Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

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.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

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.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

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.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

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.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

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. 

citrus trees

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.

Even Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen to Prevent Sunburn

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 😉

Bougainvillea

**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.

Bougainvillea

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.

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 🙂

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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!

My inbox has been filled lately with pruning questions.  Specifically, how to prune back overgrown flowering shrubs.

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

You may be wondering why you need to severely prune back overgrown shrubs?

Well, as you can see from the photo, above – as a shrub’s branches age, they produce fewer leaves and flowers.  As time passes – these branches die, which leave ugly, bare areas.

Here are a few more examples of overgrown shrubs that need to be severely pruned back…

'White Cloud' Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens 'White Cloud')

‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’)

You may think the formally pruned sage shrubs in the photo above, look okay besides being a bit on the large side.

But, what you don’t see is a large amount of dead branches inside.  In reality, these shrubs are covered in a very thin layer of growth.

overgrown shrubs

Here is an example of old Cassia (Senna nemophila) shrubs that have only been pruned formally.  You can see that there are more dead areas than live growth.

So, how do you go about severely pruning old, overgrown shrubs back?

First of all – don’t do this during cooler months because it will take your shrubs a very long time to grow back. In addition, it can make frost-tender shrubs more susceptible to frost damage.  Wait until spring for pruning back summer-flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea, sage, oleanders, etc.

You need a good pair of loppers and sometimes a pruning saw and you are ready to go. Simply prune your shrub back until there is only about 1 – 2 ft left.

Hedge trimmers can help if you use them to remove the outer part of the shrub and then you can get your loppers inside to prune off larger branches toward the base.

Below, are photos of ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrubs that started out overgrown, were pruned back severely, and grew back.

overgrown shrubs

Overgrown shrubs.

overgrown shrubs

Pruned back to 1 ft.

This is the ugly stage.  But you need to go through this ‘awkward’ stage to achieve beautiful, healthy shrubs.

I promise that it doesn’t last long…

overgrown shrubs

New growth appears 3 weeks later

8 weeks after pruning

8 weeks after pruning.

12 weeks after severe pruning.

12 weeks after severe pruning.

You can see that the severe pruning caused the shrub to grow young, new branches that produce beautiful green growth and flowers.

overgrown shrubs

**Although severe renewal pruning keeps your shrubs healthy and attractive – there are a few cases when an old, overgrown shrub won’t grow back. It is doubtful that the Cassia shrubs, above, will survive for long either with or without severe pruning).

This usually indicates that the shrub has declined too much and would not have survived for long even without pruning.  If this happens, you are better off replacing your shrub.**  

Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers

Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers

A good guideline for severely pruning your shrubs is to do this every 3 years or so. Of course, you can do this every year if you like to help keep your shrubs from outgrowing their space.

I hope that this helps to answer some of your questions.

If you would like to learn more about how to prune shrubs the right way, I invite you to learn more about my popular online shrub pruning workshop.   

yellow bell shrubs

*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….

Caterpillar Damage

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.

Caterpillar Damage

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 🙂

Are Caterpillars Eating Your Shrubs? How to Recognize and Treat Them

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

Photo: 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.

Photo: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

Photo: 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

Photo: 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.

Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

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 – BUT, this isn’t advisable either.

Sissoo Tree

Photo: 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. 

Sissoo Trees

Photo: 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.

Many people tell me that they are tired of their boring, round green shrubs.  Often, they are surprised when I tell them that those ‘boring’ green balls would actually flower if given a chance.

So, how do you take those boring green balls and turn them into beautiful, flowering shrubs?  

pruning flowering shrubs

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage shrubs

The first step is to rejuvenate your green ‘balls’ by severely pruning them back.

Now I warn you, this is an ugly stage.  Your shrubs will look like a bunch of sticks poking out of the ground.

pruning flowering shrubs

Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs, newly pruned.

This is best done at certain times of the year, depending on what type of flowering shrub you have.  For example, if you severely prune summer-flowering shrubs back in December, you will have to wait a long time for them to leaf out, once the weather warms.

I pruned the ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrub below in March and by early April, it had already begun to produce new branches.  

pruning flowering shrubs

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage, 1 month after severely pruning.

So, when should you prune your shrubs?

Here is a list of some of the most common shrubs in the low desert and when they should be pruned. (If you live in the high desert, you can adjust the timing by a month or so later.)

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea species) – March

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) – March

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) – March

Cassia species (Senna species) – May (once flowering is finished)

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) – June

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) – May

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species) – March

Oleander (Nerium oleander) – May or June

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) – March

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) – March or April

If you look closely at the list above, you can see that in most cases these shrubs are either pruned once they have finished flowering OR just after the danger of frost is over in the spring.

The reward for your efforts is a beautiful, flowering shrub like the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage, below.

'Green Cloud' Texas Sage

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage

If your shrub is getting a bit large later in the year, you can prune it using hand pruners and removing no more then 1/3 of the growth.  Just be careful not to use hedge-trimmers.

So, do you have to prune your flowering shrubs severely every year?

Absolutely not.

As long as your shrub is attractive and not outgrowing its space, you can save severe pruning for every 3 years or so, which will remove older branches and cause new ones to grow in their place.  This is what I do in my own garden.

Want to learn about pruning flowering shrubs the right way? I invite you to check out my popular online pruning workshop. I’ll teach you how to maintain beautiful flowering shrubs by pruning twice a year or less.

Those who know me quickly learn that I love a bargain.  I get so excited when I find something on sale.  It gets even better when I have a coupon for the sale item.  Finding a good bargain is in my DNA.  I come from a long line of women who love to find great deals.

Well for me, this also extends to the landscape.  Now, it may seem a contradiction when I state to my clients that they can save a lot of money by using large plants.   We all know that large plants cost a lot of money at the nursery.  

I quickly go on to explain to them that I DO NOT recommend buying large-sized plants at the nursery.  In fact, I love finding shrubs in the 1-gallon size at the nursery.  They are much cheaper, which pleases the bargain hunter in me.  What I DO recommend is buying plants in small containers that will grow large fairly quickly.

For example, this 1-gallon Green Cloud Texas Sage cost about $5 dollars at the nursery.

using large plants

I admit, it is not very impressive and it is hard to imagine what it will look like when it grows up.  But, this is a fast growing shrub and in just 2 – 3 years it will look like this….

using large plants

I’d say that you got a pretty good deal for only $5.

A few years ago, I worked for a home builder, helping new buyers design their new landscapes.  By the time I would meet with them, they had spent a lot of their money already on the inside of their new home.  And so, their budget was quite limited in terms of what they could spend on their landscaping.  

I would then create a design for them using trees and shrubs that would grow large and quickly.  This way, they did not have to spend money on a large amount of plants and their garden would still look very beautiful.

Here are some shrubs that grow quickly and will grow large, as long as you don’t over-prune them.  All of them can be purchased as 1-gallon plants.

using large plants

 Orange Jubilee (Tecoma x Jubilee)

using large plants

 Threadleaf Cassia (Senna nemophila)

using large plants

 Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa)

Bougainvillea

 Bougainvillea

Other advantages in starting out using 1-gallon plants as opposed to 5-gallon or larger is that the smaller the initial size of the plant, the easier it is for them to be transplanted.  Not just for the gardener, but it is also easier for the plant as well.  Larger plants can have a more difficult time dealing with transplant shock.

I have been making some changes in my own garden and have been on the look out for shrubs in a 1-gallon size.  I planted a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) last month from a 1-gallon container.  

 using large plants

I admit, that it is quite small.  But, it won’t stay this way for long.  Soon, it will soon reach the size of this 3 year old Chaparral Sage that I planted in a commercial landscape….

 using large plants

While you are waiting for your small shrubs to grow large, you can fill in the empty spaces with annuals that you can later pull out once your shrubs start to grow.

Another new addition to my garden is a new Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima).  The nurseries are starting to stock them right now and it is easy to find them in 5-gallon sizes.  I had to look a little more carefully before I found the 1-gallon size.

Beautiful Garden

Okay I admit that I almost have to put on my reading glasses to be able to see this tiny shrub.  But it grows so quickly. 

In just 2 – 3 years, it will look like this….

 using large plants

Not too bad for $4, is it?

Visions of Pink – One Pretty, One Amusing and the Other Unique

type of grass

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.

type of grass

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.  

type of grass

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

 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.

type of grass

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?”

Skeletons in the Desert

Ficus nitida

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.