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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Badly pruned palm trees

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

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

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

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

A summer lawn adds beauty to outdoor spaces while helping to lower air temperatures, which assists in providing a welcome respite from the heat.  We have all seen expanses of lush, green grass that are thriving as well as lawns that are struggling and look the worse for wear. Having a flourishing patch of grass doesn’t have to be difficult, but there are guidelines to follow to ensure that your lawn provides you enjoyment and not an eyesore.

My career as a horticulturist began on golf courses, and my landscape at home has always had an area of grass for my kids to play on. Over the years, I’ve followed 5 tips for a healthy summer lawn that keeps it attractive without being a slave to its upkeep. 

1. Irrigation 

Proper watering is vital to keeping your grass happy. Each spring, check for broken or leaking sprinkler heads and make any needed repairs. Make sure that the sprinkler heads are pointing in the right direction (you want to water the grass and not the sidewalk)

In summer, water three times a week to a depth of 6 inches – you can check the how deep the water penetrates with a screwdriver. The best time to water is very early morning – it’s important to avoid watering during the day when much of the water is lost to evaporation before it even touches the grass.

2. Fertilize twice a year.

A typical lawn is made up of thousands of individual grass plants growing together in close quarters, and because of this, the soil can’t provide enough nutrients for them to do their best. Providing them supplemental nutrients (mostly nitrogen) is required for a flourishing lawn. The first application of fertilizer should occur in spring, as the grass begins to turn green. In fall, fertilize again, which will allow the grass to store up nutrients and enabling them to green up faster the following spring. 

There are two forms of lawn fertilizer – synthetic (of chemical origin) and organic. I prefer using organic fertilizer as it improves the soil and lasts longer than synthetic.

3. Mow every 4 – 5 days.

One of the most helpful things you can do to improve the condition of your lawn is to mow it regularly taking care not to remove more than 1/3 the total height. This helps keep your grass thick and lush while shading the bottom, which will help keep weeds from becoming established. If you have bermudagrass, as I have, it should be maintained at 3/4 to 1 & 1/2 inches high. 

4. Dump the leaf bag and allow grass clippings to fall to the ground.

The days of hauling the leaf bag to the trash can are over. While most lawn mowers come with a leaf bag attachment, your grass will be healthier if you never use it. Grass clippings decompose quickly when left on the lawn and release nitrogen back into the soil in the process, which benefits your lawn. 

5. Aerate your lawn every 2-3 years. 

Over time, the soil that your grass grows in can become compacted from foot traffic and often is found in lawns that people and pets walk on. The signs of compacted grass areas show up as bare patches with hard dirt that water has trouble penetrating. Compacted soils are bad for grass and other plants because it is hard for water to penetrate and there low amounts of oxygen around the roots.

Aerating takes little cores of soil out of the lawn, allowing water and oxygen to penetrate, which results in significant improvement. The best time to aerate is in late spring and can be done by renting an aerator, hiring a lawn care company, or strapping on a pair of aerating shoes for a healthy workout.

My grandson, Eric, wanted to trade his toy tractor for my new lawn mower.

A good lawn mower is a vital tool in helping to maintain a healthy lawn, and I am having fun using my new TroyBilt 4×4 Self-Propelled Mower. It is quite versatile and is designed to go up and down hills with ease with its front-wheel, rear-wheel, and all wheel drive. Switching drives is easy to do with one hand, leaving the other hand free.

Unlike some mowers, this one was easy to start due to its ReadyStart® starting system and 2-pull Starting Promise™. Attention to detail is evident from the ability to directly attach your hose to clean the blade as well as easily adjusting mowing heights.

When it came to evaluating this new mower, I asked my husband to try it out as truth be told; he mows our lawn more than I do.

He appreciated the attention to detail including the ability to directly attach your hose to clean the deck (underside) as well as easily adjusting mowing heights with a lever.

So, if a healthy lawn is one of your landscape goals, follow these 5 tips for a lush green, summer lawn.

**Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the folks at Troy-Bilt, and I was given their new 4×4 Self-Propelled Lawn Mower free of charge for my honest review.

Taking photos of succulents in a hidden garden in California.

I have a love affair with succulents. 

There are so many reasons for my passion, but the biggest reason is that they are easy to grow, and a low-maintenance way to add beauty to the garden.

The popularity of succulents is taking off and nursery shelves are filled with numerous varieties to tempt gardeners. Many people are beginning to replace high-maintenance plants with fuss-free succulents.

Sticks on Fire Euphorbia and Elephants Food

Succulents can also be a great choice for solving common gardening problems.  For example, they make great container plants and require a fraction of the care that flowering annuals do. 

I share my favorite ways to use succulents in the garden in my latest article for Houzz. I hope that you find inspiration for solving your garden problems by adding these lovely plants.

How Succulents Can Solve Your Garden Problems

 

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?

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.

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. 

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 a tree’s 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.

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?

Last week, I was cleaning out old files that I had stored in a box from my years working as a horticulturist on golf courses, and I found this photo of me standing in a bed of wildflowers.

It was taken during my first year after graduating with my degree in horticulture in 1999. Throughout the golf course, was feature areas and I took this empty one and planted wildflowers including succulent lupine, red flax, and desert marigold (not blooming yet).

When I look at the picture, it brings back many memories of garden victories, along with a few failures – I call that life (garden) experience. 

*What were you doing in 1999?

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) before pruning

We had experienced a delightful spring with hot temperatures staying away for the most part. The weather has been so lovely that I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the garden. One garden task that has needed to get done is pruning back my winter/spring flowering shrubs.

What are winter/spring flowering shrubs you may ask? Well, they are those that flower primarily in late winter and on into spring. In the Southwest garden, they include cassia (Senna species), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata)

The time to do this varies depending on the plant and the region you live in, but generally, you want to prune them back once flowering has finished. 

I’ve decided to show you how I have pruned my cool-season shrubs and I find that using hedge trimmers make quick work of this job. Yes, I realize that I preach against using hedge trimmers for ‘poodling’ flowering shrubs into formal shapes, BUT they are very useful for corrective pruning for the health and beauty of your shrubs. I only use them ONCE a year.

Above, is a photo of my red globe mallow shrubs before I pruned them. They put on a beautiful show for several weeks, but have gone to seed, and they aren’t particularly attractive in this state. 

Newly pruned globe mallow shrubs

This is what they look like after pruning. As you can see, they have been pruned back severely, which is needed to keep them attractive and stimulate attractive, new growth. Don’t worry, while they may look rather ugly, in a few weeks; they will be fully leafed out.

Valentine bush before pruning

Here is one of my Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs. This is one of my favorite plants, and it adds priceless winter color to my garden. One of the things that I love about it is that it needs pruning once a year when the flowers have begun to fade.

Valentine bush after pruning

I prune mine back to approximately 2 feet tall and wide, but you could prune it back even further. This pruning is necessary to ensure a good amount of blooms for next year. Don’t prune it after this as you will decrease a number of flowers that will form later.

Finally, it was time to tackle pruning my feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisoides). I love the golden yellow flowers that appear in winter and last into early spring. They add a lovely fragrance to the garden as well. However, once flowering has finished, they produce seed pods that will turn brown and ugly if not pruned.

I’ve created a video to show you how to prune these shrubs. Unlike the others, I only prune them back by 1/2 their size.

*As you can see in the video, my grandson, Eric was having fun helping out in the garden.

That is all the pruning that these shrubs will receive, which will keep them both attractive and healthy.

It’s worth noting that hedge trimmers aren’t a bad tool to use – rather, the problem is when they are used incorrectly to prune flowering shrubs excessively throughout the year.

I hope that this post is helpful to you as you maintain your shrubs. If the video was helpful, please click ‘Like’ and subscribe to my YouTube channel as I will be making more garden videos to help care for and maintain your Southwest garden.

*What do you prune in mid-spring?

Hummingbird Container Garden

Part 3 of the tour of my back garden looks at my favorite flowering shrubs, a hummingbird container garden, and a peek at a part of my garden that few people get to see.

I hope that you enjoyed the tour of my garden. Admittedly, it isn’t fancy, but neither am I. It reflects much about my personality – rather carefree, not fussy, and lover of color. My hope is that you will find some inspiration for your own outdoor space.

If you haven’t had a chance to view the other videos of my garden, here is Part 1 as well as Part 2

Part 2 of my garden tour is my favorite area, which is located on the side of my house. Apple, citrus, and peach trees grow nearby my test garden where I grow a number of plants sent to me by growers throughout the U.S. to see how they do in the desert.

I invite you to come along with me and we explore deeper into this part of the garden.

*Keep an eye out for one of the neighborhood feral cats, who inadvertently photobombed this garden video.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can see Part 1, here. And as always, click ‘like‘ if you enjoyed it and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I am working on creating new videos.

 

Do you have a garden or a yard?

I like to refer to the outdoor spaces around my home as a garden. It’s not perfect but filled with color and beauty where the outside world seemingly melts away.

Many of you have asked to see more of my garden, and I decided that the best way to do that is to give you a video tour. Part 1 focuses on my flowering trees, colorful foliage, and my vegetable garden.

I hope you enjoy the tour and perhaps will get some ideas for your garden. Please click ‘like’ on the video and feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel for notifications when I post new videos.