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

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

You may be wondering why you need to severely prune back overgrown shrubs?

Well, as you can see from the photo, above – as a shrub’s branches age, they produce fewer leaves and flowers.  As time passes – these branches die, which leave ugly, bare areas.

Here are a few more examples of overgrown shrubs that need to be severely pruned back…

'White Cloud' Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens 'White Cloud')

‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’)

You may think the formally pruned sage shrubs in the photo above, look okay besides being a bit on the large side.

But, what you don’t see is a large amount of dead branches inside.  In reality, these shrubs are covered in a very thin layer of growth.

overgrown shrubs

Here is an example of old Cassia (Senna nemophila) shrubs that have only been pruned formally.  You can see that there are more dead areas than live growth.

So, how do you go about severely pruning old, overgrown shrubs back?

First of all – don’t do this during cooler months because it will take your shrubs a very long time to grow back. In addition, it can make frost-tender shrubs more susceptible to frost damage.  Wait until spring for pruning back summer-flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea, sage, oleanders, etc.

You need a good pair of loppers and sometimes a pruning saw and you are ready to go. Simply prune your shrub back until there is only about 1 – 2 ft left.

Hedge trimmers can help if you use them to remove the outer part of the shrub and then you can get your loppers inside to prune off larger branches toward the base.

Below, are photos of ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrubs that started out overgrown, were pruned back severely, and grew back.

overgrown shrubs

Overgrown shrubs.

overgrown shrubs

Pruned back to 1 ft.

This is the ugly stage.  But you need to go through this ‘awkward’ stage to achieve beautiful, healthy shrubs.

I promise that it doesn’t last long…

overgrown shrubs

New growth appears 3 weeks later

8 weeks after pruning

8 weeks after pruning.

12 weeks after severe pruning.

12 weeks after severe pruning.

You can see that the severe pruning caused the shrub to grow young, new branches that produce beautiful green growth and flowers.

overgrown shrubs

**Although severe renewal pruning keeps your shrubs healthy and attractive – there are a few cases when an old, overgrown shrub won’t grow back. It is doubtful that the Cassia shrubs, above, will survive for long either with or without severe pruning).

This usually indicates that the shrub has declined too much and would not have survived for long even without pruning.  If this happens, you are better off replacing your shrub.**  

Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers

Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers

A good guideline for severely pruning your shrubs is to do this every 3 years or so. Of course, you can do this every year if you like to help keep your shrubs from outgrowing their space.

I hope that this helps to answer some of your questions.

If you would like to learn more about how to prune shrubs the right way, I invite you to learn more about my popular online shrub pruning workshop.   

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

lemon juice

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

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

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

So, what do you do?

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

lemon juice

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

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

lemon ice cubes

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do with an overabundance of citrus?

The cold weather has arrived in my neck of the woods with even colder temperatures on their way later this week.  

When temperatures dip below 32 degrees, you will find me wearing warm socks, slippers, a sweater, and cardigan when I’m indoors.  But, besides me – frost-tender plants are also affected by the cold temperatures.

Have you ever wondered why your plant’s leaves turn brown and crispy after a freeze?  Well, ice crystals form on the top of the leaves, which ‘sucks’ out the moisture from the leaf, leaving it brown and crispy.

Frost Protection

Many plants handle cold weather just fine and have no problems with frost.  However, if you have frost-tender plants, such as bougainvillea, lantana, or yellow bells, you face a choice; Do you leave them unprotected from freezing temperatures and live with the unattractive frost-damaged growth?  Or do you protect them when temperatures dip below freezing?

Either choice is fine and is a matter of personal preference.  Frost-damaged growth can be pruned back once the last frost of the season has passed (early March where I live).  But, if you don’t want to live with brown, crispy plants for a few months, then protecting your plants when temps dip below freezing is necessary.

In the daytime, the sun shines on soil, warming it.  At night, the soil releases the warmth from the ground.  When you cover your plants – the heat is captured keeping your plants warmer.

Frost Protection

Plants aren’t fussy about what type of covering you use (with one exception); old sheets and towels are usually on hand and are easy to use.  Burlap and newspaper are also useful as coverings.  Cover your frost-tender plants in the evening, making sure that there aren’t any gaps where the heat can escape.  You can use large rocks or clothespins to secure them in place.  In the day, remove the covers once temperatures have risen above freezing, and allow the sun to warm the soil again.  

Frost Protection

Don’t keep the coverings on your plants for more than two days in a row without removing them in the day since this can cause water to become trapped underneath, leading to fungal diseases and can cause plants to produce new growth that can be easily damaged by cold.

The best type of frost protection is frost cloth, which is a breathable fabric because it can ‘breathe,’ you can leave the frost cloth on your plants for a longer period.  But, use it only when there is a threat of frost.  After three days, uncover your plants during the day to allow the sun to reach your plants.

frost damage Protection

My neighbor made things worse by using plastic as a covering for his citrus trees.

One type of covering that you shouldn’t use is plastic, which transfers the cold to your plants and damages leaves when it touches the plant itself.

In my garden, I only protect my frost-tender trailing lantana which is in a high-profile area next to my entry.  The rest of my frost-tender plants, I leave alone until it is time to prune back their frost-damaged growth in spring.

So whether you cover your plants or not, the choice is yours 🙂

For more information on frost protection, check out the following link from the University of Arizona: Frost Protection

How to Protect Plants From Frost

yellow bell shrubs

Last week, as I walked out into the back garden, I noticed something that didn’t look right with my a few of my yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans).   

The photo, above, shows how they should normally look, however, last week, they looked like this….

Caterpillar Damage

Definitely not normal looking and manyM of the outer leaves were skeletonized, and it got worse. All four of my yellow bell shrubs had the same symptoms.  So, did my orange jubilee shrubs, which are closely related.

Caterpillar Damage

To be honest, I was a bit stunned to see the damage.  You see, I had grown these beautiful shrubs for over 14 years and have never seen this before – not even in landscapes I managed or when consulting.

What was interesting is that other shrubs right next to my yellow bells and orange jubilee weren’t in the least bit affected. So, what is eating my leaves?

I looked at the symptoms – the skeletonized leaves, the fact that many of my leaves were ‘rolled’ and little black dots (insect poop) told me that my shrubs were suffering from ‘looper caterpillars’ which are tiny caterpillars that roll the leaf around them while they eat.  It is hard to spot the caterpillars themselves, but the damage they cause, usually makes it easy to diagnose.

If your Tecoma or Bougainvillea shrubs show significant leaf damage, here are a few different options on how to treat it:

1. Prune off the affected growth and dispose of the leave in the trash can (not in your compost pile).  

2. Treat your shrub using a biological pesticide that contains BT (Bacillus thuringiensis),  which is ingested by the caterpillars.  BT basically ‘eats’ its way from the caterpillar’s stomach outward. I use a ready-to-use-product.

**Whenever using any pesticide – follow directions carefully. For my shrubs, I will prune back the damaged growth and not apply pesticides. However, if the caterpillars continue to attack, then I may decide to use a product with BT.

So, if you have yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs – check them to see if they are being affected by caterpillars.

**If your bougainvillea leaves are showing signs of being chewed – they may have been visited by ‘bougainvillea looper caterpillars.’  For more information on how to recognize and treat these caterpillars, click here.  

Thankfully, the rest of my garden is looking healthy 🙂

Are Caterpillars Eating Your Shrubs? How to Recognize and Treat Them

Summer’s Delight: Roasted Sweet Corn and BBQ

When the sun shines brightly and the aroma of barbecue wafts through the air, you know summer has arrived. But for me, nothing quite captures the essence of this season like the taste of sweet corn. For the past three summers, I’ve reveled in the joy of growing my own sweet corn, and this year promises to be just as delightful.

Sweet Corn Harvest

A Season of Growth and Anticipation

As the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, there’s a remarkable transformation happening in my backyard. It begins with the sprouting of the corn stalks, their vibrant green leaves reaching for the sky. Then, the first delicate appearance of corn silk marks the beginning of a mouthwatering countdown to the ultimate summer treat: fresh-roasted corn on the cob.

Roasted corn recipe starts with fresh corn

Easy Cultivation, Easier Cooking

Growing sweet corn is not only a rewarding experience but also surprisingly easy. However, the real magic happens when you turn those homegrown cobs into a delectable dish. In my quest for a simpler and tastier way to cook corn, I stumbled upon a game-changing roasted corn recipe that eliminates the need for boiling water and shucking corn ahead of time. The best part? It imparts a delicious, roasted flavor that will have your taste buds dancing with joy.

Instructions:

The Roasted Corn Recipe

Let’s dive right into it – here’s how you can effortlessly prepare Oven Roasted Corn on the Cob:

Ingredients:

  • Fresh ears of corn (with husks still on)
Roasted Corn Recipe baking in the oven
  1. Preheat your oven: Begin by preheating your oven to a toasty 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).
  2. Prepare the corn: Take your whole ears of corn, ensuring that the husks are still on, and place them directly on your oven rack. This step is a game-changer because it allows the corn to roast within its natural protective casing.
  3. Bake to perfection: Slide your corn-laden oven rack into the preheated oven and let them bake for approximately 30 minutes. You’ll be amazed at how this short time span is all it takes to fully cook your corn to perfection.
  4. Unveil the golden treasure: Once the timer goes off, carefully remove the corn from the oven. Then, with gentle hands, pull down the husks. As if by magic, the corn silk will come off easily, leaving you with pristine, golden kernels.
  5. Ready to enjoy: To add the final touch of charm to this delightful dish, use the peeled husks as convenient handles for eating your corn. It’s both practical and visually appealing, making every bite a summer sensation.

Roasted Corn Recipe

B

Roasted Corn Recipe baked and browned

Roasted Corn Recipe

There you have it – a fuss-free and incredibly satisfying way to prepare fresh-roasted corn on the cob. It doesn’t get much easier or tastier than this!

Peel down the husk and eat the corn on the cob

Roasted Corn Recipe

Summertime Roasted Corn Bliss

As you revel in the simple pleasures of summer, remember that the joy of growing your own sweet corn can be elevated to new heights with the right recipe. This Oven Roasted Corn on the Cob is not only a time-saver but also a flavor enhancer that will make your summer gatherings truly memorable.

So, fire up that oven, embrace the beauty of your homegrown corn, and savor the flavors of the season with this mouthwatering roasted corn recipe.

It doesn’t get much easier than that, does it? 

 

New Vegetable Garden Finally Finished!

Usually when I am called to a help out a homeowner with their landscape, it is because they are having a problem with their plants, or sometimes they are new to the desert and want to learn how to garden in our dry climate.  

Last week, I visited a homeowner who had some questions about whether or not he was taking good care of his garden.

His house is located just northeast of the metro Phoenix area, in the desert.  He and his wife had lived there for over 15 years and they designed their garden by themselves.

As I approached the front entry, I was greeted by this beautiful Ocotillo that was back lit by the morning sun…

Desert Garden

When approaching a new client’s house, I always look around their front garden, because it gives me an idea of their preferences and maybe problems that they are having.  This gives me a ‘heads-up’ before I actually meet the client.

His front garden was just beautiful and I was looking forward to seeing what his back garden looked like…

Desert Garden

There was a fireplace with a lovely seating area and you could see the pool surrounded by beautiful desert plants in the distance.

Desert Garden

The wall of his back garden backed right onto the desert.  He had some beautiful artistic pieces, including this metal Ocotillo.

Desert Garden

There was a very large Indian Fig cactus.  This type of prickly pear is very popular because it is thornless.  But it needs a lot of room to grow.

This particular Indian Fig was hiding something….

Indian Fig.

A beautiful water feature flowed from underneath the Indian Fig.

Rosemary grew along the side as well as potted annuals.

Isn’t this a beautiful area?

There was also an empty vegetable garden, but the homeowner did have herbs growing in containers….

Rosemary

 Many people keep their hummingbird feeders up year round because we have hummingbirds 12 months out of the year.

hummingbird feeders

This hummingbird faces a mirror.  The mirror serves two purposes, according to the homeowner:

One, it keeps the woodpeckers from making holes and second, it gives them an additional view of visiting hummingbirds.

You can see a little Verdin flying in for a drink of the hummingbird nectar.

Lastly, we viewed a shady area of his garden.

shady area of his garden

The plants in this area do very well in light shade.

There was Heavenly Bamboo to the left, Cape Honeysuckle to the right, Star Jasmine vine next to the door and Texas Mountain Laurel ‘Silver Peso’, which is a gray-leafed form.

I had a wonderful time visiting and I did have a few suggestions regarding proper watering and when to prune.

I hope you enjoyed seeing this beautiful desert garden with me.

******************************

Life is quite busy this week for me as I am sure it is for most of you with the upcoming holiday.

I will post again before Thanksgiving 🙂

Lesser Known Tropical Beauty for the Desert Garden

This is what Red Yucca looks like when its flowering.

This is what (Hesperaloe parviflora)looks like when its flowering.

Every time I see a Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) in full bloom, I remember a disastrous pruning incident that still makes me laugh and groan at the same time….

Red Yucca Plant Pruning Disaster

I was working as a horticulturist at a golf course and I was fortunate to have a wonderful crew of landscapers.  One of the landscaper’s was Abel.   He was in charge of maintaining the clubhouse landscape grounds.  One day, he came in to my office with a huge smile on his face and told me that in addition to the work that I had already assigned him, he had pruned some plants around the clubhouse and couldn’t wait to show me what a great job he did.

I went with him to see what he had done and when we got there, I just couldn’t believe it….. he had pruned off all the tops of the 30 Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) plants!!!  I was in complete shock and standing beside me was a smiling Abel, whose was so proud of his work and who honestly did not have a clue that he had done something wrong.  

This is what Red Yucca looks like when it has not been pruned correctly

This is what was left of one of the (Hesperaloe parviflora) plants.

Well, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that you never should prune the tops of Red Yucca leaves.  But, I did tell him that he needed to check with me before he pruned anything else around the clubhouse.

Beautiful stand of red yucca

This story has a happy ending…..the Red Yucca eventually grew back and Abel continued to work for me about a year with no further pruning disasters.  He then left to go back to Mexico where he became mayor of his small town.

Red Yucca flowers close up

How to Prune a Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) Plant

Season for Red Yucca Pruning:

Prune the Red Yucca plant after the flowers have faded, typically in late summer or early fall.

Flowering Stalks:

Trim back the flowering stalks to the base of the plant using clean and sharp pruning shears. This helps maintain a tidy appearance and encourages new growth.

Simple Approach to Yucca Pruning:

Pruning Red Yucca is straightforward. Just focus on removing the faded flowering stalks and any dead or damaged leaves.

Avoid Cutting the Top:

Red Yucca plants along a walking path

Be cautious not to prune the top of the plant, as this can make it look unattractive and slow down its growth recovery. The crown of the plant should be left intact.

Red Yucca Minimal Maintenance:

Red Yucca is known for being a low-maintenance plant, and its pruning requirements are minimal. This makes it an ideal choice for a southwestern garden.

Pruning Tools:

Use clean and sharp pruning shears to make precise cuts, which promote quicker healing and reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Protective Gear in the Desert Garden:

Wear gloves and protective eyewear while pruning to shield yourself from the plant’s sharp leaves and any debris.

Sanitize Your Tools:

Before and after pruning, disinfect your pruning tools to prevent the spread of any potential diseases between plants.

Observe and Improve Structure and Plant Shape:

Take a moment to observe the plant’s overall structure and health before pruning. Remove only what is necessary for the plant’s well-being and aesthetics.

Careful Pruning:

If you’re unsure about pruning, start conservatively by trimming a little at a time. You can always prune more if needed, but you can’t undo an overly aggressive trim

Remember, Red Yucca is quite resilient, and with proper pruning, you can enhance its appearance and ensure its continued health in your southwestern garden.

So, have you seen any pruning disasters lately?  I seem to be seeing quite a few….

Enjoying the Sun…..No Sunscreen Required

Many people tell me that they are tired of their boring, round green shrubs.  Often, they are surprised when I tell them that those ‘boring’ green balls would actually flower if given a chance.

So, how do you take those boring green balls and turn them into beautiful, flowering shrubs?  

pruning flowering shrubs

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage shrubs

The first step is to rejuvenate your green ‘balls’ by severely pruning them back.

Now I warn you, this is an ugly stage.  Your shrubs will look like a bunch of sticks poking out of the ground.

pruning flowering shrubs

Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs, newly pruned.

This is best done at certain times of the year, depending on what type of flowering shrub you have.  For example, if you severely prune summer-flowering shrubs back in December, you will have to wait a long time for them to leaf out, once the weather warms.

I pruned the ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrub below in March and by early April, it had already begun to produce new branches.  

pruning flowering shrubs

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage, 1 month after severely pruning.

So, when should you prune your shrubs?

Here is a list of some of the most common shrubs in the low desert and when they should be pruned. (If you live in the high desert, you can adjust the timing by a month or so later.)

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea species) – March

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) – March

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) – March

Cassia species (Senna species) – May (once flowering is finished)

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) – June

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) – May

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species) – March

Oleander (Nerium oleander) – May or June

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) – March

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) – March or April

If you look closely at the list above, you can see that in most cases these shrubs are either pruned once they have finished flowering OR just after the danger of frost is over in the spring.

The reward for your efforts is a beautiful, flowering shrub like the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage, below.

'Green Cloud' Texas Sage

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage

If your shrub is getting a bit large later in the year, you can prune it using hand pruners and removing no more then 1/3 of the growth.  Just be careful not to use hedge-trimmers.

So, do you have to prune your flowering shrubs severely every year?

Absolutely not.

As long as your shrub is attractive and not outgrowing its space, you can save severe pruning for every 3 years or so, which will remove older branches and cause new ones to grow in their place.  This is what I do in my own garden.

Want to learn about pruning flowering shrubs the right way? I invite you to check out my popular online pruning workshop. I’ll teach you how to maintain beautiful flowering shrubs by pruning twice a year or less.

Freshly Grown Tomato

I think that there are few plants that gardeners get more excited about than growing tomatoes. There is just something so rewarding about biting into a juicy, flavorful tomato.

For those of you who have tasted a freshly grown tomato, you know that store-bought tomatoes do not even begin to compare in both taste and texture. There are a few reasons for this. First, the varieties grown commercially are bred to have tougher skins, so that they can make the trip to the grocery store with few blemishes. Another reason is that commercial tomatoes are picked when they are still green and then treated with ethylene gas to make them turn red.

So, maybe you have decided to try growing tomatoes this year. Or, perhaps you have tried and have not had a whole lot of success. Well, I would like to give you some helpful tips that may help you to grow beautiful tomatoes.

Now, most gardeners who grow tomatoes have their list of tips for producing the best tomatoes, and many have differing opinions on the best way. But like growing many things, there is often more than one right way to grow things.

Since I have only grown tomato transplants, that is what I will talk about. Although someday, I would like to start them from seed.

Decide where to plant your tomatoes. 

Tomatoes transplants can be planted once the threat of frost is over. Place them in an area that receives about 6 hours of sunlight a day. They will require shade once the fruit begins to form, which can be done by creating a portable shade structure. I use 30 – 50% shade cloth, putting it over my tomato support.

By the way, tomato plants can grow up to 6 ft. tall, so they do need a support system. Tomato cages or stakes are available. Because I plant my tomatoes next to the fence of my vegetable garden, I use a combination of a tomato cage and my fence for staking my tomato plants.

*Tomatoes really don’t do great when planted in containers, unless you decide to plant a determinate variety (bloom and produce tomatoes just once). Roma tomatoes are determinate and would be a good selection for pots. Other types of tomatoes are indeterminate, which means that they produce tomatoes over a long period and the tomato plants get too large to do well in a container, and their roots get quite hot as well.

Prepare your soil.

Add aged compost, bone meal (source of phosphorus), blood meal (source of nitrogen), and aged (composted) steer or chicken manure and mix with your existing soil. Read the labels of your blood & bone meal for how much to add. Compost should make up at least 2/3 of your planting mixture. Let your prepared soil rest for 1 week before planting.

Select your tomatoes – this is the fun part.

Decide what uses you will put your tomatoes too. Do you want tomatoes for slicing, salads, cooking, or cherry tomatoes?  

*You may also be wondering what all the fuss is about heirloom tomatoes and how are they different from hybrid tomatoes? Well, basically, heirloom tomatoes are non-hybrid tomatoes and can be open-pollinated. Heirloom tomatoes are said to possess the ‘old-fashioned’ flavor that many people love in tomatoes and are grown from seed.

As a gardener, you can grow either heirloom or regular hybrid tomatoes. It is your choice.

A good beginner tomato to start out with are cherry tomatoes. In my garden, I have used a variety that is great for making sauces – San Marzano (heirloom), although Roma (heirloom) tomatoes are good for cooking and preserving as well.

Many people are very passionate about which type of tomato varieties that they like to grow. In addition to the cooking tomato varieties listed above, here are just a few suggestions for other types of tomatoes:

‘Celebrity’ (hybrid) and ‘Brandywine’ (heirloom), are good sliced tomato varieties.

‘Stupice’ (heirloom) and ‘Early Girl’ (hybrid) are great varieties for using in salads.

‘Gardener’s Delight’ (heirloom) and ‘Beam’s Yellow Pear’ (heirloom) are good cherry tomato varieties.

Freshly Grown Tomato

Dig a hole that is four times deeper and four times wider than the root ball of your tomato plant. 

Sprinkle about 1/2 a cup of bone meal in the bottom of the hole, which will aid in rooting (some tomato experts say you can add 1 cup of bone meal to each hole).

Freshly Grown Tomato

Take your tomato plant and remove the bottom three sets of leaves.  Believe it or not, your tomatoes will root out where you remove the leaves. More roots equal more water and nutrients that your tomato plant can take up.

Freshly Grown Tomato

Remove the little container and plant it. Cover with soil so that the soil level sits just beneath the lowest leaf.

Build a small basin around your tomato plants and cover with mulch.    

Water in your newly-planted tomatoes. Fill the basin with water. Your tomatoes like for their soil to be moist, but not soggy. 

Many problems with tomatoes arise from improper or irregular watering. Water deeply (their roots grow 3 ft. deep), and regularly.  Because irrigation systems are so different and there are so many variables, there is no way to tell you exactly how much and how long to water. So, it is important to observe your tomatoes and monitor their soil moisture.

Drip irrigation works well and can hook up to your hose bib, with a battery-operated irrigation controller. Use at least two emitters for each tomato plant. Bubblers work very well for tomatoes. You can always use a watering can, but avoid getting dirt splashed upon the leaves.

Fertilize your tomatoes monthly

Fertilize your tomatoes monthly.

Now you can use either organic fertilizers or inorganic. The choice is yours. Add fertilizer during the cool part of the day and water in well after you apply.

Help to attract pollinators and keep damaging insects away by planting companion plants.

I have used both alyssum and marigolds this spring, although they will die off once summer comes.

hot desert climates

Towards the end of July, tomatoes often stop producing fruit in many, hot desert climates.

The reason for this is that tomato pollen is most viable when nighttime temperatures are within 60 – 90 degrees F. So, don’t worry if your tomato plant stops producing in the summer. Keep the shade cloth on and water well. When temperatures begin to drop in the fall, you can often enjoy seeing tomatoes on the same plant.

Watch closely for pests.

Watch for caterpillars and pluck them off.  (I confess that I wear gloves for this job because I am a bit squeamish about handling a live caterpillar).

Aphids are generally not a huge problem and usually go away on their own.

Whitefiles and spider mites are treated using insecticidal soap or neem oil on the bottom of their leaves.

If birds are a problem, use bird netting.

I hope that you will find some of the information helpful in growing your own tomatoes.

For more information on growing tomatoes in the desert Southwest, check out the following link.

Harvest, Canning and a Flight

One of the things that I love about gardening in the desert is how many beautiful plants that can not just survive our arid climate, but thrive in it.  

Besides our native desert plants, many tropical plants also do very well here due to our relatively mild winter in our semi-tropical climate.  Quite a few of these plants are native to Mexico.

So far in our lesser-known plant spotlight, we have highlighted two flowering shrubs that will add interest to your garden…..Valentine and Chaparral Sage.

So now for our next featured plant.  

If you love the shape of water as it cascades from a fountain and the bright colors of coral, then you definitely want to include coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) in your garden.

tropical plants

Aren’t the flowers just so beautiful?

Although this beautiful plant is native to Mexico, it does exceptionally well in our arid climate – in fact, the coral fountain in the photos is planted in sandy soil.  The leaves are hard to see and are small and scale-like in appearance.

tropical plants

Here are some reasons that you should definitely try coral fountain out in your garden:

– Striking coral colored flowers continually grace this shrub during the warm months of the year.

– It can reach a mature size of 4 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide.

– Hummingbirds will be in heaven if you plant this pretty flowering shrub.

– Coral fountain is tolerant of a variety of conditions.  Well-drained soils or wet soils, arid climates or tropical climates and handles full sun or filtered shade.

– It grows quickly, so you do not have to wait a long time for its showy display of flowers.

– Because of its tropical origins, it is not cold hardy.  It does suffer frost damage when temperatures dip below 32 degrees F.  You can help to protect coral fountain from frost by covering it when temperatures fall.

Because our soils have so little organic matter, coral fountain does best when given some fertilizer.  I would recommend using a slow-release fertilizer and apply in the spring and fall months.

Try planting it alongside yellow or purple flowering plants for great color contrast.

The cascading form of coral fountain looks beautiful when used next to a water feature or in a container.  You could also use it a raised bed where the flower plumes will gracefully fall over the wall.

Have I tempted you enough to try this plant?

Here is another look…..

tropical plants

I took all of the photos at The Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park in Palm Desert, CA.  I visited there with my sister last March.

Why didn’t I take a picture of my own coral fountain?  Well, I must admit that I do not have one in my garden.

Okay, so you may well be asking why do I not have a plant that I highly recommend in my garden?  Well, that is an excellent question, and I must confess that I do not have a really great answer for you.

I could say that my garden is over 11 years old and already full of plants.

I could then add that if I planted every kind of plant that I loved, that all sense of design in my garden would go out the door because I would have a mish-mash of too many different plants, which is not pleasing to the eye from a design standpoint.

But, those excuses sound kind of pitiful to my own ears.  Every time that I drive to Double S Farms (my mother and sister’s home), I pass by a beautifully designed garden which features a coral fountain shrub on the corner.  I always look for this plant, and I am still admiring it.

And so, I must admit the truth to myself…… I would love to have this plant in my own garden and will be on the lookout for one the next time I visit the nursery. UPDATE: I now have three of the beautiful plants, growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree.