flowering perennial firecracker penstemon
flowering perennial firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

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?

pink blooming Parry's penstemon

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.

flowering echinopsis Ember

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.

blue flowering shrubby gerrymander

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.

Calliandra red powder puff shrub

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 that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

flowering annuals Callibrochoa

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. But, 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.

severely pruned yellow bells

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.

onions arizona 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 and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

blossom of meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

fragrant chocolate flower

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.

purple flowering verbena

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

ripening peaches

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

flowers of apple tree

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

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?

While most of the garden is asleep in winter, citrus trees are filled with sweet, tart fruit ready for picking.

 
Citrus trees are very generous in the amount of fruit that they produce. So much so, that people are often inundated with more citrus than they can eat.
 
This time of year, people find bags and even boxes of freshly-picked citrus left at their door by neighbors who are happy to share their bounty. 
 
So, whether you have boxes of citrus or have to run to the grocery store for your favorite lemons and oranges – here are some creative ways that I use citrus.
 
1. Freezing Lemon Zest
 
 
Lemon zest adds great flavor to your favorite foods and it is easy to freeze.
 
Simply put the lemon zest in a plastic freezer bag and keep in the freezer for up to a year.  
 
2. Natural Lemon Freshener
 
 
 
The fresh scent of lemon is welcoming when you walk into a room.  Instead of using artificial air fresheners, you can use citrus to create natural ones.
 
Ingredients such as basil, lemon slices, and peppercorns OR orange slices with vanilla create wonderful fragrances.
 
Add the ingredients to a small pot, fill to 3/4 full with water and heat to boiling.  Then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and enjoy the fragrance for the next couple of hours.
 
Click here for more information and combinations for natural air fresheners.
 
3. Household Citrus Cleaner
 
 
Citrus peels and vinegar combine to create a natural citrus cleaner that is suitable to use around the house.
 
You will need the peels from any type of citrus and white distilled vinegar.
 
– Fill a large jar (or container) with the citrus peels and fill the jar with vinegar.
 
– Store in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks.
 
– After 3 weeks, pour the mixture through a strainer to remove any pulp.
 
– Transfer the citrus/vinegar mixture to a spray bottle, filling it halfway.  Add water to fill the rest of the spray bottle.
 
– Your natural citrus cleaner is ready to use to wherever vinegar-based cleaners are safe to use such as countertops, walls, faucets, mirrors, and glass.  Don’t use on granite or marble as the vinegar can etch the surface.
 
*The peels can be frozen for use later.
 
4. Frozen Citrus Ice Cubes
 
 
An easy way to preserve lemons from your tree when the fruit is but a distant memory – add lemon juice to ice cube trays and freeze.
 
Once frozen, pop out the lemon ice cubes and place in a plastic freezer bag and store for future use.  These ice cubes are a great way to add lemon when you cook throughout the entire year.  
 
 
 
If you love to cook, lemon salt is a great way to add subtle lemon flavor to your favorite dishes and it’s easy to make – all you need is kosher salt and lemons.
 
I made lemon salt last year and it is delicious – I promise, you’ll love it. Click here to see a step-by-step tutorial.
 
Do you have any ways that you like to use citrus?

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Vacations are a time that I love to spend with my family doing things that we don’t normally have time for with the busyness of school and work that predominates throughout much of the year. This summer, we spent a couple of weeks in Michigan visiting my oldest daughter and her family. In planning our trip, we list what we want to do and number one on the list for our summer adventures was going to a farm and picking our own strawberries and cherries.

So, on a sunny Tuesday morning, we headed out along a back country road and visited Kiteley Farm ready to pick strawberries. 

I must admit that I have never picked strawberries, other than in my own garden, and couldn’t wait to experience to harvest them myself. Initially, my 15-year-old son couldn’t figure out why we were going to pick them when it was easier to buy them in the supermarket. But, I told him to just wait and see – I promised him that he would change his mind afterward.

 

We were given instructions on where the strawberry fields were located and grabbed our boxes, ready to fill them up with sweet, delicious strawberries.

The entry to the farm is flanked by blue bachelor’s button and the orange flowers of honeysuckle.

 

The strawberry field was very large and we all got started, hunting underneath the leaves for glimpses of bright red fruit.

It’s no surprise that the strawberries that you buy at the store are often large and not particularly sweet, which aids in transporting them to the store without getting bruised. However, berries at pick-your-own farms are smaller and incredibly sweet. 

My granddaughter Lily got right into picking strawberries.

The edge of the field was shaded by tall trees and we discovered that the berries were larger in this part of the field.

The key to finding the best berries is to look at the lowest berry which is usually the ripest.

After about an hour, we had 11 pounds of strawberries. Not bad for amateur strawberry pickers.

Next, it was time to pick cherries. Michigan has a large percentage of the cherry growing market and because cherries don’t grow in my neck of the woods, I always take advantage of being able to pick them whenever I visit in July.

There are several farms where you can go and pick your own cherries and all you have to pay for is the fruit you pick.

The trees were heavily laden with bright red cherries, which were easier to pick than strawberries as we didn’t have to bend over.

Lily was just as good at picking cherries as she was with strawberries.

At the end of a busy morning, we had plenty of fruit and I was excited to take them back and make sweet things with them.

For me, the best part of that morning was when my son said, “That was so fun. We need to do it again next year.” 

Don’t they look delicious? And perfect for…

…strawberry shortcake!

*You don’t have to grow fruit (or vegetables) in your own garden to be able to enjoy the experience of picking your own produce. No matter where you live, there is likely a farm nearby where you can experience the fun of picking your own!

 

In the Desert Southwest, we are fortunate to be able to grow citrus.  In early fall, your citrus tree probably looks like the one pictured, with green fruit that is getting ready to ripen in this winter.

 
It is time for the third fertilizer application to your citrus trees if you have not already done so.  Mature citrus trees require three applications of fertilizer – around Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.
 
Citrus trees require nitrogen more than any other nutrient.  I recommend using a granular fertilizer specially formulated for citrus because, in addition to nitrogen, they also contain micronutrients, (iron, zinc, manganese), that are vital to the health of your citrus tree.  Citrus fertilizer spikes are also an option.
 
If you choose to use only organic fertilizer for your citrus, there are some natural products available, or you can use composted cow manure, working it into the top few inches of soil and watering it in afterward.
 
GENERAL GUIDELINES:
 
– Fertilizer should not be applied to newly planted trees – wait until they have been in the ground for one year.
 
– Water the soil around the tree before and after you apply fertilizer.
 
– Follow the directions on the fertilizer bag.  Be sure that you divide by three the annual amount of fertilizer needed by your tree – do not apply all at once!
 
– When in doubt, apply slightly less fertilizer then you think you need.  You don’t want to over-fertilize and end up with fertilizer burn.  Smaller trees require less fertilizer than larger trees.
 
– Apply granular fertilizer around the perimeter of the tree, extending just past the drip line.  Work into the top few inches of soil.
 
– Do not apply a foliar fertilizer when air temperatures are 85 degrees F or above because there is a danger of burning the foliage.
 
– For mature Grapefruit trees, (over six years old), apply only 1/2 the amount of fertilizer recommended on the fertilizer label because high amounts of nitrogen promote a thick rind (peel).
 
Get ready to enjoy the fruits of your labors this winter and get ready for March when we will discuss the correct way to prune and plant citrus.