Have you ever found yourself intimidated by fashion magazines filled with beautiful celebrities and models who are then photoshopped to remove every little imperfection? Or perhaps an Instagram account where the home is filled with natural light, dust-free, and no mislaid items anywhere?

I must admit that I don’t like to follow accounts like that as they promote an unrealistic view and leaves me feeling like something is wrong with me when I don’t look perfect and my house doesn’t either.

This type of unreal perfection extends to the garden too! Just between you and me, I’ve been to many gardens that are highlighted on social media and they never look quite as good in person.

Believe it or not, vegetables also fall into this unrealistic realm when shown in magazines and online. Articles filled with photographs of perfectly-sized vegetables without a speck of dirt on them can be intimidating to the average vegetable gardener.

dirty secrets of vegetable gardening

Well, I’m here to tell you the truth and reveal two dirty secrets of vegetable gardening with some assistance from my little helper. 

My granddaughter, Lily

This is my granddaughter Lily who loved to help me in the garden when she was little. She was always a willing helper when it came time to harvest vegetables from my garden.

Toward the end of spring, it was time to harvest the last head of broccoli, pick the carrots, pull the garlic, cut parsley, and harvest the first of our blackberries.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

This is what our harvest looked like. Not particularly photo worthy for a magazine or social media, is it? But, this is the reality of what is looks like.

'secret' about vegetable gardening.

If you haven’t guessed the secret about vegetable gardening – it’s that it is DIRTY!

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Think about it – vegetables grow in the dirt.  They don’t come out clean.  In fact, it can take a while to clean the dirt away.

Lily was excited to help me clean the vegetables, so she would fill her ‘My Little Pony’ cup over and over and pour them over the carrots. 

 harvested vegetables leave

In fact, freshly harvested vegetables leave dirt behind on counters, floors too!

clean garden tools and spotless gloves

And those shiny, clean garden tools and spotless gloves? They don’t exist in a real garden.

Now, here is another secret of vegetable gardening…

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

“Not all the vegetables are the same size and come out unblemished.”

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Here are four carrots that I harvested from the same garden.  As you can see, they are all different sizes.

The tiny ones, came from an area where I accidentally dropped a small pile of seeds. The large one was a result of an area in the garden that received too much water and the carrot was so big that it broke off as I attempted to pull it out.  

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Of course, any decent photo would display only the ‘normal-sized’ carrots – but that is not necessarily the truth of what a real garden harvest would look like.

Lily’s Tigger was excited to try some carrots.

crop of garlic

Here is another example. Our crop of garlic was bountiful. But, notice that there are not all a uniform size.

crop of garlic

While the majority of the garlic harvest is made up of normal-sized garlic heads – there are some very small and some giant heads.

But of course, that is not what you see when people typically show off their garden harvest – especially when they are to be photographed.

– First, only the most attractive vegetables are shown – ones with no blemishes and a uniform size. Second, all the dirt is removed. And finally, the decorative dish towels come out for an attractive background.   

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

I have several decorative dish towels that have never seen a dish and I use them when I photograph vegetables, herbs, etc.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Here is my ‘perfect’ garlic harvest. What is interesting is what you DON’T see. All of them are nicely shaped, roughly the same size and most of the dirt is gone. This is NOT what they look like when they come in from the garden.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

So remember that vegetables aren’t perfectly clean, they may have blemishes and come in all sizes and shapes. So, when you harvest vegetables, don’t worry about perfect-looking vegetables. Remember, it’s the taste that matters!

My Secret Vegetable Gardening Tool…

Less water doesn’t mean a boring garden. Here are 5 tips for a beautiful, dry climate garden that saves water.

Have you ever noticed circular areas missing from your leaves? If so, you aren’t alone. The other day I noticed several of my plants with neat semi-circular sections missing. But, was I worried? Nope, and I’ll tell you why in my latest garden video.

Has this happened in your garden? What plants were affected?

A 'Painted Lady' butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

A ‘Painted Lady’ butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

Do you know someone who has a green thumb? Usually, it’s someone with a beautiful garden that stands out among their neighbors with thriving plants that flourish. 

While you may think people with green thumbs are born and not made, I’ll let you in on a BIG secret – behind every green thumb is a trail of many dead plants.

green thumb

It’s true. There isn’t a single experienced gardener who has never had a plant die in their garden. Of course, someone with a green thumb may be hesitant to reveal this fact, and you may not notice because dead or failing plants are usually pulled out before people notice.

green thumb

I’m not exempt from this either – I’ve had many plants die on my watch.

Newly planted 'Blue Bell' (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Newly planted ‘Blue Bell’ (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Believe it or not, the fact that plants die in your garden helps you to become better at growing them. While your first inclination may be to get frustrated about the loss of a plant, look at it as a gardening lesson instead.

“Every dead plant is an opportunity to learn about what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future and become a better gardener in the process.”

There are several factors that can affect whether or not a plant does well.  These include the following:

  1. Is it well-adapted to your climate?
  2. Was it planted in the right exposure (sun, filtered sun, or shade)?
  3. Did it receive the proper amount of irrigation?
  4. Was it maintained correctly (pruning, fertilizing)?
New 'Blonde Ambition' (Bouteloua gracilis)

New ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis)

Researching plants before purchasing them will help you to avoid potential problems. But often the best way to learn how a plant will do is to grow them yourself.

Of course, it’s never a good idea to put a shade-loving plant in full sun, or vice versa as you’ll probably be replacing it soon.

As a horticulturist, I experiment in my garden with newer plants that have come onto the market. Several years ago, I planted several ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis) grasses. I had heard a few different tips about how to grow them and the best exposure – one says that filtered sun is a must while another person says it can handle full sun. So, I am trying them out in my front yard to see for myself where they will receive filtered shade until the afternoon when they will be blasted by the sun. UPDATE – they do best in full sun 🙂

*One fun bonus of being a horticulturist is that growers often send plants for free so I can try them and give them feedback about how they grow in a low-desert garden.

A new Parry's penstemon (Penstemon parryi) finds a home next to my gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa).

A new Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) finds a home next to my gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa).

Other things that can affect how new plants will do are nearby plants – specifically trees.

One month later.

One month later.

A tree that creates dense shade will make it difficult for many flowering plants to do anything but grow foliage at the expense of flowers. However, filtered shade from desert natives such as mesquite and palo verde create an ideal environment for many blooming plants that enjoy a little respite from the full sun.

New varieties of autumn sage with the brand new lavender 'Meerlo'.

New varieties of autumn sage with the brand new lavender ‘Meerlo’.

Sometimes, there isn’t much information available on new plant introductions and how they will do in an area with extreme weather such as our hot, dry one.  In this area, a grower sent me plants to see how they would fare in a low desert garden. From past experience, I knew that salvia would need some shade, but the lavender was a mystery. I’ve seen some other species of lavender doing well in full sun while others doing well in filtered shade.

Green Thumb

As you can see, the ‘Meerlo’ lavender did very well in my zone 9 garden even though the actual information on the plant tag states that it does best in zone 8 and below.

This is a lesson that I could have only learned by trying out this plant in my garden. While it could have died, it didn’t and I’ve learned from the experience, which adds to my overall garden knowledge. 

So, the next time you find a dead plant in your garden, see if you can figure out why it died and learn from it. Sometimes plants die when they should be thriving for no apparent reason. Nature isn’t always predictable and sometimes you may have no answers, but you’ll be surprised at what you can learn, and before you know it, your thumb may slowly turn ‘green’.

Fuss-Free Plants for Fall Planting

Wildflowers ,  California bluebells and red flax

California bluebells and red flax

One of spring’s many joys are the fields of wildflowers that we often see growing along the side of the road.  It is one of the many miracles of nature how such lovely flowers can grow in the wild without any help from people.

I find it kind of ironic that if we want to grow these flowers of the wild in our own garden we  have to give them a little assistance to get them going.  But, the preparation is fairly simple and the rewards are definitely well worth the effort.

Wildflowers , Arroyo lupine with white gaura

Arroyo lupine with white gaura

As with many things in the garden, planting begins in advance, and in the case of wildflowers, fall is the best time to sow the seeds for spring bloom.

Wildflowers

I’ve planted wildflower gardens throughout my career, but I’ll never forget my first one.  It was on a golf course and I sowed quite a bit of wildflower seed in that small area – and I mean a LOT of seed.  The wildflowers were growing so thickly together and probably would have looked nicer if I had used less seed and/or thinned them out a little once they started to grow.  But, I loved that little wildflower garden.

If you like wildflowers, how about setting aside some space in your garden to plant your own?

I have shared my tips on creating a wildflower garden in my latest article for Houzz.  I hope you enjoy it.

Plant a Wildflower Garden in Fall for Spring Blossoms

Wildflowers

**Do you have a favorite wildflower?

As summer begins to slowly fade and the heat begins to dissipate, the Southwestern garden comes alive.

"Second Spring" in the Southwest Garden

Plants perk up in the absence of 100+ degree temperatures and people begin to venture outdoors  (without their hats!) to enjoy their beautiful surroundings.

When people talk about their favorite season, many will tell you that spring is the time that they enjoy the most as their gardens come alive, spring forth with new green growth and colorful blooms.  

Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

While spring is a glorious time in the desert landscape with winter blooms overlapping with spring flowering plants along with cactus flowers – it isn’t the only ‘spring’ that the desert experiences.

"second spring" in the desert Southwest

Fall is often referred to as the “second spring” in the desert southwest as plants take on a refreshed appearance due to the cooler temperatures with many still producing flowers.  Many birds, butterflies and other wildlife reappear during the daytime hours in autumn.

Desert residents often find themselves making excuses to spend more time outdoors whether it’s taking a longer walk or bringing their laptop outdoors where they can enjoy the comfortable temperatures and surrounding beauty of the landscape.

"second spring" in the desert Southwest

Fall is also a time where we take a look around our own garden setting and decide to make some changes whether it is taking out thirsty, old plants replacing them with attractive, drought tolerant plants or creating an outdoor room by expanding a patio or perhaps adding a pergola.

Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii)

Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii) 

No matter what garden region you live in – fall is the best time of year to add new plants to the landscape as it provides plants with three seasons in which to grow a good root system before the heat of the next summer arrives.

**Thinking of making some changes to your landscape?  Click here for a list my favorite drought tolerant plants that provide fall blooms.  

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take another photo of a landscape I passed by in a neighborhood where I had just finished up a landscape consultation.

Sadly, I often see examples of truly ‘interesting’ or should I say ‘bad’ pruning.  I drove by this landscape and then made a U-turn so that I could take a quick photo…

Shrub pruning

Shrub pruning

I don’t know about you, but these Texas sage shrubs look like mushrooms, don’t you think?

Sadly, pruning these beautiful flowering shrubs this way, robs them of their flowers, increases maintenance, creates dead wood and shortens their life.

While there are quite a few shrubs that take well to repeated formal pruning – doing this to flowering shrubs should be avoided.

I must admit that I have seen Texas sage and other flowering shrubs pruned into many different shapes…

But, let me be frank – shrubs aren’t meant to be cupcakes, frisbees or gumdrops

Here are just a few reasons why…

  • It removes the leaves needed for the shrub to make energy for itself
  • Excessive pruning actually makes your shrubs grow faster, which equals MORE maintenance
  • Shrubs pruned often require more water as they constantly work to replace foliage lost
  • Continued shearing will shorten the lifespan of your shrubs
  • Green ‘blobs’ are ugly compared to beautiful flowering shrubs

If you are tired of the time and money it takes to maintain flowering shrubs the ‘wrong’ way. I invite you to join me in my online shrub pruning workshop where I will teach you the right way to prune.

Imagine your outdoor space filled with beautiful, flowering shrubs instead of green ‘balls’. Believe it or not, the shrubs in the photo above are the SAME plant – they have just been maintained differently. The one on the left takes much more money and time and the other thrives with pruning once (or twice) a year.

In my online class, I show you how to work with your landscaper or how you can take care of your shrubs yourself. Got ‘green balls’ already in your landscape? I’ll teach you how to rejuvenate them and the best time of year to do it.

So, ditch the ‘green blobs’ in your yard and learn how to prune with confidence – it’s much easier than you think. Learn more here and what students have to say about the class.

yellow flowering tree
‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde

One of the most popular trees for arid climates is the ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde. Once you see one, it’s easy to see why it is present in so many residential, commercial, and community areas.

Its medium-green trunk, feathery foliage, and golden flowers, that appear in late spring, add beauty to any landscape. Another characteristic of this palo verde tree is that is has a moderate to fast rate of growth. The branches lets in enough sunlight so many plants can grow underneath its canopy.

BUT, there is another side to these lovely trees that may dissuade people from growing them and that is wind damage.

Fallen ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees after a monsoon storm

I’ve heard murmurs from people who don’t want to plant these trees any longer because of their susceptibility to damage from high winds.

However, most of these problems are caused by improper maintenance, poor location, and not selecting the right ‘type’ of Desert Museum palo verde.

Desert Museum Palo Verde tree in my backyard

I have three ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes around my house. They range in age from 10 to 20 years old. In all that time, I have not lost a single one. Of course, there has been a couple of instances of branch breakage, but the trees recovered nicely. Broken branches is a natural part of life with trees – particularly those native to the desert.

So, how can you enjoy the beauty of this tree while lessening the danger of wind damage? As a retired certified arborist, I’m here to tell you that there are definitely things you can do.

5 Strategies for Structurally Healthy ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verdes:

1. Water deeply to a depth of 3 feet. Deep roots are key to the stability of a tree and also decreases the chance of uplifting roots. Apply water toward the outer reaches of the branches where the roots are concentrated. As a tree grows, there roots move outward, so move your drip emitters or hose as needed.

Be sure to plant in an area where there is adequate area for root growth. Parking lot islands and narrow areas don’t allow enough room for roots to anchor the tree.

‘Desert Museum’ palo verde that has grown too rapidly due to excess irrigation

2. Irrigate less frequently avoid your tree growing too fast. This is a big cause of wind damage with palo verde trees. It’s important to remember that they are desert trees and don’t need as much water as other plants in the landscape. But, people often overwater their desert trees, which causes them to grow too quickly. This causes the formation of weak wood because they haven’t had the time to grow strong trunks and branches. In the photo above, notice how thin the multiple trunks are.

Established native desert trees, that have been in the ground for at least 3 years, can follow these general guidelines – water 1 to 2X a month in spring/fall, 2 to 3X a month in summer, and monthly in winter. These guidelines are for our current drought situation but can be modified as needed.

Trees that have been pruned up too high (lion-tailing)

3. Prune your tree correctly. There are examples of awful pruning. One common one is known as ‘lion-tailing’ which is when trees have been over-pruned so the majority of the tree is devoid of branches except for the very top. This pruning deprives the branches of foliage needed to produce energy for the tree and to increase tree strength. It also increases the amount of overhanging branches toward the top making the tree more likely to fall.

Many landscapers don’t know the right way to prune trees and can inadvertently cause harm to your tree. I highly recommend enlisting the services of a certified arborist to prune your tree correctly.

4. Select a multi-trunk form of palo verde instead of one growing on a single trunk. Desert trees naturally in a multiple trunk form, which distributes the weight of the upper branches. Palo verde trees that have been trained to grow on a single trunk, are under more stress from the wind with their heavy top half. The majority that you see fallen have been trained into a single-trunk tree.

This tree needs pruning before the monsoon season to lessen the weight of the canopy

5. ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees generally need pruning at least once (sometimes twice) a year. You want to be sure to prune them before the onset of monsoon season – removing any heavy weight or branches that are weakly attached.

Newly-pruned ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree ready for the monsoon season

Palo verde trees are a great choice for the desert garden that add welcome beauty and shade. If you have a ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (or other native desert tree), I encourage you to follow these tips to help ensure a beautiful and stable tree for years to come.

Want to learn more about this and other palo verde tree species? Check out my previous blog post here.

 

Have you ever had a sunburn?  Maybe a better question is, “Who hasn’t?”  

Well, did you know that many plants get too much as well?

I recently made a house call for a client who was worried about her newly planted citrus trees.

new citrus trees planted in pots.

Sunburned Citrus

This particular client has a large courtyard with several new citrus trees in pots.

The citrus were planted in spring and as summer progressed, the client noticed the leaves on her orange tree turning yellow.

sunburned citrus

Now yellow leaves can indicate a number of different problems.  But in this case, the diagnosis was rather simple – her citrus tree has a case of sunburn.

Here are some common signs of sunburned plants:

– The areas of the leaf that are yellow are in the center and NOT along the tips or edges.

– Often, the yellow areas begin to turn brown.

– Signs normally occur in the summer months.

– The sunburned leaves are usually located on the south and west-facing parts of the plant.

– This particular citrus tree is in an area that receives reflected, afternoon sun.

So, what can you do to prevent sunburned citrus?

In this case, the solution is simple – moving the citrus tree to another part of the courtyard that receives afternoon shade is all that is needed to prevent further sunburn damage. OR, 50% shade cloth can be used from mid-May through September.

Citrus do best when planted at least 10 – 15 ft. away from walls, which absorb the heat of the day and re-radiate it out.

Avoid planting where they get the full force of afternoon sun.

When people think about what a desert garden looks like, what comes to mind? Perhaps, visions of lots of brown with rocks and a cactus or two?

While you can settle for rocks and some cacti, BUT the truth is, we can have so much more! Imagine a landscape filled with the colors of the rainbow – shades of red, orange, purple, pinks, and yellow.

I’m going to share with you 8 colorful plants that you will find in my desert garden. All are colorful and thrive in a hot, dry climate:

Bougainvillea – Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’

You can’t beat Bougainvillea for vibrant color in the garden. It thrives in our dry, hot climate and flowers off and on spring through fall. Record-breaking heat doesn’t bother it in the least. It is a great choice for covering a bare block wall and can handle those challenging west-facing exposures. For maximum flowering, they need to be in full sun. For those that don’t like the messy flowers, you can opt for dwarf varieties or plant one in a large pot, which will limit its size.

Hardy to 20 degrees F. Plant in full sun for optimal flowering.

Coral Fountain – Russelia equisetiformis

Often referred to as Firecracker Bush, this tropical beauty has a lovely cascading growth habit. Arching stems are produce orange/red tubular flowers that delight hummingbirds. Blooming occurs spring through fall. This shrub takes a year or two before really taking off, but it’s worth the wait – I like to use them in groups of 3 to 5. It is also a good choice for adding to large containers – especially blue ones!

Cold hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Firecracker Penstemon – Penstemon eatoni

Winter color is often lacking in desert gardens. However, there are many plants that offer color through winter. This western native is my favorite during winter and spring in my front garden when it burst forth with brilliant orange/red blooms. Hummingbirds really enjoy the blooms as there aren’t many other plants for them to feed from this time of year. Prune off spent flowering stalks once the flowers begin to drop and you may get another flush of blooms to extend the season. It can be hard to find Firecracker Penstemon in box stores but local nurseries usually carry them.

Hardy to -20 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Yellow Bells – Tecoma stans var. stans

Admittedly, there are many yellow-flowering plants in the desert, but this one is my favorite! I look forward to the gorgeous yellow blooms to open each spring in my back garden. Yellow bells bloom spring through fall, and hummingbirds are attracted to their flowers. They are fast growers and have lovely, lush green foliage. To keep them looking their best, prune them back severely to 1-2 feet tall once the threat of frost has passed in spring. There are several notable varieties of Yellow Bells in shades of orange including ‘Crimson Flare’ and ‘Sparky’.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun to filtered sun.

Shrubby Germander – Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’

Photos don’t do this Mediterranean native justice. When viewed in person, people are immediately transfixed by the light-blue flowers (they appear more purple in photos), which appear in spring. I have several scattered throughout my back garden, and for me, they blooms throughout winter too! Using plants with silver-gray foliage near those with darker green leaves is a great way to add interest to the landscape, even when not in flower. I dearly love this shrub for its colorful winter/spring blooms in my desert garden.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full to filtered sun.

Purple Lilac Vine – Hardenbergia violaceae

Here is another winter flowering beauty. Purple flowers cover this vine in February into early March. Believe me when I say that they are a welcome relief to the winter blahs. Bees enjoy the blooms, which resemble lilacs but aren’t fragrant. It does require a trellis or other support to grow up on. When not in bloom, its attractive foliage adds a welcome splash of green throughout the year on vertical surfaces. Purple Lilac vine is usually found in nurseries in fall and winter, during its flowering season.

Hardy to 20-25 degrees F. Plant in full to filtered sun but avoid west-facing exposures.

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage – Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’

If you love the color purple, you’ll want to include this variety of Texas Sage in your garden. Branches covered in masses of purple flowers appear off and on spring through fall, often in response to periods of increased humidity. The more humidity, the more flowers produced. There are many different types of Texas Sage and all add color to the desert garden. Now, you may not see them looking like this for the sad fact that many people prune them into unnatural shapes like balls, cupcakes, and even squares. Which would you rather have – a green ‘blob’ or a gorgeous purple beauty like this?

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun for maximum flowering.

Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis

I want to include a tree in our list of colorful plants for the desert garden. Desert Willow are small to medium-sized trees that are native to the Southwest. Throughout the warm season, branches with bright green leaves are covered with pink blooms. The flowers add a lovely shade of pink, which is a color not always seen in the desert. There are many newer varieties of Desert Willow – I have four different ones in my garden, but ‘Bubba’ is my favorite. This is a deciduous tree and will lose its leaves in winter. 

Hardy to -10 degrees. Plant in full sun.

SO, where can you find these plants?

I am often asked where is the best place to buy plants. Yes, you can head to your big box store, but they usually lack variety and are known to sell plants that don’t do well in our hot, dry climate.

My advice is to look to your local garden center and nursery for these and other plants for your garden. 

I’d like to share with you about a new nursery that is mixing things up in a good way! Four Arrows Garden is a family business, located in Vail, AZ, where you order your plants online and they deliver them to you!

The Chavez family began their business with cuttings from succulents in their backyard that soon grew to people wanting them to offer other types of plants. She explains their unique nursery, “Our business model has changed over the year to fill the need in our community. We have transformed into “not your average nursery” because of a niche market to deliver landscape plants and creating an online shopping outlet for desert adapted plants. We are different because we allow customers to shop for plants from the comfort of their homes.”

They source their plants from wholesale growers in the Phoenix and Tucson area. While their delivery area is primarily in the greater Tucson area, They can accept special requests from Phoenix area customers.

I encourage you to incorporate colorful plants within your desert garden to improve your curb appeal and your enjoyment of your outdoor space. Local nurseries are best sources for these plants. If you are in the Tucson area, visit Four Arrows Garden’s online nursery to make your special order and they will deliver it to your door. Check them out on Facebook where Linsay keeps you updated on the latest plants available!

*Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Four Arrows Garden. My opinions and advice are my own.