Although I greatly enjoy being able to grow many frost-sensitive plants such as Bougainvillea and Arizona Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans), I do not particularly like how they look in the winter, once frost has hit our area – zone 9a.

And so, when hints of spring are in the air….I am itching to get back into the garden to prune them back.  In our area (the Phoenix metro area), this is generally the beginning of March which is usually after the last frost has occurred in our area.

First on my list is the Bougainvillea.  I have three in my back garden. 

Frost Damage

Not too attractive is it?  You can clearly see where the frost damaged the top growth.  The bottom growth is still green as the top branches protected them from frost damage.

Now you would assume that you just cut back all the leafless branches, but DON’T.  Many of the naked branches are still alive.  Look closely at the branch below and you can see that the part of the branch on the left is brown with no hint of green – prune the brown part of the branch off, leaving the green shaded part alone.

Frost Damage

You can also look and see tiny leaflets starting to emerge.  This is also a sign to look for when determining what part of the branches to prune.

Spring Pruning

Why not prune earlier to remove the ugly, naked branches you may ask?  Well, the answer is simple….if you prune too early and frost hits your area, it will damage the newly emerging leaves and could easily kill the live tissue inside of the branches, leaving you with a much smaller plant or a dead one.  So, as ugly as it looks in the winter….leave it alone, please?

Spring Pruning

Spring Pruning

All finished!  Okay, I admit, that it still does not look all that attractive and many may feel compelled to remove all of the naked branches.  But, look closely below….

Spring Pruning

Spring Pruning

 This is why you do not want to remove all of the naked branches.  This is my Bougainvillea one week after pruning.  Beautiful leaves are beginning to grow out from those formerly naked branches.

**Tips for pruning Bougainvillea…WEAR LONG SLEEVES to protect yourself from the thorns.  I used hand-pruners and loppers to prune all of my shrubs. 

I am working hard today at pruning back many of my other desert shrubs and will be posting about them this coming week, so please visit again :^) 

Peacful Day and Spring Pruning…

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.  Especially in terms of planting the right plant in the wrong place.  

I took a drive this past fall around a neighborhood near our house and found many examples of beautiful plants that had been butchered in order to fit into a small area.  I spoke about this in an earlier post,  Read the Plant Label or You Might End Up With Cupcakes.  But, I have more pictures to share of what went wrong by those who did not read the label.

So, even though I do love to ‘talk’ – I think I will let the following pictures speak for me….

Planting the right plant in the wrong place

Planting the right plant in the wrong place, Oleanders

Planting the right plant in the wrong place

Opuntia

Planting the right plant in the wrong place

Rosemary and Pyracantha

Planting the right plant in the wrong place

Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’

Agave

Agave

Red Bird-of-Paradise

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Bougainvillea 'Torch Glow'

Bougainvillea ‘Torch Glow’

Okay, I’m breaking my silence now.

You may be wondering why I am including the photo above.  I took this photo of a client’s new landscape that they had just had designed and installed by a landscape company.  You can see that the bougainvillea fit nicely in this area.  Well, that was then…..what the homeowner did not realize, (until I told him), is that this shrub will grow 6 ft. high and wide.  The area it was planted in was 1 ft. wide and located by the front entry.  In addition, they did not take into account that bougainvillea have thorns, which would scratch people as they passed by this shrub as it grew outside of the planting boundary.

So, wherever you live….whether in England, China, South Africa, Australia and especially in Arizona – please, please read the plant label before buying a plant to see how large it will grow.

Blooming Flowers

The blooming of my desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis), is beginning to slow down.  The leaves will fall in December.  However, there were a few lovely pink flowers left.

Blooming Flowers

Also, the recent monsoon storms have caused my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, (Leucophyllum langmaniae), to burst out in flower.

Blooming Flowers

Beautiful, magenta brachts surrounding the tiny, cream-colored flowers on my single bougainvillea shrub.

Blooming Flowers

I also love the multi-colored blooms of my lantana ‘Patriot Desert Sunset.’  They will soon stop blooming for the winter.

 red bird-of-paradise

The vibrant colors of my red bird-of-paradise, (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) add vibrant color to my garden and nectar for hummingbirds.  

In another month, many of these flowers will no longer be flowering, but until then, I’ll enjoy the view.

Yellow Bells

This beautiful plant is one of my favorite shrubs in the garden – so much so, that I have three.  Yellow bells produce bell-shaped flowers beginning in spring and lasting through the fall months until the first frost.

 Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers.  The vibrant green foliage and colorful flowers make this shrub a welcome addition to any desert landscape. 

Yellow Bells is a large shrub that grows to a height of 4 – 8 ft. and spreads 3 – 8 ft. wide.  You can find its native habitat in the Americas.  There are two different types; Tecoma stans angustata and Tecoma stans stans.  Visually, the most significant difference is in the shape of the leaves.  Tecoma stans stans had a broader leaf and are pictured above and below.

Yellow Bells

USES:

Because of its size, this large shrub makes a great backdrop plant.  I have used it to screen fences, sheds and also planted it up against the house.  Yellow Bells works well as a tall, naturally-shaped hedge.  This shrub thrives in full sun to filtered shade.  They do best in warm-winter areas but can be successful as a summer annual in colder regions.

Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

MAINTENANCE:

This shrub is relatively low-maintenance.  It will freeze back in the winter months when temperatures go below 28 degrees F.  Since it blooms on current season’s growth, all that is required is to prune back the frost damage in early spring.  Seed pods are produced and can be removed if desired, which will extend the bloom period and improve the appearance, (the seed pods do not bother me, and I do not remove mine).   After an initial application of slow-release fertilizer when planting Yellow Bells, I have not needed to fertilize further. 

**Occasionally, caterpillars will appear but can be easily removed by spraying some BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is an organic pesticide.

Yellow Bells

COMMON NAMES: 

There are many familiar names for these beautiful shrubs.  Tecoma stans angustata is native to the Southwestern US and northern Mexico and goes by the names Arizona yellow bells, yellow bells, and yellow trumpet bush. 

Tecoma stans stans are native to Florida, the Caribbean and parts of South America and also goes by the name of yellow bells and sometimes yellow elder.  Because of the overlap of familiar names, be sure to purchase plants based on their scientific name.

Fall Rose Tips for the Desert Garden

 Desert Plants

The saguaro cactus is one of the most iconic plants of Arizona, (Carnegiea gigantea), it is perhaps the most recognizable trademark of the Sonoran desert with their tall arms reaching toward the sky.

Although, saguaros are only in some regions of the Sonoran desert. The vast majority are found in Arizona and Mexico. They are often found growing on the south side of the mountains due to the warmer air temperatures.

 Desert Plants

Another iconic Sonoran desert plant is the ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) with its leaf covered canes topped with brightly colored flowers. Sometimes, people, mistake ocotillo as a type of cactus, but they’re actually a type of shrub.

Ocotillo produces beautiful vermillion blooms that attract hummingbirds and their canes leaf out occasionally in response to humidity and rain.

A Hummingbird Magnet

Do you like hummingbirds?

If so, you may want to make sure that you have some autumn sage (Salvia greggii) growing in your garden – it is a hummingbird magnet.

A Hummingbird Magnet

While red is the most common color of this small shrub, it also comes in other colors including shades of pink, purple, coral and white.

A Hummingbird Magnet

It has has a long bloom period in low desert gardens, beginning in fall and lasting until late spring. When growing in the flat desert, plant it in a filtered shade for best results.  Prune back by 1/2 its size in early March.

prune flowering shrubs

Late August to early September is when I usually lightly prune a few of my summer flowering shrubs. 

I just finished pruning my Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), taking off about 1/3 of the height. This helps to promote additional flowers in early October.

The keyword here is to prune lightly, not severely prune. By pruning carefully at this time, it will help your plants look better throughout the winter months instead of looking messy and overgrown. Light pruning will also enable your plants to produce some new growth before the weather cools down and most plants stop growing.

prune flowering shrubs

Another plant that this works well for is many of your Lantana species. Lantana often suffers frost damage in the winter (in zones 9 and below) and by pruning lightly, it will minimize the size of the unsightly frost damage in winter.

In general, this method of pruning works well for most summer-flowering shrubs and perennials.

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! 

Wrong Plant, Wrong Place: Ficus Nitida