In many ways, it was like a very long pregnancy – 18 months to be exact since my initial discussion with my editor about writing a book on desert gardening.
The journey from idea to book was filled with varying emotions, from excitement, stress, and impatience, to today when I feel pure happiness.
Writing a book is not easy, but my reason for doing so is to inspire and guide people who live in dry climates to create and maintain an outdoor space that brings both joy and beauty.
Within the pages of Dry Climate Gardening, I help you with specific strategies for plant choice, planting tips, watering strategies, pest control, design inspiration, and lists of my favorite plants.
Wherever you are in your garden journey, I hope you will find help and ideas for your landscape because the truth is that you can have an attractive garden despite living in an arid region.
Dry Climate Gardening: Creating Beautiful, Sustainable Gardens in Low-Water Conditions is available everywhere books are sold. Click here to order yours!
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Noelle_Johnson_Dry_Climate_Gardening_Book.email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 17:54:532023-03-07 17:54:58It’s My Book Birthday!
I have picked up a new hobby, which was a bit accidental – birding!
As a horticulturist, birds go along with gardening, and I’ve always enjoyed them. One of my most requested speaking topics is about gardening for birds. However, I have begun to dive deeply into the fascinating birding world.
It may surprise you that the Southwest is one of the top bird-watching destinations. I am fortunate that there is a lovely riparian preserve a few miles from my home where you can see many different species of birds.
It turns out my two sisters also enjoy birding, so the other day, we met up early to go for a morning walk and explore the birds at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, in Gilbert, Arizona.
This photo is of me and my sister Jennifer, who is a year younger than me. She is also the invaluable assistant to ‘AZ Plant Lady’ who would be nothing without her 🙂
It was a cold morning, but the birds were out, and so were we ready with our binoculars. The trails are level and circle eight different ponds. Trees and shrubs are allowed to grow in their natural shapes, providing plenty of shelter for birds, but we could see many in the trees and on the water.
We spotted the red of a Northern cardinal. I am always excited when I see one of these colorful birds because we don’t get many of them.
His mate was close by. Northern cardinals don’t migrate but stay in place all year.
We also spotted the orange breast of a robin but didn’t get a good photo of it.
An Anna’s hummingbird perched on the leafless branch of a shrub. His feathers are puffed up to help keep him warm. I am so grateful that we enjoy hummingbirds in our region all year. While we walked, we could hear hummingbirds everywhere.
From the tiny to the large, Canada geese gently honked as they saw us approach, hoping for food. We saw many other types of water birds, including pelicans – imagine pelicans in the desert! They leave in the summer.
A tiny verdin was busy eating tiny insects in a palo verde branch. I have a nesting pair of verdin in my own garden, and I love to watch their antics as they perch on my flowering shrubs. Verdins are just a little larger than hummingbirds.
A roadrunner was out for a morning walk, but earlier, we spotted it in a tree. Roadrunners are fun to watch, especially when they catch small lizards.
A curved bill thrasher was enjoying the morning with his mate. I have a pair that visits my bird feeder at home. I like their golden eyes.
My youngest sister, Grace, is a professional photographer and took all these amazing photos. She kindly let me share them with you! You can see more of her stunning photos on her Instagram account, The Reluctant Birder.
I can hardly wait for another ‘sister’ birding walk!
I encourage you to observe the birds who visit your garden or go to some natural areas to view our feathered friends.
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Northern_Cardinal_Phoenix_Riparian_Preserve.email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 13:21:552023-01-25 21:59:24Early Morning Exploration and Discoveries
Fall is my favorite time of year for two main reasons.
First, it signals the beginning of the holiday season. And yes, I am one of those people who decorate for Christmas early. Thanksgiving dinner at my house is celebrated with a fully decorated tree in the background.
Secondly, fall is a time when my garden comes alive again. I don’t have to tell you that summer is a stressful season for plants. But the lower temperatures of fall bring about changes to your plants.
You may have noticed that your plants look healthier than they did in summer. This is why gardeners in the desert often refer to autumn as our ‘second spring.’
Here are some of the differences you may see in your plants this time of year:
Darker foliage has replaced the sun-bleached appearance of some plants due to less intense sunlight.
Flowering increases and the blooms may also appear more intense in color due to less intensity from the sun.
Some plants only bloom in fall, like black dalea(Dalea frutescens), cascalote(Caesalpinia cacalaco), and my favorite pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).
In the section of my backyard, pictured above, pink muhly and white trailing lantana(Lantana montevidensis ‘Alba’) look especially vibrant in fall.
Pink trumpet vine(Podranea ricasoliana) dominates the back corner and blooms in spring and fall. I always know when cooler temps are on their way when they begin to bloom in September.
However, as autumn transitions into winter, the blooms in this area will slow and fade. A few hardy blooms may remain, but overall, the plants will slow down in their growth and flowering. The exception is my angelita daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis) which will bloom off and on through winter.
I invite you to take a walk through your garden and note the changes to your plants. This is a happy time of year in the garden!
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Fall_desert_garden.email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 10:50:482022-11-03 10:51:37Fall in the Desert Garden
Now, when you see a plant that you like in a friend or neighbor’s yard, you probably ask them what it’s called.
My client was very proud of her shrub and called it Firecracker Bush. The problem is that two completely different plants called that name.
To complicate things further, this lovely shrub is also called ‘Fire Bush,’ ‘Scarlet Bush,’ and ‘Hummingbird Bush.’
Are you confused yet?
If so, you aren’t alone.
You see, common names for plants aren’t a reliable way to refer to plants – especially when you head out to the nursery for a particular plant. It’s a frequent mistake to come home with the wrong plant.
If you look at a plant label, you’ll notice that they come with two names – a common name and a botanical (Latin) name.
In this case, the plant’s botanical name above is Hamelia patens.
So, why do you need to know the Latin name of a plant? Obviously, it’s easier to pronounce the common name.
Each particular plant has only ONE botanical name, unlike a common name that may refer to several different plants. Therefore, when you learn the botanical name, there won’t be any confusion about what plant it refers to.
Now, I realize it can be intimidating to try to pronounce Latin plant names. However, recognizing the botanical word for your desired plant will ensure that you are buying the right plant. Don’t worry, you don’t need to say it out loud – simply write it down.
This lovely firecracker bush (Hamelia patens) has lush green foliage and produces red/orange flowers that hummingbirds love. It is cold hardy to 18 degrees F. and will suffer frost damage when temperatures dip into the 30’s, but recovers quickly in spring.
It has a naturally mounded shape and doesn’t require any shearing (no poodle-pruning). Firecracker bush grows to approximately 3-4 feet tall and wide.
In the desert garden, I find it does best in areas with filtered sunlight, making it a worthy addition to your garden.
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Firecracker_Bush_Hamelia_patensemail@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 12:07:542022-09-10 06:16:18Why Plant Names are Confusing
I’m going record to state that I’m not a huge fan. I prefer to endure the intense heat indoors in the comfort of air-conditioning.
However, the plants in my garden don’t have that option. They are stuck outside no matter how hot it gets.
I always feel sad when I see plants struggle in the heat of summer. If I could bring them indoors to cool off I would 😉. But, let’s face it, that isn’t realistic or really what is best for plants.
For that reason, you will find the plants around my home are fairly heat-tolerant.
If you think that heat-proof plants are boring (and if I’m being honest, some are), many are attractive and beautiful.
One of my clients has a great example of an eye-catching entry that is fuss-free and shrugs off the heat of summer.
Artichoke agave (Agave parryi v. truncata), golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Euphorbia lomelii), and yucca create a living sculptural landscape with their unique shapes.
As you can see, you don’t have to settle for a blah garden or one filled with heat-stressed plants. In fact, I loved this example so much that I featured it in my book, “Dry Climate Gardening” which is available for pre-order.
You know that I don’t care for fussy plants – I prefer plants that look great with little effort on my part and this succulent garden is a great example, don’t you agree?
I invite you to take a walk through your garden to see what plants may be stressed from the heat. It may be time for you to switch them out for more heat-tolerant ones.
By the time midpoint of summer heat arrives, I am firmly in ‘summer hibernation’ mode.
While much of the country stays indoors during the cold of winter, we desert dwellers flip that and spend the hottest days of summer safely ensconced indoors in the comfort of A/C.
Of course, cabin fever can hit, making us venture outside of our homes. That’s where summer getaways come into play.
I’m fortunate that there are many spots in Arizona (where I live) that are just a few hours from my house where the summer temperatures are blessedly cooler.
When my husband and I were young, we couldn’t afford to stay overnight in out-of-town destinations. But, we could go for the day. We would pack up our two young daughters and go on day-long adventures to the cool mountains and pack a picnic lunch. Oh, what fun we had!
Nowadays my husband and I travel to cooler spots and spend a few days. One of our favorite places is the town of Bisbee in southeastern Arizona.
There is a lot of history in there and we love to explore while enjoying the cooler temps. The photo above is a part of Bisbee called Lowell, which is preserved in time from the 1950s.
Speaking about the heat, I’ve heard from a number of people in my membership club who are worried about the lack of flowers they see on their shrubs and groundcovers.
Perhaps you have similar worries…
I want to assure you that this is normal in summer – particularly when monsoon rains have been sporadic and not regular.
Intense heat and dryness tend to make flowering plants slow down and a heatwave can burn flowers of certain plants.
Rest assured that they will come back by summer’s end to provide beauty to your outdoor space.
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/AZ_Plant_Lady_Noelle_Johnson_road_trip.email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 08:58:002022-07-12 12:14:08Summer Hibernation, Road Trips, and Missing Flowers
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?
https://email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 13:36:002022-09-11 01:02:19What’s Chewing On My Leaves?
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…
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.
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.
Drive down any street in the Desert Southwest and you will see these beautiful shrubs throughout the residential landscape.
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….
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Leucophyllumemail@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 11:22:002022-09-11 07:34:55Fuzzy Flowers and Sunscreen….
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 wants 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!”
Herbs come from mostly arid regions and so they flourish in our climate. They also like the 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.
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.
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?
5. Water deeply. Do not wet the foliage when you water them as they prefer to stay dry.
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.
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!
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Herb-Container.email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 11:35:002022-09-11 23:27:54Create a Herb Container
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 than making them cone-shaped and once the warmer temperatures of spring arrive, these beautiful ornamental grasses will leaf out again.
Once fall arrives, they produce lovely, burgundy plumes…
In winter, the plumes will fade and become straw colored, which adds a nice touch of wintery color.
The Pink Muhly grasses, below, weren’t pruned the right way either.
They resemble rounded balls and weren’t cut back enough. But, they look much better than 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.
https://www.azplantlady.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/IMG_0718.email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org 20:30:002022-09-17 01:57:11Mini Christmas Trees? More Bad Pruning…