Fuss Free Plants

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus),

Does the idea of having to venture outside, when temperatures are above 100 degrees, to care for your garden have you thinking twice? I must admit that there have been times when I have let the plants in my landscape fend for themselves in summer after setting the irrigation controller. But, there is often a price to pay afterward when you have to play catch up with extra pruning and other maintenance.

There are however many different plants that thrive in summer with little fuss allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your air-conditioned home while viewing your beautiful garden through the windows. Here are some of my favorite fuss free plants for the summer garden.

Fuss Free Plants

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican honeysuckle has lush green foliage and produces tubular orange flowers throughout the entire year. They do best in filtered shade and attract hummingbirds. I like to plant them underneath trees such as mesquite or palo verde.

Learn more about Mexican honeysuckle.

Fuss Free Plants

Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)

Artichoke agave is highly prized for its rosette shape, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The blue-gray color and maroon edges add great color contrast to the garden when it is placed alongside plants with dark and light-green foliage.

Of course, these are but one species of agave that would make a delightful, fuss-free addition to the summer garden. I also recommend cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), smooth-edge agave (Agave desmettiana), and Victoria agave (Agave victoriareginae) to name a few.

Fuss Free Plants
Fuss Free Plants

‘Summertime Blue’ (Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’)

‘Summertime Blue’ is a delightful shrub that needs next to no maintenance throughout the year and decorates the garden with its bright green foliage and violet-blue flowers that appear spring through fall. It grows slowly but will reach approximately 6 feet tall and wide. If given enough room, it can go a year (or two) before needing pruning. While you may have to look around for a nursery that carries it, it’s well worth the effort. It is also usually found at the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales.

Fuss Free Plants

Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

Lady’s Slipper is a uniquely shaped succulent with thornless stems that have a ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit that is more pronounced in light shade. The upright stems add a welcome vertical element to the landscape, and small orange flowers are produced off and on through spring and fall. They can be grown in containers or planted in the ground and do well in full sun or light shade.

Fuss Free Plants

Bush Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Radiation’)

Bush lantana is a familiar sight to many who live in arid climates like ours. This species of lantana is slightly different than the trailing gold and purple lantana. It has larger leaves, grows taller, and has multi-colored flowers that vary according to the variety. Bush lantana is a great choice for a colorful summer garden as they are seemingly heat-proof.

Fuss Free Plants

Totem Pole ‘Monstrosus’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’)

Totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ has become quite a popular addition to the desert garden and it’s easy to see why with its knobby shape. Another bonus is that they are almost always thornless, which makes them suitable for areas near entries or patios where a prickly cactus aren’t welcome. Plant in full sun in a row for a contemporary look or place next to a boulder for a more natural appearance. 

Learn more about totem pole cactus.

Fuss Free Plants

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Heavenly Cloud’)

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas sage is well worth adding to your landscape for its lovely purple blossoms that appear off and on throughout the warm season, often in response to increased humidity. All species of Texas sage do well in summer and can be nearly maintenance-free if allowed enough room to reach their 8 foot tall and wide size as well as left to grow into their natural shape. This particular species blooms more than the more common ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage.

Fuss Free Plants

Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Golden barrel cactus are wildly popular, and it is easy to see why with the globular shapes and yellow coloring. This cactus is quite versatile, able to grow in both sun and light shade. I like to use it in groups of three next to boulders or in a row. They also do well in containers planted singly or along with other succulents.

Fuss Free Plants

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Red bird-of-paradise is one of the most iconic flowering shrubs in the low desert regions of Arizona. Also known as mexican bird-of-paradise and royal poinciana, visitors marvel at their beautiful flowers in shades of orange, yellow, and red. The striking blossoms appear in late spring and last into early fall much to the delight of hummingbirds. There is nothing to do to care for them in summer other than to marvel at their beauty.

Learn more about

red bird-of-paradise

Fuss Free Plants

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red yucca has the appearance of an ornamental grass, but its leaves are succulent. Coral-colored flowers are borne aloft on tall stalks off and on spring through fall – there is also a yellow variety as well. They look great all year, even when not in flower and are well worth adding to your outdoor space.

Learn more about red yucca.

So if you are tired of having to prune and fertilize plants through summer, I invite you to try one of these 10 fuss-free summer plants.**Do you have a favorite fuss free plants for summer?

succulent plants

In the past, succulent plants were valued primarily for their drought tolerance and found their way into gardens in arid regions. Today, while they are still a great choice for water-wise plants are wise, they offer many other benefits to outdoor spaces including adding colorful flowers and solving common garden problems.

succulent plants

Elk Horn (Cotyledon orbiculata)

I’ve written a series of articles for Houzz focusing on succulents and how you can add beauty to your garden with these versatile plants that will thrive in arid climates. 

I hope you find inspiration through them and look at succulent plants in a new way.

10 Spectacular Flowering Succulents

How Succulents Can Solve Your Garden Problems

How do you like to use succulents in your garden?

Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Anacacho Orchid

Protect Citrus Trees From a Heatwave

Living in the desert southwest, I am blessed to be able to grow a variety of citrus trees in my garden and they do very well under most circumstances.

However, when temperatures outside of the average highs and lows occur, steps need to be taken to protect them. With this week’s record-breaking highs, my orange tree has been suffering as is evident from its sunburned leaves. So I thought, this is a great opportunity to talk about how to protect citrus trees from a heatwave.

Protect Citrus Trees From a Heatwave

1. Provide temporary shade 

The west and south-facing sides of citrus trees are susceptible to sunburn during a heatwave. This shows up as yellowing or browning on the leaves on those sides of the tree. Sunburn can also occur on immature citrus fruit, so it’s important to protect them.

While spraying citrus trees with sunscreen isn’t an option, adding temporary shade is. Put a large piece of burlap over the tree, focusing on those south and west-facing exposures. Burlap is inexpensive and does allow some sun to penetrate, which is important. You can purchase burlap at your big box store, nursery, or Amazon (affiliate link below).

Burlapper Burlap Garden Fabric (40″ x 15′, Natural)

You can use a bed sheet in place of burlap for temporary shade. Another option would be to place a shade tent/canopy to help block the sun’s westerly rays.

Shade cloth is very useful as a sun shield when placed on a scaffold or other support – it’s important not to rest it directly on the tree as it gets hot and can burn the leaves.

Protect Citrus Trees From a Heatwave

2. Increase irrigation and water early in the morning

When temperatures soar above normal, citrus trees, like most plants, lose more water through their leaves. As a result, their regular watering schedule isn’t enough to meet their needs, so increase the frequency of watering as long as the heat wave lasts. 

When you water is vital as it is difficult for plants to uptake water in the middle of the day. This is because all of their resources are dedicated to enduring the stresses of the heat and it’s hard for them to divert those to uptake water. Water in the early morning, which will allow them to build up a water reserve that will help them through the day.

online-class-desert-gardening-101

Tired of struggling in the desert garden? Sign up for my online course, DESERT GARDENING 101.

Once the heat wave is over, remove the temporary shade and resume regular watering. By implementing these two methods, you’ll enable your citrus trees to weather brutal summer temperatures and minimize any negative effects.

*Sun protection for the trunk and bark of citrus trees is essential throughout the entire year. Here is a past blog post showing you how to shield these parts of your tree and why it is so important. 

Give Water Features New Life With Succulents

Echeveria and aloe planted in an old water fountain in Santa Barbara, CA.

Water features have long had a prominent spot in the landscape, where the both the beauty and sound of water help to create an enjoyable outdoor atmosphere.

However, water features can be high maintenance, messy to clean, and can be problematic in arid climates where water is a precious resource. Because of these reasons, it’s not unusual to see an empty water feature sitting empty without purpose.

In both my garden travels and work as a landscape consultant, I like to discover new uses for water features or ways to mimic the appearance of water, which succulents can fulfill beautifully.

A sink full of succulent plants spill out in the Barrio Garden section of the Tucson Botanical Gardens

A sink full of succulent plants spill out in the Barrio Garden section of the Tucson Botanical Gardens

Water features and succulents can add welcome interest, from simulating the movement of water with their shapes to taking the place of water in the basin.

Give Water Features New Life With Succulents

Plumbing hardware can be used, along with succulents, to create an artistic arrangement in the garden such as these galvanized buckets and water pipes.

Give Water Features New Life With Succulents

Succulents can also add a lovely planting around water features like the example above with lady’s slipper (Euphorbia macrocarpus), and it’s unique ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit adds an unexpected design element. It is important to keep succulents far enough away from getting any over splash from the water as they need dry soil to grow in.

Give Water Features New Life With Succulents

Containers filled with succulents can make an attractive backdrop for a water feature as they are low-maintenance and their distinctive shapes add welcome texture.

Visit any nursery, and you’ll notice how popular succulents are, as they make up a larger percentage of the plants on display, tempting people to add them to their gardens.

So go ahead and give your water feature new life with succulents!

How Succulents Can Help Solve Common Garden Dilemmas

Taking photos of succulents in a hidden garden in California.

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.

succulents solve garden problems

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

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

How Succulents Can Solve Your Garden Problems

Prune Shrubs, Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) before pruning

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. 

Prune Shrubs, Newly pruned globe mallow shrubs

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.

Prune Shrubs, Valentine bush before pruning

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.

Prune Shrubs, Valentine bush after pruning

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 you’d like to learn more about pruning shrubs in the desert garden, I invite you to learn more about my popular online pruning workshop. I’ve helped countless people just like you learn how to maintain beautiful, flowering shrubs with pruning twice a year or less! 

*What do you prune in mid-spring?

Ready to Prune? Here Are Common Pruning Terms Defined

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

I am always on the lookout for great examples of plants in the desert landscape. In my work as a landscape consultant, I drive through countless neighborhoods, which allows me to see lots of ideas.

A few years ago, I drove by a house that had a beautiful Hop Bush shrub (Dodonaea viscosa).  

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

This evergreen, drought tolerant shrub does wonderfully in our southwestern climate, and it is a frequent addition to landscapes I design. 

It’s versatility is one of the reasons it is near the top of my favorite shrub list.

  • Hop Bush is a great substitute for Oleander shrubs.
  • They can grow up to 12 feet tall or be maintained at a shorter height – basically you can decide how large it gets.
  • Their height makes them a great choice to screen out an unattractive view in spaces where a tree won’t fit while providing shade for for windows.
  • Hop Bush can be allowed to grow into their natural shape or pruned more formally.
Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

Native to the Southwest, Hop Bush is quite versatile and relatively fuss-free, especially if maintained by pruning every 6 months or so, as shown above. Here is another example of a hop bush shrub that has been pruned more formally, which it handles well.

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

 Of course, you can always let it grow into its more natural form as a large shrub.

For more information on hop bush including what its flowers look like and why it’s becoming a popular substitute for oleanders, you can read my earlier blog post – “Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Hopbush the Alternative to Oleanders.”

Fall in the garden is a time of celebration with plants enjoying the period after the heat of summer has bid goodbye and before the cold of winter arrives. 

This time of year is filled colorful blooming plants decorating our outdoor spaces.  In the past few weeks, the color purple has made its presence known in several gardens that I have visited recently.

If you love the color purple, here are some plants that you may want to include in your garden.

Purple Blooms for the Fall Garden

Black dalea(Dalea frutescens) saves its flowering for fall when violet flowers appear above its lacy foliage.

This Southwestern native is hardy to 15 degrees F. and does best in full sun.  Black dalea is underused in the landscape and deserves to be used more.

Purple Blooms for the Fall Garden

Desert ruellia(Ruellia peninsularis) is a shrub that I use it often for my client’s designs.  I love that it flowers throughout the year as well as its attractive foliage.

A native of Mexico, this shrub does best in full sun to partial shade and is hardy to zone 9 gardens.

blue ranger(Leucophyllum zygophyllum)

Sometimes, parking lot medians can put on a spectacular show.  This blue ranger(Leucophyllum zygophyllum) begins blooming in summer but saves its best flowering for fall.

The gray foliage adds nice color contrast in the garden.  Hardy to 10 degrees, plant in full or reflected sun for maximum flowering.

skyflower(Duranta erecta)

One of the most beautiful purple blossoms belongs to the skyflower(Duranta erecta) shrub.  Delicate purple flowers are arrayed on graceful arching stems.

Hardy to 20 degrees, skyflower blooms spring through fall.  

blue potato bush (Lycianthies rantonnetti)

Last week, while I was doing a landscape consultation, my attention was drawn to a beautiful blue potato bush (Lycianthies rantonnetti) blooming in the front yard.

vibrant purple flowers

The vibrant purple flowers contrasted beautifully with the bright green foliage. This shrub is hardy to zone 9 gardens.

purple trailing lantana(Lantana montevidensis)

Finally, let’s look at the generous blooms of purple trailing lantana(Lantana montevidensis).  This lantana groundcover blooms spring through fall and needs very little care other than pruning once or twice a year.

Hardy to 20 degrees, this lantana grows in full sun or partial shade.

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of purple autumn blooms.

What is flowering this fall in your garden?

Blooms in February

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

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

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')

‘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.

overgrown shrubs

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

Overgrown shrubs.

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…

overgrown shrubs

New growth appears 3 weeks later

8 weeks after pruning

8 weeks after pruning.

12 weeks after severe 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.

overgrown shrubs

**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

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.   

Every winter, we are the lucky recipients of a bounty of citrus from both family and neighbors.

lemon juice

My fruit bowls and pantry are full of blood oranges, grapefruit, and lemons.

Citrus generally ripens during the winter and the cold snap that we had last week had many people picking the citrus fruit from their trees so that the fruit wouldn’t be damaged by the frost.

The problem arises that either I have too many lemons in winter and none in the summer unless I want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on lemons.

So, what do you do?

Well, I juiced them a week ago and made “lemon ice-cubes.”

lemon juice

Then, I promptly forgot about them until I was searching in the freezer for the chicken to thaw out for dinner.

So, I took them out and put my lemon ice cubes into freezer bags.

lemon ice cubes

have three freezer bags full of lemon ice cubes, which will last me through the coming year.

What do I use them for?  Well, many of my favorite dinner recipes call for a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, and they are great for making ice tea.

You can also save the lemon zest, (just before you juice them), and freeze the zest too.

My kids love grapefruit (I don’t) and have been eating some for both breakfasts and a snack.  They have also been taking the blood oranges to school in their lunch boxes.

My friend, Becky, from Tucson, made ‘Orange Peel Vinegar’ which she uses as a cleaner with her extra oranges.

What do you do with an overabundance of citrus?