Have you ever driven by a newly-planted landscape?  If so, you probably noticed that many of the plants were quite small.  
 
I like to joke that sometimes you need a magnifying glass just to see the new plants. But as small as they are, within a short amount of time, those plants start to grow.  
 
 
Look at the same landscape three years later. The plants are well-established and look great.  
 
Fast forward eight-ten years, and you may start to see signs of some plants becoming overgrown and unattractive.
 
When this happens to shrubs, we can often push a ‘restart button’ (for most types of shrubs) and prune them back severely in spring using a good pair of loppers, which reduces their size. I use my Corona loppers to do major pruning of my shrubs.
However, there are some plants where this approach doesn’t work.
 

Let’s identify a few of these plants and how to deal with them once they outgrow their allotted space or become filled with old, woody growth.

 
Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
 
Desert spoon is one of my favorite plants.  I love how its blue-gray, spiky leaves add texture to the garden and contrast with plants that have darker green foliage.  
 
 
After ten years or more in the landscape, desert spoon can start to take on a ragged, rather unattractive appearance, as well as grow quite large.
 
When this happens, I recommend that they be removed and a new one planted in its place.  
 
Now, some of you may think that may seem wasteful, but I invite you to take another look at your landscape and the plants within it.
 
Your outdoor space isn’t static and unchanging. Its appearance changes with the seasons with plants blooming at different times. Trees gradually extend the amount of shade they provide and plants change in size.  
 
A newly planted garden doesn’t look the same through the years, it changes.  
 
Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’)
Rosemary is a good choice for those who want rich, dark green color in the garden. Bees love the light blue flowers that appear in late winter and spring, and the aromatic foliage can be used to flavor your favorite dishes.  
 
But, as time passes, it does get bigger, outgrowing its original space.  
 
 
When this happens, people start to shear their rosemary, which is stressful for the plant and contributes to sections of branches dying.
 
For those who don’t like the formal look, pruning rosemary back severely would be your first impulse. But, the problem with rosemary is that they don’t respond well to severe pruning.
 
So again, in this case, it’s best to pull out the old rosemary and add a new one, which will provide beauty for several years.
 
Rosemary hedge
To avoid having to remove and replace rosemary too often, allow them plenty of room to grow to their mature size.
 
Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
Red yucca is prized for its succulent, green leaves that resemble an ornamental grass and its coral flowers, which appear spring through fall.
 
 
Once it has been growing seven years or more, red yucca may overwhelm the landscape visually. This is particularly true if the area it’s growing in isn’t very big.
 
Occasionally, some people will try to remove the outer leaves at the base. However, this is laborious and only serves to stimulate red yucca to grow back faster.
 
In those situations, I tell people that their plant has had a nice life, but it’s time to start over.
 
Newly-planted red yucca
 
You may be thinking, why use plants that you’ll only have to replace after seven to ten years?
 
Well, all three of these plants add beauty to the landscape and are low-maintenance.
Another way to think of it is to compare your landscape with the interior of your home.  Do you make small changes to the decor of your home every few years to keep it looking fresh and attractive? The same should be true of the outside.
 
Replacing a few plants after seven years or more isn’t expensive. Don’t you think that the beauty these plants offer to your outdoor space makes them worth it?
What have you replaced in your garden recently?

With the imminent arrival of fall, I can’t wait to get to the nursery to choose plants for some empty spots in my landscape. Each year, I do an inventory or audit of my garden and look at plants that are struggling or just not adding much to my outdoor space.

If you are like me, you may be thinking of adding plants this fall too. 
 
 
In my career as a horticulturist, I’ve designed, planted and overseen the installation of thousands of plants over the years.  
 
As you can imagine, I have accrued tips along the way of how-to and how NOT to select the best plants for the landscape.
 
Plant nursery at The Living Desert Museum in Palm Desert, CA
 
In my online course, Desert Gardening 101, one of the very first sections deals with how to best choose plants from the nursery. Today, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite tips on how to select the best plants at the nursery that will save you money and future problems.
 
Earlier this month, I wrote about how important it is to research plants before buying. This is a crucial step to make sure that you are select a plant that will thrive in your climate.  
 
I encourage you to take a few minutes to read these tips, which could save you from buyer’s remorse and a dead plant.
 
Foxglove for sale in front of an Arizona big box store nursery.  This lovely perennial is not the easiest plant to grow in the desert garden.
 

1. Avoid impulse buys.

 
Believe it or not, some nurseries carry plants that will NOT grow well in your area. There are many times I have seen hydrangeas offered at my local big box store. While I would LOVE to be able to grow hydrangea in my Southwest garden, I know that within a few weeks of planting – it will soon languish and die.
 
Don’t assume that just because your local nursery sells a certain type of plant, that it will grow in your climate. Sadly, this is particularly true of big box stores.
 
Why do the stores stock plants that won’t grow in the local climate? The answer is simple – most people are drawn to these plants because they are colorful and beautiful.  So, they inevitably purchase them assuming that they will grow in their garden. A few weeks later, they are dismayed when their new plant becomes sickly and dies. This leads to many people believing that they have a black thumb.
 
 

2. Smaller sizes can be better.

In many cases, skipping over the larger-sized plant in favor of one in a smaller-sized container is the better choice.
 
Of course, there is the amount of money you will save, but did you know that the smaller plants have an easier time becoming established? 
 
Smaller plants are younger and are better able to handle the shock of being transplanted than older plants. In addition, they have less upper growth (branches, leaves & stems) to support, so they can focus on growing roots, which is vital to its growth rate. 
 
Bigger and older plants aren’t as adaptable and take an extended length of time to grow.
 
Planting smaller plants works best with those that have a moderate to fast growth rate. For plants that take have a slow rate of growth, you may want to select a larger plant size.
 
Another bonus is that in addition to saving money, you don’t have to dig as large a hole!
 
Root-bound plant

3. Avoid plants that have been in their containers too long.

 
Sometimes, nurseries don’t sell plants as quickly as they’d like. So what happens when a plant sits in a container too long?
 
The roots start growing around and around each other causing the plant to become root-bound. Once roots grow this way, they have a hard time growing outward into the soil as they should. Eventually, the plant will can decline and even die.
 
How can you tell if a plant has been in its container too long?
 
– Look for signs such as weeds growing in the pot, which indicates that it may have been in the nursery for a while.
 
– Are there any dead leaves inside the pot? This is also an indicator that it may have been sitting in the nursery for a long time.
 
– See if roots are growing through the drainage holes – if so, that is a clear indication of a plant that has been its container too long.
 
This blog post contains affiliate links.
 
If you have brought a plant that turns out to be root bound, you can help it out. Take a box cutter or ‘hori-hori’ garden knife which is a soil knife that is useful for cutting and digging. I use it to make a series of vertical cuts around the root ball so that you are cutting through the circled roots. Do this on the bottom too.
 
By cutting the roots, you are disrupting the circular growth pattern, and they should be able to grow out into the surrounding soil.
 

4. Select healthy plants.

 
While most plants at the nursery are usually healthy and in good shape, this isn’t always the case.
 
Avoid plants with yellow leaves, which can be a sign of incorrect watering. Look for signs of any yellow or brown spots on the leaves as well, which can be a sign of disease. Also, check for signs of disease such as insects or the presence of webs or chewed leaves.  
 
Bringing any plants home with a disease or damaging insects can inadvertently infect your existing plants.
Check the soil in the pot and if appears overly moist or has a funny odor, walk away. Overwatered plants rarely do well.
 
 

5. Select plants that are grown locally whenever possible.

 
In Arizona, where I live, many plants found in our nurseries are grown in California. (I don’t have anything against things from California – I grew up there 😉
 
However, plants that are grown in a different climate and then brought over to another one can have a tough time adapting to the new climate unless they have had time to ‘harden off’ and adjust to the weather conditions.
 
When possible, choose plants grown by local growers. Not only will the plants have an easier time becoming established, but you will also be supporting your local economy.
Do you have any plant-buying tips? Please share them in the comments.
 

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The signs that fall is approaching are sometimes so subtle that it is easy to miss them.  But, they are there just the same.


You may notice the lengthening shadows on your way home from work, signaling shorter days.  Or maybe you’ve noticed that you aren’t rushing indoors as quickly as you did earlier this summer.

 
Fall is a time to celebrate the end of hot summer temperatures and what better way to do that than to venture out into the garden again?
 
Before you head out to shop for plants, it’s important to pick the right ones or you may be left with a dead or struggling plant and a thinner wallet. 
Here is my most important piece of advice before you head to the nursery:
 

Research plants before buying.

 
It sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But you would be surprised to learn that most people don’t research plants before they add them to their landscape.  
 
There are three questions you should have the answers to before planting.
online-class-desert-gardening-101

Tired of struggling in the desert garden? Sign up to be notified when I reopen doors of my popular online gardening class!

 

1. Know how large your plant will grow at maturity.

 
Neglecting to get the answer to this question can have unfortunate results.
 
This homeowner had ficus trees planted in the raised bed around their swimming pool.
 
Now, when you look at this picture, you may be wondering why would anyone plant ficus trees in this area.
 
Newly planted ficus tree
 Well, it goes without saying that new plants are much smaller than they will be once they are planted and have a chance to grow.
 
Mature ficus tree.
 
But, once plants are in the ground and begin growing, that small little plant can increase in size exponentially.  In this case, the ficus looks like it is ready to swallow up this house.
 
Over-planted shrubs
Another example of not researching the mature size of plants can be seen in many landscapes throughout the Southwest.  
 
In a nutshell, the small 1 foot tall and wide shrub in the nursery can grow more than 10X its original size.
 

2. Know what exposure the plant does best in.

 
Putting a plant that needs full sun in a shady spot will result in a leggy plant with few leaves and almost no flowers.
 
What a plant that does best in filtered shade looks like when planted in full sun.
 
Conversely, if you place a plant that does best in the filtered shade in an area that gets full, afternoon sun – it will suffer.
 
You will save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration by simply placing plants in the exposure they like.
 

3. What type of maintenance will your plant require?

 
Fuss-free Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’
 
Some plants need frequent pruning, fertilizing and protection from pests.
 
Others are what I like to call ‘fuss-free’ and need little else besides water.
 
The amount of maintenance a plant needs is largely dependent on whether or not it is native or adapted to your client.
 
 
For example in the Phoenix area where I live, queen palms are very popular.  The problem is, is that they are not particularly well-adapted to our desert climate.
 
In fact, it is rare to see a healthy queen palm growing in the greater Phoenix area.  Frequent applications of palm fertilizer are required to get them to look okay and even then, they will never look as good as those growing in Florida or California.
 
I don’t like to fuss over plants except for a couple of rose bushes in my garden, so I am a strong proponent of using native or adapted plants that need little pruning, no fertilizer and aren’t bothered by insect pests.
 
Now we know three important questions to get answered before selecting plants for your garden.
 
So, where can you go for the answers to these questions?
 
There are a few different places you can go to find out these as well as other questions.
 
Master gardeners are an invaluable resource and their job is to help people learn how to grow plants successfully. You can call them, email your questions or stop by and talk to them in person.
 
Take some time to visit your local botanical garden. Write down which plants you like, or snap a photo of them with your phone. Note how large they are and what type of exposure they are growing in.
 

It may surprise you to find that it is easier to find plants that thrive in the sun than in the shade.

Especially if you live in the desert Southwest. Why is this, you may ask?

Well, it can be hard to find plants that can handle the intense, dry heat of our climate while flourishing in the shade. While there are a number of lovely plants that can work in shady conditions, it’s hard to know which ones will, which is why I make sure to include my favorites for students in my online gardening class.

So, what do you do if you have a shady spot to fill?

One of my favorites is Yellow Dot (Wedolia trilobata), which is a vining ground cover with lush, dark green leaves interspersed with yellow daisy-like flowers.
Here is a plant that does fabulously in dark shade and will handle brief periods of full sun. 
 
Yellow Dot grows quickly to 1 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide and is hardy to 30 degrees. It’s susceptible to frost damage, which can be easily pruned back in spring.
One of my favorite characteristics of this lush green ground cover is that it has a long bloom period – spring through fall. 
 
It grows beautifully underneath trees, along pathways, and among boulders. You just want to be sure to allow enough room for them to spread.
 
So, if you have a difficult shady spot that needs a plant – try Yellow Dot.
 
How about you?  Do you have a favorite plant that does well in shady spots?  I’d love to hear about it!
white-crusty-salt-build-up-plants

I have a weakness (well, one of many) to confess to you today….

I absolutely love salt.  

In fact, I have a theory that the reason that so many people love french fries is not the potatoes or the fat it is fried in. No, it is the salt that you put on them afterwards. I mean, can you imagine eating an unsalted french fry? 

In preparation for this blog post, I went through my kitchen and pulled out all of my salt & pepper shakers.

 
It’s kind of embarrassing isn’t it?  I have so many.
 
But in my defense, I must admit that I collect different types of pottery and need salt and pepper shakers for each set.  
My husband made me my wooden salt cellar, which I keep near the stove when I cook.
 
Now, I do not use as much salt as I used to. In fact, I am trying to be better about it.  When I visited the doctor earlier this week for my physical, I still had low blood pressure, much to my relief.
 
Well, we all know that too much salt is bad for you and can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure. But did you know that too much salt is not good for your plants as well?
 
Plants don’t get ‘high blood  pressure’ with too much salt, but they do have another problem that shows up.
They get brown tips on their leaves, which we call ‘salt burn’.
 
white-crusty-salt-build-up-plants
Here is another way that you can tell plants are getting too much salt. Shallow watering causes the water in the soil to evaporate quickly, leaving behind the salts. The salts look like a white crust on the soil around your plants.

At this point you may be wondering how plants get too much salt?  

Well, both soil and water have naturally occurring salts in them. This is especially true in the Desert Southwest where our water is somewhat salty and our soils can suffer from salt build-up due to high evaporation.
 
So what do you do if you have indoor or outdoor plants that have brown tips?
The solution is very easy.
 
Water deeply.
 
That’s it!
 
 
Here is a shrub that has signs of salt build-up. I encountered with one of my clients during a landscape consultation – he had other shrubs that looked similar.
 
I will tell you what I told him:
 
If your outdoor plants look like this, first water the affected plant with your hose on a slow trickle for at least 2 – 3 hours.  This helps to ‘leach’ or flush the salts away from the roots.
Thereafter, adjust your irrigation schedule so that your shrubs are watered to an approximate depth of 18 inches deep each time. Sadly, most people water too often, too shallow and not long enough.  
 
For example, I water my shrubs and perennials every 5 – 7 days in the summer. This takes approximately 2 hours for my plants to be watered to a depth of 2 ft. Of course the time it takes to water that deeply is different for each landscape and is dependent on a variety of factors including soil type and water pressure.
If your houseplant has brown tips (salt burn), then simply flush the salts out by deeply watering.  You can do this by putting your plant in the sink or bathtub and let water slowly trickle on your plant for 1 – 2 hours.
I cover landscape irrigation in depth with my students in my online course, Desert Gardening 101, but for those of you looking for advice right now here’s what I recommend. Search online for watering guidelines on your city’s website – most have schedules including recommended depths.
So in closing I’ll leave you with these two tips:
Be sure to limit your salt intake AND water your plants deeply to prevent salt burn.
Do you have plants that need extra water this summer? 
Many of us have a few plants that aren’t connected to an irrigation system. Some people don’t have an irrigation system and use a hose to water plants, which is time-consuming and inefficient.
 
While you can certainly haul out your hose and water each of your thirsty plants, it is not the best way. The main problem is the hose puts out water quickly and the soil can’t absorb it fast enough. As a result, much of the water 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, I’m here for you. You can make life easier by creating your own portable drip irrigation system with a recycled milk jug
This solution is very easy and will have you digging through your recycle bin collecting your used milk jugs.

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

1. Heat the nail using a lighter or stove burner. Then use the nail to pierce 3 – 4 small holes in the bottom of the milk jug.
2. Fill the milk jug up with water, put the cap on and carry it upside down to the plant. Turn it right side up and set it down to the plant that needs irrigation. *You can also set the empty milk jug(s) next to your plants, bring the hose to them and fill with water that way.
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, pick up your milk jug and move it to the next plant. After you are done, bring the empty jugs inside and store until the next time you need them.

If you live in a windy area and worry the milk jug will blow away, weigh them down with an inch of small rocks in the bottom of the jug – the rocks won’t interfere with the water dripping out.
I usually recommend this method of irrigating cacti monthly in summer.
This portable drip irrigation system is a great aid for those who live in areas that are suffering from drought or where an irrigation system may not exist.
**A semi-permanent variation of this method is to create holes along the sides instead of on the bottom. Then bury the entire jug next to the plant, leaving just the top exposed. To water plants, remove the milk cap and fill with water and replace the cap.
I hope you find this DIY garden project helpful. Please feel free to share it with your friends by clicking the “Share” button below. 
Parry's-Penstemon-attractive-garden-entry-desert

Last month, I diagnosed my first ever case of color blindness.

Now, I realize that I am no doctor or medical authority. However, as a horticulturist, I am somewhat of an expert in the garden, which is where I made my diagnosis.

attractive-drought-tolerant-landscape-desert-garden

Attractive drought-tolerant landscape in the Southwest

Before I tell you more about my unorthodox diagnosis, I invite you to look at this photo. It’s of a lovely low-desert landscape filled with a mixture of trees, shrubs, and cacti.

Parry's-Penstemon-attractive-garden-entry-desert

Front entry to desert garden with flowering Parry’s Penstemon

Here is another lovely desert landscape with succulents, vines, and a flowering Parry’s Penstemon.

My client has a garden much like those photographed above. It’s filled with a variety of flowering shrubs, agaves, cacti, and ground covers.

So when he called me in a panic telling me that the plants in his garden were doing poorly, I came ready to help him out.

However, once I got there, I didn’t see any problems. His plants looked great! He told me that his plants did look fine before he left on vacation. But, when he returned, they seemed less green and somewhat sickly.

It took me a while to assure him that his garden was healthy, and then we made small talk and I asked him where he went on vacation. His answer? Michigan!

That was an AH-HA moment! I now knew what the problem was, and it wasn’t with his plants. It was his eyes and his perception of green.

Let me illustrate:

Lilac-bush-winery-michigan

A large lilac bush next to a winery in Traverse City, Michigan

Michigan is one of my favorite states to visit because my oldest daughter lives there with her family.

It is a beautiful place to explore with lovely gardens.

perennial-bed-Michigan

Colorful bearded iris in the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There are stunning botanical gardens awash with vibrant flowers spring through summer along with vivid greens.

farm-in-michigan

Example of a Michigan Farm at Frederik Meijer Gardens

Visiting Michigan in summer is something that I look forward to every year. The gardens with their lush greens are a soothing balm when I’m tired of the hot, dry summer heat back home.

My client had an experience much like this, enjoying the saturated greens of a Midwest summer before he returned home to his garden.

Now, take another look at the desert landscapes below:

attractive-drought-tolerant-landscape-desert-garden

Parry's-Penstemon-attractive-garden-entry-desert

Do they look a little less colorful to you? Dare I say drab? 

When we travel to regions outside of the desert, our eyes become accustomed to bright, saturated colors that are part of that landscape. Then, when we return home, the soft, subtle shades of green are less evident to us due to the ‘green overload’ we are returning from.

As I explained this to my client, he finally understood that there was nothing wrong with his plants, just his eyes.

The good news is that this is temporary color blindness and that his garden will soon look as beautiful and vibrant as it did before he went on vacation.

Have you ever suffered from temporary color blindness in the garden?

What type of plants comes to mind when you are planning what to plant in your containers?
 
I’m willing to bet that purple hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) and bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) probably weren’t the first plants that came to mind.
 
Admittedly, I tend to think of using plants known for their flowers or succulents in my containers.  That is until a trip to California that I took this past April.

 

In the Napa Valley region of northern California, sits Cornerstone Sonoma, which describes itself as “a wine country marketplace featuring a collection of world-class shopping, boutique wine rooms, artisanal foods, art-inspired gardens.”
 
Believe me; it is all that and more.  There was so much to see, but what caught my attention were some unusual, yet beautifully planted containers.
 
Purple hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’), shrubby germander (Teucrium fruiticans), and violas.
There were square steel containers filled with plants that are well-known for their foliage and are seldom used in pots.
 
I was intrigued, especially when the plants used were also popular in the desert Southwest.
 
There were quite a few things about this type of container planting that appealed to me.
 
One, it is low-maintenance – no deadheading required.  Just some light pruning 2 – 3 times a year, to control their size. Second, the plants are all drought tolerant (with the exception of the violas). Lastly, I like seeing new ways of doing things and using plants prized for their foliage in containers is something we don’t see too often.  
 
Fast forward a few months, and I decided to rethink what to add to the large, blue planter by my front entry.  So, I thought, why not try the same arrangement?
 
 
Granted, the plants are smaller than those I saw in California, but given a few months, they should grow in nicely.
 
As you can see my new plants are rather mall, however, the purple hopbush will grow taller and its evergreen foliage will add shades of purple and green to this space. Furthermore, this shrub is one of those highly-prized plants that do well in both sun and filtered shade.
 
The silvery-gray foliage of bush morning glory creates a great color contrast with the darker greens of the other plants. While it may not flower much in this semi-shady corner, I want it for its silvery foliage.
 
In addition, I want to use a plant that has bright green foliage, so I have a single foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus Myers), which will thrive in this semi-shady exposure. 
Maintenance will be relatively simple with periodic pruning to keep wayward branches in check. Fertilizing in spring and late summer with a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote will be all that’s needed to keep my container plants happy.
 
Do you have any plants with attractive foliage that you would use in containers? 

I have a confession to make.  

I don’t have any containers filled with flowering annuals. Shocking isn’t it?

There are a few reasons for this, the most important one is that I prefer using relatively fuss-free plants that look great all year in my pots.  

I don’t have much patience for high-maintenance containers. In particular, ones with flowering annuals that need frequent irrigation. Not to mention deadheading of spent flowers and having to change them out seasonally. But, I do love the way they look.

container-red-geraniums

Red Geraniums and White Bacopa

My inclination to avoid flowering annuals in my own garden has to do with my past and no, it’s nothing scandalous.

It does have to do with my work in the past. For five years, I was in charge of 45 pots. Each container was always be filled with colorful flowers.

Believe me, keeping all of those pots looking beautiful was a lot of work! Countless trips to the nursery, fertilizing, watering and replacing them twice a year got tiresome. Not to mention that I broke my foot when I tripping on a curb, while loading flats of flowers. 

So, it may not come as a surprise that I prefer using succulents in my pots.

Victoria Agave ‘Compacta’
 
Much of my inspiration for using succulents in containers come from those at the Desert Botanical Garden as shown in the photo above and below.
Agaves are some of my favorite succulent plants and the smaller species do very well in containers.

In an article I wrote for Houzz, I list my ten favorite small agaves for Houzz that are suitable for growing in pots.

I hope you enjoy it and find one that is perfect for you!
 
 

What do your plants look like in the middle of summer?  Do they thrive despite the hot temperatures?  


Or do they look more like this?

 
Throw in a heatwave, and your lovely, attractive plants may be suddenly struggling to survive.
 
Whether you live in the desert Southwest or more temperate climates, this can happen to you if your garden is not prepared for the heat of summer.
 
So, how do you know if your plants are handling the summer heat?  
 
Take a walk through your garden during the hottest part of the day and look for signs of wilting leaves as well as yellow or browning leaves.  All of these can indicate heat stress.
 
The good news is that you can heatproof your landscape and enjoy a garden filled with attractive plants that thrive despite the hot temperatures that summer dishes out.
 
Here are 5 tips to help you heatproof your garden:
 

#1. Use native or plants adapted to your climate.

 
 
This is perhaps the most important tip for having an attractive, low-maintenance landscape filled with beauty that thrives throughout the entire year.
 
Native (or adapted) plants have unique characteristics that help them to handle the local climate, including the heat of summer AND the cold of winter.
 
All too often, we find ourselves with landscapes filled with plants (often with large leaves) that struggle to survive the hot, summer months.  This results in unattractive plants that we work hard to help sustain them until cooler temperatures arrive.  Usually, these plants are best meant to grow in climates with less extreme heat.
 
Langman’s Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae)
 
Let’s look at an example of an adaptation that this Langman’s sage has that enables it to handle full sun and 110+ temperatures without undue stress.
 
Notice that the flowers have small hairs.  So do the leaves, giving them a slightly grayish cast.  These tiny hairs help to reflect the sun’s rays, which lowers the temperature of the leaves and flowers.
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and Shrubby Germander ‘Azurea’ (Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’)
 
Another way that plants have to handle the heat is by having small leaves, which limits the amount of water lost, which helps them to deal with hot, dry temperatures.
 
Here in the desert Southwest, there are many native plants that are used as well as plants from Australia and other arid regions, which have similar climates.
 
To find out what types of plants are best adapted to your area, check your local cooperative extension office for a list of plants.  A visit to your local botanical garden can also be helpful.
 

#2. Provide shade

 
 
Adding shade to the garden can provide relief from the hot sun as well as cooling air temperatures.  The shade benefits plants and can provide cooling to the house as well.
 
*It is important to note that it can be hard to grow many plants in dense shade – especially flowering ones.  However, using trees that provide filtered shade provide just enough shade while allowing enough sun through for plants.
 

#3 Water deeply and infrequently

 
 
Plants need water to survive, and not surprisingly, they need the most in the summer.  However, we often water them too often and shallowly for it to do much good.
 
Shallow watering keeps roots close to the surface of the soil, where the soil temperatures are hot, and the water dries up quickly.
 
Deep watering is the proper method for irrigating plants because encourages deep root growth where the soil is cooler and stays moister for longer.  As a result, you do not need to water as often.
 
“Plants that are watered deeply and infrequently are better able to withstand the heat.”
 
Shrubs should be watered to a depth of 2 feet and perennials and groundcovers to 18 inches.  You can determine how deeply you are watering by inserting a piece of rebar down into the soil (right after you have finished watering) to see how long you need to irrigate.  On average, 2 hours is the length of time to irrigate to the desired depth.  
 
Almost as important as watering deeply is the time of day that you water. The best time to water is early in the morning.  Watering plants in the afternoon is not as useful since plants allocate their resources at that time toward surviving the stresses of the heat and so they do not take up water as efficiently.  
 
Click here for watering guidelines for the Phoenix metro area.
 

#4 Mulch around your plants

 
 
Not surprisingly, mulch has a variety of benefits and not just in regards to heat proofing your garden.
 
Mulch serves to help cool soil temperatures in summer while helping to conserve moisture – all important in helping plants thrive despite hot temperatures.
 
A bonus is that they also help to prevent weeds from taking root.
 
 
Let’s take a minute to rethink our definition of what makes an excellent mulch.  
 
While shredded bark and wood chips may come to mind, did you know that fallen leaves, pine needles and even fallen flowers can also serve as a mulch?  That is how nature does it.
 
So, the next time you are tempted to whip out your leaf blower, how about directing it toward the base of your plants where the leaves and flowers can serve as a mulch?  They will also help to improve the soil around your plants as they decay.
 

#5 Ditch flowers in favor of succulents in containers

 
While growing pretty flowers in containers are relatively simple in fall, winter and spring-summer can be another matter entirely.  Often, it can be hard to grow flowering annuals in pots throughout the hot summer.
 
The reasons for this is that the soil around the roots of container plants is hotter than if grown in the ground.  This is especially true for the outer 6 inches of soil which heats up in response to air temperatures and the hot container.  As a result, annuals can wilt and struggle to produce flowers in summer.
 
Succulents are a great way to enjoy attractive container plantings throughout the year, not just in summer.  Their ability to store water is what makes them an excellent choice for containers.
 
 
If you want to grow something else besides succulents, how about trying heat-tolerant shrubs? Bougainvillea does great in pots as does lantana.
 
 
Another tip for containers is to leave them empty in the summer months and wait until fall to plant them.  
 
When thinking in terms of growing plants in containers in hot climates, bigger is better – at least 2 feet wide at the top.  The larger the pot, the more soil and therefore, more insulation for the roots from the hot outer zone.
 
 
**So what can you do if you do have plants that are struggling in the heat – particularly during a heatwave?  Other than replacing them, you can provide them with temporary shade such as a patio chair strategically placed so that it protects it against the afternoon sun.  A light spraying of water over the plant and surrounding area in the evening can help reduce the temperature – don’t do this when the sun is out, or you may burn the foliage.

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