winter-blooming-shrubs

Let’s face it, a winter landscape filled with frost-damaged plants isn’t the most attractive. During this time of year, I often find myself itching to grab my pruners and get rid of the ugly, brown growth on my bougainvillea, lantanas and yellow bells shrubs. But before I do, I keep repeating to myself, just a few more weeks…

Perhaps you have a similar urge to prune away all the brown too early. What helps me to stop grabbing my pruners is remembering that the dead outer growth of my summer-flowering beauties is protecting the inner part of the plant AND the fact that freezing temperatures are still a distinct possibility.

winter-blooming-shrubs

Feathery cassia and Valentine bush

And so, I will focus my attention on the winter-flowering plants that are adding beauty to my cool-season garden for now. If you don’t have any, I recommend Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana), Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’), and Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni), and feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides).

If you would like more information on this subject, I invite you to read “Got Brown Crispy Plants?”

So, what are you dying to prune back in your winter garden?

frost damaged lantana shrub

 Got brown and crispy plants? Put down your pruners if winter has not ended yet! 

Are you having a hard time ignoring them the ugliness of the frost-damaged leaves? Or perhaps you have no problem with some brown spots in your garden.  

There has been some discussion on my social media pages from people asking if they can safely prune back their plants now and I know that some of you are just itching to get outside with either your hedge-trimmers, loppers or hand pruners. 

Well, before you pick up your pruning tool of choice – I have some important advice for you.

DON’T!!!
Okay, was that obvious enough? You may be asking why you can’t go outside and prune away that brown ugly stuff in your garden.
 
Well, the answer is that you can eventually prune it away, just not now.

There are three very good reasons not to prune back your frost-damaged plants during the winter.

1. Oftentimes, the brown, dead looking branches are not dead on the inside. The warm temperatures of spring will stimulate new growth in much of the dead-looking branches. If you prune your plants too early, you may be removing live branches.
 
 New growth in March.
 2.  In general, pruning stimulates plants to produce new growth. Many gardeners make the mistake of pruning too early before the threat of cold temperatures has passed and then a period of freezing temperatures occurs, which not only kills the new growth but can even result in the death of your plant.
 
3.  The brown and crispy stuff actually protects the interior and sometimes the lower foliage of your plant from further cold damage.
 

So, I hope these reasons help to convince you to turn a blind eye to your brown and crispy plants for a little while.

Once the threat of frost is over, you can go ahead and prune away to your heart’s content 🙂
 
But, beware of giving in to the temptation to start pruning a little early.  You never know when a late frost will hit. Sometimes just when you think that there is nothing but warm weather ahead, a late frost can sneak up on you.  If you aren’t sure you can keep yourself from pruning your plants too early, ask someone you trust to lock up your pruners until the threat of frost is over 😉
 
geraniums in Arizona garden

Salmon-colored geraniums

I learned this lesson the hard way. Years ago, I was in charge of decorating with plants for a large event. I purchased 100 potted geraniums and arranged them expertly with my crew in late February. The night before the event, we had a late frost that damaged every single geranium and we have to rapidly replace them. I should have used a plant that was more cold hardy.

So, maybe you can’t stand having frost-damaged plants in your garden anymore. If that is the case, I have an assignment for you…..

Take a drive through your neighborhood and those close by as well.  Look at your neighbor’s front landscapes and see what plants are still green and did not suffer any frost-damage.

The yucca, desert spoon, and pygmy date palm all did well while the trailing lantana did not.

 The ficus tree fared poorly while the tipu tree did well.

When looking around, you will find exceptions. Some plants that normally would suffer frost damage look healthy and green.

 

As you can see, there is a large blue palo verde tree with a ‘Torch Glow’ bougainvillea underneath to the right.  You may note that this bougainvillea did not suffer frost damage.

Why?
The overhanging branches of the palo verde tree provided some protection from the cold temperatures.  
 
This knowledge can be quite helpful to you if you like having frost-tender plants in your garden but don’t like the brown and crispy winter look. By placing plants such as lantana and bougainvillea underneath a tree with filtered shade, you can oftentimes skip the ugly, winter stage.
pruning plants
Before you know it, winter will have passed and you can grab your pruners and get busy in the garden!

As the garden begins to awaken in spring, our thoughts turn to getting our plants ready for the growing season, which often involves pruning.

There are different types of pruning, each of which, are used to accomplish particular results, ultimately keeping your plants attractive and healthy.

If you are learning how to prune your trees and shrubs yourself, it’s especially important to learn about the various ways of pruning to help you determine which way(s) are the best to employ.

To do this, let’s talk about the definitions for common pruning terms so you can choose the right method for your trees and shrubs. I break it all down for you in my latest article for Houzz.

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*This blog post contains an affiliate link. 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.*

January can be a difficult time for those of us who love to grow roses. Why may you ask? Because we have to prune them back, often when they are still blooming. Living in a mild winter climate means that roses continue to bloom and it is hard to go out and cut the bushes back to bare branches (canes). But, it must be done. 

My ‘Olivia Rose’ David Austin shrub rose before pruning in January.

I am often asked why should we prune rose bushes back in winter, while they may still be blooming and there are several reasons why.

Winter pruning helps to keep roses healthy by removing old, unproductive canes (rose stems/branches), gets rid of disease and over-wintering insects that can cause damage. It also helps them to produce MORE flowers than if not pruned.

It’s this last fact that I repeat to myself over and over as I prune back my large, beautiful rose bushes in winter. Of course, I put any remaining blooms in a vase so I can enjoy them indoors.

‘Olivia Rose’ after pruning.

Ugly isn’t it? But, the pruning has done a lot of good things –  I’ve gotten rid of small, twiggy growth as well as a few dead canes. I still need to clean up the fallen leaves, which is where fungal diseases like to lurk only to spread again when the weather warms again. Pruning also stimulates new growth that will produce lots of lovely roses in the coming months. I used my Corona hand pruners to prune back my roses.

Before you know it, my ‘Olivia Rose’ bush, as well as my other roses, will be in full bloom again.

Pruning roses isn’t as hard as it looks and I encourage you not to be afraid of it and if you make a mistake, don’t worry, roses are awfully forgiving of bad pruning. I’ve written how to prune roses in an earlier post that you can read here

If you are interested in adding some new roses to your garden, winter is the best time to do that in the desert garden. I recently shared my favorite types of roses on my other blog Southwest Gardening. 

Have you pruned your roses back yet?

I’m counting down the days until Christmas and am helping you whittle down your gift list with great ideas for the gardener in your life. Yesterday, we talked about shopping online for Plants (amaryllis, air plants, roses, and succulents) and today; it’s all about Garden Tools and Gear to help to make your time in the garden easier and more enjoyable. I’ve created a must-have list of colorful tools and garden totes, including a pair of gardening shoes that I hope find their way underneath my Christmas tree.

*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.*

1. Slogger Garden Shoes 

I desperately need a pair of shoes that I can slip on whenever I step out into the garden that I can easily clean afterward. Slogger makes plastic clogs and boots with fun floral designs. These are at the top of my Christmas list, which is a good thing as I’ve been known to walk in the garden in my slippers. Click here to order your pair. 

2. TubTrug

I’m not afraid to admit that this unassuming plastic tub is in the top five of my most used garden tools. Tub trugs are flexible garden containers that can be used in some ways – as a planter, to collect plant clippings and debris, or to harvest fruit and vegetables.  There are probably other uses, but I use mine in the garden when I am deadheading my perennials and roses. They come in some pretty bright colors and multiple sizes. Click here to order.

3. Planter Inserts

In many cases, large to medium-sized planters don’t need to be  filled all the way with soil as plant roots don’t necessarily reach down that far. Planting mix is expensive and makes containers heavy, so planter inserts have come along and solved both of these problems. The inserts are placed inside of the pots, about two-thirds of the way down where they rest and potting mix is added on top of them. They come in a variety of sizes and are extremely useful. Click here to order yours.  

4. Felco Hand Pruners

A good pair of hand pruners is probably the most-used garden tool. From deadheading a favorite rose bush, to pruning small branches, they do it all. While there are a large number of different brands, some are better than others, and the very best are made by Felco. They cut cleanly and are comfortable to use. Also, their blades can be sharpened, making this a garden tool that will last you for years. I’ve used many different hand pruners and Felco the best. Click here to order. 

5. Ergonomic Hand Shovel

For those who do a lot of container planting or work in the vegetable garden, hand shovels are an indispensable tool for making shallow trenches and digging small holes. But, digging over time can be hard on your wrists, so I use one with a uniquely-shaped handle that puts less stress on my hands and wrists. It also comes in a lot of different colors as well. Click here to order. 

 

Gardening is more enjoyable when you are equipped with the proper tools, and the gardeners in your life will appreciate these items that will make their outdoor hobby easier.

Tomorrow, I am going to share my top five gardening books that are specific for Southwest gardens. So please stop by for another visit. 

Overgrown, old Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

You have undoubtedly seen an old, overgrown shrub filled with mostly leafless branches that rarely flower anymore. Or, perhaps it is an aged succulent that has brown patches that are slowly encroaching onto the upper parts of the plant from the base. So, what is the solution for plants that no longer add decorative value to our landscape?

Old rosemary filled with unproductive woody growth

While some woody plants such as Texas sage or oleander can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, not all plants respond favorably to this and grow out again. Let’s take a look at some Southwestern favorite shrubs and succulents and talk about whether you should prune severely or when it’s best to replace.

Oleander that has undergone severe renewal pruning in spring.

Many shrubs can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, which gets rid of old, woody growth and stimulates the production of new branches, which will flower more (in the case of flowering shrubs). It is helpful to think of severe renewal pruning as the “fountain of youth” for many plants. This type of pruning is best done in spring, once the weather begins to warm up. Shrubs that respond well to this include bougainvillea, jojoba, lantana, oleander, Texas sage, and yellow bells. It’s important to note that not all shrubs will come back from this method, but the pruning didn’t kill the shrub – it only hastened the demise of the plant that was already in progress. If this happens, replace it with another.

Old desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

There are some plants that don’t respond well to renewal pruning or where that isn’t possible to do in the case of succulents. In this case, the solution is simple – take them out and replace them with a younger version of the same plant. Examples of plants that are better removed and replaced include aloe, desert spoon, red yucca (hesperaloe), rosemary, and prickly pear cactus. When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

Heavenly Cloud Texas Sage several weeks after severe pruning.

When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

*Have you severely pruned back an old shrub and had it come back beautifully? Or, maybe you recently removed and replaced some old succulents?

 

I’m about to show you my messy container plants, which have been sadly ignored for the past few months.

Shocking isn’t it? I’m embarrassed to show this to you, but I’m the first to admit that I’m not a perfect gardener. Sometimes, life gets in the way of garden maintenance tasks, and since I don’t have my own personal gardener on my payroll, my plants sometimes look like this.

While the plants are perfectly happy and healthy, they are messy, and you can’t even tell how many plants and pots there are.

The center pot is filled with a lush green Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) shrub and some overgrown ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia.

Arabian jasmine loves shade and can handle filtered shade too. It’s fragrant white flowers greet visitors who pass by it on the way to the front door. As you can see, it does well when planted in the ground or a large pot.

In this corner, my lovely blue pot is filled with a hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa), bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum), and foxtail asparagus fern (Protasparagus densiflorus ‘Meyeri’).

I planted this arrangement of plants last year and was inspired by a collection of containers that I saw in California.

I love the combination of plants known for their foliage and wanted this for my front entry. Needless to say, mine doesn’t look like this and won’t without a little attention from me.

This is my succulent container that is filled with a single ‘King Ferdinand’ agave (Agave ferdinandi-regis) and elephants food (Portulacaria afra).

*The witch decoration is a little outdoor decoration for Halloween.

I started in by pruning the most prominent plant, the Arabian jasmine. Using my hand pruners, I cut it back, removing approximately 2/3 of its total size. The ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia was cut back as well, but it is on its way out as it’s usually used for as a warm season annual, but it may come back and bloom for me before winter arrives.

As I pruned back the overgrown jasmine, I discovered a forgotten trailing plant that I had added several months ago. I can’t remember what it was – perhaps bacopa or scaevola.

That looks so much better! The Arabian jasmine will grow back a little before the cold of winter halts its growth. I lightly trimmed the elephants food and tied up the hop bush to a wooden stake to help promote more upright growth. 

In about a week, I’ll add some flowering annuals to the black pot, and I’m open to suggestions. *Do you have a favorite cool-season annual?

Disclosure: This post was paid for by the folks at 3-IN-ONE. The opinions expressed are my own.

Do you have a gardening tool that is extra special to you? I do. Whenever I’m out in the garden, you’ll almost always see me with a pair of hand pruners that I use for lightly shaping shrubs, removing tree suckers, or cutting fresh flowers.

As a garden communicator, I am often provided with the newest model of hand pruners, and while these hand pruners bear the labels of several makers, my favorite pair is in fact, my oldest.

At first glance, these orange-handled pruners aren’t fancy, and I don’t know who the maker is. The handles aren’t the most ergonomic, but function almost as well as the newer ones do as I move through the garden pruning slender stems and small branches.

I refer to this old-fashioned pair of pruners as my ‘garden heirloom’ because they once belonged to my father-in-law who was an avid gardener. He didn’t have just one, but three pairs of orange-handled pruners that would hang on the wall over his tool bench. All of his gardening tools were meticulously maintained and as a result, they are still more than able to assist me in my pruning tasks.

When my father-in-law could no longer garden due to complications of ALS, he bequeathed his gardening tools to me, and I started using the pruners to take care of his garden once the disease had robbed him of the ability to do so. He would sit nearby where he could watch me cutting back his prized plants.

Several years later, those orange-handled pruners have a new home in my garden shed, and it’s important to me that I take of them as well as he did. Thankfully, the folks at 3-IN-ONE have the perfect product that I use to keep his pruners clean and in excellent condition. 3-IN-ONE Multi-Purpose Oil lubricates these, and all of my hand pruners allowing them to open and close smoothly, making pruning much easier while putting less stress on my hands.

Apply 3-IN-ONE on each blade…

 

…and wipe with a clean cloth.

It’s no secret that pruning can get your tools messy with accumulated sap and plant debris on the blades and a pair of dirty pruners is harder for me to open and close and can even damage plants by making messy pruning cuts. I use 3-IN-ONE to remove the mess, leaving behind shiny blades. In short, it cleans, lubricates, and protects my heirloom hand pruners as well as my other pruning tools.

Earlier this week, I faced a challenge of my own making when I inadvertently left a different pair of pruners outdoors for a few months before I discovered them.

 

They were difficult to open and had sap and plant debris sticking to the blades. So, I brought them indoors to try to get them back to life. First, I used a wire brush, dipped in water, to get rid of as much dirt and debris as I could and then applied a generous amount of 3-IN-ONE lubricating oil along the blades and the pivot joint and then wiped it off with a dry cloth.

Right away, there was a huge difference, and I was so happy to see that my neglect hadn’t damaged them forever as they were now easy to open and close once again.

The tools you use in the garden will perform better and last longer when properly cared for and for me, 3-IN-ONE Multi-Purpose Oil plays an essential part in caring for my tools; protecting them from rust while decreasing the amount of dirt and plant debris sticking to the blades. I look forward to using my orange-handled, garden heirloom in the garden for years to come.

3-IN-ONE® products are available nationally at retailers, such as ACE Hardware, Lowe’s and True Value. To find the stores near you that carry 3-IN-ONE visit 3inone.com and select the “where to buy” button on each product’s detail page.

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I love my garden, filled with trees that provide welcome filtered shade along with flowering shrubs. While my garden gives me joy, it does take maintenance to keep it healthy and looking its best.

The primary maintenance chore I have is pruning, which I enjoy doing. 

What I don’t like is cleaning up the clippings, and I often ask my kids to drag them to the trash can or the curb for bulk pickup. However, that was then, and I have a new tool to help me with dealing with the aftermath of pruning. My new Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder will take the stems and small branches and shred them into mulch.

*As a brand ambassador, I was provided the CS4295 Chipper Shredder free of charge, for my honest review.

The chipper shredder has two areas where you can insert plant material. The top part is called the ‘hopper’ and is where stems and branches that are less than the width of pencil are added, which are pulverized into mulch that is expelled into a white bag attached off to the side.

Branches under 2-inches in diameter are fed through the ‘chipper chute’ and are expelled into the collection bag. It was fun to use and I was pleased how quickly my pile of branches was decreasing in size.

In the end, my two large piles were reduced to a much smaller pile of shredded leaves and stems. Instead of throwing out piles of plant clippings, I now have great material for my compost pile. It is also suitable to use as mulch for putting around my plants. However, you’ll want to age the mulch for 3 – 6 months before applying or it can use up the nitrogen that plants need while it breaks down.

This photo says it all. My Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder took two piles of branches, that would have filled up most of my trash can, and reduced them to a small pile of mulch suitable for my garden. 

*Disclosure: As a Troy-Bilt brand ambassador, the chipper shredder was provided to me at no cost by TroyBilt to review for my honest opinion.

Have you ever paused in the shade of a mesquite tree (Prosopis spp.) and noticed that its branches grow every which way? 

I was reminded of this when I was visiting a client earlier this week and was advising him on how to care for his mesquite tree. I looked up and saw a cluster of branches growing up, down, sideways, and in curvy pathways.

In an ideal situation, mesquite trees resemble the shape of more traditional tree species, as shown above. However, they don’t always turn out this way. 

Have you ever wondered why mesquite trees grow in such crazy ways?

The answer is quite simple – in nature, mesquites grow as large shrubs. The branches of shrubs grow in all directions, up, down, sideways, etc., and so do mesquites.  

The problem arises when we train them up as trees, and their branches don’t always behave as a tree’s do. Because of this, mesquites that have been pruned into trees, do best being pruned by a professional, particularly when they are young and certain branches are being chosen to remain while others are pruned off.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and you can see the results of bad pruning practices in many places. 

I do love the shade that mesquite trees provide and I must admit that I enjoy a good chuckle when I see the unusual shapes that some mesquite trees have taken.

How about you? Have you ever seen a mesquite tree with crazy branches?