Fuss Free Plants

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus),

Does the idea of having to venture outside, when temperatures are above 100 degrees, to care for your garden have you thinking twice? I must admit that there have been times when I have let the plants in my landscape fend for themselves in summer after setting the irrigation controller. But, there is often a price to pay afterward when you have to play catch up with extra pruning and other maintenance.

There are however many different plants that thrive in summer with little fuss allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your air-conditioned home while viewing your beautiful garden through the windows. Here are some of my favorite fuss free plants for the summer garden.

Fuss Free Plants

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican honeysuckle has lush green foliage and produces tubular orange flowers throughout the entire year. They do best in filtered shade and attract hummingbirds. I like to plant them underneath trees such as mesquite or palo verde.

Learn more about Mexican honeysuckle.

Fuss Free Plants

Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)

Artichoke agave is highly prized for its rosette shape, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The blue-gray color and maroon edges add great color contrast to the garden when it is placed alongside plants with dark and light-green foliage.

Of course, these are but one species of agave that would make a delightful, fuss-free addition to the summer garden. I also recommend cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), smooth-edge agave (Agave desmettiana), and Victoria agave (Agave victoriareginae) to name a few.

Fuss Free Plants
Fuss Free Plants

‘Summertime Blue’ (Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’)

‘Summertime Blue’ is a delightful shrub that needs next to no maintenance throughout the year and decorates the garden with its bright green foliage and violet-blue flowers that appear spring through fall. It grows slowly but will reach approximately 6 feet tall and wide. If given enough room, it can go a year (or two) before needing pruning. While you may have to look around for a nursery that carries it, it’s well worth the effort. It is also usually found at the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales.

Fuss Free Plants

Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

Lady’s Slipper is a uniquely shaped succulent with thornless stems that have a ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit that is more pronounced in light shade. The upright stems add a welcome vertical element to the landscape, and small orange flowers are produced off and on through spring and fall. They can be grown in containers or planted in the ground and do well in full sun or light shade.

Fuss Free Plants

Bush Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Radiation’)

Bush lantana is a familiar sight to many who live in arid climates like ours. This species of lantana is slightly different than the trailing gold and purple lantana. It has larger leaves, grows taller, and has multi-colored flowers that vary according to the variety. Bush lantana is a great choice for a colorful summer garden as they are seemingly heat-proof.

Fuss Free Plants

Totem Pole ‘Monstrosus’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’)

Totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ has become quite a popular addition to the desert garden and it’s easy to see why with its knobby shape. Another bonus is that they are almost always thornless, which makes them suitable for areas near entries or patios where a prickly cactus aren’t welcome. Plant in full sun in a row for a contemporary look or place next to a boulder for a more natural appearance. 

Learn more about totem pole cactus.

Fuss Free Plants

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Heavenly Cloud’)

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas sage is well worth adding to your landscape for its lovely purple blossoms that appear off and on throughout the warm season, often in response to increased humidity. All species of Texas sage do well in summer and can be nearly maintenance-free if allowed enough room to reach their 8 foot tall and wide size as well as left to grow into their natural shape. This particular species blooms more than the more common ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage.

Fuss Free Plants

Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Golden barrel cactus are wildly popular, and it is easy to see why with the globular shapes and yellow coloring. This cactus is quite versatile, able to grow in both sun and light shade. I like to use it in groups of three next to boulders or in a row. They also do well in containers planted singly or along with other succulents.

Fuss Free Plants

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Red bird-of-paradise is one of the most iconic flowering shrubs in the low desert regions of Arizona. Also known as mexican bird-of-paradise and royal poinciana, visitors marvel at their beautiful flowers in shades of orange, yellow, and red. The striking blossoms appear in late spring and last into early fall much to the delight of hummingbirds. There is nothing to do to care for them in summer other than to marvel at their beauty.

Learn more about

red bird-of-paradise

Fuss Free Plants

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red yucca has the appearance of an ornamental grass, but its leaves are succulent. Coral-colored flowers are borne aloft on tall stalks off and on spring through fall – there is also a yellow variety as well. They look great all year, even when not in flower and are well worth adding to your outdoor space.

Learn more about red yucca.

So if you are tired of having to prune and fertilize plants through summer, I invite you to try one of these 10 fuss-free summer plants.**Do you have a favorite fuss free plants for summer?

Prickly pear

Prickly pear

The next time you find yourself grumbling about having to prune your trees and shrubs – just be thankful that you don’t have to prune cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden.

While I have never had to prune a large bed of cacti, I have backed into cholla and other types of cacti early in my career. I’ve even had a piece stuck on the back of my leg – ouch!

I admit to being a bit clumsy and not always hyper-aware of my surroundings. Years ago, when I had a landscape crew, they would always be warning me about plant holes and prickly plants that I didn’t spot right away.

More recently, I was visiting a client and backed my heel into her golden barrel cactus. Several years later, despite my doctor trying to get it out, a piece of that thorn is still stuck in my heel. It doesn’t hurt anymore, and I just have a tiny bump on my heel as a memento.

 Prickly pear

However, some types of cacti, such as prickly pear and cholla, need to be pruned from time to time in a landscape setting.

Prickly pear can grow very large and spread. If you don’t have enough room, you may find yourself having to prune it back. When pruning prickly pears, make your pruning cuts where the individual pads meet. I like to use long-handled loppers, which work well and don’t require getting too close.

 Prickly pear

Cholla tend to drop segments on the ground, which is how they propagate.  The segments will root in ideal conditions and grow a new cholla.

In a managed landscape, it is a good idea to clean the fallen pieces of cholla to help keep people from inadvertently getting it stuck to their shoes.

**Have you ever wondered why cacti have thorns?  I wrote about the surprising reasons that cacti are prickly and some tips for pulling out cactus spines if you get stuck…

“Why Do Cactus Have Spines”

Have you ever gotten pricked by a cactus?  

desert garden with flowering plants
Backyard desert landscape with low-water plants.

Did you know that what you plant today has short-term and long-term benefits? It’s true. As water resources become even more precious, planting wisely is more important than ever. You will enjoy the immediate effects of lowering your outdoor water use while enjoying the knowledge that you are creating a sustainable outdoor space for the future.

Another benefit is that low-water plants are beautiful and increase your outdoor enjoyment.

So, let’s discuss four ways of “planting ahead” to ensure that your desert landscape is resilient for years to come.

shady tree over seating area in backyard
Outdoor seating area underneath the shade of a ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree.

Plant More Shade

The benefits of shade in the garden cannot be overstated; trees are a great way to achieve that. Trees offer a welcome respite from the hot desert sun while adding beauty to the landscape. Additionally, trees reduce outdoor temperatures underneath their branches, and when placed on the west, east, or south side of your home, will save money on energy bills.

Native and desert-adapted trees don’t use much water, and plants grown under the branches of trees use less water than those planted in full sun.

Look at the areas around your home and see if there are areas where shade be added. If you have a narrow space where trees won’t fit, consider using tall shrubs such as hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) to provide shade.

 

purple flowering shrub
‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’).

Plant More Color

People are naturally drawn to color, and you can improve your home’s curb appeal by adding colorful plants. Desert dwellers have many flowering plants to choose from – from groundcovers, shrubs, and vines. Additionally, we have a year-round growing climate so you can always have something in bloom outdoors.

To maximize the color impact of plants, group the same plants together in threes or fives instead of just one. Place colorful plants in high-visibility areas such as against a wall, the corners of your property, and near the front entry where they are sure to be seen.

Avoid the biggest color mistake and stop excessively pruning flowering plants into unnatural shapes. Most flowering shrubs need pruning once a year or less.

 

flowering shrubs growing in containers
Vibrant pots filled with Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), ‘Blue Bells’ emu (Eremophila hygrophana), Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), and mealy cup sage (Salvia farinacea) attract pollinators under the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

Plant More Wildlife

Our gardens can help benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. A bonus is that you get to view them up close! The easiest way to invite wildlife such as birds, bees, and butterflies is to incorporate plants they are attracted to.

Trees, shrubs, and even cacti can provide shelter, while the blooms from certain plants will provide nectar and seeds. One easy way to encourage pollinators to visit your garden is to replace thirsty flowering annuals in containers and plant flowering shrubs instead. The shrubs will use less water while still providing you with color. 

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is one of my favorite choices for attracting pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and larger bird species are attracted to the seeds.

 

colorful ground covers
A front yard that had the lawn removed. Flowering groundcovers such as gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), and angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) add beauty for much less water.

Plant More Water Saving

Plants don’t use the same amount of water – some need more, while others do fine receiving less while still looking great. You don’t need a yard filled with thirsty plants because many beautiful plants use less water (and I’m not just speaking of cacti and succulents). 

Switch out high-water-use plants and replace them with those that need less water. Groundcovers are an excellent substitute for a lawn – particularly decorative ones. Many low-growing groundcovers have lush green foliage but require a fraction of the water that a lawn does. While they can’t be walked upon, they make a beautiful addition to the landscape, and many add a colorful element and provide a food source for pollinators. Even better, they require very little maintenance.

Planting ahead involves strategically selecting the plants we choose for our desert landscapes. These four ideas will help you create a beautiful yet sustainable outdoor space that will save water and provide a more sustainable future.

Need help choosing the right low-water plants? I invite you to visit AMWUA:Plants or explore the plants in my award-winning book, Dry Climate Gardening, where you will find useful tools to help you implement these recommendations.

I have picked up a new hobby, which was a bit accidental – birding!

As a horticulturist, birds go along with gardening, and I’ve always enjoyed them. One of my most requested speaking topics is about gardening for birds. However, I have begun to dive deeply into the fascinating birding world.

Birding is Fun with my Family

It may surprise you that the Southwest is one of the top bird-watching destinations. I am fortunate that there is a lovely riparian preserve a few miles from my home where you can see many different species of birds.

It turns out my two sisters also enjoy birding, so the other day, we met up early to go for a morning walk and explore the birds at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, in Gilbert, Arizona.

This photo is of me and my sister Jennifer, who is a year younger than me. She is also the invaluable assistant to ‘AZ Plant Lady’ who would be nothing without her 🙂

It was a cold morning, but the birds were out, and so were we ready with our binoculars. The trails are level and circle eight different ponds. Trees and shrubs are allowed to grow in their natural shapes, providing plenty of shelter for birds, but we could see many in the trees and on the water.

We spotted the red of a Northern cardinal. I am always excited when I see one of these colorful birds because we don’t get many of them.

His mate was close by. Northern cardinals don’t migrate but stay in place all year.

We also spotted the orange breast of a robin but didn’t get a good photo of it.

An Anna’s hummingbird perched on the leafless branch of a shrub. His feathers are puffed up to help keep him warm. I am so grateful that we enjoy hummingbirds in our region all year. While we walked, we could hear hummingbirds everywhere.

From the tiny to the large, Canada geese gently honked as they saw us approach, hoping for food. We saw many other types of water birds, including pelicans – imagine pelicans in the desert! They leave in the summer.

A tiny verdin was busy eating tiny insects in a palo verde branch. I have a nesting pair of verdin in my own garden, and I love to watch their antics as they perch on my flowering shrubs. Verdins are just a little larger than hummingbirds.   

A roadrunner was out for a morning walk, but earlier, we spotted it in a tree. Roadrunners are fun to watch, especially when they catch small lizards.

A curved bill thrasher was enjoying the morning with his mate. I have a pair that visits my bird feeder at home. I like their golden eyes.

My youngest sister, Grace, is a professional photographer and took all these amazing photos. She kindly let me share them with you! You can see more of her stunning photos on her Instagram account, The Reluctant Birder.

I can hardly wait for another ‘sister’ birding walk!

I encourage you to observe the birds who visit your garden or go to some natural areas to view our feathered friends.

backyard desert garden with fall-blooming plants

Embracing the Desert Garden in Fall

Fall is my favorite time of year in the desert garden for two main reasons.

First, fall signals the beginning of the holiday season. And yes, I am one of those people who decorate for Christmas early. Thanksgiving dinner at my house is celebrated with a fully decorated tree in the background.

The Revival of the Desert Garden

Secondly, autumn marks a magical transformation in my garden, as it awakens from the trials of summer. It’s no secret that the scorching heat of the summer months can be taxing on our cherished green companions. However, the arrival of fall ushers in a series of remarkable changes that breathe new life into our botanical friends.

Lush and Vibrant

As keen observers of nature, we’ve likely noticed the remarkable resurgence of our plants during this season. The foliage appears lusher, the blooms more vibrant, and the overall health of our garden seems to rebound. It’s a phenomenon so profound that many desert gardeners affectionately dub autumn as the “second spring.”

This resurgence is no mere coincidence but rather a result of nature’s resilience and adaptation. As temperatures dip and daylight hours become more moderate, our plants find relief from the summer’s harsh extremes. They eagerly embrace this milder environment, seizing the opportunity to flourish once again.

Nurturing the Garden

In the desert, autumn isn’t just a season of change; it’s a reaffirmation of the enduring partnership between gardeners and the natural world. It reminds us that, even in the harshest of climates, with patience and understanding, we can create and nurture thriving gardens that mirror the vitality and resilience of the desert itself.

Foliage Rejuvenation and Vibrant Blooms in Your Garden

Here are some of the differences you may see in your plants this time of year:

  1. Darker foliage has replaced the sun-bleached appearance of some plants due to less intense sunlight.
  2. Flowering increases and the blooms may also appear more intense in color due to less intensity from the sun.
  3. Some plants only bloom in fall, like black dalea (Dalea frutescens), cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco), and my favorite pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

Showcasing the Fall Garden

In the section of my backyard, pictured above, pink muhly and white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis ‘Alba’) look especially vibrant in fall.

Pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) dominates the back corner and blooms in spring and fall. I always know when cooler temps are on their way when they begin to bloom in September.

However, as autumn transitions into winter, the blooms in this area will slow and fade. A few hardy blooms may remain, but overall, the plants will slow down in their growth and flowering. The exception is my angelita daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis) which will bloom off and on through winter.

Discovering the Delights of Your Desert Garden

In the desert southwest landscape, where scorching sun and minimal rainfall summers challenge even the greenest thumbs, cultivating a thriving fall water-saving garden becomes a true art. Through careful planning and sustainable practices, enthusiasts uncover the secrets of nurturing vibrant cacti, resilient succulents, and colorful desert blooms.

What a joy to learn the delicate balance of conserving water while creating an oasis of life. Beyond the satisfaction of tending to nature’s wonders, desert gardening in the southwest unveils the beauty of resilient, sustainable, and breathtakingly unique landscapes. I invite you to take a walk through your garden and note the changes to your plants. This is a happy time of year in the garden!

Understanding the Mystery of Dead Plants

I’m pretty sure I know the answer to the dead plant mystery.

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.

The Perplexing Case of ‘Blue Bells’ Emu Bush

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. Dead plants can tell a story.

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


How to Figure Out Why a Plant Died in Your Garden

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

1. Recent Planting and Transplant Shock:

Was it planted recently? If so, it may not have had enough time to grow enough roots to survive summer. Transplant shock is a real thing.

2. Watering Issues Are a Concern:

Did it get enough water? Was the drip emitter plugged or broken? Sometimes we need to better educate ourselves on water irrigation.

3. Sun Exposure Extremes:

Was it planted in the wrong exposure? In other words, did it get too much sun or not enough? Both of these things can cause dead plants.

4. Climate Compatibility Can Cause Dead Plants:

Does the plant do well in our hot, desert climate? Or will it end up a dead plant because it is not built for the desert climate.

5. Pest Problems:

Were there any pest problems, such as ants around the roots or other unwelcome bugs? This can weaken the plant.

6. Overall Landscape Health:

Are identical plants in your landscape struggling too? If so, they might all be struggling due to a similar issue.

7. Soil Conditions are Important:

Is there a problem with the soil? Groupings of dead plants can sometimes indicate poor soil conditions.


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.’ You might find a different plant that works well for your garden.

I hope my new plant is happy…

The dog days of summer…

By the time midpoint of summer heat arrives, I am firmly in ‘summer hibernation’ mode. I have past all the garden needs in hot early summer and moved on to trying to find a cool spot with a nice glass of lemonade.

Why Summer Hibernation Mode in the Desert

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.

Garden Concerns for Extreme Southwest Heat

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. There are also a lot of fuss-free plants you can choose for the summer garden that bloom and look beautiful all season long.

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

Have you ever noticed circular areas missing from your leaves? If so, you aren’t alone. The other day I noticed several of my plants with neat semi-circular sections missing. But, was I worried? Nope, and I’ll tell you why in my latest garden video.

The Enigmatic Damage to Leaves

A Puzzling Leaf Discovery

Noelle: Hey there, fellow garden enthusiasts! Today, we’re diving into a bit of a mystery. As I was strolling through my garden, I couldn’t help but notice something quite peculiar – several of my plant leaves had neat, semi-circular sections missing. Now, I know this might raise some alarms for many gardeners, but fear not, for I’m here to share some insights and reassure you that it’s not as ominous as it might seem.

Noelle: First things first, let’s take a closer look at these mysterious leaf patterns. You can see here on this rosebush, there’s a semi-circular chunk missing from one of the leaves. And over here on this hibiscus, another one. So, what’s going on? Is it some nefarious garden pest?

The Twist in the Tale of Leaves

Noelle: Well, here’s the twist – it’s not a pest at all! In fact, this leaf damage is quite natural and not something to fret over.

You see, the culprits behind these neat, semi-circular holes are none other than the remarkable leafcutter bees. Leafcutter bees are a type of solitary bee, and they are truly fantastic pollinators. What might appear as leaf vandalism is, in fact, a vital part of their unique nesting process.

Leafcutter bees utilize these semi-circular leaf sections to construct their nests. If you take a closer look, you might even spot some of these leaf sections tucked away in the nooks and crannies of your garden.

leaf cutter damage on leaves

The Precision of Leafcutter Bees

Meticulous Craftsmen

Noelle: Leafcutter bees are known for their precision. They cut these perfect curves from the edges of leaves, and they’re surprisingly meticulous about it. The remarkable thing is that these bees aren’t interested in damaging your plants; they’re simply striving to build a safe and cozy space for their offspring.

Beneficial Garden Partners

Noelle: Now, here’s the best part – these bees are great for your garden! As they visit your plants to collect nectar and pollen, they’re inadvertently pollinating your flowers. This pollination process is an essential aspect of maintaining a healthy garden ecosystem.

Embrace the Leaf Patterns

A New Perspective

Noelle: So, the next time you come across these mysterious leaf patterns, don’t panic. Instead, take a moment to appreciate the hard work of these industrious leafcutter bees and the positive impact they have on your garden.

Thanks for joining me on this little garden mystery journey. If you enjoyed learning about leafcutter bees and want to see more fascinating garden insights, don’t forget to hit that subscribe button and give this video a thumbs up. Happy gardening!

In summary, the seemingly mysterious leaf damage caused by leafcutter bees is nothing to worry about. These industrious pollinators are beneficial to your garden, and their leaf-cutting activities are just part of their nesting process. So, next time you spot these neat, semi-circular holes in your leaves, remember to appreciate the role of leafcutter bees in your garden’s ecosystem. Happy gardening!

Has this happened in your garden? What plants were affected?

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

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

Learning from Mistakes in the Garden: A Green Thumb’s Journey

Embracing the Reality of Gardening

Do you know someone who has a green thumb? Usually, it’s someone with a beautiful garden that stands out among their neighbors with thriving plants that flourish. 

While you may think people with green thumbs are born and not made, I’ll let you in on a BIG secret – behind every green thumb is a trail of many dead plants.

Behind the Scenes of a Green Thumb

dead plants and a not so green thumb

It’s true. There isn’t a single experienced gardener who has never had a plant die in their garden. Of course, someone with a green thumb may be hesitant to reveal this fact, and you may not notice because dead or failing plants are usually pulled out before people notice.

green thumb disaster dead plants

I’m not exempt from this either – I’ve had many plants die on my watch.

Newly planted 'Blue Bell' (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Newly planted ‘Blue Bell’ (Eremophila hygrophana) shrubs

Factors That Affect Plant Health and Your Green Thumb

Believe it or not, the fact that plants die in your garden helps you to become better at growing them. While your first inclination may be to get frustrated about the loss of a plant, look at it as a gardening lesson instead.

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

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

1. Climate Adaptation

Is it well-adapted to your climate?

2. Proper Exposure

Was it planted in the right exposure (sun, filtered sun, or shade)?

3. Irrigation Needs

Did it receive the proper amount of irrigation?

4. Maintenance Practices

Was it maintained correctly (pruning, fertilizing)?

New 'Blonde Ambition' (Bouteloua gracilis) makes for a beautiful green thumb planting

New ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis)

Green Thumb Research and Experimentation

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

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

As a horticulturist, I experiment in my garden with newer plants that have come onto the market. Several years ago, I planted several ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis) grasses. I had heard a few different tips about how to grow them and the best exposure – one says that filtered sun is a must while another person says it can handle full sun. So, I am trying them out in my front yard to see for myself where they will receive filtered shade until the afternoon when they will be blasted by the sun. UPDATE – they do best in full sun 🙂

*One fun bonus of being a horticulturist is that growers often send plants for free so I can try them and give them feedback about how they grow in a low-desert garden.

The Role of Nearby Trees

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

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

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

One month later. A very strong green thumb view

One month later.

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

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

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

Unpredictable Nature of Gardening

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

Green Thumb

As you can see, the ‘Meerlo’ lavender did very well in my zone 9 garden even though the actual information on the plant tag states that it does best in zone 8 and below.

Green Thumb Lessons

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

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

Fuss-Free Plants for Fall Planting

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take another photo of a landscape I passed by in a neighborhood where I had just finished up a landscape consultation. I was shocked at the mushroom shaped shrubs.

The Pitfalls of Shrub Pruning Mistakes

Sadly, I often see examples of truly ‘interesting’ or should I say ‘bad’ pruning.  I drove by this landscape and then made a U-turn so that I could take a quick photo…

improper shrub pruning

Shrub pruning

I don’t know about you, but these Texas sage shrubs look like mushrooms, don’t you think?

Sadly, pruning these beautiful flowering shrubs this way robs them of their flowers, increases maintenance, creates dead wood, and shortens their life.

Misguided Pruning in Strange Shapes

While there are quite a few shrubs that take well to repeated formal pruning – doing this to flowering shrubs should be avoided.

I must admit that I have seen Texas sage and other flowering shrubs pruned into many different shapes…

But, let me be frank – shrubs aren’t meant to be cupcakes, frisbees, or gumdrops

Why You Should Avoid Improper Shrub Pruning

Here are just a few reasons why…

1. Energy Deprivation

It removes the leaves needed for the shrub to make energy for itself

2. Increased Growth and Maintenance

Excessive pruning actually makes your shrubs grow faster, which equals MORE maintenance

3. Water Demands

Shrubs pruned often require more water as they constantly work to replace foliage lost

4. Shortened Lifespan

Continued shearing will shorten the lifespan of your shrubs

5. Aesthetic Impact

Green ‘blobs’ are ugly compared to beautiful flowering shrubs

Join Our Online Shrub Pruning Workshop

If you are tired of the time and money it takes to maintain flowering shrubs the ‘wrong’ way. I invite you to join me in my online shrub pruning workshop where I will teach you the right way to prune.

online shrub pruning workshop

Imagine your outdoor space filled with beautiful, flowering shrubs instead of green ‘balls’. Believe it or not, the shrubs in the photo above are the SAME plant – they have just been maintained differently. The one on the left takes much more money and time and the other thrives with pruning once (or twice) a year.

In my online class, I show you how to work with your landscaper or how you can take care of your shrubs yourself. Got ‘green balls’ already in your landscape? I’ll teach you how to rejuvenate them and the best time of year to do it.

So, ditch the ‘green blobs’ in your yard and learn how to prune with confidence – it’s much easier than you think. Learn more here and what students have to say about the class.