Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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!

It may surprise you to find that it is easier to find plants that thrive in the sun than in the shade.

Especially if you live in the desert Southwest. Why is this, you may ask?

Well, it can be hard to find plants that can handle the intense, dry heat of our climate while flourishing in the shade. While there are a number of lovely plants that can work in shady conditions, it’s hard to know which ones will, which is why I make sure to include my favorites for students in my online gardening class.

So, what do you do if you have a shady spot to fill?

One of my favorites is Yellow Dot (Wedolia trilobata), which is a vining ground cover with lush, dark green leaves interspersed with yellow daisy-like flowers.
Here is a plant that does fabulously in dark shade and will handle brief periods of full sun. 
 
Yellow Dot grows quickly to 1 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide and is hardy to 30 degrees. It’s susceptible to frost damage, which can be easily pruned back in spring.
One of my favorite characteristics of this lush green ground cover is that it has a long bloom period – spring through fall. 
 
It grows beautifully underneath trees, along pathways, and among boulders. You just want to be sure to allow enough room for them to spread.
 
So, if you have a difficult shady spot that needs a plant – try Yellow Dot.
 
How about you?  Do you have a favorite plant that does well in shady spots?  I’d love to hear about it!

I have a weakness (well, one of many) to confess to you today….

I absolutely love salt.  

In fact, I have a theory that the reason that so many people love french fries is not the potatoes or the fat it is fried in. No, it is the salt that you put on them afterwards. I mean, can you imagine eating an unsalted french fry? 

In preparation for this blog post, I went through my kitchen and pulled out all of my salt & pepper shakers.

 
It’s kind of embarrassing isn’t it?  I have so many.
 
But in my defense, I must admit that I collect different types of pottery and need salt and pepper shakers for each set.  
My husband made me my wooden salt cellar, which I keep near the stove when I cook.
 
Now, I do not use as much salt as I used to. In fact, I am trying to be better about it.  When I visited the doctor earlier this week for my physical, I still had low blood pressure, much to my relief.
 
Well, we all know that too much salt is bad for you and can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure. But did you know that too much salt is not good for your plants as well?
 
Plants don’t get ‘high blood  pressure’ with too much salt, but they do have another problem that shows up.
They get brown tips on their leaves, which we call ‘salt burn’.
 
white-crusty-salt-build-up-plants

Here is another way that you can tell plants are getting too much salt. Shallow watering causes the water in the soil to evaporate quickly, leaving behind the salts. The salts look like a white crust on the soil around your plants.

At this point you may be wondering how plants get too much salt?  

Well, both soil and water have naturally occurring salts in them. This is especially true in the Desert Southwest where our water is somewhat salty and our soils can suffer from salt build-up due to high evaporation.
 
So what do you do if you have indoor or outdoor plants that have brown tips?
The solution is very easy.
 
Water deeply.
 
That’s it!
 
 
Here is a shrub that has signs of salt build-up. I encountered with one of my clients during a landscape consultation – he had other shrubs that looked similar.
 
I will tell you what I told him:
 
If your outdoor plants look like this, first water the affected plant with your hose on a slow trickle for at least 2 – 3 hours.  This helps to ‘leach’ or flush the salts away from the roots.
Thereafter, adjust your irrigation schedule so that your shrubs are watered to an approximate depth of 18 inches deep each time. Sadly, most people water too often, too shallow and not long enough.  
 
For example, I water my shrubs and perennials every 5 – 7 days in the summer. This takes approximately 2 hours for my plants to be watered to a depth of 2 ft. Of course the time it takes to water that deeply is different for each landscape and is dependent on a variety of factors including soil type and water pressure.
If your houseplant has brown tips (salt burn), then simply flush the salts out by deeply watering.  You can do this by putting your plant in the sink or bathtub and let water slowly trickle on your plant for 1 – 2 hours.
I cover landscape irrigation in depth with my students in my online course, Desert Gardening 101, but for those of you looking for advice right now here’s what I recommend. Search online for watering guidelines on your city’s website – most have schedules including recommended depths.
So in closing I’ll leave you with these two tips:
Be sure to limit your salt intake AND water your plants deeply to prevent salt burn.

For my longtime followers, you may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as regularly as before. Well, I am excited to tell you the reason why.

But first, a little background. I help desert gardeners in my work as a landscape consultant where I meet with my clients and give them the knowledge and tools that they need to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful outdoor space that thrives in a hot, dry climate.

prickly-pear-cactus-white-lantana

White trailing lantana grows nearby a Santa-rita purple prickly pear

Many of you know that gardening in the desert can be challenging and it is hard to find resources to help you to learn the “right” way to do things. As a result, my phone was ringing off the hook with people who needed my help. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day to help everyone, and I soon became overwhelmed with work and exhausted.

So, I began looking for a way that I could reach more people to give them the help they needed. All winter long, I worked hard on my ‘new project’ and debuted it in January to a limited number of desert gardeners. I hoped that they would give me feedback so I could make sure that my new project was what they needed.

What I wasn’t prepared for was their overwhelmingly positive response! I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I achieved my goal of reaching more people and helping them on their desert garden journey, and it is working!

And now, I’m finally ready to draw back the curtains and share it with you!

online-class-desert-gardening-101

Desert Gardening 101 is a way that you can learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful garden that thrives in the desert. I’ve combined my 20+ years as a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant into this class.

Here are the topics covered in the class:

class-curriculum-desert-gardening-101

Live group coaching from me is included!

group-coaching-desert-gardening-Noelle-Johnson

And there are bonuses for students including…

best-plants-for-desert-garden

My favorite plants along with growing guides and how to use them

 

Here is what some of my current students have to say about Desert Gardening 101:

“This class has been very informative. We recently moved into a home in AZ with no landscaping in both the front and back yards. Having no experience in desert gardening and spending a lot of time online researching this subject. I came across the AZ Plant Lady and was happy to see there was an upcoming class on Desert Gardening. We signed up immediately.

This class is very helpful, and I’m sure it will keep us from making expensive mistakes in our new landscape and saving many hours of research. We can’t wait to start planting. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.”Laurie Wolf

 

“I have really enjoyed Desert Gardening 101 and have learned so much! Talk about a learning curve! Everything about gardening here is a complete 180! Yikes. I have killed more plants in the past three years, that I ever did in the many, many years I gardened in Milwaukee! I wish that I would have had the opportunity to learn all that I am learning now before we hired a landscape firm to landscape our yard.

We had a clean slate – a brand new construction with nothing but dirt surrounding our home! I knew very little about the desert, the plants and trees that grow best here and how to plant and care for them, soil to use, the watering “issue,” let alone design. We are now in the process of fixing the problems, thanks in large part to the knowledge I am gaining through Desert Gardening 101! I still have a ton to learn, but I’m making lots of progress with the weekly modules!

Thanks, Noelle for making this a very informative and worthwhile course for all of us trying to learn the ins and outs of desert gardening!Barb Terschan

 

“A Phoenix resident for many years, I recently moved from downtown to a house on the mountain preserve and wanted to flow into the desert with native and low water desert plants. That is when I found AZ Plant Lady and started learning. This class has been a huge help in this transition. I have learned I’ve been planting my new plants too deeply and watering way too much. The pruning session was an eye opener, also. Now I know when and how to prune my shrubs. The many plant suggestions provided have narrowed my search when visiting nurseries and has kept my focus on what really thrives in the desert. I am gardening with more confidence thanks to this course. Highly recommend!”Linda Yowell

 

Desert-Gardening-101-online-class

Desert Gardening 101 is an online course that teaches proven landscape strategies that I use myself, and I’ve taught hundreds of my clients who have gone on to succeed in their own landscape goals.

The course spans 8-weeks, and you can access it anytime online and view the content at your convenience. Most importantly, you will have lifetime access to the course, so you revisit the classes at any time in the future.

purple-flowers-on-boulder

I am currently accepting new students for my next class session for a LIMITED time. I close the doors for new student sign-ups on Thursday, March 21st and I won’t be offering the class again until this fall!

I would be honored to come alongside you on your garden journey! Click here for more information and to register.

*This is by far the most affordable way to work with me at a fraction of the price of my private consultations.

 

Birthday Cake

The past couple of months has been a period of busyness, a new look, and opportunities for me.

Normally in December, work in the garden slows down, which means that I have fewer landscape consultations. I welcome this time of year as it allows me to focus on Christmas and a welcome break from work. However, this time it was a very busy time for me as I have been working on two big projects. 

One is the free webinar that I gave earlier this week. It was the first live webinar that I’ve presented and although I was a little nervous, I loved it!

The second project is one that is near and dear to my heart, and you can read about it HERE.

Desert_Gardening_Website_AZ_Plant_Lady

You may have noticed that things look a little different. I decided that it was time to freshen up the appearance of my website and I’m pleased with the results. I did this with the goal of making it easier for you to navigate and find the information that you need.

During the periods of busy work, I did take time to slow down and enjoy some new opportunities. One was adding a playhouse to my garden.

Although I think it would be a great mini-garden shed, I think it works best as a playhouse for the grandkids, don’t you think?

For Christmas, we added a badminton net to the backyard. The kids got into it right away and had so much fun. Now, my husband and I go out to play three times a week or more, for about a 1/2 hour. It’s a fun workout, and the weather is beautiful!

Back indoors, I have been using my extra free time having fun in the kitchen with my new Instant Pot. My family is huge fans of what I’ve made so far which include Bolognese sauce, porcupine meatballs, and roast chicken. Do you have Instant Pot recipes that you recommend?

We are pizza lovers, and my newest recipe is based on the Pioneer Woman’s Stuffed Crust Pizza. I made some changes by leaving out the string cheese, adding sausage and shredded Mozzarella on the top. It is so good and easy to make!

Birthday Cake

The day after Christmas is my birthday and my dear husband, who is no great baker, does know how to order my favorite Freddy’s Ice Cream Cake with Heath Bar added – YUM!

Finally, I can’t wait to get back out into the garden this week. It’s time to prune back my roses. I find this task gratifying as I get to decide which canes to keep and which ones to cut back. Although it is hard to cut them back when they are in bloom, I keep thinking of how beautiful they will be in spring, in large part, due to my pruning.

What are your plans for this new year?

The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make in the Desert Garden

I am always looking for ways to help people on their desert garden journey and so I’m offering a FREE class on 5 reasons you are struggling with your desert garden.

As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I have seen people making the same mistakes, which prevent them from having a beautiful outdoor space.

Because of this, they unintentionally ‘hurt’ the plants by over-maintaining them and spending money on unneeded products and landscape services.

If this sounds like you, I AM HERE TO HELP!

I’ve been helping people like you for over 20 years and I can help you too!

Free Webinar AZ Plant Lady

This LIVE class is on January 17th, at 1:00 MST. *If you want to register for this free class, but can’t attend it live, it will be recorded so you can watch it at our convenience for a limited time.

Knowledge is power and once you know what you are doing wrong in the landscape – you have taken one GIANT step in having a desert garden that you are proud of.

CLICK the following link to learn more and register – http://bit.ly/2RpFFb5

I hope to see you there!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take another photo of a landscape I passed by in a neighborhood where I had just finished up a landscape consultation.


Sadly, I often see examples of truly ‘interesting’ or should I say ‘bad’ pruning.  I drove by this landscape and then made a U-turn so that I could take a quick photo…

 
I don’t know about you, but these Texas sage shrubs look like mushrooms, don’t you think?
 
Sadly, pruning these beautiful flowering shrubs this way, robs them of their flowers, increases maintenance, creates dead wood and shortens their life.
 
While there are quite a few shrubs that take well to repeated formal pruning – doing this to flowering shrubs should be avoided.  
 
I must admit that I have seen Texas sage and other flowering shrubs pruned into many different shapes…
 
But, let me be frank – shrubs aren’t meant to be cupcakes, frisbees or gumdrops.
 
How about you?  
 
What interesting shapes have you seen flowering shrubs pruned into?
If you are tired of the time and money it takes to maintain flowering shrubs the ‘wrong’ way. I invite you to join me in my online shrub pruning workshop where I will teach you the right way to prune. Imagine being able to prune with confidence and have a landscape filled with beautiful, flowering shrubs? It’s much easier than you think. 

Many of us are familiar with how over-pruning can take away much of the beauty of flowering shrubs, in addition to contributing to their early death.


But, have you ever wondered what they look on the inside?


I found this ‘ugly’ example alongside the drive-thru of Taco Bell.

 
It isn’t pretty, is it?
 
The side of the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage was sheared away because it was growing over the curb.  
The result of planting the shrub too close.
 
You can see the thin layer of leaves that cover the shrub and the dark, interior where sunlight seldom reaches.  
 
If this resembles your shrub(s), the good news is that you can usually fix them.

Imagine going from the shrub on the left to the one on the right?
 
You can still do this in April for your Cassia (Senna species), Sage (Leucophyllum species), Ruellia, Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and Lantana shrubs.
I teach you how in my popular online shrub pruning workshop where you’ll learn how to rejuvenate over-pruned shrubs and how to prune them the right way in the future.
Declare your landscape free of shrubs pruned into balls, cupcakes, and squares 🙂

My inbox has been filled lately with pruning questions.  Specifically, how to prune back overgrown flowering shrubs.

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)
You may be wondering why you need to severely prune back overgrown shrubs?
 
Well, as you can see from the photo, above – as a shrub’s branches age, they produce fewer leaves and flowers.  As time passes – these branches die, which leave ugly, bare areas.
 
Here are a few more examples of overgrown shrubs that need to be severely pruned back…
‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’)
You may think the formally pruned sage shrubs in the photo above, look okay besides being a bit on the large side.  
But, what you don’t see is a large amount of dead branches inside.  In reality, these shrubs are covered in a very thin layer of growth.
 
Here is an example of old Cassia (Senna nemophila) shrubs that have only been pruned formally.  You can see that there are more dead areas than live growth.
 
So, how do you go about severely pruning old, overgrown shrubs back?
 
First of all – don’t do this during cooler months because it will take your shrubs a very long time to grow back. In addition, it can make frost-tender shrubs more susceptible to frost damage.  Wait until spring for pruning back summer-flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea, sage, oleanders, etc.
 
You need a good pair of loppers and sometimes a pruning saw and you are ready to go. Simply prune your shrub back until there is only about 1 – 2 ft left.
 
Hedge trimmers can help if you use them to remove the outer part of the shrub and then you can get your loppers inside to prune off larger branches toward the base.
 
Below, are photos of ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrubs that started out overgrown, were pruned back severely, and grew back.
 
Overgrown shrubs.
Pruned back to 1 ft.

This is the ugly stage.  But you need to go through this ‘awkward’ stage to achieve beautiful, healthy shrubs.

I promise that it doesn’t last long…

New growth appears 3 weeks later
8 weeks after pruning.
12 weeks after severe pruning.
 
You can see that the severe pruning caused the shrub to grow young, new branches that produce beautiful green growth and flowers.
 
 
**Although severe renewal pruning keeps your shrubs healthy and attractive – there are a few cases when an old, overgrown shrub won’t grow back. It is doubtful that the Cassia shrubs, above, will survive for long either with or without severe pruning). 
 
This usually indicates that the shrub has declined too much and would not have survived for long even without pruning.  If this happens, you are better off replacing your shrub.**
 
Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers
A good guideline for severely pruning your shrubs is to do this every 3 years or so. Of course, you can do this every year if you like to help keep your shrubs from outgrowing their space.
 
I hope that this helps to answer some of your questions.
If you would like to learn more about how to prune shrubs the right way, I invite you to learn more about my popular online shrub pruning workshop