Preparing Your Garden for a Heatwave: 5 Essential Tips

Have you ever wondered how your plants fare in the scorching heat of summer? Is your garden equipped to withstand the punishing temperatures that a heatwave can bring, whether you reside in the arid desert Southwest or more temperate regions? In this guide, we’ll explore how to create a heatproof garden that thrives even during the hottest days of summer.

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

Or do they look more like this?

Heatproof Gardening tips

Assessing Your Garden’s Heat Tolerance

Before we dive into our tips for heatproofing your garden, it’s crucial to understand how to recognize the signs of heat stress in your plants. During the hottest part of the day, take a stroll through your garden and keep an eye out for wilting leaves, as well as leaves turning yellow or brown – all telltale signs of heat stress.

5 Key Strategies to Heatproof Your Garden

Here are five essential strategies to help your garden not only survive but thrive in the face of scorching summer temperatures:

1. Embrace Native and Climate-Adapted Plants

Heatproof Gardening tips

Selecting native or climate-adapted plants is a foundational step in creating an attractive, low-maintenance landscape that remains beautiful year-round. These plants possess unique characteristics that enable them to withstand local climate conditions, including extreme summer heat. Learn how plants like Langman’s Sage and Mexican Honeysuckle adapt to thrive in the heat.

All too often, we find ourselves with landscapes filled with plants. These plants often have large leaves and struggle to survive the hot, summer months.  This results in unattractive plants that we work hard to help sustain them until cooler temperatures arrive. Usually, these plants are best meant to grow in climates with less extreme heat.

Plants Adapt to Change

Langman's Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae)

Langman’s Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae)

Let’s look at an example of an adaptation that this Langman’s sage. The adaptation enables it to handle full sun and 110+ temperatures without undue stress.

Notice that the flowers have small hairs.  So do the leaves, giving them a slightly grayish cast.  These tiny hairs help to reflect the sun’s rays, which lowers the temperature of the leaves and flowers.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and Shrubby Germander 'Azurea' (Teucrium fruticans 'Azurea')

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and Shrubby Germander ‘Azurea’ (Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’)

Small Leaves Help

Another way that plants have to handle the heat is by having small leaves. This limits the amount of water lost, which helps them to deal with hot, dry temperatures.

Here in the desert Southwest, there are many native plants that are used. There are also plants from Australia and other arid regions, which have similar climates.

2. Harness the Power of Shade

Heatproof Gardening tips

Introducing shade into your garden offers respite from the relentless sun, benefiting both plants and your home’s overall cooling. Discover how to provide just the right amount of shade by strategically planting trees that offer filtered shade. This allows enough sunlight for other plants to flourish.

3. Master the Art of Deep and Infrequent Watering

Heatproof Gardening tips

Plants need water to survive, and not surprisingly, they need the most in the summer.  However, we often water them too often and shallowly for it to do much good.

Shallow watering keeps roots close to the surface of the soil. There the soil temperatures are hot and the water dries up quickly.

Deep Watering is the Rule

Water is essential for your plants, especially during summer, but not all watering methods are created equal. Learn why deep watering, encouraging deep root growth, is far more effective than shallow watering. Discover how to gauge the depth of your watering and why early morning is the best time to hydrate your plants.

“Plants that are watered deeply and infrequently are better able to withstand the heat.”

Shrubs should be watered to a depth of 2 feet and perennials and groundcovers to 18 inches.  You can determine how deeply you are watering by inserting a piece of rebar down into the soil (right after you have finished watering) to see how long you need to irrigate.  On average, 2 hours is the length of time to irrigate to the desired depth.  

An Online Course to Help You Understand Desert Garden Needs

In my online class, Desert Gardening 101, I teach my students that watering deeply is as important as the time of day that you water. The best time to water is early in the morning.  Watering plants in the afternoon is not as useful since plants allocate their resources at that time toward surviving the stresses of the heat and so they do not take up water as efficiently.  

4. Mulch for Cooler Soil and Moisture Conservation

Heatproof Gardening tips

Mulch plays a crucial role in heatproofing your garden. It helps regulate soil temperatures, keeping them cooler during the summer while conserving moisture – essential for plant health. Explore unconventional mulch options, including fallen leaves, pine needles, and even fallen flowers, and learn how they can enhance your garden’s well-being.

A bonus is that they also help to prevent weeds from taking root.

Heatproof Gardening tips

Be Creative with Mulch Components

Let’s take a minute to rethink our definition of what makes an excellent mulch.  

While shredded bark and wood chips may come to mind, did you know that fallen leaves, pine needles, and even fallen flowers can also serve as a mulch?  That is how nature does it.

Be Cautious with the Leaf Blower

So, the next time you are tempted to whip out your leaf blower, how about directing it toward the base of your plants where the leaves and flowers can serve as a mulch?

They will also help to improve the soil around your plants as they decay.

5. Opt for Succulents and Heat-Tolerant Shrubs in Containers

Gardening tips

Tip for Heatproof Garden

While growing pretty flowers in containers is relatively simple in fall, winter and spring-summer can be another matter entirely.  Often, it can be hard to grow flowering annuals in pots throughout the hot summer.

The reason for this is that the soil around the roots of container plants is hotter than if grown in the ground.

Critical Top Soil

This is especially true for the outer 6 inches of soil which heats up in response to air temperatures and the hot container.  As a result, annuals can wilt and struggle to produce flowers in summer.

Succulents are a great way to enjoy attractive container plantings throughout the year, not just in summer.  Their ability to store water is what makes them an excellent choice for containers.

Gardening tips

Tip for Heatproof Garden

If you want to grow something else besides succulents, how about trying heat-tolerant shrubs? Bougainvillea does great in pots as does lantana.

Gardening tips

Tip for Heatproof Garden

Caring for Heat-Stressed Plants

Another tip for containers is to leave them empty in the summer months and wait until fall to plant them.  

When thinking in terms of growing plants in containers in hot climates, bigger is better – at least 2 feet wide at the top.  The larger the pot, the more soil and therefore, more insulation for the roots from the hot outer zone.

So what can you do if you do have plants that are struggling in the heat – particularly during a heatwave?  

Other than replacing them, you can provide them with temporary shade such as a patio chair strategically placed so that it protects it against the afternoon sun. A light spraying of water over the plant and surrounding area in the evening can help reduce the temperature – don’t do this when the sun is out, or you may burn the foliage.

How to Help Your Plants Survive a Heatwave

Tecoma Red Hot

Exploring the ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma Shrub

R

I am always on the lookout for new plants to the desert plant palette. The desert plant palette is ever-evolving, with growers continually striving to introduce new varieties that boast exciting colors, sizes, and desirable characteristics.

I was able to visit Civano Nursery Farm, located in Sahuarita, 20 miles outside of Tucson this fall. The goal was to introduce me to their new Tecoma shrub hybrid called ‘Red Hot.’ This new plant is closely related to yellow and orange bells. Both are great plants to use when designing.

A Glimpse into ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma

At the time of my visit, ‘Red Hot’ was not yet available to the public. Still a test plant, it has been grown for testing throughout the Southwest.

Civano Nursery Farm tour AZ Plant Lady

I met with Jackie Lyle, their Brand Development Manager. She plays an integral part in the introduction of new plants to the Southwest region.

Exploring Civano Nursery Farm

Our tour began in the greenhouses where we explored their state-of-the-art automated systems. There are massive amounts of plants in all stages of growth. I was in heaven!

Civano Nursery Farm Tour AZ Plant Lady

Although I’ve never worked in a nursery or for a grower, witnessing how they propagate plants from cuttings was a fascinating experience.

Greenhouse with Red Hot Tecoma shrubs

The Beauty of ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma

While touring the greenhouses, I got my first view of ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma. Instantly, I could see why there is so much excitement about this new variety. The foliage has the characteristic color of most Tecomas,. But the leaves are somewhat smaller than yellow bells and more compact.

Red Hot Tecoma flowers

The vibrant red blooms stole the show, and I knew they would undoubtedly attract hummingbirds with their nectar-rich flowers.

Plant tag Red Hot Tecoma

The ‘Civano Select’ are plants hybridized by the grower. These shrubs have slightly different characteristics than the more common species. This makes them a welcome addition to the desert plant palette. I was able to view several of their ‘Select’ plants during our tour.

How to Grow ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma

Bougainvillea-Civano-Nursery

As you can imagine, this is a bustling nursery. There were shipments of plants headed out to job sites and other nurseries.

Red-Hot-Tecoma-Shrub-Nursery-Container

Whoever is getting these ‘Red Hot’ shrubs are in for a treat!

new-plants-desert-garden

‘Red Hot’ Tecoma in Your Garden

And, guess who came home with her own ‘Red Hot’ shrubs? Me!

Then I was extremely honored to receive two of these new shrubs. I can share with you how they do in my Phoenix area garden. They are doing very well along the south-facing side of my house underneath the window by my kitchen.

Then, of course, I also brought home other plants – autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Mt. Lemmon marigold (Tagetes lemmonii), ‘Mr. Liko’ pink gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Mr. Liko’). Getting free plants is like Christmas to this horticulturist!

The great news is that ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma shrubs are now available at many local nurseries.

Want to see if this is the right shrub for your garden?

Here are the stats:

  • Size: 4 feet tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun, reflected sun
  • Bloom Season: Spring through Fall
  • Cold Hardiness: 15 degrees
  • Attracts: Hummingbirds

I will share the progress of my new ‘Red Hot’ shrubs and maybe you can do the same.

Tour of My Spring Garden, Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Tour of My Spring Garden, Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

A Spring Garden Tour: Nature’s Pleasant Surprises

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? This is what I considered as I walked through my front landscape this week.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

Penstemon Parade (Penstemon parryi)

Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) Spring Garden

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

Echinopsis Hybrid ‘Ember’

Echinopsis hybrid 'Ember (Spring Garden)

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

Shrubby Germander’s (Teucrium fruiticans) Electric Blue Transformation

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans) Spring Garden tour

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) Spring Garden tour

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub. It is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. Mostly it flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa) in a Self-Watering Container

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)  Spring Garden tour

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. This is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

Resilient Yellow Bells on the Rebound

Yellow Bells recently pruned (Spring Garden tour)

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

Abundant Onions in the Vegetable Garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow. Guiding them in learning how to grow vegetables is a joy. Onions will soon be ready for harvest.

Meyer Lemon’s Blossoming Promise

Meyer Lemon blossom from Spring Garden Tour

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me. In the four years since I first planted it, my Meyer lemon tree has been rather stingy with its fruit production. However, a recent revelation unveiled the root cause: insufficient watering. With this issue rectified, I’m absolutely thrilled to report that my Meyer lemon tree is now adorned with a profusion of blossoms. This promises an exciting abundance in the near future!

A Fragrant Welcome from Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) Spring Garden Tour

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

Vibrant Verbena Blooms in the Cut Flower Garden

Verbena in bloom on my Spring Garden Tour

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. The roses aren’t in bloom yet. But my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

Promising Young Peaches

Young peaches from Spring Garden

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste. They will be ripe in May.

Apple Tree Blossoms: A Desert Delight

Apple tree blossoms from Spring Garden Tour

Apple tree blossoms

My apple trees are a few weeks behind the peaches. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone? I love the flowers.

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

Valentine bush and feathery cassia beautiful winter landscape. Winter beauty in the garden.

Embracing the Desert’s Winter Palette

One of the delightful aspects of life in the Southwest is the vibrant outdoor spaces, especially during the winter season.

A Break from Landscape Critiques

For those who have been following my blog, you know I often share photos of landscape issues I encounter. But this time, the captivating winter beauty had me so enthralled that I didn’t notice any garden mistakes.

Captivating Winter Wonders

Join me in savoring the beauty of winter in the desert and perhaps find inspiration for your own landscape!

beautiful shrubs from winter beauty landscape

The Stars of the Winter Desert Garden

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

Hands down, my favorite shrub, the vibrant red Valentine Bush adds a burst of color from January through April. Even when not in bloom, its foliage remains attractive.

Golden Barrel Cacti (Echinocactus grusonii)

These sunny yellow cacti are drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, and add a cheerful touch to the garden year-round.

Large Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

With its spiky texture and gray-blue hue, the large desert spoon creates a captivating contrast in the landscape.

This is a great pairing of plants that I plan on using in future designs.

feathery cassia , pink fairy duster and Bursage are making winter beauty landscape

Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisioides)

Bright yellow fragrant flowers of feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) are famous for their winter color. Nothing else brightens a dreary winter’s day as much as the color yellow. The silvery foliage of this cassia adds great color contrast and give off a silvery glow on a breezy day.

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

In the background, you see the pink blooms of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla). Their uniquely shaped blooms look like a feather duster and hummingbirds find them irresistible. 

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)

This native groundcover provides color contrast and thrives with minimal water.

pair of boulders are decorated with blue bells (Eremophila hygrophana).

This combination was well done but planted too closely together.

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Against the backdrop of yellow-flowering feathery cassia, a pair of boulders are decorated with blue bells (Eremophila hygrophana). These shrubs have lovely gray foliage and produce purple/blue flowers all year long.  This is a newer plant introduction getting a lot of attention. 

A golden barrel cactus offers great contrast along with a pair of agave.

 firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Here is one of my favorite landscapes in this particular community.  I like the combination of cacti, flowering shrubs, and perennials that create a pleasing landscape.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

A trio of flowering firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) easily catches your eye. They are one of my favorite perennials in my own garden and flower January through April in the low desert.

another winter beauty landscape plant is firecracker penstemon

In another landscape, firecracker penstemon is used as part of a wildflower planting, backed by desert spoon and purple trailing lantana.

winter landscape and pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

Ornamental grasses add great interest to the winter landscape and pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is one of my favorites. Their burgundy plumes, which appear in fall fade to an attractive wheat color in winter. Soon, they will be pruned back to 3 inches in preparation for a new growth cycle.

Some beautiful winter landscapes

Blue Palo Verde Tree (Parkinsonia florida)

Some landscapes look attractive using a minimum amount of plants.  The key is to use a variety of different plants – not just shrubs or cacti.  In this one, a blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) overlooks a planting of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and desert spoon.  While the lantana is frost tender, the canopy of the tree provides it some protection from frost.

New Gold' lantana is beautiful in a landscape design

‘New Gold’ Lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’)

It’s important to anchor the corners in your landscape – particularly those next to the driveway. Here is an example of how to combine plants that look great throughout the year. When warmer temps arrive  ‘New Gold’ lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’), bursts forth with colorful blooms that last until the first frost. In winter, golden barrel cacti attract the attention and keep you from noticing the frost damaged lantana. 

little leaf (foothill) palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)

This street planting also attracted my attention with the row of little leaf (foothill) palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) trees, Valentine shrubs and purple trailing lantana. I should note that lantana doesn’t usually flower much in winter, but in mild winters, they do.

red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica)

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

An almost leafless mesquite tree stands sentinel over a planting of red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica). This shrub has lovely green foliage and tubular flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy with delight.

Adding Cool-Season Beauties to Your Landscape

s you can see, the Southwestern landscape is filled with beauty and color, even in winter. Unfortunately, many homeowners tend to focus on plants that primarily bloom during the spring and summer months. While these choices can create stunning gardens during warmer seasons, they often leave gardens looking somewhat lackluster during the winter months.

Winter gardening in the Southwest offers a unique opportunity to infuse your landscape with captivating colors and textures, providing a visual treat even when the temperatures drop. By incorporating cool-season beauties like the vibrant Valentine Bush, cheery Golden Barrel Cacti, and the elegant Firecracker Penstemon, you can ensure that your garden remains a source of joy throughout the year.

Embracing winter-friendly plants doesn’t mean sacrificing the visual appeal of your landscape during the colder months. Instead, it allows you to celebrate the unique beauty that the winter season brings to the desert garden. So, why not take this opportunity to diversify your garden’s plant palette and create a lively and colorful outdoor space that shines year-round? By doing so, you can revel in the splendor of your Southwestern garden, no matter the season.

Desert Landscape Renovation

Revitalizing a Desert Landscape An Outdoor Renovation Story

Desert landscape beauty? Yes please! Have you ever renovated the interior of your house? Seeing the old, outdated elements peeled away and replaced with new paint, flooring, etc. can leave you feeling refreshed and even excited. Well, I get to do that with outdoor spaces, assisting clients with already established desert landscapes, create an updated look. The key to this is NOT to tear everything out and begin from scratch. Deciding what should stay and what we should remove and replace is a delightful puzzle.

There is immense satisfaction from assisting people in crafting an appealing desert landscape, especially when I have the opportunity to revisit the site several months later to witness the plants’ growth. I recently had the chance to return to a desert landscape I designed, precisely one year after its completion, and I was thoroughly pleased with the outcomes.

The Desert Landscape ‘Before Picture’

I’d love to show you photos of the finished product. Here is what it first looked like.

Desert Landscape Renovation before photo

Crafting a New Desert Landscape

The interior of the house is also undergoing renovation when I first visited. The front yard consists of two palm tree stumps, a few agave, overgrown gold lantana, and boulders.

The landscape rock was thinning and mixed in with the river rock. Unfortunately the asphalt from the street was crumbling away.

I identified the parts of the landscape that I could reuse, including the boulders and the gold lantana. Clearly, there is potential for re-purposing the river rock. We removed everything else.

Desert Landscape Renovation

Combining Old and New

To establish the framework for the new desert landscape elements, we added extra boulders. We improved the existing contouring by raising the height of the mound and creating a swale in the front center. The circular collection of rip-rap rock serves to mask the opening of the end of a French drain which helps to channel water from the patio.

Simple Yet Impactful

We placed a saguaro cactus and a totem pole ‘Monstrose’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’). This placement creates vertical interest. Next we pruned the existing gold lantana severely to rejuvenate them and added others to establish visual continuity. We incorporate other succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parrying var. truncata) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa) to introduce texture through their unique shapes.

Removing the existing river rock, we then washed it off, and replaced it, along with fixing the crumbling edge of the street. This helped the landscape blend seamlessly with the natural curves of the desert.

Anchoring Corners for Desert Landscape Curb Appeal

Curb appeal in the desert

Anchoring the corners with a grouping of plants is a very simple way to enhance the curb appeal of a home. This collection of volunteer agave and old palm tree stumps weren’t doing this area any favors.

agave beauty in the garden

We elevate this corner slightly, forming a gentle rise in elevation. We added a large boulder to the existing one, and we transplanted a beautiful, specimen artichoke agave from the owner’s previous residence to this spot. Angelita daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis) will provide year-round color as they fill in, and we planted ‘Blue Elf’ aloes to introduce a delightful splash of color.

Desert Landscape Renovation

A Welcoming Front Entry

Entering the front courtyard, you’ll notice the corner occupied by an overgrown rosemary shrub. We removed the dwarf oleander shrubs because they were too large for the smaller scale of this area..

front patio landscaping

Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) helps to anchor the corner and will grow at a moderate rate, adding more height as it grows.

We can guarantee year-round color with angelita daisies and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe. These plants won’t outgrow this area.

Transforming a Lackluster Space

front patio renovation

Moving toward the front entry, this area is somewhat underwhelming. The natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) adds a pleasant green backdrop. It is thriving in the shade. The Dasylirion succulent should never have been planted here. It needs full sun to look its best.

beautiful flowers in the desert landscape

The solution in this area is quite simple. Pruning back the natal plum to a more attractive shape makes them an asset. A lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) adds height and texture contrast and will grow in the bright shade. We kept the trailing purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis), for the color that it provides. Rip rap rock is placed to add some interest at the ground level.

Tying Together Separate Spaces

Desert Landscape Renovation

In the backyard another old rosemary shrub was removed from the corner. It is replaced with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe and angelita daisy, repeating the same planting from the corner area in the courtyard, helping to tie these separate areas together.

Creating Cohesion

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) are along the shady side of the house where their spiky shape creates interesting shapes. The key to keeping them attractive is to remove new growth around the base as it occurs.

A Backyard Transformation

agave and golf views

The corner of the backyard is a very high-profile spot and faces the golf course. The homeowner’s wanted to get rid of the dwarf oleander hedge to improve their view. Clumps of agave look slightly unkempt. Volunteer agave remain and grow. The gold lantana adds ornamental value. Same for the small ‘Firesticks’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’).

Desert Landscape Renovation

One of the clumps of agave was removed. This opened up this area and allowed us to add two aloe vera, which will decorate this corner with yellow blooms in winter and spring. The existing gold lantana provides beautiful color spring through fall. The centerpiece of this group of plants is the water feature.

Enhancing Views and Aesthetics

Desert Landscape Renovation
Desert Landscape Renovation

It’s been over 20 years that I’ve been working on landscapes. Watching the transformation is a joy. I love being a part of it and combining the old with the new for a seamless design.

Thank you for allowing me to share this particular project with you!

Looking for Inspiration: Low-Maintenance Desert Landscapes

English garden bird bath in Texas

Exploring the Charm of an English Garden in Texas

I love English gardens with their lush greenery, colorful blooms, and somewhat untidy appearance. This may be due to my partial English ancestry. I don’t make it to the British Isles as much as I’d like. But there are lovely examples to be found in the U.S. Earlier this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit an English garden with Texas flair.

A Texan Adventure: Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin

I was in Austin for the Garden Bloggers Fling. It is an annual gathering of garden bloggers that is held in a different city each year. As you might expect, touring gardens is the focus of the Fling. I couldn’t wait to explore the gardens of this area. Largely because we can grow many of the same types of plants in Arizona.

Embracing Rainy Garden Adventures in the Texas

I woke up, excited for our first day of touring, only to be greeted by torrential rain. I was undeterred with the wet. Equipped with my rain poncho and umbrella, 3.5 inches of rain wasn’t going to get in my way of seeing beautiful gardens.

The garden of Jenny Stocker

Journey into an “Arts and Crafts Texas-Style Garden with an English Theme”

The garden of Jenny Stocker, who blogs at Rock Rose, was my favorite destination of the day. She describes her garden as an “arts and crafts Texas-style garden with an English theme”. She has divided her landscape into ‘rooms.’ Many areas surrounded by walls that frame each room while keeping deer away. Doorways provide a tantalizing glimpse into the next room, encouraging visitors to embark on a journey of discovery.

Exploring the Beauty of Texas-English Garden Rooms

An English Garden With Texas Flair

A dry creek bed meanders through this garden room where it is surrounded by both native and adapted plants that thrive despite a thin layer of soil that lies over rock.

foxglove flowers against a southwestern wall

Plants, like this foxglove, droop gracefully under the continuing rainfall and with every step through the garden, my feet were squishing in my wet shoes, but it was easy to ignore the discomfort with all the beauty surrounding me.

An English Garden water fountain

A small water feature, complete with water plants and a fish, create a welcome focal point.

Potted Wonders: Adding Visual Interest to the Texas-English Garden

 brugmansia and golden barrel cactuses  in containers

Potted plants like this potted brugmansia and golden barrel cactuses add visual interest to an alcove. Did you know that golden barrel cactus are native to Texas and Mexico? Many of the plants we grow in Arizona come from these regions.

creeping fig around a concrete stone mask in a garden

An angelic face peeks out from a wall of creeping fig, which grows well in the desert garden in shady locations with adequate water.

A Unique Swimming Pool: Blending Nature and Water Features

pot spills water into the swimming pool

An overturned pot spills water into the pool, providing the lovely sound of water while creating a lovely focal point.

English garden swimming pool in Texas

The swimming pool was unique in that it looked like a water feature with the surrounding flowering plants, many of which, are allowed to self-seed.

This was my favorite garden room, so I took a video so you can get an overview of the beauty of this area.

Harmonizing Edibles and Flowers in the Texas-English Garden

An English Garden with raised beds

In another area of the garden, raised beds were filled with edible plants. In between the beds, were flowering plants that create a welcome softness and attract pollinators, which in turn, benefit the vegetables.

Verbena bonariensis

Lovely Verbena bonariensis decorated the edible garden with their delicate purple blossoms.

Aloes and Agaves: Succulent Magic

'Blue Elf' aloes and other succulents in containers

Jenny makes great use of grouping potted plants together on steps and I recognized ‘Blue Elf’ aloes in a few of the containers, which is one of my favorite aloes that I use in designs.

Stone, Succulents, and Sculptures: Artistry in the Garden

An English Garden in Texas with bird bath

Stacked stone forms a raised bed that surrounds the circular wall of this garden room where a bird bath serves as a focal point.

Quail sculptures in a Texas English garden

Decorative animals were tucked into different spots, just waiting to be discovered by garden visitors, like this quail family.

Mimicking Water Movement: A Creative Garden Touch with Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican feather grass

Here’s a fantastic whimsical element that I particularly enjoyed: they used Mexican feather grass to imitate the movement of water for stone fish.

spineless prickly pear

Much like desert gardens, cacti and succulents were used to create unique texture, like this spineless prickly pear (Opuntia cacanapa), which is native to Texas but also grows nicely in my Arizona garden.

A Texas Treasure: The Beauty of the English Garden

artichoke agave

The blue-gray color and spiky texture of artichoke agave, contrasts beautifully with the softer textures of lush green perennials.

A single agave plant in a container on a garden wall

As we prepared to say goodbye to this Texas-English garden, I stroll past an opening in a garden wall, where I noticed a single agave standing sentinel, and I marveled at how a single plant can create a significant design impact when carefully positioned.

This garden was a true Texas treasure and I came away in awe of its natural beauty. However, this wasn’t only the garden that inspired me. There are sixteen other gardens left to explore. I invite you to come back when I’ll profile another of my favorites. 

(Russelia equisetiformis) coral fountain

Coral Fountain, Firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis)

When you ask most people what they want in their garden, their most common answer is, “color”. One of the best plants that I like to recommend for warm-season color is a coral fountain, also known as the firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis). It has beautiful, cascading foliage that resembles the movement of water.

Fountains of Orange: Coral Fountain

Deep orange flowers

Deep orange flowers begin to appear in spring, the attract both humans and hummingbirds. As you can see, this is not a plant for subtle color – it is dramatic.

(Portulacaria afra).

Coral fountain paired with elephants food (Portulacaria afra).

 It looks great when paired with succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)elephants food (Portulacaria afra), or lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). For additional interest, you can plant it alongside yellow-flowering plants from the low-growing gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’) or angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) all the way to the tall yellow bells (Tecoma stans stans).

 coral fountain

In my garden, I have three of them growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree. If you’d like to learn more about the coral fountain to see if it would be a good fit in your garden, please read my earlier post

Cereus cactus, golden barrel cactus, and firecracker penstemon

Cereus cactus, golden barrel cactus, and firecracker penstemon

From Drab to Colorful: A Landscape Transformation Story

Is your outdoor space looking rather drab? If so, you aren’t alone – many landscapes can appear somewhat dull, especially if there is a lack of color. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

One of my favorite aspects of my job as a landscape consultant is to help my clients to transform their garden from drab to colorful and it is quite easy to do. 

Revisiting a Landscape Transformation: Two Years of Colorful Growth

I invite you to join me as I revisit with a client two-years after I created a planting plan for her existing, lackluster landscape. 

BEFORE - Corner of Driveway

BEFORE – Corner of Driveway

Transforming the Driveway Corner: Adding Color and Texture

Initially, this area did little to add to the curb appeal of the home. Overgrown red yucca plants and a cholla cactus created a ‘messy’ and boring look to this high-profile spot in the landscape.

AFTER  Landscape transformation

AFTER

Removing the old plants and adding angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa), creates colorful interest while adding texture. Before, the boulders were hidden behind the overgrown plants, so now they serve as an excellent backdrop for the new additions. 

Symmetry and Year-Round Color: Anchoring the Driveway Corners

Arizona Landscape Transformation at the front of a house

The corners of the driveway are one of the most viewed spots in the landscape and are often the first part people see when they drive by. It’s important to anchor them visually with plants that look great all year and preferably produce colorful flowers or have an attractive shape or color. I always like to add boulders to help anchor both corners as well.

These areas are also critical in that they create symmetry, connecting both sides of the landscape, which is done by using the same types of plants on each side.

A Burst of Color by the Entry: Enhancing Year-Round Appeal

Landscape Transformation by the front door

Although there is no ‘before’ photo for the entry, here is an example of plants that will add year-round color because of their overlapping bloom seasons. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe blooms in winter and on into early spring while ‘New Gold Mound’ lantana will flower spring through fall, as the aloe fades into the background. A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) brings a nice vertical element to this spot and will grow taller with age.

Adding Color to the Entry Path: Transforming a Desolate Space

BEFORE (Landscape Transformation)

BEFORE (Landscape Transformation)

Along the front entry path, a tall cereus (Cereus peruvianus) cactus adds a welcome vertical element while the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) creates excellent texture contrast. However, something is missing in this area, in my opinion.

AFTER (Landscape Transformation)

AFTER (Landscape Transformation)

A colorful element was what was missing in this area. A single firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds beauty while also attracting hummingbirds.

Corner Landscape Transformation: Bringing Beauty to an Overlooked Space

 BEFORE (Landscape Transformation)

BEFORE (Landscape Transformation)

On the corner of this lot was a palo brea tree with a large desert spoon and turpentine bushes. Overall, there was nothing exciting in this spot before the landscape transformation.

AFTER (Landscape Transformation)

AFTER (Landscape Transformation)

The turpentine bushes were removed to make way for a set of gopher plants, which served to tie in this corner of the garden with the areas next to the driveway. These succulents flower in spring and add nice spiky texture throughout the rest of the year.

Creating a Colorful Carpet: Enhancing Warm Months with Lantana

Purple and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) serve to create a colorful carpet throughout the warm months of the year. This type of lantana can struggle in full sun in the middle of summer in the low-desert garden but, thrive underneath the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

When working with an existing landscape, I relish the challenge of determining what existing plants still add beauty to the outdoor space, or have the potential to if pruned correctly. Sometimes an ugly, overgrown shrub can be transformed into something beautiful if pruned back severely. Often, it’s up to me to decide what goes and what stays. Then, the real fun part begins, which is selecting what areas need new plants and what ones will work best.

Landscape Transformation: Less Is More

I find that many people think that to renovate a landscape, you need to get rid of most of the plants and put in a lot of new ones. But, this is rarely the case. All you need to do is keep the plants that will continue to add to the curb appeal or create a beautiful, mature backdrop for new plants and new plants should be concentrated in high-profile areas where their impact will be maximized. Be sure to incorporate proper irrigation for the new plantings.

What would you like to get rid of in your landscape and what would you keep?

Noelle Johnson ‘AZ Plant Lady’

Noelle Johnson, AKA, ‘AZ Plant Lady’ is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. While writing and speaking on a variety of gardening topics keeps her busy, you’ll often find her outside planting vegetables, picking fruit from her trees, or testing the newest drought-tolerant plants. 

'Valentine Bush' (Eremophila maculata 'Valentine')

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

The Vibrant Beauty of Valentine Bush

A Colorful Gem for Your Landscape

How would you like gorgeous red, tubular flowers blooming at Christmas time and lasting past Valentine’s Day, all packaged up in an attractive, low-maintenance shrub?  Believe it or not, such a shrub exists.  Let me introduce you to Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’). 

'Valentine Bush' (Eremophila maculata 'Valentine')

A Promising Valentine Bush Introduction

My first experience with this colorful shrub occurred in 2000 when  I was offered two free Valentine shrubs to test out on the golf course where I was working. Never one to pass up free plants, I was more than happy to try these new shrubs out. 

Young Valentine, six months after planting, next to Trailing Rosemary.

Young Valentine, six months after planting, next to Trailing Rosemary.

Flourishing Garden Shrub Beauty

Those new shrubs did so well that a couple of years later, I had planted over fifty of them planted all around the golf course. I love their cool-season blooms, which add a welcome splash of color when many plants aren’t blooming, and the dark green foliage continues to add beauty to the landscape even when their flowers fade.

Nowadays, you will find Valentine in both commercial and residential landscapes.  An interesting fact that many may not know is that many of the arid-adapted plants that thrive here are native to Australia, including the species Eremophila

Valentine Bush looks great in groupings

Landscaping with Valentine Bush

Valentine provides much need color in the landscape during the winter months and will bloom through early spring.  Red is often a color missing in the desert plant color palette that this shrub provides.  Valentine grows at a moderate rate and will reach a mature size of 3-4 feet high and 4 feet wide.  

I pair it with groundcovers such as blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) or trailing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and perennials such as Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Valentine when not in flower.

Valentine when not in flower.

A Shrub that Has Year-Round Attractiveness

When not in flower, Valentine is still very attractive and is hardy to 15 degrees F.  It does best when planted in full and reflected in the sun.  Their leaves turn maroon at the tips during the winter adding some fall color to the landscape.

Caring for Valentine Bush with Proper Maintenance

Valentine does best with regular irrigation and soils with good drainage.  If planted in areas with wetter soils, let the soil dry out between watering to prevent root rot.  

You will probably not believe this, especially coming from me – the person who rants and raves about beautiful shrubs that have been incorrectly pruned by being sheared, but here it is: Valentine shrubs should be sheared. That’s right, I said they should be shared.  

Believe it or not, there are some types of shrubs where shearing is the best way to prune them, and this is true for Valentine.  They should be pruned ONCE a year, once they have finished blooming in the spring.  DO NOT prune later in the year as this will remove the branches that will produce the flowers later in the year.

The Perfect Shrub for the Desert Southwest

Here is the first bloom of this season on my Valentine shrub.

Here is the first bloom of this season on my Valentine shrub.

Well, would any of you be surprised to know that Valentine is my favorite shrub?  I mean, what is there not to love?  It has everything – low-maintenance, attractive foliage, thrives in the heat and sun, and most importantly, gorgeous winter color.

In this landscape area, I designed, you can see Valentine in the background paired with Parry's Penstemon and Desert Marigold.

In this landscape area, I designed, you can see Valentine in the background paired with Parry’s Penstemon and Desert Marigold.

So run, don’t walk, and go and add Valentine to your landscape.

A Stroll Through a Flowering Winter’s Garden

Winter Blooming Desert Flowers: A Garden Joy

Living in the desert southwest has many advantages, including being able to have a landscape filled with blooming plants all winter long when gardens throughout much of the country are brown or covered in a layer of snow.

Over the weekend, I stepped out into my garden to see how my plants were doing and took photos of those that were flowering.

**I’ve provided links to earlier blog posts where you can learn more about these plants and see if they deserve a home in your landscape.

Globe Mallow: A Colorful Desert Perennial

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

First, were the globe mallow, which are just beginning to produce their colorful blooms. While the most common type produces orange flowers, they do come in other colors as well. I have red, pink, and white ones in my garden. You can learn more about this plant in an earlier blog post.

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Winter Blooming Desert Flower, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)

Despite its small size, angelita daisy is a small powerhouse in the landscape that blooms off and on all year long. They thrive in full sun and look great when grouped next to boulders. During my walk through the garden, I discovered that this one has a volunteer Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) growing next to it. I’ll leave it alone as they will look great together.

Firecracker Penstemon: A Hummingbird’s Delight

Winter Blooming Desert Flower Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

This perennial delights hummingbirds with its red-orange blooms that appear in January and last well into spring. There are many different kinds of penstemon, which thrive in drought-tolerant gardens and firecracker penstemon is by far, my favorite. 

Blackfoot Daisy: Delicate Beauty in the Desert

Winter Blooming Desert Flower Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

The delicate flowers of this ground cover don’t look like they can survive the intense heat of the desert garden, but blackfoot daisy thrives all year long with little fuss. I have mine growing alongside boulders and at the base of cactuses. I haven’t been able to determine exactly when they are supposed to bloom because mine always seem to be flowering. 

Purple/White Trailing Lantana: An Unusual Winter Blooming Desert Flower

 Winter Blooming Desert Flower Purple/White Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis 'Purple' and 'Alba')

Purple/White Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis ‘Purple’ and ‘Alba’)

This groundcover form of lantana is a popular staple in the drought-tolerant landscape, but you seldom see it with two different colors. In winter, it is usually touched by some frost damage, but our weather has been unusually warm, so it is still flowering. Normally, you see all white or all purple, but not both together.

While there is a variety called ‘Lavender Swirl’; it can be hard to find and somewhat expensive. I’ve replicated the same look in my garden, which I share in this earlier blog post.

‘Sparky’ Tecoma: A Head Start on Spring Blooms

 Winter Blooming Desert Flower 'Sparky' Tecoma

‘Sparky’ Tecoma

Here is the newest addition to the front garden. It shouldn’t be blooming this time of year, but again, with the mild winter, it is getting a head start on spring. ‘Sparky’ tecoma is a new plant that is a cross between yellow bells and orange bells. It is a winter blooming desert flower. The flowers are apricot in color with deep maroon centers. This shrub was created by an ASU professor, who named it after the school’s mascot. I am very excited to see it reveal its lovely flowers on either side of our large front window.

Do you have any plants that bloom in winter? Inside or outside, please share what is happening in your garden this month.