Love them or hate them, oleanders have a firm foothold in the desert landscape where they are usually seen creating living green ‘walls’ in order to provide privacy.  


Their popularity is due in large part to several characteristics:

– Their evergreen foliage provides the rich, dark green color that many miss living in the desert.

– Oleanders are easy to grow, with little to no fertilizer and are drought tolerant once established.

– They add beauty to the landscape spring through fall with their flowers.


While the popularity of oleanders is still holding on, there is a fatal disease that affects them that has made its way from California and is now being seen increasingly in Arizona.

Oleander leaf scorch (Xylella fastidiosa) is a bacterial disease that plugs up the vascular system of affected oleanders, eventually making the movement of water throughout the plant impossible over time.

This disease is spread by flying insects, called sharpshooters.   These small insects (1/4 inch long) become carriers of the disease when they feed upon an infected oleander.  Thereafter, they spread it to every other oleander they feed upon.

Oleanders in Southern California were first diagnosed with the diease in the early 90’s and it was just a matter of time before it spread to Arizona.  

Advanced stages of oleander leaf scorch

Oleander leaf scorch was first diagnosed in Arizona in 2004.  Its spread has been slow, but inexorable.  

I have seen several cases of this disease during landscape consultations, including one that I did yesterday.


The homeowner had a very large oleander hedge that was over 20 years old, which provided privacy from his neighbors.

What may look like some browing leaves in this small branch is one of the classic symptoms of oleander leaf scorch.

Oleander leaf scorch
Close up, you can see the brown, outer leaf margins, which is characteristic of oleander leaf scorch.  (Not to be confused with drought symptoms, which cause discoloration of the middle of the leaf).

As we continued to walk along the row of oleanders, the infected oleanders were interspersed between healthy ones.  The reason for this is that the nature of flying insects is that they hop from one plant to another, but not necessarily the next plant – they may fly 3 shrubs away before feeding again or to the next yard or block.

Symptoms of oleander leaf scorch
This oleander showed another type of browning symptom of oleander leaf scorch with the tips looking ‘scorched’.  

It’s important to note that salt burn resulting from drought or shallow irrigation can cause similar symptoms as shown in the photo below:

Drought-stressed oleander leaves

Note the middle of the oleander leaf is affected in the case of drought stress.  While unsightly, the oleander pictured above, does NOT show signs of oleander leaf scorch.

Initial signs of oleander leaf scorch.

Back to the oleanders showing signs of oleander leaf scorch – by looking closely at seemingly healthy oleanders, I could see the beginning of symptoms with lighter green alongside darker leaves.  The signs of the disease don’t show up all at once in the beginning.  Often, it starts out with a branch here and there showing signs initially that will gradually progress throughout the entire plant.

It’s important to note that once an oleander has been infected with this disease, the entire plant has it – not just the branches that initially show the first signs.

Lower leaves showing the beginning symptoms of oleander leaf scorch.

So, what is the treatment for oleander leaf scorch? Sadly, there is no cure and it will eventually kill oleanders over a 3 – 5 year period once infected.

Some experts recommend pruning out affected branches to improve the appearance of infected oleander shrubs for the short term.  But, they will die.

I recommend removing infected oleanders right way to help keep the disease from spreading.  
Personally, I have seen the disease affecting large, old oleanders in North Central Phoenix and in the Arcadia area.  It’s simply a matter of time before I will see it in outlying areas.  

Initial signs of oleander leaf scorch

Consult with an expert if you suspect that your oleanders are infected.  Problems with irrigation, nutrient deficiency and salt burn can mimic some of the symptoms of oleander leaf scorch and a horticulturist or other landscape expert can help you rule out other causes.  Ultimately,
positive identification of oleander leaf scorch can only be made by a lab tests through your local cooperative extension office.

Can you can simply get rid of infected oleanders and start over with new ones?  The anwer is, “no”.  The reason for this is that the disease is already present in the local sharpshooter insect population and it is only a matter of time before the infect your new oleander shrubs.

I recommend using hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) as an alternative to oleanders.  It is evergreen, recommended for use near pools, makes a great hedge, is drought tolerant and attractive.
For more information on oleander leaf scorch, you may want to check out the following links:



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I hope your day is off to a great start!  I’m off to the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring plant sale.  I just hope my car has enough room to fit all the plants I will want to buy 🙂

Do you love strawberries?


I do.  In fact, it’s my favorite type of fruit.  


One of my earliest memories is of the strawberry patch growing in my grandfather’s garden in Frankfurt, Germany.  

We would visit them once a year for a month when we were young while they lived there.  I remember pesky rabbits trying to steal some of the sweet strawberries and my grandfather’s ongoing battle to keep them out.

My hometown, in Southern California, was surrounded by strawberry fields.  When you drive down the 101 Highway through Ventura County, you could smell their delicious fragrance.


What’s even better than smelling the strawberries, is being able to stop by the small produce markets right next to the fields where you can buy large flats of strawberries straight from the field.


The strawberries are beautiful, unblemished and you can’t resist sampling one or two or even three before you make it back into your car.

While I love living in Arizona, I do miss the strawberry fields from my hometown.  However, now my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, lives close to the town where I grew up and so I get to visit the fields again and bring home huge flats of delicious, sweet strawberries.

In fact, earlier this week, I stopped by this small produce store and bought some strawberries and took them home and made 20 jars of strawberry jam.  I stayed up late last night, finishing up canning the strawberries and had some homemade strawberry jam on my toast this morning – yum!

So, why was I in California?


Well, I had a very important reason – my grandson, made his debut!

Of course, my husband and I were prepared to leave at any minute to drive out to California so that we could be there for our daughter when she went into labor, but the entire process didn’t go exactly as we had planned.

In fact, I ended up spending 8 days in California.

I’ll share more of our journey next time – it may be a two-parter 🙂

Are you experiencing drought where you live?


You may be surprised to find that it is not only the West that is dealing with below average rainfall and its effects.


If you take a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor’s most recent drought map, you’ll see a lot of dark reds scattered about, particularly in California.


But, if you take a closer look, you can also see ares in the Northwest, Southeast and Northeast showing signs of drought as well.

Last month, I did a series of radio interviews on drought tolerant gardening.  Of course, you’d expect that one of the radio stations would be in California and it was.  But, other interviews were for radio stations in other areas that may not immediately come to mind when it comes to drought or abnormally dry conditions – Alabama, Oregon and Texas.

As a child growing up in California, I remember other times when drought was affecting this beautiful state.

On my most recent trip to California, I was struck by the brown hills with scattered trees that were showing the effects of drought.  

In a neighborhood setting, you could see some houses where the residents let their lawn die due either to strict water restrictions or voluntarily letting their lush green lawn turn brown.  Some landscape companies are now offering lawn painting services where they will come out and paint your brown lawn, green.

I decided to drive through my old neighborhood to see the house where I spent my teenage years.  I do this every few years whenever I am in town.  As I drove down the street, I saw three different examples of how the residents were dealing with the drought conditions.

I’d like to show you each of these examples and let you in on a secret – I grew up in one of these houses.

See if you can guess which one was my house…

Example 1:

When I was growing up in this neighborhood, everyone had a lawn.

However, the owners of this home ripped out their lawn in favor of a contemporary, drought tolerant landscape filled with succulents, ornamental grasses and a few arid adapted shrubs.  

I like the step stones leading up to the entry, don’t you?

The entire landscape had a layer of mulch to help conserve water and in this climate could survive on very little supplemental water.

Example 2:


This house with the ‘thirsty landscape’ is located just a few houses down from the drought tolerant landscape.  As you can see, the owners have kept their high water use landscape without any regard for the severe drought conditions present.

Large areas of lawn (including the parking strip), along with high-water use shrubs seemingly mock those who are trying their best to save water.

I sometimes wish that I had a parking strip.  I’d plant some beautiful, drought tolerant plants.  Maybe I should send the homeowners the book, “Hellstrip Gardening”?

Example 3:


This landscape is certainly not drought tolerant, but there are reduced lawn areas and even though the planting beds are not filled with drought tolerant plants – they do take less water than if they were taken up by a lawn.

I must admit solely on looks alone, that I prefer this landscape over the other two as long as rainfall amounts are normal.  But, in times of drought, I’d remove all of the lawn, add mulch and some drought tolerant ground covers like bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) or trailing lantana.

So, have you been able to guess which of these homes that I grew up in?


The home with the ‘thirsty landscape’!

The landscape has not changed from what it looked like throughout the 80’s.  

This was a great house to grow up in with its 6 bedrooms and large backyard filled with blackberry bushes, citrus trees, a large pine tree and two palm trees.

If you look carefully, you can see three maple trees in the middle of the backyard, just peeking above the roofline of the house.  My brother, sisters and I planted those trees in 1978.

How about you?

Are you experiencing drought where you live?  What do you do to save water in the landscape?

A few years ago, while visiting my sister in the Palm Springs area in California, we visited the Living Desert Museum.  This is a combination botanical garden and zoo.



We had a great time exploring along with our kids and I enjoyed taking pictures of the different plants that I saw.


While walking through the gardens, I noticed a small shrub, which at first glance, I assumed was a small species of Leucophyllum (Texas Sage).




I took a quick photo and then walked on.

Fast forward 2 years later, where I found myself learning about a newer plant on the market that thrives in desert heat, is drought-tolerant, flowers all year and needs little to no pruning.

Now any plant that looks great but isn’t fussy in desert gardens is one that I definitely need to get to know better.  

I found out that this particular shrub was supposed to look a lot like a gray Texas sage.  That was when I remembered taking the photo, above.

I was thrilled to find out that I had been introduced to this plant earlier, but hadn’t known it.

There is so much that I can say about Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana ‘Blue Bells’) and I have written an article about this beautiful, yet tough shrub, which you can read in my latest Houzz plant profile…

Kitchen designs, bathroom designs, and more ∨

Hire residential landscape architects to help with all aspects of landscape design, from selecting or designing outdoor patio furniture, to siting a detached garage or deck.
A home remodeler or residential architect will see the potential in the architecture and building design of your home.

I strongly encourage you to be a trendsetter in your neighborhood by planting this lovely shrub in your garden!

If anyone asks me what is on my list of succulent favorites, Santa-rita prickly pear would be near the top.


Santa-rita prickly pear with new pads.

This beautiful prickly pear is also often referred to as ‘purple prickly pear’.  

I love how the its gray/blue pads become gradually tinged with purple as the temperatures get cold.

To learn more about this particular prickly pear and why you’ll want to plant one in your garden, check out my latest article for Houzz.com

Architects, interior designers, and more ∨

Use the help of top home decorators to select matching bedside tables and a new lamp shade for your own bedroom design.
Find a wall shelf, customizable closet organization and stylish furnishings to whip your closet into shape.


I hope you enjoy my latest plant article for Houzz.  I’ve been working on profiling plants that thrive in the desert southwest.


Stay tuned later this month for another great plant!


A week ago, my husband and I took a stroll through our past, visiting the campus of Westmont College in Montecito, California, where we met 28 years ago.

What is special about this place is not only the memories, but the beautiful gardens that surround it.

Last week, I introduced you to the converted mansion, the courtyard with its iconic fountain, the ocean view from my dormitory window and a glimpse of a beautiful flower garden.

Today, I would like to show you the small chapel, hidden among the trees, a beautiful pond, an area burned by wildfire and a garden filled with bird-of-paradise.


This small chapel sits underneath the canopy of large oak trees.



I have always loved oak trees because I grew up in Southern California where the hills are dotted with with these magnificent trees.  



The chapel was built in the 1960’s to honor the memory of the then college president’s daughter who died tragically in an auto accident while attending college here.



Students can often be found spending a few moments in prayer here and I did my share, while attending.



Regular chapel services aren’t held here, but they do host weddings at the chapel.


I just love the view of oak trees from the windows, don’t you?

As you walk away from the chapel, you are greeted by the sound of water.


 I like the simplicity of the water fountain in the form of am earthen jug, which does not compete with the surrounding, lush plantings.
The Weeping Mulberry, while leafless in winter, adds a graceful, drooping element to the water.

Believe it or not, Weeping Mulberry is also grown in Arizona.  There is a large one at my other alma mater, Arizona State University.


As we left the chapel and its pond, the path led into a truly beautiful garden…


This was the favorite part of the landscape surrounding the college.

Boxwood hedges enclosed rectangular areas of lawn that were surrounded by staggered plantings of Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae). 

The bright orange and blue color of this tropical plant are quite familiar to me.  They are the official city flower of Los Angeles, California where I was born.  

Tropical Bird-of-Paradise is native to South Africa, but thrives in warm climates all over the world.  Sensitive to frost, it is hardy to zone 9 and does grow in the low desert, when protected from afternoon sun.  However, it does not grow as well in desert locations as it does in milder areas such as Southern California.


Even unopened, I think that the flowers resemble birds.


It was somewhat surreal to be walking through a garden in full bloom at the end of December when most of the nation was blanketed in ice and snow.

Tropical Bird-of-Paradise bloom in winter and spring.


While I love this flower, I don’t grow them in my desert garden.  The reason for this is that they can struggle in our extreme heat and cold winters.  It is a rare occurrence when I see one that is thriving and blooming in our low-desert climate.


As we walked through the garden, we heard the sound of running water, but could not see where it was coming from.

So, we headed up the stairs toward the sound.


The sound led us to a narrow, stone-lined trench, filled with water.

As you can see, the fountain part is subtle and understated.  Its main purpose is to lend the sound of water to the garden setting.

As we continued our journey, we came to an area that is still struggling to recover after a wildfire burned parts of the school grounds in 2008.

A lone oak tree is the only survivor in this large, formerly treed area.  


As you can see, there used to be a lot of trees.  

There were signs that construction was soon to take place, so it will be nice to see what they will do with this area.

Our walking tour was almost over and I admit that I was doing a bit of huffing and puffing while walking up and down the mountainside where our college is situated.  It was much easier to walk up and down when I was a 19-year old student 😉

Before we leave, I’d like to show you where my husband and I met, by our old dormitory 28 years ago…


Our dormitory was divided into men and women’s sections.  It was connected by a bridge and you would often find us taking turns walking over to visit the other…


Our stroll through memory lane was almost over and I was sad to go.

Years after I left Westmont College, I finished my degree in horticulture.  As a new horticulturist, I was given the task of re-designing the landscape around a golf-course country club building.  
There is a popular saying with young women at the school, “I went to Westmont and came away with my ‘MRS’ degree.”  

While I did not get my bachelor’s degree from Westmont, I did meet my husband there and become ‘Mrs.’ Johnson.

Thank you for allowing me to share memories and the beauty of the gardens of this special place.





Last weekend, our family loaded our suitcases into the car and headed out to Southern California to visit my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, who is stationed there at a Navy base.


I was excited to see Rachele, but also to visit that part of California since it is near where I grew up and also where I met my husband while attending college.


On Saturday morning, we left our younger kids with Rachele and ventured up into the hills outside of Santa Barbara in order to visit our college.



Westmont College is located on side of the mountains in the small town of Montecito.

Most people haven’t heard of Westmont.  It is a small Christian, liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,200.


The college is set among beautiful gardens that echo the Spanish/Mediterranean style.


Believe it or not, I was not interested in the gardens or plants when I attended Westmont.  I was more focused on having fun, dating and passing my classes.  At the time, I was decidedly “undecided” in what I wanted to major in.




I spent 2 years at Westmont before I got married and moved to Arizona.


Now, whenever I am visiting Santa Barbara, I like to take time to visit the beautiful gardens of my former alma mater.


I’d love to take you on a little tour of my favorite spots and share some memories…




This is the main administration building, which used to be the mansion that stood on this estate.


This is where my husband and I met.  We both had part-time jobs in adjoining offices and I thought he was awfully cute and nice.

My favorite part of the building was the courtyard outside with its fountain.


I love the detail of the water fountain.


Years ago, I posed for this photo with my friend, Mary by the same fountain.

I love the look of stone finials, don’t you?


It may have been the end of December, but there were still blooms to be seen like this pink azalea and the hibiscus, below…


I couldn’t help but think of those whose gardens are frozen and/or covered in snow right now.  The Mediterranean climate is truly wonderful – this area rarely experiences temps below freezing.


An old bougainvillea grew up among the stair railing.


I can only imagine how old this bougainvillea is.


I love garden gates, don’t you?


Especially when you notice the detail.

While the converted mansion and its surroundings were beautiful, the college has its share of plain, boring dormitories.


This was my freshmen dorm where I lived on the third floor.  The dormitory looked much the same as when I attended except that there were video cameras and electronic door locks with card readers.

While the dorm wasn’t too impressive, the view from my room was…


I could see the ocean and the Channel Islands from my window.


Up above the dorm, on the mountainside was an old tea garden that was part of a large estate.  Students would climb up and explore the ruins.


As we left the dorm, we walked along the path lined with Simplicity roses toward a building where I must admit that I did NOT spend much time…




This is the large boulder located by the library.  Students could be found sitting on top studying or catching some rays.


There was a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) flowering next to the boulder.  This shrub can be grown in the desert, if given some afternoon shade.


I hope you have enjoyed the tour so far.  


Next time, I will show you the small chapel nestled within the trees, a small pond, a stunning garden filled with flowers and the area that was burned in a large wildfire a couple of years ago.

Last week, I came upon this citrus tree while I was doing a consultation.

At first, there was one problem that I noticed right away.  As I peered closer, I saw that there was another problem affecting this tree.

The tree was well-fertilized and I could see no sign of nutrient deficiencies.

Can you tell what is wrong with this citrus tree?  

Leave your guesses below in the comment section and I will reveal the answer tomorrow 🙂

*You may be wondering why you should care about the problems of this particular citrus tree.  Well, if you have citrus growing in your garden, you may have the same problem(s) and not even know it.  

My hope is to help others identify and correct problems with their plants that they may not be aware of until it is too late.
Do you have any plants that need extra water? Maybe you have some plants that aren’t connected to your irrigation system, or maybe you don’t even have an irrigation system and use a hose to water your plants instead. It may be that you have cactuses or other succulents that only need water every few months.
 
While you can certainly haul out your hose and water each of your thirsty plants, the problem is that the hose puts out water too quickly and the soil can’t absorb it fast enough.  As a result, much of the water simply runs off and doesn’t benefit the plant as much as it should.

 

So, if the time-consuming task of watering plants by hand isn’t your cup of tea, there is a way to make it easier by making your own portable drip irrigation system using a recycled milk jug
This solution is very easy, and I’m sure that you’ll be collecting your used milk jugs instead of throwing them away.

 

To get started, you will need an empty plastic milk jug and a nail.

 

1. Heat the nail using a lighter or stove burner and use the nail to pierce 3 – 4 small holes in the bottom of the milk jug.

 

 

2. Fill the milk jug up with water and put the cap on and carry it upside down and turn right side up and place it next to the plant that needs irrigation. *You can also set the empty milk jug(s) next to your plants and fill with water from the hose.

 

 

3. Slightly loosen the cap, which will allow the water to drip out of the holes at the bottom – this allows the water to penetrate the soil slowly, instead of running off.

 

Once the water has drained out of the bottom of the jug, simply bring your milk jug back inside or hide it behind the plant out of sight. 

 

To keep it from blowing away when it’s empty, you can add an inch of small rocks in the bottom of the jug, which will help weigh it down – the rocks won’t interfere with the water dripping out.

 

 

I usually recommend this method of irrigating cactus, which appreciates getting some extra water during the summer months.

 

This portable drip irrigation system is a great aid for those who live in areas that are suffering from drought where an irrigation system may not exist.

 

**Another semi-permanent variation of this method is to create holes on the sides on the milk jug, instead of on the bottom. Then bury the entire jug next to the plant, leaving just the top exposed. To water your plants, remove the milk cap and fill with water and replace the cap.

 

If you find this DIY garden project helpful, click the “Share” button below. 

I apologize, but life is kind of crazy this week, so I promise that I will get to back to my ‘Tree Planting’ posts soon.  In the meantime, I would like to share with you one of my favorite posts that I wrote about 1 1/2 years ago.  I was rather new at blogging at the time so most of you probably have not read it.  I hope you enjoy it 🙂

When people think of a desert, most envision a place of intense heat, sparse plants, snakes and lots of sand.  Well, some of that is true, but there is much, much more which I have discovered.  I am not a native desert dweller.  In fact, I was born and raised near the beach in Southern California and I never thought that I would live in the desert.  However, here I am, having lived in Arizona for over 23 years and I wouldn’t have it any other way….

All of the photos were taken in an area about 30 minutes northeast of Phoenix.

The desert that I live in is called the Sonoran Desert and it occupies over 120,000 sq. miles covering parts of Arizona, California and Mexico.  Although deserts around the world do not receive much rainfall, the Sonoran Desert receives more then any other desert in the world.  We have two seasons of rain.  In the winter our storms come from the west from the Pacific coast and the rains are usually gentle.  In the summer our rains come up from Mexico and are called “monsoons”, which means “wind shift”.  These summer storms are sporadic and result in torrential rainfall and high winds.  Often, when we receive these torrential downpours, my kids and I just stand inside our front door, just watching the rain.

By the way…..you know you are an ‘official’ desert dweller when you rejoice whenever it rains.

Because of our dual rainy seasons, the Sonoran Desert has the most animal and plant species of any North American desert.  We have over 2,000 native plant species alone.  In the spring, the desert is awash in wildflowers and cactus blooms.  The rain brings out the distinct, yet pleasing, scent of the Creosote bush (if you rub the leaves in your fingers, it smells like the rain).  I live in zone 8b and we do experience occasional freezing conditions during the winter. 

Interestingly, the western part of the Sonoran Desert, located in California (Palm Springs and surrounding area), is regarded as a sub-desert called the Colorado Desert.  It differs in appearance and in that the soils are sandy, there is less rainfall in the summer and as a result there is less plant density and native plant species.  The Saguaro cactus does not grow naturally in the Colorado Desert.  If you have a chance to drive across the California – Arizona border, you can see the difference as you cross over the Colorado River.  This sub-desert has a beauty of it’s own and I enjoy visiting this part of the Sonoran Desert.
The Sonoran Desert is a fascinating place with cactus and snakes  (I rarely see them), but is also filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and wildlife.  Far from being a barren wasteland, this desert is full of life and beauty.


It is my home….