Garden in May

Do you ever wonder what you should be doing in your garden in a particular month?

As a freelance writer, I write a few monthly gardening articles and newsletters.

So, instead of writing an entirely new blog post, here is my latest “What To Do In The Garden” article for the Southwest that I wrote for Houzz.com

(I hope you don’t think I am lazy, but I would rather not write the same thing twice 😉

Southwest Gardener’s May Checklist

I’d love to share with you the latest addition to my desert garden…

My Desert Garden

My Desert Garden

I am now the proud owner of two new apple trees.

It’s hard to believe that you can grow apples in the desert, but you can!

Okay, I must confess that the photo above, is NOT from my new apple trees.  It is a photo of one of my mother’s apple trees that she grows in her Arizona garden.

'Dorsett Golden' Apple Tree

‘Dorsett Golden’ Apple Tree

I realize that my apple trees are a lot smaller then my mother’s, but it is healthy and will grow beautifully in my garden.

You might have noticed that I mentioned that I bought two apple trees. You may be thinking that I planted two because I wanted a lot of apples and you would be right.

BUT, there is another reason that I planted two apple trees.

**Most apple trees cannot ‘self-pollinate’ themselves.

So, what does the term ‘self-pollinate’ mean?

Remember way back to high school biology class…

Plants need to be pollinated to produce fruit and seeds.  Some plants can self-pollinate themselves, but some plants need a little help from another plant.

The majority of apple trees need help in this area.

Thankfully, the solution is easy…

“Plant at least two different apple trees near each other.”

What this means is to select at least two different varieties of apple tree.  In my case, I planted a

‘Dorsett Golden’ apple tree

and a

‘Anna’ apple tree

These trees will pollinate each other and I will get lots of delicious apples in a few years.

My Desert Garden

My Desert Garden

Now, some apple trees can self-pollinate themselves but they will produce more fruit if there is another type of apple tree nearby.

**Both my ‘Dorsett Golden’ and ‘Anna’ apple trees are considered self-fertile, which means that they can pollinate themselves – but they won’t produce as many apples as they would if planted next to a different variety of apple tree.

Both of these varieties are great for growing in warmer climates.

Apple trees should be planted in winter, before spring.  They are available as bare root or in containers.  If you are planting in March, then buy an apple tree in a container.  Bare root fruit trees are best planted January – mid February.

Again, not my tree - it's my mother's apple tree

Again, not my tree – it’s my mother’s apple tree 😉

I do have a couple of apple blossoms on my trees.  In a few years, they will soon look like my mother’s trees.

When you pair beauty and low-maintenance in a single type of plant – that is one that I highly recommend.

Earlier this week, I was doing a landscape consult with a client who had multiple (Hesperaloe parviflora) plants throughout his garden and I was reminded again, how much I enjoy this succulent plant.  

I’d love to share with you just a few of the many reasons to add red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) to your landscape…

beautiful red yucca

First of all, its flowers are beautiful and appear May through September and hummingbirds find them irresistible. Red yucca isn’t only drought tolerant but is hardy to -20 degrees, making it suitable for planting in many different planting zones. Although it often referred to by the common name ‘yucca’ – it isn’t a yucca at all.

succulent

Even when not in flower, its grass-like succulent foliage add texture to the landscape. I really like how they look when planted in groups of three.

**When adding multiple plants of the same kind – focus on adding them in odd numbered groupings such as 3 or 5.  The reason is that odd numbered plant groupings are more pleasing to the eye.

succulent

In addition to the more traditional red/pink colored flowers, there is also a yellow variety available.  They are the same as red yucca with the flower color being the only difference.

Their requirements are few…. full sun, well-drained soil and periodic deep watering.

succulent

Red yucca plants are extremely low-maintenance. All you need to do is to prune off dead flower stalks in the fall.  

Don’t prune the foliage like the homeowner did in the photo above – why create more maintenance then is needed?  Especially when it results in turning an attractive plant ‘ugly’?

**You can read more about my past experience with this type of pruning to red yucca that was done by a member of my crew in a previous blog post:

“Do This, Not That”

beautiful red yucca

Red or yellow yucca thrive in areas with reflected sun and heat.  They also do well around swimming pools and in pots.

I love how this yellow yucca was placed between garage doors, don’t you?  It is almost impossible to find a plant that will do well in this unforgiving location.

beautiful red yucca

Over time, red yucca can become overgrown.  The photo above are from my client’s front yard.  His red yucca aren’t quite overgrown yet, but will eventually get there in 2 – 3 years.

What I recommend is to simply take them out and replace them when that happens.  You don’t even have to buy a new red yucca to replace them with. Simply separate a small section of the overgrown plant that you just removed and re-plant it.

beautiful red yucca

What’s not to love about this fabulous plant? I hope you will decide to try red or yellow yucca in your landscape.  

landscape consults

What is wrong with the picture above?

A few days ago, I decided to start writing about some of the “landscape no-no’s” that I see when I am doing landscape consults.

From time to time, I will focus on a particular “landscape no-no” and its solution.

My hope is that it will help you to avoid or fix these problems.

My first “landscape no-no” post, featured the photo above.  Readers were invited to figure out what was wrong and leave a comment.

Quite a few of you left comments, correctly identifying the problem.

But, for those of you who aren’t sure what is wrong with the tree above – look closely at the drip emitter….

The problem is that the emitter is too close to the trunk of the tree.

Initially, when trees are first planted, it is a good place for the drip emitter to be.  The roots are primarily near the trunk.

However, as a tree grows, so do its roots.  The single emitter next to the trunk of a mature tree, isn’t doing it any good.

The roots grow outward and their ends are concentrated where the branches end. The reason for this is that when rain falls, the majority of it drips off the ends of branches – so that is where roots tend to grow out to.

So, if your tree and emitter(s) look like the photo above; how can you ‘fix’ it?

landscape consults

As your tree grows, you need to add more emitters, equally spaced around your tree.  They should be located where the tree canopy (branches) end. (I do recommend burying your drip line – it looks better 🙂

Below, is a photo of a large tree and I have drawn in recommended emitter placement…

landscape consults

You can see the emitters are widely spaced around the tree and are located where the tree canopy ends.  As your tree grows, you need to continue to move the emitters outward.

The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has a great, free publication that guides homeowners through landscape watering, including recommended watering schedules….

landscape consults

The diagram above, from “Landscape Watering By the Numbers” shows recommended emitter placement along with how deeply trees should be watered.

It’s important to note that trees do not need to be watered as often as your other plants.  But, they do need to be watered more deeply – 3 feet.

(Here is a link for how often to water your trees and other plants if you live in the greater Phoenix metro area).

**If you don’t have a separate irrigation line for your trees, you can periodically deep water your tree by turning your hose onto a slow trickle and let it slowly soak into the soil.  Move the hose until the entire outer canopy of your tree has been watered.

So, do you have this “landscape no-no” in your garden?  Don’t worry – now you know how to fix it 🙂

**Stay tuned for our next “landscape no-no” soon!**

To receive your own copy of “Landscape Watering By the Numbers”

simply click the link above.  You can also view it online.  Note – this publication is written for residents of the greater Phoenix area, but the information is very helpful to anyone who lives in a hot and dry climate.

You know what?  I just love this time of year.  The garden is full of colorful, blooming plants and all the brown, crispy frost-damaged growth has been pruned away.

That was what my husband and I did yesterday.  We finished pruning off all of the frost damaged growth and everything now looks so much better.

I spent some time out in my vegetable garden, which has some winter vegetables still growing as well as summer vegetables.  I will show you more about my vegetable garden soon.

Alyssum, Marigold

Alyssum, Marigold and Bachelor’s Button growing in the vegetable garden.

What really caught my eye were my beautiful, flowering companion plants in the vegetable garden.  What are companion plants you may wonder?  Well, basically they are plants that attract beneficial insects to your garden and/or repel damaging insects, which decrease or even eliminate the need for pesticides.

Alyssum growing beneath a San Marzano tomato plant.

Alyssum growing beneath a San Marzano tomato plant.

 I just love the fragrance and delicate beauty of alyssum.  It also attracts bees to my garden, which help to pollinate my summer vegetables.

Marigolds

Marigolds

Marigolds are a powerhouse in terms of repelling damaging insects.  The fragrance of marigolds is just fine with me and I just love their bright flowers.

Finally, I have a new flowering plant in my vegetable garden, which is not listed on any companion plant list, but it is just beautiful and was given to me by my fellow blogger Grace, who lives in Oregon, and has a fabulous blog called Gardening With Grace.  She was kind enough to send me some after I admired it in her garden.

I planted it in the corner of my vegetable garden last October and it started flowering just a few weeks ago.

 Pink Oxalis

Pink Oxalis

I just love how the little pink flowers are borne on top of clover-like leaves, don’t you?  I’m not sure how it will do with the summer heat, but the unknown is something that has always attracted me to gardening.  I do hope that it does well.

In the meantime, whenever I look at this beautiful little plant, I am so thankful for Grace’s generosity.

If you would like to learn more about companion plants, you can check out this earlier post, where I list quite a few beautiful, companion plants.

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

I hope your week is going well.  I had a bunch of consults earlier this week, but now I have a chance to catch my breath and have fun writing again 🙂

Please check out my latest blog post over at Birds & Blooms.

I bet you never thought you would hear about an ‘Arctic Freeze’ in a blog about desert gardening, did you?

Well, like most of the country, we have been suffering from extreme cold.  Our cold weather is a result of Arctic air which has settled over much of the US.  

Now I realize that we are not as cold as much of the country, but this morning, it was 21 degrees in my garden.  My dogs looked up at me quizzically when the encountered their frozen water bucket.  Believe it or not, their water bucket was still frozen last night from the night before.

Bone chilling temperatures

Bone chilling temperatures

 Many people who live in the desert are transplants from the midwest and are no strangers to cold weather.  But, I cannot say the same.  I grew up in Southern California, where the winter temperatures do not get as cold as a normal desert winter.  

Bone chilling temperatures

The ocean’s influence on much of the California weather keeps it from becoming as cold as it does inland.

I know for many of you who live elsewhere in the US, that you have had to deal with bone-chilling temperatures and snow.

Luckily we escaped the snow, although my kids would have loved getting a snow day, which has never happened here.  But for my son, Kai, hope springs eternal.  He keeps hoping.

Bone chilling temperatures

I must admit that it has been quite different having to put on my super heavy coat (the one I save when I travel to colder climates), my hand-knit scarf and gloves, just to go outside.

As I drive down the street, I see many front gardens with brown shrubs and trees.  Although homeowners are not too happy with the state of many of their plants, the horticulturist in me is interested in seeing how our more frost-sensitive plants recover from our record cold.

In regards to my own plants, I did protect my Lantana, but had to deal with how to keep my towels on my plants without them flying away in our windy weather.  I like to think that I am pretty good at improvising when needed and I came up with a solution……

Bone chilling temperatures

My pantry has been temporarily emptied of my canned food as well as some of my husband’s treasured peanut butter.  Hopefully, his peanut butter did not freeze 😉

You know the human tendency to desire what you don’t have?  Well, this week, I must admit that I yearned for a hot summer day and the opportunity to soak up some warm sun into my bones.

But the reality is, is that when summer arrives, I will wish for a cold winter’s day.

I do hope you all are keeping warm and safe from all of the ice and snow.

**For those of you in the low deserts, please do not start pruning, yet.  More later…..

Here are some great posts from my fellow desert bloggers showing what the cold has done to their gardens:

Thoughts From a Daughter of a King

Las Adventuras

This morning, we woke up to very unusual weather.  I guess I should clarify the statement and add that the weather occurrence was unusual for the Arizona desert.  We woke up to heavy fog.  Not just regular light fog, but heavy fog.

You may be saying at this point….what is the big deal???  Well you see, we rarely get fog in our dry desert climate.  

Now even though I have lived in the desert for almost 25 years – I am no stranger to fog.  You see, I grew up in Southern California which has many foggy days in areas near the coast. 

I remember walking to school at times where I could not see the buildings a few yards away.

When I was in high school, my sister and I would get ready for the day and carefully curl our hair, only to have the curls fall out by the time we had walked to school.  So, we came up with the idea of storing a spare curling iron in our PE locker and would get to school early so that we could repair the damage.  

I look back at that now and I think of how I was a bit shallow at the time being so preoccupied with my appearance.  

I would like to think of myself as above all of that nonsense – especially now that I am in my 40’s.  And so this morning, I decided to venture outside to take a photo of my foggy back garden to post for you to show you how thick the fog was.

That was until I realized that if I went outside, my perfectly curled hair would suffer…..

I guess that I haven’t changed all that much since high school 😉

For those of you who were looking for a pretty, cool photo today – I don’t want you to be disappointed and so I leave you with the picture that I took earlier this week at sunset.

unusual weather

Those of you who have been fortunate to visit the desert southwest have hopefully experienced a beautiful sunset like this one.   

And so, I am thankful for the beautiful sunsets at the end of the day.

**As for the fog…..rare occurrences are okay – as long as I can find my spare curling iron 😉

I have heard people lament that they miss the obvious changes that the seasons bring in cooler climates, once they move to the desert.  A fall without yellow and red foliage doesn’t feel the same. 

Autumn color in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

 Autumn color in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Visions of large, green trees whose leaves are beginning to turn into beautiful colors occupy their thoughts….

Fall foliage begins to make it's appearance in Williamsburg, VA.

 Fall foliage begins to make it’s appearance in Williamsburg, VA.

I like fall color as much as the next person, but as a native of Southern California, I have never experienced a whole lot of autumn colored foliage.  So for me, the coming of fall is indicated by drier and cooler weather, which I wholeheartedly welcome.

Some of you may not have noticed, but I have been gone for about 2 weeks on a vacation along the east coast.  My mother (Pastor Farmer), my husband, the kids and I flew from Phoenix to Atlanta, GA, where we rented a minivan and drove through western North Carolina, through Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC, Pennsylvania and ended up in New York.

We had a phenomenal time, which I will post about later.  One thing I will mention is the beautiful autumn color that we were fortunate to see on our travels.

Montreat, North Carolina

 Montreat, North Carolina

We enjoyed gathering some leaves for fall decorations back home.  I was able to get some from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, some in Pennsylvania, a couple of leaves from trees at the White House (the Secret Service didn’t get me in trouble for that), and a few leaves from Central Park in New York City.

Now many new people who move to the desert southwest love our mild winters, but oftentimes lament the lack of fall color in the trees in our area.  Well, for those of you who are homesick for some fall color in your desert garden, do not despair…

There is a wonderful tree that produces beautiful orange-red color in the winter.  The Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) tree stands out in the winter landscape because of it’s gorgeous color.

Autumn Colored Foliage

Autumn Colored Foliage

Aren’t they beautiful?

Throughout most of the year, this Chinese native serve as beautiful shade trees.  They reach sizes of approximately 30 ft. high and will shed their leaves in the winter.

Chinese Pistache tree

This front garden is a great example of a beautiful Chinese Pistache tree.

 It is NOT a good example of how to prune your shrubs 😉

They are hardy to temperatures in the teens in the winter months.  Male trees are said to be more attractive then the female trees.

Autumn Colored Foliage

So, if you are a new resident of the desert, or maybe a longtime resident and would like to add a little autumn color to your landscape, here is a tree to try.

Autumn Colored Foliage

Who wouldn’t love color like this in the fall?

**I am currently getting over jet lag and going through my photos from our vacation.  I can’t wait to share some of them with you 🙂

Is It Fall Yet?

As I have mentioned before, I am not a desert native….I grew up near the ocean.  To me, the desert was a brown place where prickly cactus and coyotes lived.

Well, I have now lived in the desert for almost 24 years and I have found out that the desert is brown, there are cactus and I have seen my share of coyotes.  But, I have also discovered that the desert is so much more then what my previous stereotype was.


Last week, I was visiting a client in the outskirts of the Phoenix metro area.  Her home was located in the foothills of the desert.  The plants and scenery around there were just breathtaking. 

Thankfully, I had my camera with me that day and I would like to share with you some of what I saw….

plants and scenery

Plants and scenery

The homes are set against the backdrop of beautiful mountains.

plants and scenery

Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia floridium) were in full bloom against the blue sky.

plants and scenery

Buckhorn Cholla were covered with unopened buds just beginning to open….

plants and scenery

It sometimes hard to believe that something so prickly can produce such beautiful flowers.

Gambel's Quail

I met a little friend, a Gambel’s Quail, perched atop of a mailbox.

plants and scenery

One of my favorite shrubs, Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii), was beginning to flower.  The foliage is very fragrant and I have a small one in my own garden that I just planted recently.

plants and scenery

The familiar desert shrub, Creosote (Larrea tridentata), was flowering along with their fuzzy covered seedpods.

plants and scenery

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata) brightens the desert with their yellow blooms.  They self seed very easily and you can help the process by collecting the seed heads from spent flowers, like the one(s) above.

Prickly Pear

Many different types of Prickly Pear were in full bloom.

 beauty of a plant

It never ceases to amaze me that the beauty of a plant is often in the small details.

Globe Mallow

The bright colors of Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) were on display.

Okay, I have save the best for last.  I was just about ready to pack my camera away and head for home when I saw a beautiful Snapdragon Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri).  Unlike the more common Parry’s & Firecracker Penstemon that are found in the landscape, Snapdragon Penstemon is not found often in our area although it does very well and is native to Arizona and other southwest states.

desert southwest

 It is a large perennial – it can grow 4 to 5 ft. tall.  Native to the desert southwest, it does best in areas with low rainfall.

Penstemons

 Unlike many Penstemons, this one is lightly fragrant.

Thank you for joining me in viewing some of the beautiful sights from my visit last week.  In closing, I would like to share with you my favorite photo, which is a close-up picture of Snapdragon Penstemon flowers.

Penstemons

Have a great day!

Beautiful Desert Sunset…..Storm Clouds On The Horizon

Someone once commented about how much they loved the wonderful smell of rain in the desert.  This person had moved away and they missed the characteristic fragrance that permeates the desert air when the rains came.  People who have not visited the southwestern parts of the US may wonder what on earth she was talking about.

Well, there is a shrub that can be seen growing predominately throughout the desert southwest that releases a wonderful fragrance whenever it rains.  This shrub is known as creosote (Larrea tridentata).

creosote

This characteristic desert shrub can be found growing in the California desert, the southern third of Arizona, New Mexico and the western half of Texas otherwise known as the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts.

I am a bit of a science geek and what I find fascinating is that creosote shrubs are classified as a single species, but depending on what desert they are growing in, have different chromosome numbers.  Those found in Texas have 26 pairs, while in Arizona they have 52 pairs and in California they have 78 pairs.  Some scientists theorize that the creosote found in California evolved from those in the Arizona desert and the higher chromosome count somehow enabled them to survive the drier conditions of the Mojave desert. 

Believe it or not, some colonies in the Mojave desert are over 11,500 years old.

creosote

Their small leaves are covered with resin to protect against water loss and from being eaten.  It is widely thought that creosote produces a toxin or uses up all available water to keep other plants from growing close by therefore keeping competition for limited resources to a minimum.

I had a client who had a large beautiful creosote growing in their garden and had a boxwood hedge that was thriving, except for one area where a few boxwood shrubs were yellow and sickly.  They had been that way for years.  Coincidentally those sickly shrubs were a few feet away from the creosote.

creosote

Creosote can be grown in the desert landscape under 5,000 ft.  They do best with limited water and grow slowly.  In their native habitat, they typically grow to 4 feet in height, but in a landscape setting, they can reach heights of up to 12 feet.

To start from seed, pour boiling water over the seeds and let sit overnight.  Then plant in soil and water.  As the plant grows, slowly taper off the water.  I recommend only watering a mature creosote, to a depth of 2 feet, 2 to 3 times in the summer, but they can survive without any supplemental water.

**Here is an interesting fact – did you know that you don’t have to wait for it to rain to enjoy the fragrance of this shrub?  All you need to do is take a few leaves from the creosote and rub them between your fingers and you’ll be able to smell the refreshing scent of rain that is so characteristic of the Southwest.

A Face Lift for an Old Rose….