Do you like plants that flower throughout most of the year?

How about a plant with evergreen foliage in zone 9-11 gardens throughout the year?

Would you prefer a plant that requires very little pruning?

Texas Olive (Cordia)

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then Texas Olive may deserve a spot in your garden.

This beautiful southwestern native deserves a spot in our ‘Drought Tolerant & Fuss Free’ category.

Texas Olive (Cordia)

Despite its common name, this is not an olive tree. However, depending on your preference, it can be trained into a small tree or a large shrub.

With all of its outstanding qualities mentioned earlier, it deserves to be seen more often in the landscape.

My favorite characteristics are its large, dark green leaves and white flowers that decorate the landscape.

Want to learn more about Texas olive and how you can use it in your landscape?

Check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.  

Great Design Plant: Cordia Boissieri

You can check out my other plant profiles here if you want more ideas for great plants to add to your drought-tolerant landscape.

Do you like shopping for plants?  I do.  In fact, I often find myself tempted to buy more plants than I have space for.

10 Things To Know Before Buying Plants

Southwest Nursery

Sometimes, I have come home with a plant I bought on impulse, unable to resist its lovely flowers.

It may surprise you to find out that there are potential pitfalls to avoid when shopping at the nursery, such as unhealthy plants, not allowing for enough room in the garden for plants, and buying plants that may be ill-suited to your area.

10 Things To Know Before Buying Plants

Before you head out to the nursery to add plants to your garden, I invite you to learn some helpful tips to make it a rewarding visit—from recognizing the signs of unhealthy plants to why smaller may be better and why it’s better to pass over a plant in full bloom for one that isn’t. I promise that following even one of these tips will save you from buyer’s remorse and an empty wallet.

My ten favorite tips for plant buying are included in my article on Houzz.com. I hope you find it helpful!

 
 
 

Planning a Beautiful Garden and Saving Money

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Gather Flower Seeds, Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Did you know that some flowering desert perennials can be grown easily from seed? Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from established plants.

I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden, along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.

Gather Flower Seeds , Pink globe mallow 

Pink globe mallow 

My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors, such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.

White globe mallow

White globe mallow

When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased.  Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.

Light pink globe mallow

Light pink globe mallow

Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried-out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag.  It’s important to keep the colors separate, so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.

gopher plant and angelita daisy in desert garden

Groundcovers like gopher plants (Euphorbia rigida) and angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) come up from seed in my front yard. I pull out the ones I don’t want and allow the others to remain.

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

There are other desert perennials that come up easily in the desert garden from seed, such as desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.).

So, how do you grow these drought-tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go into a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So, starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used. 

Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout.  Not all will come up, but those that do will add beauty to your garden, and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.

What type of plants have you come up in your garden from seed?

desert garden with flowering plants
Backyard desert landscape with low-water plants.

Did you know that what you plant today has short-term and long-term benefits? It’s true. As water resources become even more precious, planting wisely is more important than ever. You will enjoy the immediate effects of lowering your outdoor water use while enjoying the knowledge that you are creating a sustainable outdoor space for the future.

Another benefit is that low-water plants are beautiful and increase your outdoor enjoyment.

So, let’s discuss four ways of “planting ahead” to ensure that your desert landscape is resilient for years to come.

shady tree over seating area in backyard
Outdoor seating area underneath the shade of a ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree.

Plant More Shade

The benefits of shade in the garden cannot be overstated; trees are a great way to achieve that. Trees offer a welcome respite from the hot desert sun while adding beauty to the landscape. Additionally, trees reduce outdoor temperatures underneath their branches, and when placed on the west, east, or south side of your home, will save money on energy bills.

Native and desert-adapted trees don’t use much water, and plants grown under the branches of trees use less water than those planted in full sun.

Look at the areas around your home and see if there are areas where shade be added. If you have a narrow space where trees won’t fit, consider using tall shrubs such as hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) to provide shade.

 

purple flowering shrub
‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’).

Plant More Color

People are naturally drawn to color, and you can improve your home’s curb appeal by adding colorful plants. Desert dwellers have many flowering plants to choose from – from groundcovers, shrubs, and vines. Additionally, we have a year-round growing climate so you can always have something in bloom outdoors.

To maximize the color impact of plants, group the same plants together in threes or fives instead of just one. Place colorful plants in high-visibility areas such as against a wall, the corners of your property, and near the front entry where they are sure to be seen.

Avoid the biggest color mistake and stop excessively pruning flowering plants into unnatural shapes. Most flowering shrubs need pruning once a year or less.

 

flowering shrubs growing in containers
Vibrant pots filled with Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), ‘Blue Bells’ emu (Eremophila hygrophana), Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), and mealy cup sage (Salvia farinacea) attract pollinators under the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

Plant More Wildlife

Our gardens can help benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. A bonus is that you get to view them up close! The easiest way to invite wildlife such as birds, bees, and butterflies is to incorporate plants they are attracted to.

Trees, shrubs, and even cacti can provide shelter, while the blooms from certain plants will provide nectar and seeds. One easy way to encourage pollinators to visit your garden is to replace thirsty flowering annuals in containers and plant flowering shrubs instead. The shrubs will use less water while still providing you with color. 

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is one of my favorite choices for attracting pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and larger bird species are attracted to the seeds.

 

colorful ground covers
A front yard that had the lawn removed. Flowering groundcovers such as gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), and angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) add beauty for much less water.

Plant More Water Saving

Plants don’t use the same amount of water – some need more, while others do fine receiving less while still looking great. You don’t need a yard filled with thirsty plants because many beautiful plants use less water (and I’m not just speaking of cacti and succulents). 

Switch out high-water-use plants and replace them with those that need less water. Groundcovers are an excellent substitute for a lawn – particularly decorative ones. Many low-growing groundcovers have lush green foliage but require a fraction of the water that a lawn does. While they can’t be walked upon, they make a beautiful addition to the landscape, and many add a colorful element and provide a food source for pollinators. Even better, they require very little maintenance.

Planting ahead involves strategically selecting the plants we choose for our desert landscapes. These four ideas will help you create a beautiful yet sustainable outdoor space that will save water and provide a more sustainable future.

Need help choosing the right low-water plants? I invite you to visit AMWUA:Plants or explore the plants in my award-winning book, Dry Climate Gardening, where you will find useful tools to help you implement these recommendations.

succulent plants near a front entry in Arizona garden

Do you enjoy the summer heat?

I’m going record to state that I’m not a huge fan. I prefer to endure the intense heat indoors in the comfort of air-conditioning.

However, the plants in my garden don’t have that option. They are stuck outside no matter how hot it gets.

I always feel sad when I see plants struggle in the heat of summer. If I could bring them indoors to cool off I would 😉. But, let’s face it, that isn’t realistic or really what is best for plants.

For that reason, you will find the plants around my home are fairly heat-tolerant.

If you think that heat-proof plants are boring (and if I’m being honest, some are), many are attractive and beautiful.

One of my clients has a great example of an eye-catching entry that is fuss-free and shrugs off the heat of summer.

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi v. truncata), golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Euphorbia lomelii), and yucca create a living sculptural landscape with their unique shapes.

As you can see, you don’t have to settle for a blah garden or one filled with heat-stressed plants. In fact, I loved this example so much that I featured it in my book, “Dry Climate Gardening” which is available for pre-order.

You know that I don’t care for fussy plants – I prefer plants that look great with little effort on my part and this succulent garden is a great example, don’t you agree?

I invite you to take a walk through your garden to see what plants may be stressed from the heat. It may be time for you to switch them out for more heat-tolerant ones.

large bougainvillea in front of a southwest home

Do you love the beauty of bougainvillea? Many of us will agree that bougainvillea is beautiful, but many homeowners hesitate to grow them for a variety of reasons. The most common that I hear is that they get too big and as a result, too messy.

Embracing Bougainvillea: Maximizing Beauty while Minimizing Hassle in Containers

While both statements are certainly true, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the captivating and vibrant beauty of bougainvillea in a more controlled manner? One can find great satisfaction in discovering how to strategically grow bougainvillea, harnessing its enchanting colors and delicate blooms while mitigating the challenges associated with its exuberant growth and occasional unruliness.

Grow Bougainvillea in Pot or container

Thriving in Harsh Desert Summers: Consider Growing Bougainvillea

Let’s face it; summers in the desert can be brutal and bougainvillea are one of the lush green, flowering shrubs that thrive in intense heat and sun. So, why not consider adding one in a high-profile area where you can enjoy their beauty throughout the warm season?

Link to desert southwest Fuss-Free Plant Guide
Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

The Advantage of Potted Bougainvillea: Small Size, Less Mess

Growing bougainvillea in pots limits their overall size, and with smaller shrubs, there is less mess. It also makes it easier to protect them from frost damage in winter by moving the container to a sheltered location, such as underneath a patio or covering them with a sheet.

pale pink bougainvillea in container

Mastering Bougainvillea Growth: Container Planting Insights

Bougainvillea make excellent container plants. In fact, many gardeners who live in cold climates, only grow them in pots and move them indoors in winter. I met a gardener in Austin, Texas who treats bougainvillea like an annual plant, planting a new one every year to replace the old one lost to winter cold. Thankfully, we don’t need to do add a new one every year.

Bold pink flowery plant in container

Simple Steps to Cultivating Bougainvillea in Pots

Growing bougainvillea in pots is easy to do. Select a location in full sun where it will promote the most bloom. Bougainvillea are one of the few flowering plants that can handle west-facing exposures. 

pale pink and white bougainvillea flowers in blue pot

Nurturing and Feeding Your Potted Bougainvillea for Optimal Growth

Provide support for them to grow upward if desired. You can also grow bougainvillea as more of a compact shrub form if you wish.

Water deeply and allow the top 2 inches to dry out before watering again. Bougainvillea does best when the soil is allowed to dry out between watering.

bougainvillea in containers along a hot wall

Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring, after the danger of frost is passed. You’ll want to reapply fertilizer every three months until September.

Winter Care and Final Thoughts: Flourish with Potted Bougainvillea

Growing bougainvillea in pots keeps them small enough to make it feasible to cover them when freezing temperatures occur. So, if you like container gardening, consider growing bougainvillea in a pot for great success.

Creative Container Gardening Tips

Discovering the Beauty of ‘Orange Jubilee’ and ‘Sparky’ Tecoma Shrubs

One of my favorite things I do as a landscape consultant is to show my clients newer plant and shrub introductions on the market.

Imagine being the first person on your block with the latest plant that all your neighbors will want to add in their landscape.  

Orange Jubilee shrub

Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’

The Allure of Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’

Many of you may be familiar with the large, orange-flowering shrub Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’. This popular shrub has clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers and a long bloom period. Its large size 8-12-foot height makes it a favorite for screening out a block wall or unfavorable view.

While the flowers and lush foliage are a plus, Orange Jubilee is too large for many smaller areas, which is why this newer shrub is one of my new favorites. 

Introducing ‘Sparky’ Tecoma: A New Shrub Sensation

'Sparky' Tecoma new shrub for the garden

‘Sparky’ Tecoma is a hybrid that has bi-colored flowers and is named after Arizona State University’s popular mascot due to the coloring. It was created by a horticulturist and professor at ASU.

Sparky shrub

‘Sparky’ is about half the size of ‘Orange Jubilee,’ which makes it suitable for smaller spaces. It has smaller leaves and a slightly more compact growth habit, reaching 4-5 feet tall and wide.

Both types of Tecoma have the same requirements – plant in full sun and prune away frost-damaged growth in March.  ‘Sparky’ is slightly more cold tender than ‘Orange Jubilee’.

yellow and orange flowering new shrub

Personal Experience: Adding Tecoma Shrubs to My Garden

I have added three of these lovely shrubs in my front garden. One along my west-facing side wall, and two that flank either side of my large front window. They add beautiful color 9 months a year.

For those of you who are U of A alumni, you can plant one and call it something else. To date, there isn’t any word of a red, white and blue hybrid yet – but, I’ll be sure to let you know if they create one 😉

I have a wonderful treat for you! This week’s blog post is from Dr. Jacqueline Soule.

Chances are that her name sounds familiar and that is because she is a noted plant expert and well-known author of several books on desert gardening.

Jacqueline grew up in Tucson and currently resides there where she enjoys growing low-maintenance plants that add beauty, which thrive in the desert.

I am fortunate to call Jacqueline my friend and we are both part of SWGardening.com I am excited to share with you her post on Germander.

“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

Gorgeous Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) Photo by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) Photo by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0

Gorgeous Germander 

by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Special for AZ Plant Lady, 03 2020

Germander is a gorgeously green low-water ground cover that grows well in Arizona, is great for pollinators, and happens to be usable as a culinary herb.  

Greeting from another desert garden this week – that of garden writer Jacqueline Soule, who lives in Tucson (Gardening With Soule – in the Land of El Sol).  Noelle has graciously shared her space this week to allow me to introduce you to one herb for your landscaping.  

Germander Has a Long History

This handsome herb was brought to the mission gardens of Arizona in 1698 by Father Kino.  Germanders are native to the rocky hillsides of Greece and Turkey, where they get rain only in the winter.  This means they tolerate dry and hot conditions well!

Gorgeous Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) growing in a Sedona garden.

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) growing in a Sedona garden.

Which One to Use?

There are around 100 species of germander!  The one most commonly used in landscaping is the wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys).  This species has tiny, bright green, rounded leaves.  The creeping germander is the same species, but has been selected over time to be a low ground cover (Teucrium chamaedrys var. prostratum).  Both of these are available at many local nurseries (but not big box stores).

For landscaping, germander offers a gorgeous bright, forest-green.  I confess, I prefer this color in general over the blue-green of rosemary.  Even in poor soil and with little water, germander grows to form a dark green carpet, about 2 feet around per plant, the creeping germander a bare 4 to 6 inches tall.

Germaders grow well in alkaline (unamended) desert soil, in full sun to part shade situations.  Reflected summer light is tad too much for them, so not under picture windows.

Teucrium chamaedrys by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0 002

Teucrium chamaedrys by Amadej Trnkoczy cc 3.0 002

Fragrant Flowers

Both germander and rosemary have many oil glands in their leaves and are fragrant plants.  But then there are the flowers!  Germander flowers are far more fragrant than rosemary.  Germander blooms are almost honey-scented, like sweet alyssum.  Like rosemary, germander are bee pollinated, by both European honey bees and by our native Arizona solitary bees, with occasional butterfly visitors.

Use In Your Landscape

Both rosemary and germander can be used in roasting potatoes or to add flavor to meat dishes.  I use either herb to scrub down the grill prior to cooking – depends on which needs pruning.  In ancient Greece, hunters would field dress their meat with germander, often found growing wild in the hills.  (It may have anti-microbial properties.)  Germander abounds on Greek hillsides because the strong oils render it unpalatable to wildlife.  I won’t promise it is rabbit proof, but those “wascally wabbits” don’t bother mine.  

Herbs that can be used to create a beautiful, low-water-using, edible, Southwest landscape are numerous. Learn more in this webinar offered March 25, 2020 by the Herb Society of America – only $5 and you don’t have to drive anywhere! Or in April, drive to Carefree, where Jacqueline will speak about “Gardening for Fragrance” on April 18 2020.

Jacqueline

Want to learn more from Jacqueline? Check out two of her most popular books –  Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening and Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening.

You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Javelina in the Desert Garden

No matter where you live, you will see the same shrubs being used over and over again in countless landscapes. While the shrubs may be attractive, their overuse throughout neighborhoods creates a boring appearance because they are so common.

The Allure and Overuse of Oleanders

oleander shrubs in a row

In California, Nevada, and Arizona, oleanders have held a prominent spot in the landscape for years. Their popularity is due to their lush evergreen foliage, ability to withstand intense heat, and their pretty flowers.

However, their overuse in many areas makes their beauty less impactful and frankly, almost forgettable.

The Power of Unpredictability

 At a recent conference, this point was put quite succinctly by the head of horticulture for Disneyland who said,

“When things are expected (in the landscape), they become less powerful and impactful”.

His statement sums up what happens when we use the same plants over and over.

Oleanders’ Ailment: Oleander Leaf Scorch

In the case of oleanders, there is another problem.

Oleander leaf scorch

Oleanders are susceptible to a fatal disease called, oleander leaf scorch. This disease has come from California into Arizona where it is popping up in neighborhoods in Phoenix and also Lake Havasu. I have consulted with several cases affecting large, mature oleanders in Arcadia, Biltmore, and Moon Valley areas in Phoenix. 

This bacterial disease is spread by leaf-hopper insects and there is currently no known cure or control available. Infected oleanders slowly decline over 2-3 years before dying. To date, dwarf oleanders have not shown signs of the disease, only the larger forms. But, that could change sometime in the future.

Seeking a Shrub Alternative: Introducing Hop Bush 

Objectively, there’s a lot to like about oleanders; they thrive in hot, dry climates with minimal fuss, have attractive dark green foliage, and add color to the landscape when in flower. However, their overuse in the landscape makes them less impactful and coupled with their susceptibility to oleander leaf scorch, people want an alternative. 

You can learn more about this disease that affects oleanders here.

Hop Bush along a house wall

When asked for another option for the large, tall forms of oleanders, I recommend Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa), also known as Hopseed Bush.

Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

Hop Bush is a Versatile Landscaping Solution

This native desert shrub has attractive, evergreen foliage and a similar growth habit to oleander. They grow up to 12 feet tall or prune to a shorter height.

Hop Bush is a green shrub

Use Hop Bush in the same ways as oleanders to provide a nice green hedge or privacy screen.

Hop bush flower

Hop bush flower

Hop Bush has Elegance in Foliage

While they don’t have colorful flowers; they have lovely foliage that is only mildly poisonous as opposed to oleanders which are highly toxic. Hop bush has a lovely natural shape or prune as a formal hedge.

Hop bush  as a hedge

Share Your Experience

Have you ever seen hop bush growing in the landscape?  Your insights and experiences are invaluable – feel free to share them in the comments below.

For those who live in the western half of the United States, water has always been a precious resource. In recent years, this has become especially true during a long-term drought has made its impact felt.

As a result, many of us find ourselves looking for ways to save water. The first place you should start is your landscape as that is the largest percentage of your water consumption.

Today, I’d like to show you examples of three different low water landscape options: 

Drought Tolerant Water Saving Landscape

Option #1

Drought Tolerant – This landscape is characterized by lush green, semi-tropical flowering plants. These include bougainvillea, lantana, oleanders, and yellow bells. All these do well in hot, arid climates in zones 9 and above. While most aren’t native to the Southwest, they are considered moderately drought tolerant and suitable for those who want more a lush look for the desert garden.

For best results, deep water approximately once a week in summer and every 2 weeks in winter.

Moderately Drought Tolerant Water Saving Landscape

Option #2

Moderately Drought Tolerant – Native, flowering plants make up this type of landscape.  Plants like chuparosa, damianita, penstemon, Texas sage, and turpentine bush are examples of this.

Because these plants are native to the Southwestern region, they need infrequent watering to look their best – a good guideline is to water deeply approximately every 10 days in summer and every 3 weeks in winter.

Extremely Drought Tolerant Water Saving Landscape

Option #3

Extremely Drought Tolerant – For a landscape to exist on very little water, a collection of cacti and succulents are the way to go. Columnar cacti such as Mexican fence post, organ pipe, saguaro, and totem pole add height to the garden. Lower growing succulents like agave, candelilla, and desert milkweed can be used for mid-level interest.

Golden barrel, hedgehog cacti and mammillaria fill in smaller spaces and look great next to boulders. Once established, they do best with watering approximately every 3 weeks spring through fall.

 
 
online-class-desert-gardening-101

Tired of struggling in the desert garden? Sign up for my online course, DESERT GARDENING 101.

 

It’s important to note that shrubs should be watered deeply to a depth of 2 ft., which promotes deep root growth, and the soil stays moister longer. Succulents do well at 12″ depth. 

**Watering guidelines can vary from region to region within the desert Southwest, so it’s wise to consult with your local city’s landscape watering guidelines.

Whichever option you select, creating an attractive water-saving landscape is within your reach that will thrive in our drought-stricken region.

Gifts for the Gardener: Books for Water Wise Gardening