Taking photos of succulents in a hidden garden in California.

I have a love affair with succulents. 

There are so many reasons for my passion, but the biggest reason is that they are easy to grow, and a low-maintenance way to add beauty to the garden.

The popularity of succulents is taking off and nursery shelves are filled with numerous varieties to tempt gardeners. Many people are beginning to replace high-maintenance plants with fuss-free succulents.

Sticks on Fire Euphorbia and Elephants Food

Succulents can also be a great choice for solving common gardening problems.  For example, they make great container plants and require a fraction of the care that flowering annuals do. 

I share my favorite ways to use succulents in the garden in my latest article for Houzz. I hope that you find inspiration for solving your garden problems by adding these lovely plants.

How Succulents Can Solve Your Garden Problems

 

Have you ever noticed circular areas missing from your leaves? If so, you aren’t alone. The other day I noticed several of my plants with neat semi-circular sections missing. But, was I worried? Nope, and I’ll tell you why in my latest garden video.

Has this happened in your garden? What plants were affected?

I have a problem in my garden.  The suspects who wreak havoc on my vegetable gardens are furry, have tails and whiskers.  On the surface, they are very cute, but wild on the inside and shy away from contact with humans, except for the neighbor who feeds them.

 

Now before we go further, I must tell you that I like cats – a lot.  I don’t mind them in my backyard and enjoy watching them stretch out in the sun on a winter’s day or enjoying the filtered shade from my trees in summer.  What I don’t like is that they use my raised vegetable beds as a litter box.

To help deter them, I added a motion control sensor that is attached to my hose, which sprays anything that gets too close to the garden (including me if I forget to turn it off before working in the garden).  This has helped, but there is still half of the garden that the cats continue to use as a toilet.  Not a place I want to grow vegetables.  

I had done research on plants that may repel cats, and the herb ‘rue’ (Ruta graveolens) kept coming up.  The problem was, I had a hard time finding it as it’s an old-fashioned herb, and isn’t used much anymore.  

Nursery visits have become more frequent for me lately as I am preparing for a visit from a magazine and a wedding that will be held in out backyard.  So, I’ve been giving my garden a little more attention, and that means plant shopping!

While I was browsing through the aisles at the nursery, I spotted a tray filled with rue plants.  I must admit that I could hardly contain my delight and bought seven without a second thought.  Of course, I also came home with several other plants for the garden too.

I was so thrilled to have found some rue and have a chance to see if it would keep the cats out of the garden.  The dried leaves from rue are also purported to keep cats away, so I can harvest the leaves and use them in other areas if I need to.

The plant itself is attractive with lacy foliage, and the leaves smell just fine to me – cats just don’t like it – hopefully.

I am somewhat hopeful that this will do the trick, but I am also a bit cautious as not all surefire solutions work.  I’ll be sure to let you know if it works to keep the cats out of the vegetable garden.

**Have you ever had a problem with cats in your garden?  What did you do to get rid of them?

 

February is what I like to call a ‘bridge’ month.  In regards to work, it is a transition month for me.  It is the month between January, when work slows down as it’s cold with not much is growing and March, when the weather is delightfully warm and everybody seemingly wants to redo their landscape.  If I could choose the perfect month in terms of work load, it would be February.

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients whose landscape has been a work in progress.  The backyard was finished last year and now, it was time to pay attention to the front.  Of course, I took a few minutes to see how things were doing in the back and my attention was immediately drawn to this colorful container filled with colorful succulents.  The orange stems of ‘Sticks on Fire’ Euphorbia adds welcome color to the garden throughout the year while elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra) trails down the side of the pot.  

I am a strong proponent of using colorful pots filled with low-maintenance succulents in the garden.  Why mess with flowering annuals if you can enjoy vibrant color without the high maintenance?  

Full disclosure: I do have a couple of pots filled with petunias, but the vast majority are filled with succulents 😉

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is assisting my clients with their landscape dilemmas.  Often, the solution is much simpler than the client imagined.  Last fall, I visited this home which had a large, shallow depression that wass filled with dying agave.  The interesting thing was that there was no obvious reason for its presence as no water drained into it.  It definitely wasn’t what the client wanted in this high-profile area.

So what would be a good solution for this area?   The client wanted to plant a large saguaro cactus in this area, but didn’t want to add a lot of plants.  My recommendation was to get rid of the dying agave and turn the depression into an attractive feature of the garden. 

This is what it looks like now.  Filling the area with rip-rap rock, adds both a texture and color contrasting element to the landscape.  Well-placed boulders with a century plant (Agave americana), Mexican fence post (Stenocereus marginatus), and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) help to break up the large expanse of the shallow depression with their spiky and globular shapes.  Finally, a saguaro cactus was added, which stands sentinel over this renovated area.  

One would never imagine that this part of landcape hadn’t been planned this way when it was first planted years ago.

Lastly, February is all about Valentine’s Day.  I sent my granddaughter a care package filled with goodies for Valentine’s Day.  Dinosaur cards for her classmates, a little craft, a hanging mobile, stickers, and of course chocolates – all with a Valentine theme.  

For me, Valentine’s day comes with mostly great memories.  As a child, I looked forward to handing out Valentines to my classmates and getting them in return.  During teenage years, there was one particularly memorable one when I was 17 years old.  My boyfriend didn’t get me anything, however, another boy gave me a card and a flower, which was some consulation.  And to finish off that infamous Valentine’s Day, I came down the chicken pox that very day.  Guess who also got the chicken pox?  The boyfriend who forgot Valentine’s Day.  Now, I look forward spending the 14th with the main man in my life, who after 31 years, still makes me feel special.

*What do you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day?  

Landscape No-No

Have you ever driven past a landscape that had some problems with it?  As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, my attention diverts whenever I see ‘Landscape No-No’s’ like this one.

I recently shared the photo of the landscape, above, on my Facebook page and invited people to identify three things wrong with the landscape.  I received a lot of comments including “looks like Versailles by the inept” and “shrubs arranged like funny looking ottomans spread across gravel.”  

It’s important to not that my reasons for showing examples like this aren’t to shame the homeowners. Instead, my goal is to help others to learn to identify problems and give them easy steps to correct or avoid them in the first place.

So, using this landscape as an example, let’s look at the problems and later, focus on how to solve them:

shrubs pruned the wrong way

1. Shrubs are planted too closely together.  

It’s obvious that there are too many plants in this area and the mature size of the shrubs wasn’t factored in the original design.  The types of flowering shrubs in this area – desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis),  Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), and ‘Green Cloud’ sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) are good choices. The problem is that they are spaced too closely together and pruned the wrong way.

2. Lack of different plant types. 

As you can see, there is a tree, a couple of succulents (prickly pear cactus & yucca), and a LOT of shrubs.  However, the landscape suffers from an overabundance of shrubs.  

3. Incorrectly pruned flowering shrubs. 

These lovely, flowering shrubs have been turned into anonymous, green blobs, lacking in beauty and character.  In fact, you would have to look closely to be able to identify what each shrub is.  The problem has to do with what is missing from this landscape, which are attractive shrubs allowed to grow into their natural shapes, covered in colorful flowers.  Other problems associated with maintaining flowering shrubs this way is that it is stressful for the plant, shortens their lifespan, causes to them to use more water to regrow their leaves, and creates more maintenance.

Now that we have identified the problems, we can now look at the solutions.  I will use the landscape above as my example:

landscape-no-no-badly-pruned-shrubs

  • Remove excess shrubs.  Remove 24 of the existing 32 shrubs so that you are left with eight flowering shrubs.  To decide what shrubs to remove, learn what type of shrub they are and look up how large they are at maturity.  Then, make sure that the ones that remain have enough room to grow.  Shrubs should be places up near the house, to anchor the corners of the landscape, and flank an entry.

 

  • Severely prune back remaining shrubs.  One of the things I love about most shrubs is that they have a ‘restart button’ where much of the damage that has been done due to excessive pruning can be reversed.  Severe renewal pruning entails pruning back shrubs to approximately 1 1/2 feet tall and wide. You’ll have nothing left but woody branches and little to no leaves.  However, this stimulates plants to produce new, healthy growth. This type of pruning should be done in spring.  The key is to keep hedge trimmers away from your newly pruned shrubs forever.  Any pruning should be done using hand pruners, loppers, and pruning saws.  This will work with most shrubs except for a few that were in declining health.

Which one would you rather have? Learn how to maintain shrubs the right way in the desert garden in my popular shrub pruning workshop.

 

  • Incorporate lower-growing plants such as groundcovers and succulents.  A well-designed landscape has plants with varying heights, including those at ground level.  For the landscape above, I’d add a few boulders and plant some gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) and twin-flower agave (Agave geminiflora) alongside them.  Other ideas for low-growing succulents include ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, Moroccan mound, and artichoke agave.  Flowering groundcovers would also look nice like angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), and sandpaper verbena (Glandularia rigida).  I like to use damianita, trailing lantana, and penstemon for color at lower heights.
Texas sage shrub with natural shape

Attractive desert landscape with room for plants to grow

Here is a snapshot of a landscape area at the Desert Botanical Garden where plants have room to grow and are allowed to grow into their natural shape and form.

Transforming the problematic landscape shown earlier, and others like it isn’t difficult, and the results are dramatic.  What you are left with is a beautiful landscape filled with healthy plants that use less water and needs little maintenance.

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)
Do you have caterpillars lurking beneath the leaves of your shrubs?
 
If they look like the yellow bells shrub, pictured above, probably not.
 
 
But, if your leaves look as if a vampire came along and sucked them dry, then they are there, whether you can see them or not. Other telltale signs include little black pellets, which are caterpillar ‘poop’. 
 
Damaged bougainvillea leaves
 
Bougainvillea can also fall prey to hungry caterpillars, who leave behind ragged holes and edges.
 
So, what do you do?  Nothing?  Or should you pull out all the stops to get rid of them?
 
I address these questions and more in my latest video:
 
 

 

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*
This is what my mother’s vegetable garden looks like in the middle of winter.  
 
She works hard at growing a variety of vegetables in her two raised beds.  On Wednesday nights, we all gather for dinner at her house and get to enjoy many of the delicious vegetables straight from her garden.   
 
Sadly, her plans for this season’s vegetable garden faced a serious setback.
 
 
My mother fell and broke her leg while cooking dinner with my youngest daughter.  Both bones in her lower leg suffered multiple fractures, and a metal rod had to be inserted down into her tibia.
 
Understandably, she cannot put any weight on her foot for at least two months.  So, while she works hard at physical therapy to gain as much independence as she can – we decided to help out with her garden.
 
 
My kids, along with my nephews, were eager to help with Grandma’s garden.  We stopped by the nursery to pick up broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leaf lettuce transplants while I brought some carrot and radish seeds from home.
 
Lucky for us, she had already amended her soil with one of my favorite soil amendments – used coffee grounds (from Starbucks).  I added some of my favorite organic vegetable fertilizer for the garden, and we were ready to start planting.
 
 
I instructed the kids on where and how to plant the vegetable transplants in staggered rows.
 
My sister was also watching us and even stepped in to help out, despite the fact that she never gardens.  
 
 
The kids were eager to help out their grandmother, and we all enjoyed out time out in the garden.  
 
I took a few photos to bring back to her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recuperating, to show her what her grandkids had done for her.


My mother is doing well and is working hard at her daily physical therapy sessions so that she can get home as soon as possible.  We visit her daily, and her room has pictures drawn by her grandchildren and cards from friends and family.

On our most recent visit, my grandson discovered the delights of pushing around his grandpa using great-grandma’s wheelchair.  His smile and laughter brightened everyone’s day.
 
Meanwhile, back at the vegetable garden.

 

 
I came back to check on the newly planted vegetables.  Most were doing quite well, but I did see a few plants with telltale holes in their leaves.
 
 
I discovered the culprit nearby.  Cutworms are caterpillars that eat holes in leafy vegetables as well as ‘cut’ off young vegetable transplants at their base. 
 
  
The cutworms did kill some of the newly transplanted broccoli, but most of the leafy greens were fine other than a few holes in the leaves.
 
I brought my favorite organic pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills the caterpillars.  I like to use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden, which helps keep the caterpillars at bay.
 
 
I sprayed all the vegetables, taking care to spray both top and underneath the leaves.  
 
BT can be reapplied every 7 – 10 days until the caterpillars are gone.  
 
**Note; it can be hard to find BT in your local big box store or even some nurseries.  However, you can find it offered online from garden supply companies and Amazon (affiliate link).
 

Have you planted any vegetables this season?  What are your favorites?

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients when I noticed that one of her citrus trees was showing signs of sunburn, which led to me explaining to her that even citrus trees need sunscreen to prevent sunburn in many cases.

You can see the lighter-colored bark and some cracks as well along the branch. It turns out that citrus trees are very susceptible to sunburn.
 
So, why is a sunburned citrus tree something to be worried about?
 
Well, when a tree becomes sunburned, it often forms cracks in the bark and within these cracks, damaging insects or fungus can find a nice home.  Frost damage can also cause cracks in the bark.
 
In recent years, I have had to deliver bad news to people whose citrus trees became infected with sooty canker, which is a fungal disease that affects the branches and trunks, which takes root underneath the cracked, flaky bark.
 
 
Several times, I have had to tell homeowners that their much-loved citrus tree was badly infected with sooty canker and had to be removed.  You can read more about the signs and treatment of sooty canker, here.
 
Thankfully, there are things we can do to reduce or eliminate the chance of sunburn to our citrus trees.
 
 
1. Allow citrus trees to grow their lower branches. They will help to shade the trunk.  A bonus for citrus trees grown this way is that the most fruit is produced on the lower branches that also tastes sweeter.
 
 
2. Protect exposed trunks and branches by using citrus paint (available at your local nursery) or by simply mixing white latex paint water so that the resulting mixture is 1/2 paint and 1/2 water. You can also purchase tree wraps made from burlap, which can also help to protect them. Avoid using oil-based paint. 
However, if you allow the lower branches of your citrus tree to grow and the trunk is shaded, than you don’t have to paint them. 
3. Don’t over-prune your citrus trees.  The photo above, is an EXTREME example of what not to do.
 
Citrus trees should be pruned in March, and concentrated on removing dead, diseased or crossing branches.  Avoid pruning more then 20% of its foliage in any given year.  *Remember, that the leaves make food for the tree, which will in turn, produce delicious fruit. If pruning leaves you with exposed branches, then coat them with citrus paint.
**See how to protect citrus from the damaging effects of a heat wave – here.
 
I always wear sunscreen whenever I venture outdoors.  Years spent in California at the beach as a teenager, trying to tan my fair skin did not work.  Now, I try very hard to protect my skin from the desert sun.  I do however, often forget to wear my hat as it does mess up my hair 😉
 
So, do your citrus tree a favor and make sure it is protected from the sun – either by its branches or by ‘sunscreen’.
**Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link of a product that I use in my garden and I recommend to those who are experiencing similar problems.
A week ago, I was called to see one of my regular clients to see how her landscape was progressing since she had installed a lot of new plants at the beginning of summer.
 
The majority of her plants looked great considering she had planted them at a particularly tough time of the year.
 
BUT, what caught my attention was her bougainvillea shrub.
 
 
The leaves were quite ragged and looked like something had been chewing them.
 
In addition, there were some small black droppings scattered among the leaves.
 
The diagnosis was relatively simple…
 
The culprit was bougainvillea looper caterpillars.  
 
Now, you rarely ever see the caterpillar itself.  It is rather small and looks like a
yellow-green to brown colored inch-worm.
 
The signs are ragged leaves that appear to have been chewed along with the black droppings.
 
My bougainvillea growing in the back garden.  I haven’t seen any signs of caterpillar damage yet.
 
If you see similar damage to your Bougainvillea, don’t panic.  Most Bougainvillea can handle the damage from the chewed leaves.
 
However, if your Bougainvillea is young, or if the infestation is severe, you can help to get rid of the caterpillars by spraying your bougainvillea with a product containing BT (bacillus thuringiensis), which is an organic pesticide.  I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden.
 
In the case of my client’s bougainvillea, I told her that the damage was not severe enough to warrant any treatment.
 
Some of you may see similar damage to your yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs, which I wrote about in a previous post, “Oh No, What’s Happened to My Shrubs”.
 
**In the future, I will be sharing some gardening problems or design challenges that I encounter during some of my consults and their solutions. 
 
 My hope is that they can help you in your own landscape 🙂
 
**********************
 
I hope you have a great weekend.  We will be celebrating my 3-year old twin nephews birthday at our house tomorrow morning.  I’ll may post a picture or two next week from the party.
 
My daughter, Rachele, is doing well after the first week of her combat training in Mississippi.  But, she did share some funny stories that I will share with you next week too!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take another photo of a landscape I passed by in a neighborhood where I had just finished up a landscape consultation.


Sadly, I often see examples of truly ‘interesting’ or should I say ‘bad’ pruning.  I drove by this landscape and then made a U-turn so that I could take a quick photo…

 
I don’t know about you, but these Texas sage shrubs look like mushrooms, don’t you think?
 
Sadly, pruning these beautiful flowering shrubs this way, robs them of their flowers, increases maintenance, creates dead wood and shortens their life.
 
While there are quite a few shrubs that take well to repeated formal pruning – doing this to flowering shrubs should be avoided.  
 
I must admit that I have seen Texas sage and other flowering shrubs pruned into many different shapes…
 
But, let me be frank – shrubs aren’t meant to be cupcakes, frisbees or gumdrops.
 
How about you?  
 
What interesting shapes have you seen flowering shrubs pruned into?
If you are tired of the time and money it takes to maintain flowering shrubs the ‘wrong’ way. I invite you to join me in my online shrub pruning workshop where I will teach you the right way to prune. Imagine being able to prune with confidence and have a landscape filled with beautiful, flowering shrubs? It’s much easier than you think.