A 'Painted Lady' butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

A ‘Painted Lady’ butterfly drinking nectar from a lantana.

Do you know someone who possesses a green thumb? Usually, it’s someone that has a beautiful garden that stands out among their neighbors, which is filled with thriving plants that are flourishing. 

While you may think that people with green thumbs are born and not made, I’m going to let you in on a BIG secret – behind every green thumb are many dead plants.

green thumb

It’s true. There isn’t a single avid gardener who has never experienced a plant dying on them. Of course, green thumb may be hesitant to reveal this fact because dead or failing plants are usually pulled out before anyone notices.

green thumb

I’m not exempt from this either. I’ve got a dead plant or two, currently in my garden that are doing nothing but collecting leaves at their base and I’ve had countless plants die on my watch.

Newly planted 'Blue Bell' (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Newly planted ‘Blue Bell’ (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Believe it or not, it’s the fact that plants have died in the garden that helps a person to become a good at growing them. While your first inclination is to get frustrated about the loss of a plant, it helps to look at it as a gardening lesson.

“Each dead plant is an opportunity to learn about what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future and become a better gardener in the process.”

There are several factors that can affect whether or not a plant does well where it’s planted.  These include the following:

  1. Is it well-adapted to your climate?
  2. Was it planted in the right exposure (sun, filtered sun, or shade)?
  3. Did it receive the proper amount of irrigation?
  4. Was it maintained correctly (pruning, fertilizing)?
New 'Blonde Ambition' (Bouteloua gracilis)

New ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis)

Researching plants before purchasing them will help you to avoid many potential problems, but often the best way to learn how a plant will do is to grow them yourself.

Of course, it’s never a good idea to put a shade-loving plant in full sun, or vice versa as you’ll probably be replacing it soon.

As a horticulturist, I experiment in my garden with newer plants that have come onto the market. I recently planted several ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis) grasses. I’ve heard a few different things from people who have grown it regarding the best exposure for it – one says that filtered sun is a must while the other states that it can handle full sun. So, I am trying them out in my front yard to see for myself where they will receive filtered shade until the afternoon when they will be blasted by the sun. 

*One fun bonus of being a horticulturist and a garden writer is that growers often send me their plants for free so I can let them know how they grow in a low-desert garden.

A new Parry's penstemon (Penstemon parryi) finds a home next to my gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa).

A new Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) finds a home next to my gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa).

Other things that can affect how new plants will do are nearby plants – specifically trees.

One month later.

One month later.

A tree that creates dense shade will make it difficult for many flowering plants to do anything but grow foliage at the expense of flowers. However, filtered shade from desert natives such as mesquite and palo verde create an ideal environment for many blooming plants that enjoy a little respite from the full sun.

New varieties of autumn sage with the brand new lavender 'Meerlo'.

New varieties of autumn sage with the brand new lavender ‘Meerlo’.

Sometimes, there isn’t much information available on new plant introductions and how they will do in an area with extreme weather such as our hot, dry one.  I was given the plants above to see how they would do in my Arizona garden. I knew that the salvia would need some shade to do its best in the low desert, but the lavender was a mystery. I’ve seen some other species of lavender doing well in full sun while others doing well in filtered shade.

Green Thumb

As you can see, the ‘Meerlo’ lavender did very well in my zone 9 garden even though the actual information on the plant tag states that it does best in zone 8 and below. What it has not done is flower, which I attribute to the shade it needs to survive my hot, dry garden. But, I’m okay with that as I love the fragrance and color contrast that it adds.

This is a lesson that I could have only learned by trying out this plant. While it could have died, it didn’t and I’ve learned from the experience, which adds to my overall garden knowledge. 

So, the next time you find a dead plant in your garden, see if you can figure out why it died and learn from it. Sometimes plants die when they should be thriving with no apparent reason. Nature isn’t always predictable and sometimes you may have no answers, but you’ll be surprised at what you can learn and before you know it, your thumb may slowly turn ‘green’.

Fuss-Free Plants for Fall Planting

swimming pool

Have you ever encountered this landscaping challenge? This blank wall is rather boring, and the home behind it dominates the view. So what would you do to fix these problems?

I faced this dilemma last month at a client’s home. The pool was the main focal point of the landscape, and the dull wall wasn’t doing it any favors. In coming up with a solution, we had to select a plant that was relatively low-litter, due to the proximity to the pool and that looked attractive throughout the entire year because of the high-profile location.

evergreen shrub , Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa)

Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa)

I recommended adding three hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa). These are tall, evergreen shrubs that thrive in arid climates such as ours. 

swimming pool

One of the many things that I love about them is their versatility. They thrive in full sun and light shade, and can be allowed to grow up to 12 feet tall, or maintained at a lower height.

Hop bush , evergreen shrub

Hop bush can be allowed to grow to their natural shape…

evergreen shrub

…or pruned more formally.

evergreen shrub

For the area behind the pool, I recommend having it grow to its full height, which will help provide privacy while the attractive foliage will add a welcome screen of green throughout the year.

evergreen shrub

evergreen shrubs Hop bush flowers

Hop bush does produce light green, papery flowers in spring, but they aren’t particularly showy. So, we need to add a color element to the area behind the pool.

colored containers

One of my favorite ways to add color to any landscape is to incorporate brightly colored containers in shade of blue, purple, or orange. That way, whether plants are in bloom or not, there is always a bright splash of color.

colored containers

For this area, I recommended adding 3 blue pots, equally spaced.

Now it was time to decide what to plant in each pot. The client wanted a low-maintenance choice that wouldn’t require a lot of water.

Blue Elf'

Immediately, I remembered touring a landscape that had blue containers filled with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe. Even though the aloe had finished blooming for the year, their spiky blue-gray foliage added nice color contrast.

Aloe vera

This small aloe is one of my favorite succulents for several reasons. First, it begins to bloom in late winter, lasting into spring adding welcome color to cool-season landscapes. Hummingbirds can’t resist the flowers either.

Aloe vera

This aloe is best showcased when grouped together and thrives in full sun, unlike most aloe which prefer filtered shade. Finally, it is hardy to 15 degrees F. so cold winters seldom bother it.

colored containers

And so, here is the planting that I suggested to my client that will provide year round beauty and privacy.

*Do you have a favorite plant or group of plants that you like to use against bare walls?

Visit to a Client’s Desert Garden

succulent plants

In the past, succulent plants were valued primarily for their drought tolerance and found their way into gardens in arid regions. Today, while they are still a great choice for water-wise plants are wise, they offer many other benefits to outdoor spaces including adding colorful flowers and solving common garden problems.

succulent plants

Elk Horn (Cotyledon orbiculata)

I’ve written a series of articles for Houzz focusing on succulents and how you can add beauty to your garden with these versatile plants that will thrive in arid climates. 

I hope you find inspiration through them and look at succulent plants in a new way.

10 Spectacular Flowering Succulents

How Succulents Can Solve Your Garden Problems

How do you like to use succulents in your garden?

Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Anacacho Orchid

Protect Citrus Trees From a Heatwave

Living in the desert southwest, I am blessed to be able to grow a variety of citrus trees in my garden and they do very well under most circumstances.

However, when temperatures outside of the average highs and lows occur, steps need to be taken to protect them. With this week’s record-breaking highs, my orange tree has been suffering as is evident from its sunburned leaves. So I thought, this is a great opportunity to talk about how to protect citrus trees from a heatwave.

Protect Citrus Trees From a Heatwave

1. Provide temporary shade 

The west and south-facing sides of citrus trees are susceptible to sunburn during a heatwave. This shows up as yellowing or browning on the leaves on those sides of the tree. Sunburn can also occur on immature citrus fruit, so it’s important to protect them.

While spraying citrus trees with sunscreen isn’t an option, adding temporary shade is. Put a large piece of burlap over the tree, focusing on those south and west-facing exposures. Burlap is inexpensive and does allow some sun to penetrate, which is important. You can purchase burlap at your big box store, nursery, or Amazon (affiliate link below).

Burlapper Burlap Garden Fabric (40″ x 15′, Natural)

You can use a bed sheet in place of burlap for temporary shade. Another option would be to place a shade tent/canopy to help block the sun’s westerly rays.

Shade cloth is very useful as a sun shield when placed on a scaffold or other support – it’s important not to rest it directly on the tree as it gets hot and can burn the leaves.

Protect Citrus Trees From a Heatwave

2. Increase irrigation and water early in the morning

When temperatures soar above normal, citrus trees, like most plants, lose more water through their leaves. As a result, their regular watering schedule isn’t enough to meet their needs, so increase the frequency of watering as long as the heat wave lasts. 

When you water is vital as it is difficult for plants to uptake water in the middle of the day. This is because all of their resources are dedicated to enduring the stresses of the heat and it’s hard for them to divert those to uptake water. Water in the early morning, which will allow them to build up a water reserve that will help them through the day.

online-class-desert-gardening-101

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

Once the heat wave is over, remove the temporary shade and resume regular watering. By implementing these two methods, you’ll enable your citrus trees to weather brutal summer temperatures and minimize any negative effects.

*Sun protection for the trunk and bark of citrus trees is essential throughout the entire year. Here is a past blog post showing you how to shield these parts of your tree and why it is so important. 

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

As a garden writer and horticulturist, I am often asked to review new gardening books, which is one of my favorite things to do; especially if the books are about growing plants in the desert.

Years ago, there were precious few books that dealt with the unique challenges and solutions to creating a beautiful outdoor space in a hot, arid climate. Nowadays, there are several books that focus on desert gardening, but most just scratch the surface of how to do it. When I was contacted by The Desert Botanical Garden to see if I would review their new book, Desert Landscape School: A Guide to Desert Landscaping and Maintenance, I said yes.

The origins of the book arose from the Desert Landscape School at the gardens, which offers classes for individuals who are interested in specializing in certain aspects of desert landscaping. Graduates earn a certification in one or more areas, including desert plant palette, planting and maintenance, and desert design. A large group of experts was brought together in the creation of this book, including many that work in the garden.

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

Thumbing through my copy, I looked to see how the information was laid out and whether it addressed common landscape dilemmas that are unique to desert gardening. As you may expect, a book from this prestigious garden didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading through its pages and reliving my early days as a horticulturist learning not only the basics of arid gardening principles but also strategies and tips for growing plants that I didn’t learn until later.

This book is for those who want to learn the reasons why we garden the way we do in the desert to more fully understand it. There is also valuable information regarding plant selection, design, sustainability, installation guidelines, and how to properly maintain the landscape. 

I’ve always said that “gardening in the desert isn’t hard, it’s just different” and the book offers practical tips that make growing plants in an arid climate, easier. For example, connecting tree wells using swales and gravity to allow rain water to flow to where it’s needed instead of down the street.

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was interested in the pruning and maintenance section, as I am passionate about teaching people correct pruning practices. One illustration that grabbed my attention was the right and wrong way to prune palm trees.

Book Review: Desert Landscaping and Maintenance

Badly pruned palm trees

I had taken this photo a couple of weeks ago of palm trees that had been pruned incorrectly with too many fronds removed. Overpruning weakens the tree and leaves it open to other stresses, which the book addresses.

The structure of the book is set up so that each section can be read on its own, so readers can focus on what they are interested in learning most. Of course, I recommend reading the entire book as it contains invaluable information which leaves the reader well-informed and confident in their ability to garden successfully in the desert southwest as well as other desert regions.

Desert Landscaping & Maintenance is truly a one-of-a-kind book that serves the role of several desert gardening books in one, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this brand new desert gardening guide.

Right now, the book is available for purchase for visitors to The Desert Botanical Garden or you can buy it online.

Taking photos of succulents in a hidden garden in California.

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.

succulents solve garden problems

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

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

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?

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.

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

Landscape Dilemma ,Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

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 😉

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

Landscape Dilemma

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is assisting my clients with their landscape dilemma.  Often, the solution is much simpler than the client imagined.  Last fall, I visited this home which had a large, shallow depression that was 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.

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

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. 

Landscape Dilemma: Colorful Container Before and After Landscape

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.

Valentine's Day

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?  

Cactus Flowers Color the Desert Landscape

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , 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.

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

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

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:

 
 
 
mother's vegetable garden

*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.

mother fell and broke her leg

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.

mother's vegetable 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.

mother's vegetable garden

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.  

mother's vegetable garden

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.

mother's 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.

mother's vegetable garden

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. 

mother's vegetable garden

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.

mother's vegetable garden

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?