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!


*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.*

Last week, as I walked out into the back garden, I noticed something that didn’t look right with my a few of my yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans)

The photo, above, shows how they should normally look, however, last week, they looked like this….

Definitely not normal looking and manyM of the outer leaves were skeletonized, and it got worse. All four of my yellow bell shrubs had the same symptoms.  So, did my orange jubilee shrubs, which are closely related.

To be honest, I was a bit stunned to see the damage.  You see, I had grown these beautiful shrubs for over 14 years and have never seen this before – not even in landscapes I managed or when consulting.

What was interesting is that other shrubs right next to my yellow bells and orange jubilee weren’t in the least bit affected. So, what is eating my leaves?

I looked at the symptoms – the skeletonized leaves, the fact that many of my leaves were ‘rolled’ and little black dots (insect poop) told me that my shrubs were suffering from ‘leaf rollers,’ which are tiny caterpillars that roll the leaf around them while they eat.  It is hard to spot the caterpillars themselves, but the damage they cause, usually makes it easy to diagnose.

Now that I noticed my yellow bells and orange jubilee shrubs being affected – I have noticed these same shrubs being affected in my neighborhood, along freeways and other areas.  I don’t know why leaf rollers are affecting these shrubs all of a sudden after all these years.  I suspect it is the higher than normal rainfall we experienced this summer, but I don’t know for certain.

Regardless of why leaf rollers are affecting these beautiful shrubs – there are ways to get rid of them. Here are a few different options:

1. Prune off the affected growth and dispose of the leave in the trash can (not in your compost pile).  

2. Treat your shrub using a biological pesticide that contains BT (Bacillus thuringiensis),  which is ingested by the caterpillars.  BT basically ‘eats’ its way from the caterpillar’s stomach outward. I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.

3. You can use an insecticide spray to kill the leaf rollers.

4. Lastly, there are systemic insecticides that are applied around the plant and are taken up by the roots – but, their use can lead to the build-up of resistant insects and can have other negative environmental effects.

**Whenever using any pesticide – follow directions carefully. For my shrubs, I will prune back the damaged growth and not apply pesticides. However, if the leaf rollers continue to attack, then I may decide to use a product with BT.

So, if you have yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs – check them to see if they are being affected by leaf rollers.


**If your bougainvillea leaves are showing signs of being chewed – they may have been visited by ‘bougainvillea looper caterpillars.’  For more information on how to recognize and treat these caterpillars, click here.
Thankfully, the rest of my garden is looking healthy 🙂

I must admit that I have been contemplating this post for quite some time.  To be honest, I have been hesitant about it because of people’s overwhelming affection for ficus trees (Ficus nitida).

At first, the benefits of planting a ficus tree are obvious.  They are lush, beautiful and provide dense shade, which is sometimes scarce in the desert.

So what’s the problem with having a ficus tree?

Well there are a couple of things that you should be aware of before you plant a ficus tree.

First, is the fact that they do suffer frost damage in the low desert when temperatures dip below freezing.  It can be worse when consecutive days of freezing temperatures occur.

Frost-Damaged Ficus nitida
 
This past winter, we had temperatures in the low 20’s for three days in a row and the damage to the local ficus trees was noticeable.  I could drive through any neighborhood street and tell from a distance who had Ficus trees and who didn’t by simply noting the ‘brown’ trees.
 
Once the warmer temperatures came back, there were quite a few ‘short’ ficus trees seen around the neighborhood due to the frost-damage branches being removed.

Ficus tree that had frost damaged branches removed.

The second problem that sometimes occur when people don’t research how large ficus trees will become.
 
Young Ficus Tree
 
They are soon caught unprepared when the pretty, shade tree that they planted soon grows so large that it almost seems like it is ‘eating’ up the house….
 
Mature Ficus Tree
 
So, what should you do if you absolutely love ficus trees and want one in your garden?

By all means, buy one.  Just know that you will have some winters where it will suffer frost damage and will look unsightly until new branches grow in.


Also, be careful where you plant it.  Allow enough room for it to grow so that it doesn’t ‘eat’ your house.  In addition, keep it away from patios and pools or its roots can become a problem with shallow watering.  It can grow 30 – 50 feet high and 40 feet wide.
Some people look to sissoo trees as an alternative to ficus.
 
Sissoo Tree
 
The sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo) is similar in appearance to the ficus tree, but they do have greater tolerance to frost.  

Like ficus trees, sissoo trees do grow quite large but I no longer recommend them for average size residential landscapes. The photo of the tree above was taken four years after it was planted from a 15-gallon container and it rapidly grew even larger.  This tree made it’s debut in the Phoenix area about 15 years ago and rapidly became quite popular for its lush green beauty.

However, as sissoo trees have been grown in the southwest landscape for several years, problems have begun to crop up. They have invasive root systems that cause problems with sidewalks, patio decks, pools, and block walls. In addition, their mature size is so big that they dwarf the landscapes they have been planted in. 

 
3 Sissoo Trees
 
 Sissoo trees are a better choice than ficus trees when used in large outdoor areas such as parks as they have greater tolerance to frost.

Okay, you were probably thinking that I meant the ‘other’ type of grass.  But the type of grass I am referring to cannot be smoked, (at least I don’t think it can).  ‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’), is a beautiful ornamental grass to include in your landscape.  It is low-maintenance, thrives almost anywhere and has stunning burgundy foliage in late summer and early fall.

 

USES:  This Texas native looks best when planted in groups of at least 3, but I think groups of 5 or 7 are better.  This ornamental grass grows to approximately 3 ft. High and wide.  However, when flowering, add 1 – 2 ft. to their total height.  They can be planted in full sun, areas with reflected heat and even in areas with partial shade.  

 
 

This ornamental grass is tolerant of most soils.  Regal Mist is a great choice for planting around pools, boulders and in front of walls.  I have planted them around golf courses, and many people would ask me, “What is that plant?  It is beautiful.”  It is evergreen in areas with mild winters, but it is hardy to -10 degrees F (Zone 6).  Frost will turn them light tan in color. 

 
Regal Mist when not in flower

MAINTENANCE:  You can hardly get more low-maintenance then this – prune back severely in the winter, almost to the ground, to remove old foliage and spent flowers.  I do not fertilize Regal Mist, and they look just great.  Although drought tolerant once established, supplemental water is necessary for them is needed for them to look their best and to flower.  Self-seeding is not usually a problem when they are irrigated with drip-irrigation.

 

So, for those of you who are frequently asking me for a beautiful, low-maintenance plant – this is it.  Include a few in your garden, and I promise you will have people asking you, “What is that beautiful grass?”

Ficus Nitida simply the wrong plant, and usually in the wrong place.

I think this photo probably speaks for itself…..

But, I will add to it by saying that it is vital to realize that the little, spindly tree that you plant WILL GROW. Be sure to check the mature size of any tree, (or any plant for that matter), before you plant so you can be sure that there is ample room for growth.

By the way, the tree above is a Ficus nitida, which is a beautiful, dark green tree. But, it does grow enormous, as does its roots, making it unsuitable from most residential landscapes.