The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make in the Desert Garden

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!

Creating an attractive garden in the desert can be a daunting task, especially in such a different climate with the unique challenges of blistering heat and dryness “where plants go to die.” But, I’m here to tell you that you DON’T need to settle for a yard filled with rock and spiky cactus.

It is possible to have an attractive landscape filled with flowering plants, edible gardens, trees, succulents, (and yes, cactus), all of which thrive in our hot, arid climate. 

I’ve done it and you can too, and it’s much easier than you think. I help individuals like you learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful landscape that thrives in the desert climate. 

Horticulturist-Arizona-Noelle-Johnson-AZ-Plant-Lady

Not surprisingly, SO many people need help that my calendar is overflowing, so I have created a way to help more of you at a fraction of the price of an individual consultation.

I’m so excited to invite you to join my membership site, “Through the Garden Gate” where I come alongside you to help you create, maintain, and most importantly, enjoy gardening in the desert. Instead of individual clients, who pay hundreds of dollars for a 2-hour consultation, I’ll come alongside to help you on your desert garden journey for a fraction of the price of a private consultation at $19.99 per month!

And you won’t be alone. You’ll be joined by a wonderful community of fellow desert dwellers who are on the same journey as you are. So are you ready to further your desert garden knowledge and enhance your enjoyment in the garden?

**UPDATE: Open enrollment to”Through the Garden Gate” MEMBERSHIP is currently closed so that I can focus on and mentor my newest group of members.

BUT…I’ll be opening doors again and if you’d like to be notified when that happens, simply click the image below to get on the waitlist and I’ll keep you posted!

Years ago, I found myself in your shoes when I arrived in Arizona as a young bride with no idea how to make a lovely outdoor space, much less grow plants in such a hot, dry place. Needless to say, in short order, I killed all my new plants as well as the beautiful rose bushes that had come with my house.

Was I discouraged? Yes!

But, I was determined to figure out how to grow, maintain, and enjoy my desert garden. And so my personal garden journey began, leading me to obtain my degree in Horticulture from Arizona State University and later, as a certified arborist.

In my 20-year career as a horticulturist, I’ve done it all – worked on golf courses, managed landscapes with my crew, designed hundreds of landscapes as a designer, and serving as a personal landscape consultant for countless clients. And yes, I’ve killed my share of plants in the process. BUT, I learned from my mistakes, and I can help you avoid them.

Most people think that having a lovely landscape is hard and do more maintenance than they need to. For example, did you know that:

  • Most desert-adapted plants need no supplemental fertilizer
  • Over 90% of homeowners water their plants too often and not deeply enough
  • Not all plants sold in your favorite big box store will survive in the desert landscape (so, it’s not always your fault if a plant dies)
  • The majority of flowering shrubs and ground covers only need to be pruned twice a year – if done the right way

As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I’ve seen the frustration that my clients go through trying to garden in the desert. My years of experience have shown me time and again that it is easier than you think – it’s just different, which is why I created my membership site, “Through the Garden Gate” where I can help you.

Your membership includes the following:

1. Library of training videos, with new content added every month to help you garden confidently.

2. Plant of the Month downloadable pdf’s spotlighting my favorite plants along with where to plant, maintain, and how to use them in the landscape.

3. Monthly newsletter filled with garden articles, what’s going on behind the scenes, and monthly garden tasks.

4. Exclusive Facebook group for members-only. I’ll be there every day, and I look forward to seeing you there!

5. Group coaching from me, AZ Plant Lady, via Facebook Live every month where I answer your gardening questions, offer encouragement, and helpful tips tailored for participants. 

 

 

Why it Works:

You will learn at your own pace, and I break it down into simple steps with no fancy garden language.

Ongoing learning – new content is added every month.

A passionate community of beginning, intermediate, and experienced gardeners.

Save money, time, and frustration by avoiding common desert garden mistakes.

Most people over-maintain their plants, fertilizing and pruning too often and I’ll show you how plants need far less maintenance than you’d expect.

You’ll have the knowledge you need to grow and maintain plants without all the stress of trying to figure it out yourself.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does “Through the Garden Gate” membership offer that a nursery or landscape professional can’t? A welcoming community, personal support, and unbiased advice with no motivation to sell you unneeded products or maintenance services.

I am brand new to gardening. Will I fit in? Absolutely! No one is born knowing how to garden, and no prior experience is needed. This group is a great place to learn and grow as a gardener.

I already read your blog and follow you on Facebook. What more will I get from the membership? In-depth training in the form of video training, exclusive content in the form of garden video trainingdetailed plant profiles, newsletter, a members-only Facebook page, and group coaching with me, AZ Plant Lady, via Facebook Live. 

I know you live in Arizona. Is the membership designed only for people in your region? The club is open to anyone who is interested in learning how to create, grow, and maintain a garden in the desert. I focus on low-desert gardening for those who live in elevations lower than 3,000 feet in altitude, but members who live in other desert regions can gain helpful information too.

I have gardening experience in a cooler, wetter climate. Can the club help me learn how to garden in the desert? Yes! All levels of gardeners are welcome, and your previous experience will help you learn a little more quickly how we do things differently in the desert garden.

My life is very busy, and I don’t have a lot of time to devote to learning about desert gardening. This membership is for you! The videos are short but informative and the newsletters, and “Plant of the Month” resources are packed with information that takes little time out of your busy life

Do I really get live access to you? Yep! I’ll be using Facebook Live to talk to the membership group through our Facebook page at pre-scheduled times on a monthly basis. If you can’t watch the video live, you can watch the video, which will be posted on the FB page. You can submit your gardening questions ahead of time too so I can be sure to answer them if you can watch live to ask your question.

How do I access the resources? We have an online library with all of the videos, “Plant of the Month” pdf’s, and other handouts. Newsletters will be emailed to you monthly. When you join the club, you will be provided with a link to join our private Facebook group as well as information on how to log on into the online library.

How long does the subscription last? It is designed as a monthly subscription, which means that it can last as long as you would like it to. I will be adding new content each month, which along with the live group coaching, will help you in your garden journey for as long as you want. You can cancel at any time.

 

So, are you ready to join and learn “the dirt on gardening in the desert”? You get all this PLUS group coaching for only $19.99 a month!

I am opening the doors for new members to join “Through the Garden Gate” for just a few days. Sign up beginning September 5th. Doors close at midnight MST on September 10th!! 

I’d love to come alongside you on your desert garden journey! 

 

Creating an attractive garden in the desert can seem overwhelming with our dry climate and intensely hot summers that seemingly last forever. Can anything green and pretty grow in a barren, brown landscape covered in rock?

The answer is YES!

Yes, the desert is a very different place to create, grow, and maintain a garden, but it can be done and you DON’T need to settle for a yard filled with rock and spiky cactus.

I’ve done it and you can too, and it’s much easier than you think! I help individuals like you learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful landscape that thrives in the desert climate. 

As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I’ve been helping individuals like you learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful landscape that thrives in the desert climate for the past 20 years.

As you might expect, there are a lot of people who need my help, and my work calendar is overflowing with appointments with individual consultations.

This got me to thinking of a better way for me to reach a larger group of people, like you, who struggle to create an attractive landscape in a hot, arid climate. I’ve been working on a special project for the past three months to address this problem, and I’m almost ready to tell you all about it!!!

I’ll be honest; this is the biggest thing that I’ve done since I launched my blog 9 years ago and I am feeling both excited and nervous at the same time.

The official launch date is Wednesday, September 5th. I will be releasing all the details via the blog, social media, and through email to my subscribers.

HERE IS A SNEAK PEEK AT MY NEW LOGO:

My close friends and family have heard me talk about little else the past few months and it will be a relief to finally share it with all of you!!!

P.S. If you haven’t already, sign up for my subscriber list (located on the top of the sidebar) for the latest updates.

One area that many homeowners struggle with is what to plant in their side yards. It can be an awkward place with little sun and not much room for plants to grow. Most of these narrow spaces along the side of our home are little more than “yards”, but there is potential to turn them into “gardens”. On a visit to a client’s home, I saw a great example of this, where the homeowner had created side gardens.

 
Her first side garden was planted with upright bougainvillea shrubs against the wall with star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) planted in between.
I liked the symmetry of the alternating plants and how they covered the wall so well – I’m not a fan of a view of a bare wall outside my window.
The star jasmine produces small white fragrant flowers in spring, and the bougainvillea produces vibrant blooms spring through fall. What is also neat about this plant combination is that the base of the wall in a narrow side garden rarely gets much sun, and star jasmine does well in the shade. Conversely, bougainvillea does best in sunny spots, and the top part of them gets just enough sun to promote blooms.
 
 
In the other side of the garden, yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana) trees grew along the wall toward the back and ‘Orange Jubilee’ (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’) shrubs covered the wall closer up creating a lush green backdrop.
I did make two suggestions in regards to this side garden. Remove the ‘Orange Jubilee’ shrubs growing in-between the yellow oleander trees. Right now, they make that area look overcrowded, and you cannot see the beauty and symmetry of the tree trunks against the wall.
If you never see your side garden or it serves as your utility area, understandably, you may not want to spend time and money on adding plants. However, I do recommend focusing on placing plants directly across from any windows that face into that area, because who wants to look out onto a bare wall?
What do you have growing in your side garden?  

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Indian Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

I always enjoy seeing well-designed landscapes that make use of many of my favorite arid-adapted plants. A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to explore lovely landscape areas that existed within an imaginary land with real plants that were used to provide a sense of reality to this fictional place.

I invite you to explore these areas along with me and look for clues as to where it is.

Globe mallow, Mexican honeysuckle, and Indian mallow

This is a gorgeous layering of three different shrubby plants. Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) anchors the background with its gray-green leaves and yellow flowers. In the middle stands Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), which has lovely foliage and orange flowers that appear throughout the year. Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds nice color contrast with its foliage and orange flowers in the foreground. All of these are drought tolerant and thrive in desert gardens.

Continuing our exploration, we walk by a desert planting filled with young saguaro cactus, ocotillo, and a little yucca. It almost made me feel like we were in Arizona.

The beautiful green foliage of a jojoba shrub (Simmondsia chinensis) stood out against the reddish walls of a ‘canyon’.

 

Mexican fence post cactuses (Pachycereus marginatus) along with other cereus cacti add a lovely vertical element.

Naturally-themed areas are filled with a plant palette that places you in the desert Southwest. But, we were several hundred miles away from the real desert.

Have you guessed where we were yet? Here is another clue:

Information signs reveal the different kinds of plants in this imaginary land. Your final clue is the name of the plants as well as the shape of the small prickly pear pad.

We were exploring the town of ‘Radiator Springs’ which came to life in the movie ‘Cars’ and its sequels. These are my favorite Disney movies because they take place in my own backyard.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well this imaginary town was constructed and the plants used to create a look of authenticity. However, there were some notable exceptions to having live plants throughout Radiator Springs.

Old-fashioned rear lights were used to create imaginary flowers at the Cozy Cone Hotel. 

Other car parts serve as components of this cornucopia.

While I was distracted by both the real and imaginary plants, other visitors were thrilled by the appearance of the inhabitants of Radiator Springs.

Have you ever visited Cars Land at California Adventure? If you get the chance, you may be surprised to find inspiration for your desert garden.

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When you ask most people what they want in their garden, their most common answer is, “color”. One of the best plants that I like to recommend for warm-season color is coral fountain, also known as firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis). It has beautiful, cascading foliage that resembles the movement of water.

Deep orange flowers begin to appear in spring, the attract both humans and hummingbirds. As you can see, this is not a plant for subtle color – it is dramatic.

Coral fountain paired with elephants food (Portulacaria afra).

 It looks great when paired with succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), elephants food (Portulacaria afra), or lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). For additional interest, you can plant it alongside yellow-flowering plants from the low-growing gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’) or angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) all the way to the tall yellow bells (Tecoma stans stans).

In my garden, I have three of them growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree. If you’d like to learn more about coral fountain to see it would be a good fit in your garden, please read my earlier post

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My garden has been transformed with yellow showers of flowers, courtesy of my palo verde trees. It’s a delightful time of year with warm spring temperatures and colorful landscapes filled with flowering shrub, perennials, and trees.

However, nothing heralds the arrival of spring in the desert Southwest like the golden yellow flowers of palo verde trees. I have three ‘Desert Musuem’ palo verde trees spread throughout my garden – one in the front, in the side garden (our dog run), and in the backyard.

 

The flowers do spread everywhere, which bothers some people, but I like to focus on the lovely yellow flowers transform things in the garden, like my artichoke agave where the flowers nestle inside its rosette.

 


One of my favorite views of the garden is looking out the patio door to the side garden where the branches of my palo verde tree frame the view.

There are several different species of palo verde and each one has a slightly different color flower, form the pale yellow of the foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) to the deep yellow of ‘Desert Museum’ (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’).

Here is more information about palo verde trees from an earlier post. Do you enjoy the blooms of palo verde trees?

Cereus cactus, golden barrel cactus, and firecracker penstemon

Is your outdoor space looking rather drab? If so, you aren’t alone – many landscapes can appear somewhat dull, especially if there is a lack of color. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

One of my favorite aspects of my job as a landscape consultant is to help my clients to transform their garden from drab to colorful and it is quite easy to do. 

I invite you to join me as I revisit with a client two-years after I created a planting plan for her existing, lackluster landscape. 

BEFORE – Corner of Driveway

Initially, this area did little to add to the curb appeal of the home. Overgrown red yucca plants and a cholla cactus created a ‘messy’ and boring look to this high-profile spot in the landscape.

AFTER

Removing the old plants and adding angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa), creates colorful interest while adding texture. Before, the boulders were hidden behind the overgrown plants, so now they serve as an excellent backdrop for the new additions. 

 

The corners of the driveway are one of the most viewed spots in the landscape and are often the first part people see when they drive by. It’s important to anchor them visually with plants that look great all year and preferably produce colorful flowers or have an attractive shape or color. I always like to add boulders to help anchor both corners as well.

These areas are also critical in that they create symmetry, connecting both sides of the landscape, which is done by using the same types of plants on each side.

 

Although there is no ‘before’ photo for the entry, here is an example of plants that will add year-round color because of their overlapping bloom seasons. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe blooms in winter and on into early spring while ‘New Gold Mound’ lantana will flower spring through fall, as the aloe fades into the background. A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) brings a nice vertical element to this spot and will grow taller with age.

BEFORE

Along the front entry path, a tall cereus (Cereus peruvianus) cactus adds a welcome vertical element while the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) creates excellent texture contrast. However, something is missing in this area, in my opinion.

AFTER

A colorful element was what was missing in this area. A single firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds beauty while also attracting hummingbirds.

BEFORE

On the corner of this lot was a palo brea tree with a large desert spoon and turpentine bushes. Overall, there was nothing exciting in this spot.

AFTER

The turpentine bushes were removed to make way for a set of gopher plants, which served to tie in this corner of the garden with the areas next to the driveway. These succulents flower in spring and add nice spiky texture throughout the rest of the year.

Purple and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) serve to create a colorful carpet throughout the warm months of the year. This type of lantana can struggle in full sun in the middle of summer in the low-desert garden but, thrive underneath the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

When working with an existing landscape, I relish the challenge of determining what existing plants still add beauty to the outdoor space, or have the potential to if pruned correctly. Sometimes an ugly, overgrown shrub can be transformed into something beautiful if pruned back severely. Often, it’s up to me to decide what goes and what stays. Then, the real fun part begins, which is selecting what areas need new plants and what ones will work best.

I find that many people think that to renovate a landscape, you need to get rid of most of the plants and put in a lot of new ones. But, this is rarely the case. All you need to do is keep the plants that will continue to add to the curb appeal or create a beautiful, mature backdrop for new plants and new plants should be concentrated in high-profile areas where their impact will be maximized.

What would you like to get rid of in your landscape and what would you keep?

Noelle Johnson, AKA, ‘AZ Plant Lady’ is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. While writing and speaking on a variety of gardening topics keeps her busy, you’ll often find her outside planting vegetables, picking fruit from her trees, or testing the newest drought-tolerant plants. 

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I love using color in the garden, which is why I welcomed the opportunity to review the book, ‘The Colorful Dry Garden‘ and host a giveaway.

In my work as a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I find that people often have the mistaken impression that desert landscapes are destined to be brown and barren, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There are many plants that offer vibrant color to outdoor spaces while thriving in an arid climate.

Horticulturist, Maureen Gilmer, makes her home in the Palm Springs area, in the midst of the California desert, and she has put offered her expertise in creating colorful dry gardens in her latest book.

Her book is broken up into two different parts, with the first taking you through the steps of how to convert your landscape into one that saves water. Whether you want to do a total renovation or do it in phases, the book provides you with helpful guidance.

Part two has a comprehensive list of plants that add welcome color to the arid landscape. However, unlike many plant lists, the author groups plants into groups that focus on their role in the garden such as structure (shrubs), canopy (trees), accent plants, and those that add beautiful texture.

I have reviewed a large number of books that deal with gardening in a dry climate and ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’ approaches it a bit differently by focusing on color, design, plant function, as well as real steps on how to transition your landscape to one filled with water-saving, colorful plants.  

I enjoyed reading through the book and feel that it deserves a spot in your garden library. 

**The folks at Sasquatch Books are giving away a free copy of ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’ for readers of my blog. To enter, leave a comment telling me what your favorite colorful plant is. I will announce the winner on March 22nd.

Please feel free to share via social media or email, using the buttons below. 

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Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Yesterday, I had a rather unexpected encounter with a javelina while taking pictures of a landscape. I think he was as surprised as I was to see him and he retreated back to his arroyo after a couple of minutes. That meeting inspired me to write this post and how they affect the desert garden – primarily what types of plants they like to eat.  

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

To state that I was surprised to come so close to a javelina is an understatement. In the over twenty years that I’ve worked in desert gardens, I seldom see these pig-like mammals as they usually sleep through the day underneath mesquite or other desert trees.

Often referred to as ‘wild pigs’ due to their resemblance to a boar, they aren’t pigs, but are a peccary, which is a medium-sized mammal with hooves. Javelina are found throughout the Southwest, but their range also extends to Central and South America. In urban settings, you’ll find them in more naturalized areas.

They frequently travel in herds, although I only saw these two adults on this day. While it can be enjoyable to view them from afar (don’t get too close as they can be dangerous), dealing with the damage that they cause to gardens isn’t fun.

 

Javelina love to eat the pretty things we plant in our desert landscapes such as flowering annuals, and they don’t stop there. The spines on your prized cactus won’t deter a hungry javelina – they go right in and munch on the base of a prized columnar cactus as well as the pads of prickly pear cactus.

When surveying the damage that they cause to the garden, what makes it worse, is that javelina frequently don’t eat what they dig up.

My relationship with javelina is a long one, which began by working to keep them away from the thirty-six tee boxes that I had to plant with flowering annuals seasonally. Not surprisingly, they were drawn to these colorful islands and would dislodge the plants by rooting them up with their snouts before eating them.

My crew and I had some mixed success with spraying squirrel repellent every few days on the petunias, but it was a lot of work and not foolproof.

Javelina will zero in on popular potted annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, which are like candy to them. While geraniums aren’t their favorite potted flower, they will eat them too if hungry enough.

If you want pretty containers filled with flowers and live in a neighborhood where javelina are present, you’ll need to place the pots in an enclosed area or courtyard where they can’t reach. 

Bacopa

 

Lavender

There are some flowering plants that they usually stay away from and these include Bacopa and Lavender, which can be used in containers.

 

Depending on the time of year, a javelina’s diet changes, based on what is available. In winter, citrus they will grab citrus fruit off of the tree.

In summer, mesquite seedpods are one of their favorite foods.

A Cereus peruvianus cactus that has some bites taken out of its base by javelina.

A fairly common sight is a columnar cactus with some bites taken out of its base, where javelina are present. In most cases, the damage is largely cosmetic and the cactus will be fine. However, to prevent further damage, you can surround the base of the cactus with a wire mesh cage.

While there is no guarantee that javelina won’t eat the plants in your desert garden from time to time, there are some plants that are less palatable to them than others. Here a helpful link for javelina resistant plants, but I must tell you that if a javelina is hungry enough, it will eat the plants on this list – I know this from personal experience. 

The only foolproof way to keep them away from eating your plants is to keep them out with a fence or wall.

Do you have javelina where you live? What type of plants do you notice them eating? Any plants that they seem to leave alone?