swimming pool

Have you ever encountered this landscaping challenge? This blank wall is rather boring, and the home behind it dominates the view. So what would you do to fix these problems?

I faced this dilemma last month at a client’s home. The pool was the main focal point of the landscape, and the dull wall wasn’t doing it any favors. In coming up with a solution, we had to select a plant that was relatively low-litter, due to the proximity to the pool and that looked attractive throughout the entire year because of the high-profile location.

evergreen shrub , Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa)

Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa)

I recommended adding three hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa). These are tall, evergreen shrubs that thrive in arid climates such as ours. 

swimming pool

One of the many things that I love about them is their versatility. They thrive in full sun and light shade, and can be allowed to grow up to 12 feet tall, or maintained at a lower height.

Hop bush , evergreen shrub

Hop bush can be allowed to grow to their natural shape…

evergreen shrub

…or pruned more formally.

evergreen shrub

For the area behind the pool, I recommend having it grow to its full height, which will help provide privacy while the attractive foliage will add a welcome screen of green throughout the year.

evergreen shrub

evergreen shrubs Hop bush flowers

Hop bush does produce light green, papery flowers in spring, but they aren’t particularly showy. So, we need to add a color element to the area behind the pool.

colored containers

One of my favorite ways to add color to any landscape is to incorporate brightly colored containers in shade of blue, purple, or orange. That way, whether plants are in bloom or not, there is always a bright splash of color.

colored containers

For this area, I recommended adding 3 blue pots, equally spaced.

Now it was time to decide what to plant in each pot. The client wanted a low-maintenance choice that wouldn’t require a lot of water.

Blue Elf'

Immediately, I remembered touring a landscape that had blue containers filled with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe. Even though the aloe had finished blooming for the year, their spiky blue-gray foliage added nice color contrast.

Aloe vera

This small aloe is one of my favorite succulents for several reasons. First, it begins to bloom in late winter, lasting into spring adding welcome color to cool-season landscapes. Hummingbirds can’t resist the flowers either.

Aloe vera

This aloe is best showcased when grouped together and thrives in full sun, unlike most aloe which prefer filtered shade. Finally, it is hardy to 15 degrees F. so cold winters seldom bother it.

colored containers

And so, here is the planting that I suggested to my client that will provide year round beauty and privacy.

*Do you have a favorite plant or group of plants that you like to use against bare walls?

Visit to a Client’s Desert Garden

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?

Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder

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.

Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder

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

Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder

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.

Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder

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.

chipper chute

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.

Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder

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.

Troy-Bilt Chipper Shredder

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 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.

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

Prune Shrubs, Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) before pruning

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) before pruning

We had experienced a delightful spring with hot temperatures staying away for the most part. The weather has been so lovely that I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the garden. One garden task that has needed to get done is pruning back my winter/spring flowering shrubs.

What are winter/spring flowering shrubs you may ask? Well, they are those that flower primarily in late winter and on into spring. In the Southwest garden, they include cassia (Senna species), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata)

The time to do this varies depending on the plant and the region you live in, but generally, you want to prune them back once flowering has finished. 

I’ve decided to show you how I have pruned my cool-season shrubs and I find that using hedge trimmers make quick work of this job. Yes, I realize that I preach against using hedge trimmers for ‘poodling’ flowering shrubs into formal shapes, BUT they are very useful for corrective pruning for the health and beauty of your shrubs. I only use them ONCE a year.

Above, is a photo of my red globe mallow shrubs before I pruned them. They put on a beautiful show for several weeks, but have gone to seed, and they aren’t particularly attractive in this state. 

Prune Shrubs, Newly pruned globe mallow shrubs

Newly pruned globe mallow shrubs

This is what they look like after pruning. As you can see, they have been pruned back severely, which is needed to keep them attractive and stimulate attractive, new growth. Don’t worry, while they may look rather ugly, in a few weeks; they will be fully leafed out.

Prune Shrubs, Valentine bush before pruning

Valentine bush before pruning

Here is one of my Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs. This is one of my favorite plants, and it adds priceless winter color to my garden. One of the things that I love about it is that it needs pruning once a year when the flowers have begun to fade.

Prune Shrubs, Valentine bush after pruning

Valentine bush after pruning

I prune mine back to approximately 2 feet tall and wide, but you could prune it back even further. This pruning is necessary to ensure a good amount of blooms for next year. Don’t prune it after this as you will decrease a number of flowers that will form later.

Finally, it was time to tackle pruning my feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisoides). I love the golden yellow flowers that appear in winter and last into early spring. They add a lovely fragrance to the garden as well. However, once flowering has finished, they produce seed pods that will turn brown and ugly if not pruned.

I’ve created a video to show you how to prune these shrubs. Unlike the others, I only prune them back by 1/2 their size.

*As you can see in the video, my grandson, Eric was having fun helping out in the garden.

That is all the pruning that these shrubs will receive, which will keep them both attractive and healthy.

It’s worth noting that hedge trimmers aren’t a bad tool to use – rather, the problem is when they are used incorrectly to prune flowering shrubs excessively throughout the year.

I hope that this post is helpful to you as you maintain your shrubs. If you’d like to learn more about pruning shrubs in the desert garden, I invite you to learn more about my popular online pruning workshop. I’ve helped countless people just like you learn how to maintain beautiful, flowering shrubs with pruning twice a year or less! 

*What do you prune in mid-spring?

Ready to Prune? Here Are Common Pruning Terms Defined

Winter Garden, The vibrant flowers of firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) add a welcome splash of color during winter and into spring.

Winter Garden, The vibrant flowers of firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) add a welcome splash of color during winter and into spring.

People often ask me to post more photographs of my garden on my blog.  I must confess that I am sometimes reluctant to do so as I wonder if they expect a ‘perfect’ garden – one that is meticulously maintained and expertly designed.  

However, I decided that would show you my garden, even if it bursts a few bubbles of what people expect it to look like.  

The yellow flowers of angelita daisy contrast with the cool colors of purple and white trailing lantana. Gopher plants (Euphorbia rigida) are getting ready to produce chartreuse-colored flowers

The yellow flowers of angelita daisy contrast with the cool colors of purple and white trailing lantana. Gopher plants (Euphorbia rigida) are getting ready to produce chartreuse-colored flowers.

The landscape that surrounds my home reflects my love for plants that add beauty without needing much attention from me.  I don’t tend to rake or blow my leaves and the plants are allowed to grow into their natural shapes without much interference from me. 

The fragrant blossoms of feathery cassia (Senna artemisiodes) add visual warmth to the winter landscape.

The fragrant blossoms of feathery cassia (Senna artemisiodes) add visual warmth to the winter landscape.

That is important because I am usually so busy helping others with their landscapes, that I often don’t have enough time to fuss over mine.  Pruning once, or at most, twice a year is my standard of a fuss-free plant.

I love color  throughout all seasons.  So, you are just as likely to find as much color in my winter garden as in the summer.

Green desert spoon (Dasylirion texanum) add spiky texture contrast to the landscape

Green desert spoon (Dasylirion texanum) add spiky texture contrast to the landscape.

As for the design of my garden, horticulturists are by nature, collectors of plants.  This means that we likely to include many different kinds of plants – often more than you would see in a well-designed garden.  

I do enjoy designing landscapes and have done my best in designing my own garden, while incorporating a large variety of plants.  

The leafless canes of an ocotillo will soon leaf out with the arrival of spring.

The leafless canes of an ocotillo will soon leaf out with the arrival of spring.

I’ve always felt that a garden should reflect the owner’s personality while also enhancing the exterior of their home.  Mine shows my love for color and low-maintenance beauty.

What does your garden reveal about you?

Colorless Winter Garden ? No Way!

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs , Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Do you have caterpillars lurking beneath the leaves of your shrubs?

If they look like the yellow bells shrub, pictured above, probably not.

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

Caterpillars Eating Shrubs

But, if your leaves look as if a vampire came along and sucked them dry, then they are there, whether you can see them or not. Other telltale signs include little black pellets, which are caterpillar ‘poop’. 

Damaged bougainvillea leaves

Damaged bougainvillea leaves

Bougainvillea can also fall prey to hungry caterpillars, who leave behind ragged holes and edges.

So, what do you do?  Nothing?  Or should you pull out all the stops to get rid of them?

I address these questions and more in my latest video:

 
 
 
Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

I am always on the lookout for great examples of plants in the desert landscape. In my work as a landscape consultant, I drive through countless neighborhoods, which allows me to see lots of ideas.

A few years ago, I drove by a house that had a beautiful Hop Bush shrub (Dodonaea viscosa).  

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

This evergreen, drought tolerant shrub does wonderfully in our southwestern climate, and it is a frequent addition to landscapes I design. 

It’s versatility is one of the reasons it is near the top of my favorite shrub list.

  • Hop Bush is a great substitute for Oleander shrubs.
  • They can grow up to 12 feet tall or be maintained at a shorter height – basically you can decide how large it gets.
  • Their height makes them a great choice to screen out an unattractive view in spaces where a tree won’t fit while providing shade for for windows.
  • Hop Bush can be allowed to grow into their natural shape or pruned more formally.
Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

Native to the Southwest, Hop Bush is quite versatile and relatively fuss-free, especially if maintained by pruning every 6 months or so, as shown above. Here is another example of a hop bush shrub that has been pruned more formally, which it handles well.

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

 Of course, you can always let it grow into its more natural form as a large shrub.

For more information on hop bush including what its flowers look like and why it’s becoming a popular substitute for oleanders, you can read my earlier blog post – “Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Hopbush the Alternative to Oleanders.”

Most of the time when you walk through a parking lot, you are often greeted by the appearance of islands scattered throughout overplanted with badly maintained shrubs. Last month, I drove into a parking lot that was quite unusual in that it was planted with attractive succulents and not ugly shrubs.

Attractive Succulents

Attractive Succulents

Instead of shrubs, the medians were planted with beautiful agave specimens.

Euphorbia rigida

In addition to different types of agave, were gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) succulents, which added a welcome respite to the crowded and over-pruned shrubs that usually characterize most parking lots.

Calliandra californica

In addition to the agave and other succulents were  flowering shrubs such as Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), which was allowed to grow into its natural shape.

attractive succulents

This parking lot was located in front of a hospital where my husband had an appointment for a routine procedure.  Our walk through the parking lot took twice as long as it would normally take with me pausing every few seconds to take pictures of the plants.

attractive succulents

It was so refreshing to see succulents such as these  in parking lot islands instead of struggling shrubs.  They thrive in the hot, reflected heat while needing very little water.

Maybe we should rethink what we plant in parking lot islands and ditch the high-maintenance, thirsty shrubs?

Plant Palette For New Landscape: Perennials and Succulents

Fall in the garden is a time of celebration with plants enjoying the period after the heat of summer has bid goodbye and before the cold of winter arrives. 

This time of year is filled colorful blooming plants decorating our outdoor spaces.  In the past few weeks, the color purple has made its presence known in several gardens that I have visited recently.

If you love the color purple, here are some plants that you may want to include in your garden.

Purple Blooms for the Fall Garden

Black dalea(Dalea frutescens) saves its flowering for fall when violet flowers appear above its lacy foliage.

This Southwestern native is hardy to 15 degrees F. and does best in full sun.  Black dalea is underused in the landscape and deserves to be used more.

Purple Blooms for the Fall Garden

Desert ruellia(Ruellia peninsularis) is a shrub that I use it often for my client’s designs.  I love that it flowers throughout the year as well as its attractive foliage.

A native of Mexico, this shrub does best in full sun to partial shade and is hardy to zone 9 gardens.

blue ranger(Leucophyllum zygophyllum)

Sometimes, parking lot medians can put on a spectacular show.  This blue ranger(Leucophyllum zygophyllum) begins blooming in summer but saves its best flowering for fall.

The gray foliage adds nice color contrast in the garden.  Hardy to 10 degrees, plant in full or reflected sun for maximum flowering.

skyflower(Duranta erecta)

One of the most beautiful purple blossoms belongs to the skyflower(Duranta erecta) shrub.  Delicate purple flowers are arrayed on graceful arching stems.

Hardy to 20 degrees, skyflower blooms spring through fall.  

blue potato bush (Lycianthies rantonnetti)

Last week, while I was doing a landscape consultation, my attention was drawn to a beautiful blue potato bush (Lycianthies rantonnetti) blooming in the front yard.

vibrant purple flowers

The vibrant purple flowers contrasted beautifully with the bright green foliage. This shrub is hardy to zone 9 gardens.

purple trailing lantana(Lantana montevidensis)

Finally, let’s look at the generous blooms of purple trailing lantana(Lantana montevidensis).  This lantana groundcover blooms spring through fall and needs very little care other than pruning once or twice a year.

Hardy to 20 degrees, this lantana grows in full sun or partial shade.

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of purple autumn blooms.

What is flowering this fall in your garden?

Blooms in February