I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one.

We have all likely experienced the death of a plant in our garden, and even though I am a horticulturist, I’m not immune.

Sometimes, plants die in my garden too.

Here is a photo of my recently deceased ‘Blue Bells’ emu bush.

I was surprised to see that it had ‘kicked the bucket’ as its nearby neighbors were flourishing.

So, the question I have to ask myself is, why did it die?

To determine why a plant died, here are some things to ascertain…

  • Was it planted recently? If so, it may not have had enough time to grow enough roots to survive summer.
  • Did it get enough water? Was the drip emitter plugged?
  • Was it planted in the wrong exposure? In other words, did it get too much sun?
  • Does the plant do well in our hot, desert climate?
  • Were there any pest problems, such as ants around the roots or other unwelcome bugs?
  • Are identical plants in your landscape struggling too?
  • Is there a problem with the soil?

Using these questions as guidelines, you’ll likely have the answer to why a plant has died.

However, in my case, the plant was a few years old, always did well, and the ‘Blue Bells’ nearby were thriving.

So, why did it die?

I don’t know…

Sometimes plants die, and we don’t know why. I realize this can be hard to accept without having the answer.

That is what happens in nature – things die, and we don’t always have the answers as to why.

In my particular case, I am replanting a new “Blue Bells” because I know it grows well for me in this spot. I ensured there were no unwelcome bugs in the soil and amended the soil with 1 part compost mixed with 1 part existing soil to give it a little ‘boost.’

I hope my new plant is happy…

flowering shrub

Isn’t this a pretty shrub?

I saw this flowering beauty at a client’s home.

Now, when you see a plant that you like in a friend or neighbor’s yard, you probably ask them what it’s called.

My client was very proud of her shrub and called it Firecracker Bush. The problem is that two completely different plants called that name.

To complicate things further, this lovely shrub is also called ‘Fire Bush,’ ‘Scarlet Bush,’ and ‘Hummingbird Bush.’

Are you confused yet?

If so, you aren’t alone.

You see, common names for plants aren’t a reliable way to refer to plants – especially when you head out to the nursery for a particular plant. It’s a frequent mistake to come home with the wrong plant.

If you look at a plant label, you’ll notice that they come with two names – a common name and a botanical (Latin) name.

In this case, the plant’s botanical name above is Hamelia patens.

So, why do you need to know the Latin name of a plant? Obviously, it’s easier to pronounce the common name.

Each particular plant has only ONE botanical name, unlike a common name that may refer to several different plants. Therefore, when you learn the botanical name, there won’t be any confusion about what plant it refers to.

Now, I realize it can be intimidating to try to pronounce Latin plant names. However, recognizing the botanical word for your desired plant will ensure that you are buying the right plant. Don’t worry, you don’t need to say it out loud – simply write it down.

This lovely firecracker bush (Hamelia patens) has lush green foliage and produces red/orange flowers that hummingbirds love. It is cold hardy to 18 degrees F. and will suffer frost damage when temperatures dip into the 30’s, but recovers quickly in spring.

It has a naturally mounded shape and doesn’t require any shearing (no poodle-pruning). Firecracker bush grows to approximately 3-4 feet tall and wide.

In the desert garden, I find it does best in areas with filtered sunlight, making it a worthy addition to your garden.

succulent plants near a front entry in Arizona garden

Do you enjoy the summer heat?

I’m going record to state that I’m not a huge fan. I prefer to endure the intense heat indoors in the comfort of air-conditioning.

However, the plants in my garden don’t have that option. They are stuck outside no matter how hot it gets.

I always feel sad when I see plants struggle in the heat of summer. If I could bring them indoors to cool off I would 😉. But, let’s face it, that isn’t realistic or really what is best for plants.

For that reason, you will find the plants around my home are fairly heat-tolerant.

If you think that heat-proof plants are boring (and if I’m being honest, some are), many are attractive and beautiful.

One of my clients has a great example of an eye-catching entry that is fuss-free and shrugs off the heat of summer.

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi v. truncata), golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Euphorbia lomelii), and yucca create a living sculptural landscape with their unique shapes.

As you can see, you don’t have to settle for a blah garden or one filled with heat-stressed plants. In fact, I loved this example so much that I featured it in my book, “Dry Climate Gardening” which is available for pre-order.

You know that I don’t care for fussy plants – I prefer plants that look great with little effort on my part and this succulent garden is a great example, don’t you agree?

I invite you to take a walk through your garden to see what plants may be stressed from the heat. It may be time for you to switch them out for more heat-tolerant ones.

The dog days of summer…

By the time midpoint of summer heat arrives, I am firmly in ‘summer hibernation’ mode.

While much of the country stays indoors during the cold of winter, we desert dwellers flip that and spend the hottest days of summer safely ensconced indoors in the comfort of A/C.

Of course, cabin fever can hit, making us venture outside of our homes. That’s where summer getaways come into play.

I’m fortunate that there are many spots in Arizona (where I live) that are just a few hours from my house where the summer temperatures are blessedly cooler.

When my husband and I were young, we couldn’t afford to stay overnight in out-of-town destinations. But, we could go for the day. We would pack up our two young daughters and go on day-long adventures to the cool mountains and pack a picnic lunch. Oh, what fun we had!

Nowadays my husband and I travel to cooler spots and spend a few days. One of our favorite places is the town of Bisbee in southeastern Arizona.

There is a lot of history in there and we love to explore while enjoying the cooler temps. The photo above is a part of Bisbee called Lowell, which is preserved in time from the 1950s.

Speaking about the heat, I’ve heard from a number of people in my membership club who are worried about the lack of flowers they see on their shrubs and groundcovers.

Perhaps you have similar worries…

I want to assure you that this is normal in summer – particularly when monsoon rains have been sporadic and not regular.

Intense heat and dryness tend to make flowering plants slow down and a heatwave can burn flowers of certain plants.

Rest assured that they will come back by summer’s end to provide beauty to your outdoor space.

flowering groundcovers and a cactus landscape

Let’s face it…summer can be brutal.

I tend to spend as little time outdoors as possible when temperatures soar above normal ranges. It’s times like this that I praise the inventor of air-conditioning.

While we can escape record-breaking temperatures, our plants can’t.

However, you can create a landscape filled that thrives in the heat by using native or desert-adapted plants. And you know what? Most are very pretty!

Last weekend, I saw a great illustration of this…

Our church recently opened up a new campus, filled with new plants, but many of them were struggling to survive the intense heat. Many were planted native to more tropical climates.

After church, my husband and I headed out to the hospital to visit a loved one. The hospital had just undergone a renovation and brand-new landscape areas surrounded the entrance.

I stopped to take a photo of one of the areas that were doing very well so I could share it with you. Full disclosure: if you hang out with me, be prepared for sudden stops to take pictures of plants.

There were two main reasons that the landscape by the hospital was doing better than the one by the church:

  • The plants by the hospital were better adapted to hot summers – desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’), and Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus).
  • Additionally, these plants had been installed three months earlier than the ones at the church. Yes, plants can technically be added any time of year BUT there are times that should be avoided if at all possible – specifically May and June.

Sometimes you need to add new plants at the wrong time of year due to construction schedules, etc. In that case, I advise the use of shade cloth on a temporary basis for young plants through September IF you see that certain plants are struggling. This is in addition to watering them more often than existing plants in the landscape to help them establish their roots.

Use native or desert-adapted plants (those from other regions with similar weather conditions) to help your garden to be more resilient to hot, dry temperatures and they will need less help from you to beat the heat.

Stay cool friends!

Have you ever found yourself intimidated by fashion magazines filled with beautiful celebrities and models who are then photoshopped to remove every little imperfection? Or perhaps an Instagram account where the home is filled with natural light, dust-free, and no mislaid items anywhere?

I must admit that I don’t like to follow accounts like that as they promote an unrealistic view and leaves me feeling like something is wrong with me when I don’t look perfect and my house doesn’t either.

This type of unreal perfection extends to the garden too! Just between you and me, I’ve been to many gardens that are highlighted on social media and they never look quite as good in person.

Believe it or not, vegetables also fall into this unrealistic realm when shown in magazines and online. Articles filled with photographs of perfectly-sized vegetables without a speck of dirt on them can be intimidating to the average vegetable gardener.

dirty secrets of vegetable gardening

Well, I’m here to tell you the truth and reveal two dirty secrets of vegetable gardening with some assistance from my little helper. 

My granddaughter, Lily

This is my granddaughter Lily who loved to help me in the garden when she was little. She was always a willing helper when it came time to harvest vegetables from my garden.

Toward the end of spring, it was time to harvest the last head of broccoli, pick the carrots, pull the garlic, cut parsley, and harvest the first of our blackberries.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

This is what our harvest looked like. Not particularly photo-worthy for a magazine or social media, is it? But, this is the reality of what it looks like.

'secret' about vegetable gardening.

If you haven’t guessed the secret about vegetable gardening – it’s that it is DIRTY!

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Think about it – vegetables grow in the dirt.  They don’t come out clean.  In fact, it can take a while to clean the dirt away.

Lily was excited to help me clean the vegetables, so she would fill her ‘My Little Pony’ cup over and over and pour them over the carrots. 

 harvested vegetables leave

In fact, freshly harvested vegetables leave dirt behind on counters, floors too!

clean garden tools and spotless gloves

And those shiny, clean garden tools and spotless gloves? They don’t exist in a real garden.

Now, here is another secret of vegetable gardening…

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

“Not all the vegetables are the same size and come out unblemished.”

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Here are four carrots that I harvested from the same garden.  As you can see, they are all different sizes.

The tiny ones, came from an area where I accidentally dropped a small pile of seeds. The large one was a result of an area in the garden that received too much water and the carrot was so big that it broke off as I attempted to pull it out.  

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Of course, any decent photo would display only the ‘normal-sized’ carrots – but that is not necessarily the truth of what a real garden harvest would look like.

Lily’s Tigger was excited to try some carrots.

crop of garlic

Here is another example. Our crop of garlic was bountiful. But, notice that there are not all uniform sizes.

crop of garlic

While the majority of the garlic harvest is made up of normal-sized garlic heads – there are some very small and some giant heads.

But of course, that is not what you see when people typically show off their garden harvest – especially when they are to be photographed.

– First, only the most attractive vegetables are shown – ones with no blemishes and uniform size. Second, all the dirt is removed. And finally, the decorative dish towels come out for an attractive background.   

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

I have several decorative dish towels that have never seen a dish and I use them when I photograph vegetables, herbs, etc.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

Here is my ‘perfect’ garlic harvest. What is interesting is what you DON’T see. All of them are nicely shaped, roughly the same size, and most of the dirt is gone. This is NOT what they look like when they come in from the garden.

The Dirty Secret of Vegetable Gardening

So remember that vegetables aren’t perfectly clean, they may have blemishes and come in all sizes and shapes. So, when you harvest vegetables, don’t worry about perfect-looking vegetables. Remember, it’s the taste that matters!

My Secret Vegetable Gardening Tool…

Wildflowers ,  California bluebells and red flax

California bluebells and red flax

One of spring’s many joys are the fields of wildflowers that we often see growing along the side of the road.  It is one of the many miracles of nature how such lovely flowers can grow in the wild without any help from people.

I find it kind of ironic that if we want to grow these flowers of the wild in our own garden we  have to give them a little assistance to get them going.  But, the preparation is fairly simple and the rewards are definitely well worth the effort.

Wildflowers , Arroyo lupine with white gaura

Arroyo lupine with white gaura

As with many things in the garden, planting begins in advance, and in the case of wildflowers, fall is the best time to sow the seeds for spring bloom.

Wildflowers

I’ve planted wildflower gardens throughout my career, but I’ll never forget my first one.  It was on a golf course and I sowed quite a bit of wildflower seed in that small area – and I mean a LOT of seed.  The wildflowers were growing so thickly together and probably would have looked nicer if I had used less seed and/or thinned them out a little once they started to grow.  But, I loved that little wildflower garden.

If you like wildflowers, how about setting aside some space in your garden to plant your own?

I have shared my tips on creating a wildflower garden in my latest article for Houzz.  I hope you enjoy it.

Plant a Wildflower Garden in Fall for Spring Blossoms

Wildflowers

**Do you have a favorite wildflower?

yellow flowering tree

‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde Trees

One of the most popular trees for arid climates is the ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde. Once you see one, it’s easy to see why it is present in so many residential, commercial, and community areas.

Its medium-green trunk, feathery foliage, and golden flowers, that appear in late spring, add beauty to any landscape. Another characteristic of this palo verde tree is that is has a moderate to fast rate of growth. The branches lets in enough sunlight so many plants can grow underneath its canopy.

BUT, there is another side to these lovely trees that may dissuade people from growing them and that is wind damage.

Avoiding Storm Damage

Fallen ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees after a monsoon storm

I’ve heard murmurs from people who don’t want to plant these trees any longer because of their susceptibility to damage from high winds.

However, most of these problems are caused by improper maintenance, poor location, and not selecting the right ‘type’ of Desert Museum palo verde.

Avoiding Storm Damage

Desert Museum Palo Verde tree in my backyard

I have three ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes around my house. They range in age from 10 to 20 years old. In all that time, I have not lost a single one. Of course, there has been a couple of instances of branch breakage, but the trees recovered nicely. Broken branches are a natural part of life with trees – particularly those native to the desert.

So, how can you enjoy the beauty of this tree while lessening the danger of wind damage? As a retired certified arborist, I’m here to tell you that there are definitely things you can do.

5 Strategies for Structurally Healthy ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verdes Trees:

1. Water deeply to a depth of 3 feet. Deep roots are key to the stability of a tree and also decrease the chance of uplifting roots. Apply water toward the outer reaches of the branches where the roots are concentrated. As a tree grows, its roots move outward, so move your drip emitters or hose as needed.

Be sure to plant in an area where there is adequate area for root growth. Parking lot islands and narrow areas don’t allow enough room for roots to anchor the tree.

Palo Verde Trees

‘Desert Museum’ palo verde that has grown too rapidly due to excess irrigation

2. Irrigate less frequently to avoid your tree growing too fast. This is a big cause of wind damage with palo verde trees. It’s important to remember that they are desert trees and don’t need as much water as other plants in the landscape. But, people often overwater their desert trees, which causes them to grow too quickly. This causes the formation of weak wood because they haven’t had the time to grow strong trunks and branches. In the photo above, notice how thin the multiple trunks are.

Established native desert trees, that have been in the ground for at least 3 years, can follow these general guidelines – water 1 to 2X a month in spring/fall, 2 to 3X a month in summer, and monthly in winter. These guidelines are for our current drought situation but can be modified as needed.

Palo Verde Trees

Trees that have been pruned up too high (lion-tailing)

3. Prune your tree correctly. There are examples of awful pruning. One common one is known as ‘lion-tailing’ which is when trees have been over-pruned so the majority of the tree is devoid of branches except for the very top. This pruning deprives the branches of foliage needed to produce energy for the tree and to increase tree strength. It also increases the amount of overhanging branches toward the top making the tree more likely to fall.

Many landscapers don’t know the right way to prune trees and can inadvertently cause harm to your tree. I highly recommend enlisting the services of a certified arborist to prune your tree correctly.

4. Select a multi-trunk form of palo verde instead of one growing on a single trunk. Desert trees naturally in a multiple trunk form, which distributes the weight of the upper branches. Palo verde trees that have been trained to grow on a single trunk, are under more stress from the wind with their heavy top half. The majority that you see fallen have been trained into a single-trunk tree.

Palo Verde Trees

This tree needs pruning before the monsoon season to lessen the weight of the canopy

5. ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees generally need pruning at least once (sometimes twice) a year. You want to be sure to prune them before the onset of monsoon season – removing any heavyweight or branches that are weakly attached.

Palo Verde Trees

Newly-pruned ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree ready for the monsoon season

Palo verde trees are a great choice for the desert garden that adds welcome beauty and shade. If you have a ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (or other native desert tree), I encourage you to follow these tips to help ensure a beautiful and stable tree for years to come.

Want to learn more about this and other palo verde tree species? Check out my previous blog post here.

Have you ever had a sunburn?  Maybe a better question is, “Who hasn’t?”  

Well, did you know that many plants get too much as well?

I recently made a house call for a client who was worried about her newly planted citrus trees.

new citrus trees planted in pots.

Sunburned Citrus

This particular client has a large courtyard with several new citrus trees in pots.

The citrus were planted in spring and as summer progressed, the client noticed the leaves on her orange tree turning yellow.

sunburned citrus

Now yellow leaves can indicate a number of different problems.  But in this case, the diagnosis was rather simple – her citrus tree has a case of sunburn.

Here are some common signs of sunburned plants:

– The areas of the leaf that are yellow are in the center and NOT along the tips or edges.

– Often, the yellow areas begin to turn brown.

– Signs normally occur in the summer months.

– The sunburned leaves are usually located on the south and west-facing parts of the plant.

– This particular citrus tree is in an area that receives reflected, afternoon sun.

So, what can you do to prevent sunburned citrus?

In this case, the solution is simple – moving the citrus tree to another part of the courtyard that receives afternoon shade is all that is needed to prevent further sunburn damage. OR, 50% shade cloth can be used from mid-May through September.

Citrus do best when planted at least 10 – 15 ft. away from walls, which absorb the heat of the day and re-radiate it out.

Avoid planting where they get the full force of afternoon sun.

When people think about what a desert garden looks like, what comes to mind? Perhaps, visions of lots of brown with rocks and a cactus or two?

While you can settle for rocks and some cacti, the truth is, we can have so much more! Imagine a landscape filled with the colors of the rainbow – shades of red, orange, purple, pink, and yellow.

I’m going to share with you 8 colorful plants that you will find in my desert garden. All are colorful and thrive in a hot, dry climate:

Colorful Plants for Desert Garden

Colorful Plants for the Desert Garden

Bougainvillea – Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’

You can’t beat Bougainvillea for the vibrant color in the garden. It thrives in our dry, hot climate and flowers off and on spring through fall. Record-breaking heat doesn’t bother it in the least. It is a great choice for covering a bare block wall and can handle those challenging west-facing exposures. For maximum flowering, they need to be in full sun. For those that don’t like the messy flowers, you can opt for dwarf varieties or plant one in a large pot, which will limit its size.

Hardy to 20 degrees F. Plant in full sun for optimal flowering.

Colorful Plants for Desert Garden

Coral Fountain – Russelia equisetiformis

Often referred to as Firecracker Bush, this tropical beauty has a lovely cascading growth habit. Arching stems produce orange/red tubular flowers that delight hummingbirds. Blooming occurs spring through fall. This shrub takes a year or two before really taking off, but it’s worth the wait – I like to use them in groups of 3 to 5. It is also a good choice for adding to large containers – especially blue ones!

Cold hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Colorful Plants for Desert Garden

Firecracker Penstemon – Penstemon eatoni

Winter color is often lacking in desert gardens. However, there are many plants that offer color through winter. This western native is my favorite during winter and spring in my front garden when it burst forth with brilliant orange/red blooms. Hummingbirds really enjoy the blooms as there aren’t many other plants for them to feed on this time of year. Prune off spent flowering stalks once the flowers begin to drop and you may get another flush of blooms to extend the season. It can be hard to find Firecracker Penstemon in box stores but local nurseries usually carry them.

Hardy to -20 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Colorful Plants for Desert Garden

Yellow Bells – Tecoma stans var. stans

Admittedly, there are many yellow-flowering plants in the desert, but this one is my favorite! I look forward to the gorgeous yellow blooms opening each spring in my back garden. Yellow bells bloom spring through fall, and hummingbirds are attracted to their flowers. They are fast growers and have lovely, lush green foliage. To keep them looking their best, prune them back severely to 1-2 feet tall once the threat of frost has passed in spring. There are several notable varieties of Yellow Bells in shades of orange including ‘Crimson Flare’ and ‘Sparky’.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun to filtered sun.

Shrubby Germander – Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’

Photos don’t do this Mediterranean native justice. When viewed in person, people are immediately transfixed by the light-blue flowers (they appear more purple in photos), which appear in spring. I have several scattered throughout my back garden, and for me, they bloom throughout winter too! Using plants with silver-gray foliage near those with darker green leaves is a great way to add interest to the landscape, even when not in flower. I dearly love this shrub for its colorful winter/spring blooms in my desert garden.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full to filtered sun.

Purple Lilac Vine – Hardenbergia violaceae

Here is another winter-flowering beauty. Purple flowers cover this vine from February into early March. Believe me when I say that they are a welcome relief to the winter blahs. Bees enjoy the blooms, which resemble lilacs but aren’t fragrant. It does require a trellis or other support to grow up on. When not in bloom, its attractive foliage adds a welcome splash of green throughout the year on vertical surfaces. The Purple Lilac vine is usually found in nurseries in fall and winter, during its flowering season.

Hardy to 20-25 degrees F. Plant in full to the filtered sun but avoid west-facing exposures.

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage – Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’

If you love the color purple, you’ll want to include this variety of Texas Sage in your garden. Branches covered in masses of purple flowers appear off and on spring through fall, often in response to periods of increased humidity. The more humidity, the more flowers produced. There are many different types of Texas Sage and all add color to the desert garden. Now, you may not see them looking like this for the sad fact that many people prune them into unnatural shapes like balls, cupcakes, and even squares. Which would you rather have – a green ‘blob’ or a gorgeous purple beauty like this?

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun for maximum flowering.

Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis

I want to include a tree in our list of colorful plants for the desert garden. Desert Willow is small to medium-sized tree that are native to the Southwest. Throughout the warm season, branches with bright green leaves are covered with pink blooms. The flowers add a lovely shade of pink, which is a color not always seen in the desert. There are many newer varieties of Desert Willow – I have four different ones in my garden, but ‘Bubba’ is my favorite. This is a deciduous tree and will lose its leaves in winter. 

Hardy to -10 degrees. Plant in full sun.

SO, where can you find these plants?

I am often asked where is the best place to buy plants. Yes, you can head to your big box store, but they usually lack variety and are known to sell plants that don’t do well in our hot, dry climate.

My advice is to look to your local garden center and nursery for these and other plants for your garden. 

I’d like to share with you about a new nursery that is mixing things up in a good way! Four Arrows Garden is a family business, located in Vail, AZ, where you order your plants online and they deliver them to you!

The Chavez family began their business with cuttings from succulents in their backyard that soon grew to people wanting them to offer other types of plants. She explains their unique nursery, “Our business model has changed over the year to fill the need in our community. We have transformed into “not your average nursery” because of a niche market to deliver landscape plants and creating an online shopping outlet for desert-adapted plants. We are different because we allow customers to shop for plants from the comfort of their homes.”

They source their plants from wholesale growers in the Phoenix and Tucson area. While their delivery area is primarily in the greater Tucson area, They can accept special requests from Phoenix area customers.

I encourage you to incorporate colorful plants within your desert garden to improve your curb appeal and your enjoyment of your outdoor space. Local nurseries are the best sources for these plants. If you are in the Tucson area, visit Four Arrows Garden’s online nursery to make your special order and they will deliver it to your door. Check them out on Facebook where Linsay keeps you updated on the latest plants available!

*Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Four Arrows Garden. My opinions and advice are my own.