating area, which adds year-round color and texture.

In another area, a gentle mound stands planted with a ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow tree. Purple Trailing Lantana grows around the tree and will soon cover the entire mound in a mass of purple blooms.

At this point, the new plants are still rather small. However, plants grow quickly in the desert climate and, in another year, will soon reach their mature size.

The result? A backyard landscape where the new and old will blend seamlessly together.

I must admit that I am delighted with how it turned out. It took me a long time to decide what to do with this area – it is so much easier to design someone else’s yard than your own.

I look forward to seeing it evolve and promise to share it with you 🙂

Progress! One-Year Post Desert Landscape Renovation

mesquite tree Branches

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.

mesquite tree Branches

Texas Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

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. 

mesquite tree Branches

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 trees 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.

mesquite tree Branches

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?

Creative Container Gardening

Spring in the desert brings a flurry of activity out in the garden – much of it involving container gardening.

As they say, in late spring, it’s “out with the old and in with the new.” In the desert garden, it’s when cool-season flowering annuals are traded out for those that can handle the hot temperatures of summer.  

Examples of cool-season annuals are pansies, petunias, and snapdragons, which are grown fall through spring. BUT, they won’t survive hot, desert summers. So, in late April, it’s time to plant flowering annuals that can take the heat. My favorites include angelonia, ‘Blue Victoria’ salvia, and vinca.

While flowers are a popular pot filler, there are so many other things that you can do with growing plants in containers.

Here are some of my favorites:

Jazz up the appearance of your containers by painting them a different color.

beautiful container

Let’s face it – beautiful containers can be expensive while inexpensive plastic containers are a bit boring. I like to dress up my plastic containers by adding a coat of paint.  

Many spray paints can be used on plastic and last a long time. I have several painted pots in my garden that add a welcome splash of color.

Grow herbs and vegetables along with flowers in pots.

Leaf lettuce and garlic grow along with flowering petunias in Container

Leaf lettuce and garlic grow along with flowering petunias.

Did you know that you can grow vegetables in pots? I love doing this in my garden. In the fall, I plant leaf lettuce, spinach, and garlic in my large pots alongside flowering petunias. When March arrives, I like to add basil, peppers along with annuals.

Winter Container Gardening with spinach, parsley and garlic growing with pink petunias

Winter container garden with spinach, parsley and garlic growing with pink petunias.

For pots, I recommend you use a potting mix, which is specially formulated for containers and holds just the right amount of moisture.  

Container plants need to be fertilizer. You can use a slow-release fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer of your choice.

Cucumbers growing with vinca and dianthus Container

Cucumbers growing with vinca and dianthus.

In spring, vegetables such as cucumbers, bush beans, and even zucchini can grow in containers paired with flowers. 

*If you would like to try growing edible containers, click here for more info.

Plant succulents for a low-maintenance container.

Creative Container Gardening

My favorite filler for containers in the desert garden is cacti and succulents. They do very well in pots and need less water than those filled with flowering annuals and perennials.

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) Container

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).

Succulents are an excellent choice for planting in areas where water is not easily accessible. While they will need supplemental water, they don’t need water every day, making them a better choice for these areas.

cactus & succulents Container

In general, succulents are lower-maintenance as well, so they are an excellent choice for the ‘fuss-free’ gardener.

Use a potting mix specially formulated for cactus & succulents, which will drain well.

Fertilize succulents spring through fall using a liquid or slow-release fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength.

*For more information on how to plant succulents in containers, including how to do it without getting pricked, click here.

Fill the bottom space of large pots with empty, plastic containers. 

Container Gardening

Let’s face it – potting mix is expensive and makes your pots very heavy. If you have a large pot, your plant’s roots most likely will never reach the bottom – so why waste soil where you don’t need it?

Fill up the unused space with recycled plastic containers and then add your potting mix. You will save money, AND your container will be much lighter as well. 

Whether you are new to gardening, an experienced pro, or have a small or large garden space – I invite you to reimagine what you can do in a container!

A chilly winter's morning dawns over this Phoenix garden

A chilly winter’s morning dawns over this Phoenix garden

Winter is a beautiful time of year in the desert landscape with bright blue skies, fresh cool air, and the plants in the garden add subtle beauty.

A seating area beckons you to sit and enjoy the peace and beauty of the desert garden by horticultural filmmaker

A seating area beckons you to sit and enjoy the peace and beauty of the garden

This particular garden was the backdrop for a video shoot by the horticultural filmmaker, Plant Pop this past December. They asked me to be the subject of their first video shoot in Arizona, and I was thrilled to do so.

A variety of succulents add beauty to this large galvanized steel horse trough container

A variety of succulents add beauty to this large galvanized steel horse trough container

Shooting the film in my desert garden wasn’t possible as my backyard is undergoing renovation. So, I asked one of my clients if we could shoot film in her landscape instead. Thankfully, she said yes!

green hedge doorway

Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) shrubs

We met at her house early in the morning with the filmmaker who set up the cameras and microphones. Our host is one of the most gracious people I know and kept us warm with the outdoor fireplace and feeding us donuts 🙂

I love talking about desert gardening

Being interviewed – I love talking about desert gardening!

We spent about 3 hours there with me talking about the unique challenges and possibilities of gardening in a hot, dry climate. During the filming, I walked around the garden, highlighting different areas throughout the garden. This garden has many ‘rooms’ and corners that display the beauty of winter in the desert.

The video has come out, and I’m so happy at how well the folks at Plant Pop condensed our visit into a 4-minute video so nicely.  I hope you enjoy it and come away inspired by what you can do in your own desert garden!

 

A Stroll Through a Flowering Winter’s Garden

AZ Plant Lady

I love to spend time out in the garden but it may surprise you to learn that I don’t have a garden shed full of tools, fertilizer, and other gardening items.

Full Disclosure: I USED to! As a garden influencer, companies send me their newest tools and fertilizers in hopes that I will recommend them to my followers. As a result, my garage was overflowing with so much stuff!

And you know what? I found that I only need a few must-have items. As a result, my shed is much cleaner with only my go-to items that I use in the garden.

With the holidays fast approaching, I’m here to help you make your gift list easier with seven items that I use for my own desert garden. Perhaps you’ll find some helpful gift ideas or items to add to your own wishlist!

*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

blue garden gloves (gardening items )

I often use my bare hands when I work in the vegetable garden and with my container plants. Most garden gloves are bulky garden gloves that make it hard to handle smaller planting tasks. That’s why I love my new Foxglove Original Garden Gloves. They keep my hands clean yet allow me to ‘feel’ what I’m doing when I handle plants or plant seeds. Of course, I love that they come in gorgeous colors – I have a pair of periwinkle blue.

Hand Weeding Tool ( gardening items )

Got weeds? Okay, who doesn’t? Three years ago, I was introduced to the CobraHead Hand Weeder and I love it! This tool is unique as it’s easy to use and works well at removing weeds. The handle is made from recycled plastic and the blade is made of forged steel. Its curved shape is ergonomic and it really does make weed removal so much easier. I use it for weeds that sprout up in the garden as well as in my vegetable garden. There are several sizes – I use the ‘mini’ and the long-handled’ ones.

Purple Hand Pruners (gardening items )

Here is the tool that I use most often in my garden as it’s always on hand when I need to do smaller pruning tasks. These Compact Hand Pruners FIT IN MY POCKET, which means that I can put them in my back pocket whenever I need to use both hands for other garden tasks. How many times do you lay down hand pruners only to forget where you put them? Dramm makes great garden products and their hand pruners are sharp and work well for cutting stems up to 1/4″ in diameter. I love that they come in a variety of bright colors – I have the purple ones!

Desert gardening
canvas garden branches ( gardening items )

Here is a new product that I used for the first time this year. I like to prune, but I hate having to clean up afterward. I was asked to test out this Garden Clean-Up Canvas Tarp, and afterward, I was hooked! The tarp is relatively large and sturdy. It lays flat, and you put your garden clippings on it (branches, lawn clippings, etc.). Once you finish, you grasp the corners with their green rubber handles and haul it to the curb (or trash can). I’m not the only one happy it – my husband is too as he doesn’t have to clean up after me once I’ve finished pruning.

Eye Glasses with Flowers (gardening items)

Whether I need to read the tiny print on a packet of seeds or identify a bug, I rely on my readers. I can’t see much without them. So, if I have to wear glasses, I want them to be colorful or have a pretty floral pattern. I love these Classic Floral Readers, which come in three pairs cause let’s face it – they can be misplaced. I love the compliments that I get on my glasses, and I’m sure you’ll love these too.

Hand Shovel Green Handle (gardening items)

My mother introduced me to this useful tool on my shelf several years ago. Soon after, I ditched all my other hand shovels because this one was far superior. The narrow shape of this Ergonomic Alumunium Hand Transplanter/Shovel makes it great for adding flowering annuals into pots. I also use it in my vegetable garden for transplants, as well as creating furrows for seeds. Another bonus is that its handle is comfortable on your wrist and comes in other bright colors – I have a blue one.

Seed Packets (gardening items)

Here is a new product from the folks at Botanical Interests, who are famous for their beautifully decorated seed packets. For the first time, they have released Botanical Art Prints from selected seed packets! This summer, I had the opportunity to tour their facility and meet the owners. One of the stops on our tour was their art department and I was blown away by the beauty and artistry of their botanical drawings. There several to choose from, ready for framing. I confess that I don’t have one yet, but hope to soon! I can just picture them in my office or kitchen. *I encourage you to check them out to see the different botanical art prints available.

brown purse

I love to travel and much of that involves garden travel. One of my go-to items that I bring with me is my Baggallini Journey Crossbody Purse. I like to carry a smaller purse when I’m on the road and this one has served me well for over 7 years! Despite its compact size, I’m amazed at how much it fits – phone, sunglasses, reading glasses, chapstick, tissues, pen, business cards, and a granola bar. I like that it has slots for my drivers license and debit/credit cards as well as a zipper pouch for money – it rids you of the need to bring a separate wallet. This is a well-made product and I am a huge fan of Baggallini products! It comes in a variety of colors.

I hope that my must-have list inspires you. I use all of these products and highly recommend them. Hopefully, you will find inspiration as to what to add to your list or buy for friends and family.

**Need MORE ideas? Check out my store page on Amazon.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

AZ Plant Lady

Hi There!

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for visiting my blog. Whether you are a brand new visitor or a long-time reader, I appreciate you!

As many of you know, gardening in the desert can be challenging, and I have been helping people just like you in a variety of ways. My goal has been to guide, inspire, and support you in your desert garden journey; whatever stage you are at.

My outreach to desert gardeners is through a variety of channels, and you may not be familiar with all of them, so I decided to share them with you.

AZ Plant Lady

Ramblings From a Desert Blog

This blog recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and within it are over 1,000 posts filled with a lot of helpful information to help you in the desert garden.

Have a question about a specific plant or topic? Simply enter it into the search bar on the right and see if I’ve written about it. Chances are I have.

Desert Garden Resources to Guide, Inspire, and Support

My Facebook Group

This is where you will find me every day. Within this group, I share tips, stories, and other fun garden content with a friendly and supportive community of desert gardeners who on the same journey as you.

I’d love to have you join us! Click here to join.

Desert Garden Resources to Guide, Inspire, and Support

Instagram

If you love gardening photos, Instagram is a great place to be. You’ll find pictures of my adventures in the garden to help inspire you and teach you practical tips.

To watch my adventures via Instagram, click here.

Desert Garden Resources to Guide, Inspire, and Support

Through the Garden Gate Online Membership Group

I created an online membership club over a year ago in response to people who wanted more help in their garden journey. Since then, I’ve come alongside desert-dwellers like you who want a personal garden coach to guide them.

You can learn more about my membership here.

I want you to know that you aren’t alone in trying to figure out how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful outdoor space that thrives in a hot, dry climate. I’m here to help!

AZ Plant Lady’s Must-Have Items for the Desert Gardener