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.

Texas Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

 

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 trees 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?

One of my favorite things I do as a landscape consultant is to show my clients newer plant introductions on the market.

Imagine being the first person on your block with the latest plant that all your neighbors will want to add in their landscape.  

Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’
 
Many of you may be familiar with the large, orange-flowering shrub Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’. This popular shrub has clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers and a long bloom period. Its large size 8-12-foot height makes it a favorite for screening out a block wall or unfavorable view.
 
While the flowers and lush foliage are a plus, Orange Jubilee is too large for many smaller areas, which is why this newer shrub is one of my new favorites. 
 
 
‘Sparky’ Tecoma is a hybrid that has bi-colored flowers and is named after Arizona State University’s popular mascot due to the coloring. It was created by a horticulturist and professor at ASU.
 
 
‘Sparky’ is about half the size of ‘Orange Jubilee,’ which makes it suitable for smaller spaces. It has smaller leaves and a slightly more compact growth habit, reaching 4-5 feet tall and wide.
 
Both types of Tecoma have the same requirements – plant in full sun and prune away frost-damaged growth in March.  ‘Sparky’ is slightly more cold tender than ‘Orange Jubilee’.
 
I have added three of these lovely shrubs in my front garden. One along my west-facing side wall, and two that flank either side of my large front window. They add beautiful color 9 months a year.
For those of you who are U of A alumni, you can plant one and call it something else. To date, there isn’t any word of a red, white and blue hybrid yet – but, I’ll be sure to let you know if they create one 😉

AZ Plant Lady

I love to spend time out in the garden but it may surprise you to learn that I don’t have a garden shed full of tools, fertilizer, and other gardening items.

Full Disclosure: I USED to! As a garden influencer, companies send me their newest tools and fertilizers in hopes that I will recommend them to my followers. As a result, my garage was overflowing with so much stuff!

And you know what? I found that I only need a few must-have items. As a result, my shed is much cleaner with only my go-to items that I use in the garden.

With the holidays fast approaching, I’m here to help you make your gift list easier with seven items that I use for my own desert garden. Perhaps you’ll find some helpful gift ideas or items to add to your own wishlist!

*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

 

blue garden gloves

I often use my bare hands when I work in the vegetable garden and with my container plants. Most garden gloves are bulky garden gloves that make it hard to handle smaller planting tasks. That’s why I love my new Foxglove Original Garden Gloves. They keep my hands clean yet allow me to ‘feel’ what I’m doing when I handle plants or plant seeds. Of course, I love that they come in gorgeous colors – I have a pair of periwinkle blue.

 

Hand Weeding Tool

Got weeds? Okay, who doesn’t? Three years ago, I was introduced to the CobraHead Hand Weeder and I love it! This tool is unique as it’s easy to use and works well at removing weeds. The handle is made from recycled plastic and the blade is made of forged steel. Its curved shape is ergonomic and it really does make weed removal so much easier. I use it for weeds that sprout up in the garden as well as in my vegetable garden. There are several sizes – I use the ‘mini’ and the long-handled’ ones.

 

Purple Hand Pruners

 

Here is the tool that I use most often in my garden as it’s always on hand when I need to do smaller pruning tasks. These Compact Hand Pruners FIT IN MY POCKET, which means that I can put them in my back pocket whenever I need to use both hands for other garden tasks. How many times do you lay down hand pruners only to forget where you put them? Dramm makes great garden products and their hand pruners are sharp and work well for cutting stems up to 1/4″ in diameter. I love that they come in a variety of bright colors – I have the purple ones!

canvas garden branches

Here is a new product that I used for the first time this year. I like to prune, but I hate having to clean up afterward. I was asked to test out this Garden Clean-Up Canvas Tarp, and afterward, I was hooked! The tarp is relatively large and sturdy. It lays flat, and you put your garden clippings on it (branches, lawn clippings, etc.). Once you finish, you grasp the corners with their green rubber handles and haul it to the curb (or trash can). I’m not the only one happy it – my husband is too as he doesn’t have to clean up after me once I’ve finished pruning.

 

Eye Glasses with Flowers

Whether I need to read the tiny print on a packet of seeds or identify a bug, I rely on my readers. I can’t see much without them. So, if I have to wear glasses, I want them to be colorful or have a pretty floral pattern. I love these Classic Floral Readers, which come in three pairs cause let’s face it – they can be misplaced. I love the compliments that I get on my glasses, and I’m sure you’ll love these too.

 

 

Hand Shovel Green Handle

My mother introduced me to this useful tool on my shelf several years ago. Soon after, I ditched all my other hand shovels because this one was far superior. The narrow shape of this Ergonomic Alumunium Hand Transplanter/Shovel makes it great for adding flowering annuals into pots. I also use it in my vegetable garden for transplants, as well as creating furrows for seeds. Another bonus is that its handle is comfortable on your wrist and comes in other bright colors – I have a blue one.

 

Seed Packets

Here is a new product from the folks at Botanical Interests, who are famous for their beautifully decorated seed packets. For the first time, they have released Botanical Art Prints from selected seed packets! This summer, I had the opportunity to tour their facility and meet the owners. One of the stops on our tour was their art department and I was blown away by the beauty and artistry of their botanical drawings. There several to choose from, ready for framing. I confess that I don’t have one yet, but hope to soon! I can just picture them in my office or kitchen. *I encourage you to check them out to see the different botanical art prints available.

 

brown purse

I love to travel and much of that involves garden travel. One of my go-to items that I bring with me is my Baggallini Journey Crossbody Purse. I like to carry a smaller purse when I’m on the road and this one has served me well for over 7 years! Despite its compact size, I’m amazed at how much it fits – phone, sunglasses, reading glasses, chapstick, tissues, pen, business cards, and a granola bar. I like that it has slots for my drivers license and debit/credit cards as well as a zipper pouch for money – it rids you of the need to bring a separate wallet. This is a well-made product and I am a huge fan of Baggallini products! It comes in a variety of colors.

 

 

I hope that my must-have list inspires you. I use all of these products and highly recommend them. Hopefully, you will find inspiration as to what to add to your list or buy for friends and family.

**Need MORE ideas? Check out my store page on Amazon.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

flowering perennial firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

pink blooming Parry's penstemon

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

flowering echinopsis Ember

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

blue flowering shrubby gerrymander

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Calliandra red powder puff shrub

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

flowering annuals Callibrochoa

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

severely pruned yellow bells

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

onions arizona vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

blossom of meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

fragrant chocolate flower

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

purple flowering verbena

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

ripening peaches

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

flowers of apple tree

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

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?