Have you ever had a ‘substitute’ teacher?  As most of you know, a substitute teacher doesn’t do things the same way our regular teacher does.

A few years ago, I was asked to step in as a ‘substitute’ gardener for my father-in-law’s landscape.

Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

Photo: Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

My father-in-law had always been a meticulous gardener and took a lot of pride in his landscape. Have you ever seen rounder shrubs?

A few years earlier, I had designed the landscape around his new home and tried to convince him to allow his plants to grow into their natural shapes. But as you can see from the photo above, he didn’t follow my advice.  

He eventually took out his backyard grass and replaced it with artificial turf and whenever flowers or leaves would fall on the grass, he would vacuum them up – I’m not kidding.  

We would often joke with each other about our very different styles of gardening – especially when he would come over to my house for a visit and see my plants growing “wild and free” as he would say.    

But despite our differences, we shared the same love for plants and the garden.  

Unfortunately, his gardening days were numbered and he asked me to come over and help him with the gardening tasks that he could no longer do.  

My father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in October 2010 and it progressed very rapidly.  

So, I became his ‘substitute gardener’ and I was happy to be able to help out so that he could still enjoy the beauty of his garden, even if he could not care for it himself.

gold lantana

In early August of 2011, I lightly pruned back his gold lantana.  At this point, my father-in-law spent most of his time indoors sitting down. But, as I was pruning, I saw him slowly make his way out, with his walker, so he could watch me prune his plants.  

At this point, he could no longer talk due to ALS and I’m certain that if he could have spoken, he might have asked me to make the lantana ’rounder’.

After this light pruning, the lantana would grow back to its original size before stopping during winter.  If they had not been pruned, they would have look quite overgrown for my father-in-law’s taste.  

Light pruning involves removing 1/3 or less.  The timing of this light pruning is crucial – prune too late and your plants will be extra susceptible to damage from frost.  Don’t prune after early August in zone 9 (July in zone 8) gardens. Pruning in fall should not be done for this very reason.

Substitute Gardener

Substitute Gardener

Another part of the garden that my father-in-law took a lot of pride in was his flowering annuals.  Every year, he would plant the same red geraniums and white-flowering bacopa in winter.  Once spring rolled around, he would plant red and white vinca. He never deviated by trying out newer colors or varieties.  

I found myself taking over this job as well and when I came home and see all there was to do in my neglected garden – I didn’t mind.  It felt so good to be able to control how his garden looked because ALS had taken control of everything else.  

My father-in-law died in September 2011, just 11 months after being diagnosed with ALS.    

It’s been almost 3 years since he passed away, but whenever August comes around and I find myself lightly pruning back my gold lantana – I enjoy the memory of one our last moments together in the garden as I pruned his lantana.

Pruning Flowering Shrubs in Late Summer

I am excited to show you two pictures of one of my favorite perennials.

Favorite Perennials Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Favorite Perennials Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) 

Isn’t this a cool picture of a bee, ready to pollinate the flowers of this penstemon?

I must confess that I did not take this photo (or the other one below).  My husband took both of these beautiful pictures.

Favorite Perennials Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

This firecracker penstemon is happily growing in my garden and is now over 14 years old, which is rare.

Every winter, it sends up spikes covered in red, tubular flowers, much to the delight of the resident hummingbirds.

The blooms last through spring in my desert garden.  In cooler climates, it will bloom in spring through early summer.

To learn more about this red beauty and how easy it is to grow in your garden, click here.

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I hope you have enjoyed my favorite flower photos.  Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting a series of my favorite DIY blog posts, so please come back for a visit!  

Yellow is a great color to include in the garden.  

Why?

Yellow-flowering plants will help the other colors in your garden to ‘pop’ visually because it provides great color contrast.

Damainita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

Damainita (Chrysactinia mexicana) 

One of my favorite yellow-flowering plants is damianita, which blooms in spring and again in fall.

yellow flowering plants

It thrives in hot, sunny, desert gardens, is drought-tolerant and is almost maintenance-free.

I love how it looks like ‘yellow clouds’ sitting on the ground when in bloom.

For more information on damianita as well as a few other desert perennials that I like to use in desert landscapes, click here.

I love the color purple in the garden because the color, helps to visually ‘cool’ the garden.

'Rio Bravo' Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Rio Bravo')

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

Have you ever wondered how some plants handle our hot temperatures and intense sunlight?

Look carefully at the flowers, above.  Note the small hairs covering the petals?  They help to reflect the sun’s rays.

sage shrubs

I like using large shrubs to screen the back wall of my garden, so I have quite a few ‘Rio Bravo’ sage shrubs.

They put on a spectacular show off and on throughout the summer when they bloom.  (Leucophyllum langmaniae) is just one species of Leucophyllum (Texas Sage).

Of course, if you insist on pruning your sage shrubs into round ‘blobs’ – you will never see the flower show.

For guidelines on how to prune your desert, flowering shrubs correctly, click here.

Do you have friends with whom you share a common interest?


I do.


My friend and fellow blogger, Amy Andrychowicz of Get Busy Gardening loves gardening as much as I do.  Amy and I have spent time together in Arizona and later in Florida.

Amy Andrychowicz Garden

Last week, while on a road trip through the Midwest, I made sure to make a stop in Minneapolis to visit with Amy and see her garden in person.

Amy Andrychowicz

You may be wondering what a gardener from a hot, dry climate would have in common with one from a cold, temperate climate?  

Amy's garden

My winter temps can get down to 20 – 25 degrees in my desert garden while Amy’s goes all the way down to -30 to -25 degrees.  That is up to a 50 degree difference!

But, believe it or not, there are a large number of plants that can grow in both climates.

Midwestern Garden

Entering Amy’s back garden, my attention was immediately drawn to her large beds filled with colorful perennials.

Midwestern Garden

I love iris!

I am always taking pictures of iris throughout my travels.  While they can grow very well in Arizona, I have never grown them myself.  

Midwestern Garden

The major difference between growing irises in the Southwest and the Midwest is the time that they bloom.  Iris will bloom earlier in the spring while their bloom won’t start until late spring in cooler regions.

Midwestern Garden

After seeing Amy’s in full bloom, I may need to rethink planting these beautiful plants in my own garden.

Succulents

Succulents aren’t just for the warmer regions.  I have encountered prickly pear cacti in some unexpected places including upstate New York.

Here, Amy has a prickly pear enjoying the sun flanked by two variegated sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ that produces reddish flowers in late summer to early autumn.

This plant also can grow in desert gardens, but does best in the upper desert regions or in the low desert in fertile soil and filtered shade.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy, Get Busy Gardening

You might not expect to see water harvesting practiced outside of arid regions. But you can see examples of water harvesting throughout the United States.

This is Amy’s rain garden.  The middle of the garden is sloped into a swale that channels and retains rainwater allowing it to soak into the soil.  Plants are planted along the sides of the swale who benefit from the extra water.

low-growing plants

A water feature was surrounded by low-growing plants including one that caught my eye.

low-growing plants

This ground cover had attractive, gray foliage covered with lovely, white flowers.  I wasn’t familiar with this plant and asked Amy what it was.

I love the name of this plant, ‘Snow in Summer’ (Cerastium tomentosum).  While it thrives in hot, dry conditions, it does not grow in warmer zones 8 – 11.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

Enjoying the shade from the ground cover was a frog.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

I always enjoy seeing plants that aren’t commonly grown where I live.  I have always liked the tiny flowers of coral bells (Heuchera species).  It blooms throughout the summer in cooler climates. 

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

Do you like blue flowers?  I do.  I first saw Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ growing on a visit to the Lurie Gardens in Chicago.

This lovely perennial won’t grow in my desert garden, so I’m always excited to see it during my travels.

beautiful clematis vines

Amy had two beautiful clematis vines just beginning to bloom.  

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

I must admit to being slightly envious of her being able to grow these lovely, flowering vines.  Years ago after moving to Arizona, I tried growing clematis.  While it did grow, it never flowered.  Clematis aren’t meant to be grown in hot, dry climates.

pink peonies

Aren’t these single, deep pink peonies gorgeous?

While I am usually content with the large amount of plants that I can grow in my desert garden, peonies are top on my list of plants that I wish would grow in warmer climates such as mine.

Amy’s garden was filled with beautiful, flowering peonies of varying colors.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

I took A LOT of pictures of her peonies. 

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy
Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

There was even a lovely bouquet of peonies decorating the dining room table.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

Amy’s back garden is divided up into individual beds and one entire side of the garden is filled with her impressive vegetable garden.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

You may be surprised to find that growing vegetables is largely the same no matter where you live.  The main difference is the gardening calendar.  For example, I plant Swiss chard in October and enjoy eating it through March.  In Amy’s garden, Swiss chard isn’t planted until late spring.  

Swiss chard

Swiss chard 

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

The raised vegetable beds were painted in bright colors, which contrasted beautifully with the vegetables growing inside.  Even when the beds stand empty, they still add color to the landscape.

Green Beans

Green Beans 

Kale

Kale 

Young pepper plants

Young pepper plants took advantage of a hot, sunny location in which they will thrive.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

One thing that is different in vegetable gardening is the practice of ‘winter sowing’.  When Amy first told me about this method of sowing and germinating seeds, I was fascinated.

Basically, seeds are planted in containers with holes poked on the bottom for drainage.  The containers are then covered with plastic tops also covered with holes.

In mid-winter, the containers are set outside.  Snow and later, rain water the plants inside the containers and the seeds germinate once temperatures start to warm up.

Amy has a great blog post about winter sowing that I highly recommend.

As we got ready to leave, we walked through the side garden, which had a wooden bridge.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

Different varieties of thyme were planted amount the pavers for a lovely effect.  

Thyme can make a great ground cover in areas that receive little foot traffic.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

In the front garden, I noticed the characteristic flowers of columbine growing underneath the shade tree.

I don’t often see red columbine.  Amy’s reseeds readily, so she always has columbine coming up.

Colorful Midwestern Garden of Amy

This is a sweet, pink columbine that has smaller, but more plentiful flowers.

I had visited Amy’s garden through her blog, Get Busy Gardening for a long time and it was so wonderful to be able to see it in person.  It is beautiful!

I encourage you to visit Amy’s blog, which is filled with a lot of helpful advice – even for those of us who live in the Southwest.

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

Have you ever made a discovery that was literally under your nose?  

I did.

Earlier this month, I embarked on a tour of low-water gardens that displayed sustainable design throughout the greater Phoenix area.  

The earlier parts of our tour showed examples of water harvesting using cisterns along with man-made arroyos.  Then we viewed a creative example of sustainable design for a beautiful parking lot that needed no supplemental water and little to no maintenance.

I mentioned last week that I had saved the best for last and I can’t wait to share with you this jewel in the midst of a desert city.

sustainable gardens

The last stop on our tour of low-water and sustainable gardens was the Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden.

The garden is just over 5 acres and sits hidden from the street next to Chaparral Park in central Scottsdale.

Over 200 different types of plants are used throughout the garden, all of which are drought-tolerant and well-adapted to our hot, dry climate.

My friend and fellow blogger, Pam Penick, came with me to this beautiful garden (you can see her at the top of the terraced planters).

My friend and fellow blogger, Pam Penick, came with me to this beautiful garden (you can see her at the top of the terraced planters).

One of my favorite parts of the garden included this innovative design, called the ‘Terraced Cascade’ which creates the appearance of water traveling down between terraced planters filled with Palo Blanco trees (Acacia willardiana) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata).  

sustainable gardens

 Water does flow down discretely hidden steps between the terraces during times of heavy rainfall toward the water harvest basin where it waters existing plants before flowing underground toward the nearby lake.

sustainable gardens

Raised planters were filled with flowering Ocotillo  as well as Birdcage Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides).

Birdcage Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides) in the foreground and Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlanderi) growing against the Ocotillo

Birdcage Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides) in the foreground and Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlanderi) growing against the Ocotillo.

I must admit that I was surprised to find this garden in an area that I used to spend a lot of time in.

Years ago, before the garden existed, my husband and I would take evening walks around the nearby lake with our daughter.  Believe it or not, before there was a garden, there used to be a miniature golf course in this location. 

sustainable gardens

I love stone walls and would have some in my own garden, if I could afford them.  The stone walls were capped with flagstone and had rows of round stones, which added an unexpected touch of texture.  

sustainable gardens

From our vantage point, we could see to the other side of the garden where a tall, dead tree stood.  Trees like this are called a ‘snag’, which is a dead or dying tree.  This tree provides a home for hawks, which help keep the rabbit population down. 

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Gabion walls were used along pathways to created terraces to help slow down storm water in order to reduce flooding while watering the plants.

The demonstration garden is located next to a water treatment plant and part of the garden sits on top of a reservoir that contains 5.5 million gallons of treated water.

Deer Grass in the foreground

Deer Grass in the foreground.

One of the things that I enjoy about demonstration gardens is that they ‘demonstrate’ different gardening methods as well as showcasing plants.

In this case, I was impressed with the collection of plant species used, which aren’t typically seen in residential or commercial landscapes, which is a shame.

sustainable gardens

As we walked down the main path, we came upon a man-made, mesquite ‘bosque’.  The word ‘bosque’ is used to refer to stands of trees nearby rivers or washes throughout the southwestern United States.  Usually, you’ll find these bosques made up of mesquite trees.

This bosque was planted with Honey Mesquite trees (Prosopis glandulosa), which is simply stunning in spring when it’s bright-green leaves reappear.  A warning though – it has thorns.

Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox) trees and gabion walls line the main walkway

Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox) trees and gabion walls line the main walkway.

Plants are maintained just the way I like them – no shearing or over-pruning.  

Gold Mound Lantana, Orange Bush Lantana and Pink & White Globe Mallow

Gold Mound Lantana, Orange Bush Lantana and Pink & White Globe Mallow.

The main pathway parallels the local dog park.

mesquite trees

There is little that can compare to the beauty of the  new spring leaves of mesquite trees.  I love how the coral-colored variety of Bougainvillea and the yellow flowers of Aloe Vera look like brightly-colored jewels along with the leaves of the mesquite.

sustainable gardens

Nearing the end of the trail, I couldn’t help but marvel at this beautiful garden and its creative design.

Throughout the garden were educational signs talking about a myriad of gardening subjects that were clearly illustrated by the garden itself including planning and design, plant care and desert habitat.

sustainable gardens

A large cistern was located on one end of the trail, which was filled with the average amount of water that a household uses in 1 week.

Around the outer border of the cistern is an American Indian saying that says:

“THE FROG DOES NOT DRINK UP THE POND IN WHICH HE LIVES”

Those are words that all of us who live in the dry, southwest should all ponder…

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The Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden is located at Hayden and McDonald Roads in Scottsdale.  It is open from sunrise to 10:30 at night.

I hope you have enjoyed these posts of our tour of sustainable, southwestern landscapes in the greater Phoenix area.

Pam and I drove about 170 miles in one day and we weren’t able to see all of the great examples of sustainable landscaping.  However, if you are interested in seeing examples of sustainable gardening, then I would recommend starting at the Desert Botanical Garden, which is filled with arid-adapted plants that thrive in our climate with minimal water and fuss.

If you haven’t visited Pam’s blog, Digging, I encourage you to do so.  Many of the plants that she grows in Austin do well in our climate too.  Did I also mention that she is an author?  She has a fabulous book called Lawn Gone!: Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard, which I highly recommend.

Last weekend, my husband and I loaded up our two youngest kids into our truck and headed out to the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring plant sale.

Desert Botanical Garden, My husband and kids wait patiently at the end of the agave aisle for me

Desert Botanical Garden, My husband and kids wait patiently at the end of the agave aisle for me.

Now, it is always a dangerous situation whenever I find myself at a plant sale.  I am much like a small kid in a candy store as I am sorely tempted to buy more then my garden can fit.

The sale at the Desert Botanical Garden is huge.  There is so much to look at and see.  There are informative signs next to each grouping of plants with a photo and important details such as how much water they need, recommended exposure and how large they will become.

The main reason that I wanted to come to the sale was in order to keep up with the newest plant introductions and varieties so I could share them with you.

First, here are some familiar plants with unfamiliar colors that stood out to me:

Desert Botanical Garden

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis ‘Aurea’)

Cape Honeysuckle is a popular landscape plant that has beautiful orange, tubular flowers. The variety ‘Aurea’ has yellow flowers.

*Which color would you prefer in your garden – yellow or orange?

'Brake Light' Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora 'Brake Light')

‘Brake Light’ Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Brake Light’)

Red Yucca is a very popular succulent with its succulent, grass-like foliage and coral-colored flowers that appear in spring and summer.  The variety ‘Brake Light’ has a deeper red flower, which I really like.

Polka Dot Prickly Pear (Opuntia microdasys 'Albispina')

Polka Dot Prickly Pear (Opuntia microdasys ‘Albispina’)

The most common variety of this prickly pear has yellow ‘dots’ (glochids) and is often referred to as ‘Bunny Ears’.  The variety ‘Albispina’ had white ‘dots’.

Variegated Pink Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides 'Variegata')

Variegated Pink Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides ‘Variegata’)

I have a Pink Bower Vines growing on either side of my front entry.  I love their dark green leaves and pale pink flowers.  This variety that I saw at the plant sale and variegated foliage.  

Agave guiengola 'Creme Brulee'

Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’

I must admit that I was sorely tempted to purchase this agave.  The original was called ‘Whale’s Tongue’ and has a nice blue/gray color.  But, I really like the color of ‘Creme Brûlée’ better – it seems to ‘glow’.

Desert Botanical Garden

Purple Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Purple’)

Autumn Sage are some of my favorite plants to use in areas with filtered sunlight.  I never get tired of seeing hummingbirds visit their tubular flowers.  Most commonly found with red and pink flower colors, there are other varieties that produce white, salmon and of course, purple.

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So, what do you think about these different-colored varieties?  Are you a ‘traditionalist’ or are you a ‘trend-setter’?

I did end up purchasing one of the plants that I’ve shown you.  Next time, I will let you know what one I picked.

I have much more to show you from the plant sale including some plants that you have never heard of, but that would be beautiful in your landscape – including my new favorite flowering shrub.

So, come back for a visit, but be warned – you may end up being tempted into running out and buying one of the new plants I will be showing you.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

In the past, I have shown parts of my garden, but never a comprehensive look.  So, I thought I would share with you a more comprehensive look at my garden.

First, I’d like to show you my newest part of my garden, which is located on the side of my house – just outside of my kitchen window.  

This part of the garden is looking remarkably good considering that it is still winter.  For those of us who are fortunate to live in the Southwest, we didn’t really experience much of a winter this year.

In fact, I recall only 1 week of freezing temps and that happened back in December.

My Spring Garden in Winter

My Spring Garden in Winter

This is the largest of my three vegetable gardens.  It is hard to believe that it didn’t exist 2 years ago.

I had always dreamed of having a nice side garden and because ours is rather large, there were many possibilities.  So, we decided to create an edible garden in this area.

You can read our planting journey, here.

This year, I planted Swiss chard for the first time and don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner – I love this plant!

Well, I don’t really like it cooked (but I’m weird that way).  I do like to use it in salads along with leaf lettuce.  My kids even eat it!

I think it also looks really pretty too with its brightly-colored stems.

In the corner, is my single artichoke plant.

My Spring Garden in Winter

My Spring Garden in Winter

It was about 6 inches high when I planted it last fall.  Needless to say, it has grown so fast.  I can’t wait to see the artichoke buds (the part you eat) begin to form.

I will harvest some of the artichokes, but also plan to allow some to turn into flowers, which are beautiful and fragrant.

I like the idea of using artichokes as ornamental plants as well as for eating.  

vegetable garden

In the center of this vegetable garden sits a stump from a eucalyptus tree that we had to cut down to make space for this particular garden.

An old watering can sits onto of the stump and I fill it with cool-season annuals.  This year it is purple violas and alyssum.

In summer, the watering can sits empty, because it is too hot for plants to grow in it.  Roots will literally ‘cook’ in small containers during the summer.  I think it looks just fine without plants for part of the year.

My Spring Garden in Winter

The second crop of radishes of the season are just beginning to come up.  There is still time to plant radishes before it gets too hot.

apple trees

Behind the vegetable garden are two apple trees.  They are growing so well during their first year.  I will have to wait a couple more years before I get any apples, so I’m trying to be patient.

I planted garlic around the base, in order to help keep borers away.

Not shown – behind the apple trees are blackberry bushes.  I had a great crop of last spring.  I plan on making blackberry jam this year!  

'Pink Beauty' (Eremophila laanii)

Along the garden wall is one of my favorite shrubs called ‘Pink Beauty’ (Eremophila laanii), which is evergreen in my zone 9a garden and has pink flowers in winter and spring.

It rarely needs pruning as long as it has enough room to grow – mine stands at 9 feet tall.

Next to is Pink Trumpet Vine and Yellow Bells shrubs, which serve two purposes.  The first, is that the cover up an ugly, bare wall.  Second, they help to cool the garden down because the shrubs keep the wall from re-radiating heat that it absorbs in the day.

My Spring Garden in Winter

The buds on my peach tree have not begun to swell yet, but it is just a matter of time.

covered in blossoms

My other peach tree is covered in blossoms.  Planted just last winter, it produced 19 peaches for me last year.

My Spring Garden in Winter

My herb container sits in front of the vegetable garden and is filled with lovely, purple petunias.  I like to add flowers to my herb pots for an extra splash of color.

My Spring Garden in Winter

I hope you enjoyed the tour of my side garden.

Next time, I will show you the main part of my backyard and maybe a peek at the ‘other’ side yard, which I never show anyone.

What is growing in your garden this February?

I’d love to hear about it.

harvest vegetables

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

When much of the nation is freezing their socks off, and their gardens are covered in a blanket of snow, I realize how much of a blessing it is to live in a climate where I can harvest vegetables from my garden in January.

My latest excursion out to the vegetable garden found Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, peas, spinach, broccoli, and carrots ready for picking.

Except for the broccoli (which I had other plans for), all of my freshly-picked veggies were going into our salad

harvest vegetables

One crop that I have really enjoyed growing this year, is Swiss chard.  It grows so easily and I love its rainbow-colored stems.

Believe it or not, Swiss chard tastes delicious in salads.

My lettuce had a tough start this fall with caterpillars eating much of it until I brought out the big guns – BT Bacillus thurgiensis, which is an organic control for the caterpillars.  It worked just great! I used Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.

I won’t go into all the details of how it works, although it is quite interesting.  For those of you who would like to learn more about BT, click here.

harvest vegetables

Here is a close-up of my salad.  You can’t see the carrots too well, but they are there.

January Goodness From the Garden...

It was so refreshing and delicious, especially when dressed with my grandmother’s ‘Top Secret’ Salad Dressing.

I have recently revealed my grandmother’s secret recipe to my daughters, who now can make easily.  

January Goodness From the Garden...

So, what is in store for my vegetable gardens this month?

I have planted another crop of radishes, carrots, leaf lettuce and spinach.

Next month, will be a busy month in the garden with getting ready to plant warm-season veggies.

I can hardly wait!

Does the fact that Christmas is fast approaching make you think of growing tomatoes?

Of course not.  Our thoughts are focused on making sure our homes are decorated for Christmas, looking for the perfect gift for that special someone and hopefully some holiday baking.

But, I am going to tell you why you should also be thinking about growing tomatoes this time of year.

growing tomatoes

But, did you know that December is the best time to start growing your tomatoes from seed indoors?

For those of you who have grown tomatoes in the arid desert, know that our tomato growing season occurs in spring and fall.

Oh, your tomatoes will live through the summer with a little shade – but they will stop producing new tomatoes once temperatures hit the 90’s because their pollen is not viable.

growing tomatoes

The other limiting factor is that you can’t set out tomato plants into the garden until the danger of frost is past, which is usually around the beginning of March in the Phoenix metro area.

So, to get the most tomatoes, you want to plant the largest (oldest) tomato plant you can in early March.

Many nursery greenhouses are starting their tomato plants from seed right now where they will grow, protected from the elements until March arrives when you will find them on the shelves of your nursery.

You may be wondering why you should start your own tomato plants instead of buying them at nursery?

Well the problem with purchasing your tomato plants from the nursery is that they have a very limited selection of tomato varieties. And, they may not have the variety you want, or it is sold out.

**Right now, many seed companies are having Christmas sales on their seeds including Burpee and Botanical Interests.

Growing your own tomatoes from seed is very easy and rewarding.

Here is how I have done it…

seedling containers

I like to use Starbucks coffee sleeves or toilet paper rolls, cut in half as my seedling containers.

seedling containers

Grab some seed starting mix from your local nursery or big box store.  Some seed mixes have fertilizer already added.  If not, then I recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer to your potting mix.

Wet the soil before adding to your containers.

Fill your recycled containers with the seed mix and add your seeds.

seedling containers

Place your newly planted seeds in a warm area, such as the top of your refrigerator.  The heat will help them to germinate.

**Use a spray bottle to keep them moist.  Don’t allow the soil to dry out.

Once the seeds begin to sprout, put them in front of a sunny window.

growing tomatoes

In just a few weeks, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your tomato plants will have grown.

During warm winter days, you can place them outdoors to get a little extra – but be sure to bring them indoors at night until the danger of frost is over.

As your tomato seedlings grow, you can transfer them to larger containers until you are ready to put them out in the garden.

*For more information on seed starting, click here.