What do your plants look like in the middle of summer?  Do they thrive despite the hot temperatures?  


Or do they look more like this?

 
Throw in a heatwave, and your lovely, attractive plants may be suddenly struggling to survive.
 
Whether you live in the desert Southwest or more temperate climates, this can happen to you if your garden is not prepared for the heat of summer.
 
So, how do you know if your plants are handling the summer heat?  
 
Take a walk through your garden during the hottest part of the day and look for signs of wilting leaves as well as yellow or browning leaves.  All of these can indicate heat stress.
 
The good news is that you can heatproof your landscape and enjoy a garden filled with attractive plants that thrive despite the hot temperatures that summer dishes out.
 
Here are 5 tips to help you heatproof your garden:
 

#1. Use native or plants adapted to your climate.

 
 
This is perhaps the most important tip for having an attractive, low-maintenance landscape filled with beauty that thrives throughout the entire year.
 
Native (or adapted) plants have unique characteristics that help them to handle the local climate, including the heat of summer AND the cold of winter.
 
All too often, we find ourselves with landscapes filled with plants (often with large leaves) that struggle to survive the hot, summer months.  This results in unattractive plants that we work hard to help sustain them until cooler temperatures arrive.  Usually, these plants are best meant to grow in climates with less extreme heat.
 
Langman’s Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae)
 
Let’s look at an example of an adaptation that this Langman’s sage has that enables it to handle full sun and 110+ temperatures without undue stress.
 
Notice that the flowers have small hairs.  So do the leaves, giving them a slightly grayish cast.  These tiny hairs help to reflect the sun’s rays, which lowers the temperature of the leaves and flowers.
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and Shrubby Germander ‘Azurea’ (Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’)
 
Another way that plants have to handle the heat is by having small leaves, which limits the amount of water lost, which helps them to deal with hot, dry temperatures.
 
Here in the desert Southwest, there are many native plants that are used as well as plants from Australia and other arid regions, which have similar climates.
 
To find out what types of plants are best adapted to your area, check your local cooperative extension office for a list of plants.  A visit to your local botanical garden can also be helpful.
 

#2. Provide shade

 
 
Adding shade to the garden can provide relief from the hot sun as well as cooling air temperatures.  The shade benefits plants and can provide cooling to the house as well.
 
*It is important to note that it can be hard to grow many plants in dense shade – especially flowering ones.  However, using trees that provide filtered shade provide just enough shade while allowing enough sun through for plants.
 

#3 Water deeply and infrequently

 
 
Plants need water to survive, and not surprisingly, they need the most in the summer.  However, we often water them too often and shallowly for it to do much good.
 
Shallow watering keeps roots close to the surface of the soil, where the soil temperatures are hot, and the water dries up quickly.
 
Deep watering is the proper method for irrigating plants because encourages deep root growth where the soil is cooler and stays moister for longer.  As a result, you do not need to water as often.
 
“Plants that are watered deeply and infrequently are better able to withstand the heat.”
 
Shrubs should be watered to a depth of 2 feet and perennials and groundcovers to 18 inches.  You can determine how deeply you are watering by inserting a piece of rebar down into the soil (right after you have finished watering) to see how long you need to irrigate.  On average, 2 hours is the length of time to irrigate to the desired depth.  
 
Almost as important as watering deeply is the time of day that you water. The best time to water is early in the morning.  Watering plants in the afternoon is not as useful since plants allocate their resources at that time toward surviving the stresses of the heat and so they do not take up water as efficiently.  
 
Click here for watering guidelines for the Phoenix metro area.
 

#4 Mulch around your plants

 
 
Not surprisingly, mulch has a variety of benefits and not just in regards to heat proofing your garden.
 
Mulch serves to help cool soil temperatures in summer while helping to conserve moisture – all important in helping plants thrive despite hot temperatures.
 
A bonus is that they also help to prevent weeds from taking root.
 
 
Let’s take a minute to rethink our definition of what makes an excellent mulch.  
 
While shredded bark and wood chips may come to mind, did you know that fallen leaves, pine needles and even fallen flowers can also serve as a mulch?  That is how nature does it.
 
So, the next time you are tempted to whip out your leaf blower, how about directing it toward the base of your plants where the leaves and flowers can serve as a mulch?  They will also help to improve the soil around your plants as they decay.
 

#5 Ditch flowers in favor of succulents in containers

 
While growing pretty flowers in containers are relatively simple in fall, winter and spring-summer can be another matter entirely.  Often, it can be hard to grow flowering annuals in pots throughout the hot summer.
 
The reasons for this is that the soil around the roots of container plants is hotter than if grown in the ground.  This is especially true for the outer 6 inches of soil which heats up in response to air temperatures and the hot container.  As a result, annuals can wilt and struggle to produce flowers in summer.
 
Succulents are a great way to enjoy attractive container plantings throughout the year, not just in summer.  Their ability to store water is what makes them an excellent choice for containers.
 
 
If you want to grow something else besides succulents, how about trying heat-tolerant shrubs? Bougainvillea does great in pots as does lantana.
 
 
Another tip for containers is to leave them empty in the summer months and wait until fall to plant them.  
 
When thinking in terms of growing plants in containers in hot climates, bigger is better – at least 2 feet wide at the top.  The larger the pot, the more soil and therefore, more insulation for the roots from the hot outer zone.
 
 
**So what can you do if you do have plants that are struggling in the heat – particularly during a heatwave?  Other than replacing them, you can provide them with temporary shade such as a patio chair strategically placed so that it protects it against the afternoon sun.  A light spraying of water over the plant and surrounding area in the evening can help reduce the temperature – don’t do this when the sun is out, or you may burn the foliage.

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desert-landscape

“How much water do my plants need?”

I am often asked this question by desert dwellers and my answer is always, “That depends.”

desert-landscape

There are several variables that determine how much water plants need, along with the frequency of watering.

Variables include:

  • Type of soil (clay, sand, combination)
  • What kind of plant (native plants, higher water use flowering shrubs and ground covers, succulents, etc.)
  • Recommended depth of water
  • Desert region (low-desert, mid-altitude, high desert)
  • Efficiency of irrigation system
  • Water pressure (can vary between neighborhoods)
As you can see, there is no universal watering guideline in regards to how long to water or how often.

Let’s look into the variables a little more closely to help you determine what yours are:

 

SoilClay soils hold onto water longer than sandy soil. They take longer for water to permeate to the recommended depth. The result? Clay soils need irrigation less often than sandy ones but need to be watered for a longer length of time. Phoenix area soil tends to have more clay in them while those in the Palm Springs area are sandy.

Plants – Native or desert-adapted plants need less frequent irrigation versus those that come from tropical climates. Cacti and other succulents do well with infrequent irrigation.

Water Depth – Trees need to be watered deeply while ground covers and succulents do fine at a more shallow depth – shrubs fall in between the two.

Desert Region – Where you live in the desert matters when it comes to water and your plants. The differences include rainfall amounts, when the rain falls, high and low temps, and more. Residents of low-desert cities like Palm Springs and Phoenix need to add water to their plants more often than those who live in higher elevation regions such as Tucson.

Irrigation System – The older your irrigation system, the less efficient it is. This is due to mineral build-up within the system, which affects the amount of water that comes out. Also, old drip irrigation systems tend to accumulate leaks. The average lifespan for a drip irrigation system is 10-15 years. 

Despite these differences, what is a shared characteristic is that the vast majority of desert residents water too often and not deeply enough. This is usually due to lack of knowledge and thinking the ‘more is better,’ especially in the desert.
Landscapers are generally not a reliable source when it comes to scheduling irrigation – most recommend irrigating far too often.
 
So what is a desert dweller to do?
Thankfully, there is very useful information available for homeowners to help them figure out when and how much water their landscape needs.
 
Major metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest have excellent watering guidelines available for residents. The guidelines include the regional variables we have discussed so far.
Here are helpful links based on major desert cities (click the link for the city closest to you):
Watering guidelines are just that – guidelines. Circumstances may mean that you need to water more or less often, but these guides are a useful baseline to work from.
*One final note – before you implement a new irrigation schedule, it’s important to gradually wean your plants to the new one over several weeks. The reason for this is that it allows plants to become accustomed to the new schedule.

Yes, it does take a little work to figure out how much and often to water your plants, but these guides are incredibly helpful and will guide you along the way.

Do you have a citrus tree in your garden? I do.  
 
I have two trees – a Meyer lemon and a brand new ‘Trovita’ orange tree. 
 
As a child in California, we always had citrus trees in our backyard.  I would pick lemons from my favorite tree just off the back patio. Later, we moved to a larger ranch-style home that had several citrus trees. I honestly never paid much attention to them, because as a teenager I had more important things to think about – like boys and how to get perfect-perm for my hair (it was the 80’s).
 
Now as an adult (with permed hair thankfully in my past), I do pay attention to my citrus trees. Consequently, I look forward to the fragrant blossoms that cover citrus trees in mid-winter. As the blooms fade, tiny green fruit is left behind, which are baby citrus fruit. However, as spring progresses, some of the small, green fruit drop to the ground. Not surprisingly, this concerns gardeners who don’t understand why.
 
Well, let me put all your worries to rest.  This is a normal occurrence. Citrus trees produce more blossoms than it can grow into mature fruit. They do this in order to attract the most pollinators and after the flower petals drop, little green fruit is left behind, which ideally grow into large delicious fruit ready to harvest in winter. However, the tree cannot support that much fruit, so the tree figures out how much fruit it can grow to maturity and then drop the rest.
 
For those of you who have young citrus trees, I want to warn you that most of the little green fruit will drop. Citrus trees need a large root system and a lot of leaves to support a good amount of fruit and that only comes with age. So, if you see tiny, green citrus on the ground every spring – don’t panic. It is all part of the normal cycle of growing citrus.
Red-Hot-Tecoma-Shrub-Nursery-Container

Tecoma Red Hot

I am always on the lookout for new plants to the desert plant palette. Growers experiment with new varieties of more common plants in an attempt to find new colors, sizes, and more desirable characteristics.

This past fall, I was invited to visit Civano Nursery Farm, located in Sahuarita, 20 miles outside of Tucson. The main reason for the visit was to introduce me to their new Tecoma shrub hybrid called ‘Red Hot.’ This new plant is closely related to yellow and orange bells, which are both ones that I like to use when designing.

At the time of my visit, ‘Red Hot’ was not yet available to the public but was being grown throughout the Southwest as a test plant.

Civano Nursery Farm tour AZ Plant Lady

I met with Jackie Lyle, their Brand Development Manager, who plays an integral part in the introduction of new plants to the Southwest region.

Our tour began in the greenhouses where we explored their state-of-the-art automated systems and massive amounts of plants in all stages of growth. I was in heaven!

Civano Nursery Farm Tour AZ Plant Lady

I have never worked in a nursery or for a grower, so it was fun to see how they propagate plants from cuttings.

Greenhouse with Red Hot Tecoma shrubs

While touring the greenhouses, I got my first view of ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma. Instantly, I could see why there is so much excitement about this new variety. The foliage has the characteristic color of most Tecomas, but the leaves were somewhat smaller than yellow bells and more compact.

Red Hot Tecoma flowers

The vibrant red blooms are simply stunning and sure to draw hummingbirds to drink the nectar from their flowers.

Plant tag Red Hot Tecoma

‘Civano Select’ are plants created by the grower, which have slightly different characteristics than the more common species that they are a welcome addition to the desert plant palette. I was thrilled to view several of their ‘Select’ plants during our tour.

Bougainvillea-Civano-Nursery

As you can imagine, this is a bustling nursery, and there were shipments of plants headed out to job sites and other nurseries.

Red-Hot-Tecoma-Shrub-Nursery-Container

Whoever is getting these ‘Red Hot’ shrubs are in for a treat!

new-plants-desert-garden

And, guess who came home with her own ‘Red Hot’ shrubs? Me!

I am honored to receive two of these new shrubs, so I can share with you how they do in my Phoenix area garden. They are doing very well along the south-facing side of my house underneath the window by my kitchen eating area where I see them every day.

Oh, and of course, I also brought home other plants – autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Mt. Lemmon marigold (Tagetes lemmonii), ‘Mr. Liko’ pink gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Mr. Liko’). Getting free plants is like Christmas to this horticulturist!

The great news is that ‘Red Hot’ Tecoma is now available at many local nurseries.

Want to see if this is the right shrub for your garden? Here are the stats:

‘Red Hot’ Tecoma

Size: 4 feet tall and wide

Exposure: Full sun, reflected sun

Bloom Season: Spring through Fall

Cold Hardiness: 15 degrees

Attracts: Hummingbirds

I will share the progress of my new ‘Red Hot’ shrubs and I encourage you to add this vibrant beauty to your garden!

prickly-pear-cactus-white-lantana

For my longtime followers, you may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as regularly as before. Well, I am excited to tell you the reason why.

But first, a little background. I help desert gardeners in my work as a landscape consultant where I meet with my clients and give them the knowledge and tools that they need to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful outdoor space that thrives in a hot, dry climate.

prickly-pear-cactus-white-lantana

White trailing lantana grows nearby a Santa-rita purple prickly pear

Many of you know that gardening in the desert can be challenging and it is hard to find resources to help you to learn the “right” way to do things. As a result, my phone was ringing off the hook with people who needed my help. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day to help everyone, and I soon became overwhelmed with work and exhausted.

So, I began looking for a way that I could reach more people to give them the help they needed. All winter long, I worked hard on my ‘new project’ and debuted it in January to a limited number of desert gardeners. I hoped that they would give me feedback so I could make sure that my new project was what they needed.

What I wasn’t prepared for was their overwhelmingly positive response! I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I achieved my goal of reaching more people and helping them on their desert garden journey, and it is working!

And now, I’m finally ready to draw back the curtains and share it with you!

online-class-desert-gardening-101

Desert Gardening 101 is a way that you can learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful garden that thrives in the desert. I’ve combined my 20+ years as a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant into this class.

Here are the topics covered in the class:

class-curriculum-desert-gardening-101

Live group coaching from me is included!

group-coaching-desert-gardening-Noelle-Johnson

And there are bonuses for students including…

best-plants-for-desert-garden

My favorite plants along with growing guides and how to use them

 

Here is what some of my current students have to say about Desert Gardening 101:

“This class has been very informative. We recently moved into a home in AZ with no landscaping in both the front and back yards. Having no experience in desert gardening and spending a lot of time online researching this subject. I came across the AZ Plant Lady and was happy to see there was an upcoming class on Desert Gardening. We signed up immediately.

This class is very helpful, and I’m sure it will keep us from making expensive mistakes in our new landscape and saving many hours of research. We can’t wait to start planting. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.”Laurie Wolf

 

“I have really enjoyed Desert Gardening 101 and have learned so much! Talk about a learning curve! Everything about gardening here is a complete 180! Yikes. I have killed more plants in the past three years, that I ever did in the many, many years I gardened in Milwaukee! I wish that I would have had the opportunity to learn all that I am learning now before we hired a landscape firm to landscape our yard.

We had a clean slate – a brand new construction with nothing but dirt surrounding our home! I knew very little about the desert, the plants and trees that grow best here and how to plant and care for them, soil to use, the watering “issue,” let alone design. We are now in the process of fixing the problems, thanks in large part to the knowledge I am gaining through Desert Gardening 101! I still have a ton to learn, but I’m making lots of progress with the weekly modules!

Thanks, Noelle for making this a very informative and worthwhile course for all of us trying to learn the ins and outs of desert gardening!Barb Terschan

 

“A Phoenix resident for many years, I recently moved from downtown to a house on the mountain preserve and wanted to flow into the desert with native and low water desert plants. That is when I found AZ Plant Lady and started learning. This class has been a huge help in this transition. I have learned I’ve been planting my new plants too deeply and watering way too much. The pruning session was an eye opener, also. Now I know when and how to prune my shrubs. The many plant suggestions provided have narrowed my search when visiting nurseries and has kept my focus on what really thrives in the desert. I am gardening with more confidence thanks to this course. Highly recommend!”Linda Yowell

 

Desert-Gardening-101-online-class

Desert Gardening 101 is an online course that teaches proven landscape strategies that I use myself, and I’ve taught hundreds of my clients who have gone on to succeed in their own landscape goals.

The course spans 8-weeks, and you can access it anytime online and view the content at your convenience. Most importantly, you will have lifetime access to the course, so you revisit the classes at any time in the future.

purple-flowers-on-boulder

I am currently accepting new students for my next class session for a LIMITED time. I close the doors for new student sign-ups on Thursday, March 21st and I won’t be offering the class again until this fall!

I would be honored to come alongside you on your garden journey! Click here for more information and to register.

*This is by far the most affordable way to work with me at a fraction of the price of my private consultations.

 

Valentine bush and feathery cassia

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest are the beautiful outdoor spaces. In particular, I am struck by the color and beauty in the winter landscape.

Now, for those of you who follow, know that I often take photos of ‘problem’ landscapes I drive by.

Well, not this time!  I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I didn’t notice any landscape mistakes.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and are inspired to create your own!

 
Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is hands down, my favorite shrub.  I love its bright red color, which decorates the landscape from January through April.  Even when not in bloom, the foliage looks lovely.
 
Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) with their sunny yellow color are a great choice. I use them often in my landscape designs due to their drought tolerance, low maintenance (they need none) and the yellow color they add throughout the year.
 
Large desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) add great contrast with their spiky texture and gray-blue coloring.
 
This is a great pairing of plants that I plan on using in future designs.
 
 
The yellow, fragrant flowers of feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) are famous for their winter color. Nothing else brightens a dreary winter’s day as much as the color yellow. The silvery foliage of this cassia adds great color contrast and give off a silvery glow on a breezy day.

In the background, you see the pink blooms of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla). Their uniquely shaped blooms look like a feather duster and hummingbirds find them irresistible. 

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is a native groundcover that needs little water and provides nice color contrast.

 
This combination was well done but planted too closely together.
 
Against the backdrop of yellow-flowering feathery cassia, a pair of boulders are decorated with blue bells (Eremophila hygrophana). These shrubs have lovely gray foliage and produce purple/blue flowers all year long.  This is a newer plant introduction getting a lot of attention. 
 
A golden barrel cactus offers great contrast along with a pair of agave.
 
 
Here is one of my favorite landscapes in this particular community.  I like the combination of cacti, flowering shrubs, and perennials that create a pleasing landscape.
 
A trio of flowering firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) easily catches your eye. They are one of my favorite perennials in my own garden and flower January through April in the low desert.
 
 
In another landscape, firecracker penstemon is used as part of a wildflower planting, backed by desert spoon and purple trailing lantana.
 
 
Ornamental grasses add great interest to the winter landscape and pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is one of my favorites. Their burgundy plumes, which appear in fall fade to an attractive wheat color in winter. Soon, they will be pruned back to 3 inches in preparation for a new growth cycle.
 
 
Some landscapes look attractive using a minimum amount of plants.  The key is to use a variety of different plants – not just shrubs or cacti.  In this one, a blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) overlooks a planting of purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and desert spoon.  While the lantana is frost tender, the canopy of the tree provides it some protection from frost.
 
 
It’s important to anchor the corners in your landscape – particularly those next to the driveway. Here is an example of how to combine plants that look great throughout the year. When warmer temps arrive  ‘New Gold’ lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’), bursts forth with colorful blooms that last until the first frost. In winter, golden barrel cacti attract the attention and keep you from noticing the frost damaged lantana. 
 
 
This street planting also attracted my attention with the row of little leaf (foothill) palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) trees, Valentine shrubs and purple trailing lantana. I should note that lantana doesn’t usually flower much in winter, but in mild winters, they do.

An almost leafless mesquite tree stands sentinel over a planting of red-flowering chuparosa (Justicia californica). This shrub has lovely green foliage and tubular flowers that drive hummingbirds crazy with delight.

As you can see, the Southwestern landscape is filled with beauty and color, even in winter.  Unfortunately, many homeowners only use plants that bloom spring through summer. This leaves them with a boring landscape through the winter months for several months. So, celebrate the winter season by adding a few of these cool-season beauties to your 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!

Have you ever renovated the interior of your house? Seeing the old, outdated elements peeled away and replaced with new paint, flooring, etc. can leave you feeling refreshed and even excited. Well, I get to do that with outdoor spaces, assisting clients with already established landscapes, create an updated look. The key to this is NOT to tear everything out and begin from scratch – instead, it’s a delightful puzzle deciding what should remain and what is best removed and replaced.

I get so much satisfaction helping people create an attractive landscape, and even more when I get to see them several months later once the plants have a chance to begin to grow. Last week, I was invited to re-visit a new landscape that I designed, exactly one year after it was completed and was very pleased with the results.

I’d love to show you photos of the finished product, but first, let’s look at what I had to work with.

As you can see, the interior of the house was also undergoing renovation when I first visited. The front yard consisted of two palm tree stumps, a few agave, overgrown gold lantana, and boulders.

The landscape rock was thinning and mixed in with the river rock while the asphalt from the street was crumbling away.

The parts of the landscape that I felt could be reused were the boulders and the gold lantana. Also, the river rock could be re-purposed. All of the rest was removed.

To create the structure for the new landscape elements, additional boulders were added, and the existing contouring was enhanced by elevating the height of the mound and a swale in the front center. The circular collection of rip-rap rock serves to mask the opening of the end of a french drain which helps to channel water from the patio.

A saguaro cactus and totem pole ‘Monstrose’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) were placed for vertical interest and the gold lantana that were already present were pruned back severely to rejuvenate them and others were added to create visual continuity. Along with the cactuses, other succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parrying var. truncata) and gopher plant (Euphorbia biglandulosa) were incorporated to add texture with their unique shapes.

The existing river rock was removed, washed off and replaced along with the crumbling edge of the street, helping it to blend with the natural curves of the landscape.

Anchoring the corners with a grouping of plants is a very simple way to enhance the curb appeal of a home. This collection of volunteer agave and old palm tree stumps weren’t doing this area any favors.

This corner was built up slightly, creating a gentle rise in elevation. A large boulder joined the existing one, and a beautiful, specimen artichoke agave was transplanted here from the owner’s previous residence. Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) will add year-round color as they fill in. ‘Blue Elf’ aloe were planted to add a welcome splash of color in winter and spring when they flower.

Moving into the front courtyard, the corner was filled with an overgrown rosemary shrub. The dwarf oleander shrubs were also taken out as they were too large for the smaller scale of this area.

Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) helps to anchor the corner and will grow at a moderate rate, adding more height as it grows.

Year-round color is assured with angelita daisies and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which won’t outgrow this area.

Moving toward the front entry, this area is somewhat underwhelming. The natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) adds a pleasant green backdrop and is thriving in the shade, so should stay. However, the Dasylirion succulent should never have been planted here as it needs full sun to look its best.

The solution in this area is quite simple. Pruning back the natal plum to a more attractive shape makes them an asset. A lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) adds height and texture contrast and will grow in the bright shade. We kept the trailing purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis), for the color that it provides. Rip rap rock was placed to add some interest at the ground level.

Moving toward the backyard, another old rosemary shrub was removed from the corner in the background and replaced with ‘Blue Elf’ aloe and angelita daisy, repeating the same planting from the corner area in the courtyard, helping to tie these separate areas together.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) were added along the shady side of the house where their spiky shape creates interesting shapes. The key to keeping them attractive is to remove new growth around the base as it occurs.

The corner of the backyard is a very high-profile spot and faces the golf course. The homeowner’s wanted to get rid of the dwarf oleander hedge to improve their view. Clumps of agave look slightly unkempt as volunteer agave were allowed to remain and grow. The gold lantana does add ornamental value as does the small ‘Firesticks’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) and can be reused.

One of the clumps of agave was removed, which opened up this area and allowed us to add two aloe vera, which will decorate this corner with yellow blooms in winter and spring. The existing gold lantana provides beautiful color spring through fall. The centerpiece of this group of plants is the water feature.

It’s been over 20 years that I’ve been doing this, and I never get tired of seeing the transformation. I love being a part of it and combining the old with the new for a seamless design.

Thank you for allowing me to share this particular project with you!

Leafy green plants make great window coverings

Leafy green plants make great window coverings

Do you have windows that face outward toward a view that you would rather not see?  Perhaps it is the view of the house next door or a bare wall, or maybe you need some protection from the sun. To solve this problem, have you ever considered using plants in place of curtains?

In my garden, I have east-facing windows, which heat the house early in the day. When our home was being built, I designed the landscape so that there were plants placed in front of those windows. 

Why would I put plants in front of these windows you may wonder? Well, I needed some sort of shelter from the sun, but I didn’t want curtains that would block my view of the garden, so I chose to add Mexican bird-of-paradiseThis yellow-flowering shrub can be pruned into a small tree, which is what I have done, which still allows me to view the garden beyond while providing some protection from the sun’s rays.

A few years ago, I was working with a client who was an interior designer who had employed this same strategy for adding beauty while shielding her windows from the sun. She had decided that instead of curtains for her windows, she wanted ‘natural, green’ window coverings.

This is the view from her living room where the lush green foliage from the ‘Orange Jubilee’ create interesting shadows inside and she can enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by beautiful plants, even while indoors.

To achieve this, she planted a row of ‘Orange Jubilee’ (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’) shrubs in front of her windows.
Here is another example of using plants in place of curtains. A single hop bush shrub creates a lovely green screen that protects this west-facing window from the blistering afternoon sun.
Have you ever tried using plants instead of curtains?

Creating an attractive garden in the desert can be a daunting task, especially in such a different climate with the unique challenges of blistering heat and dryness “where plants go to die.” But, I’m here to tell you that you DON’T need to settle for a yard filled with rock and spiky cactus.

It is possible to have an attractive landscape filled with flowering plants, edible gardens, trees, succulents, (and yes, cactus), all of which thrive in our hot, arid climate. 

I’ve done it and you can too, and it’s much easier than you think. I help individuals like you learn how to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful landscape that thrives in the desert climate. 

Horticulturist-Arizona-Noelle-Johnson-AZ-Plant-Lady

Not surprisingly, SO many people need help that my calendar is overflowing, so I have created a way to help more of you at a fraction of the price of an individual consultation.

I’m so excited to invite you to join my membership site, “Through the Garden Gate” where I come alongside you to help you create, maintain, and most importantly, enjoy gardening in the desert. Instead of individual clients, who pay hundreds of dollars for a 2-hour consultation, I’ll come alongside to help you on your desert garden journey for a fraction of the price of a private consultation at $19.99 per month!

And you won’t be alone. You’ll be joined by a wonderful community of fellow desert dwellers who are on the same journey as you are. So are you ready to further your desert garden knowledge and enhance your enjoyment in the garden?

**UPDATE: Open enrollment to”Through the Garden Gate” MEMBERSHIP is currently closed so that I can focus on and mentor my newest group of members.

BUT…I’ll be opening doors again and if you’d like to be notified when that happens, simply click the image below to get on the waitlist and I’ll keep you posted!

Years ago, I found myself in your shoes when I arrived in Arizona as a young bride with no idea how to make a lovely outdoor space, much less grow plants in such a hot, dry place. Needless to say, in short order, I killed all my new plants as well as the beautiful rose bushes that had come with my house.

Was I discouraged? Yes!

But, I was determined to figure out how to grow, maintain, and enjoy my desert garden. And so my personal garden journey began, leading me to obtain my degree in Horticulture from Arizona State University and later, as a certified arborist.

In my 20-year career as a horticulturist, I’ve done it all – worked on golf courses, managed landscapes with my crew, designed hundreds of landscapes as a designer, and serving as a personal landscape consultant for countless clients. And yes, I’ve killed my share of plants in the process. BUT, I learned from my mistakes, and I can help you avoid them.

Most people think that having a lovely landscape is hard and do more maintenance than they need to. For example, did you know that:

  • Most desert-adapted plants need no supplemental fertilizer
  • Over 90% of homeowners water their plants too often and not deeply enough
  • Not all plants sold in your favorite big box store will survive in the desert landscape (so, it’s not always your fault if a plant dies)
  • The majority of flowering shrubs and ground covers only need to be pruned twice a year – if done the right way

As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, I’ve seen the frustration that my clients go through trying to garden in the desert. My years of experience have shown me time and again that it is easier than you think – it’s just different, which is why I created my membership site, “Through the Garden Gate” where I can help you.

Your membership includes the following:

1. Library of training videos, with new content added every month to help you garden confidently.

2. Plant of the Month downloadable pdf’s spotlighting my favorite plants along with where to plant, maintain, and how to use them in the landscape.

3. Monthly newsletter filled with garden articles, what’s going on behind the scenes, and monthly garden tasks.

4. Exclusive Facebook group for members-only. I’ll be there every day, and I look forward to seeing you there!

5. Group coaching from me, AZ Plant Lady, via Facebook Live every month where I answer your gardening questions, offer encouragement, and helpful tips tailored for participants. 

 

 

Why it Works:

You will learn at your own pace, and I break it down into simple steps with no fancy garden language.

Ongoing learning – new content is added every month.

A passionate community of beginning, intermediate, and experienced gardeners.

Save money, time, and frustration by avoiding common desert garden mistakes.

Most people over-maintain their plants, fertilizing and pruning too often and I’ll show you how plants need far less maintenance than you’d expect.

You’ll have the knowledge you need to grow and maintain plants without all the stress of trying to figure it out yourself.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does “Through the Garden Gate” membership offer that a nursery or landscape professional can’t? A welcoming community, personal support, and unbiased advice with no motivation to sell you unneeded products or maintenance services.

I am brand new to gardening. Will I fit in? Absolutely! No one is born knowing how to garden, and no prior experience is needed. This group is a great place to learn and grow as a gardener.

I already read your blog and follow you on Facebook. What more will I get from the membership? In-depth training in the form of video training, exclusive content in the form of garden video trainingdetailed plant profiles, newsletter, a members-only Facebook page, and group coaching with me, AZ Plant Lady, via Facebook Live. 

I know you live in Arizona. Is the membership designed only for people in your region? The club is open to anyone who is interested in learning how to create, grow, and maintain a garden in the desert. I focus on low-desert gardening for those who live in elevations lower than 3,000 feet in altitude, but members who live in other desert regions can gain helpful information too.

I have gardening experience in a cooler, wetter climate. Can the club help me learn how to garden in the desert? Yes! All levels of gardeners are welcome, and your previous experience will help you learn a little more quickly how we do things differently in the desert garden.

My life is very busy, and I don’t have a lot of time to devote to learning about desert gardening. This membership is for you! The videos are short but informative and the newsletters, and “Plant of the Month” resources are packed with information that takes little time out of your busy life

Do I really get live access to you? Yep! I’ll be using Facebook Live to talk to the membership group through our Facebook page at pre-scheduled times on a monthly basis. If you can’t watch the video live, you can watch the video, which will be posted on the FB page. You can submit your gardening questions ahead of time too so I can be sure to answer them if you can watch live to ask your question.

How do I access the resources? We have an online library with all of the videos, “Plant of the Month” pdf’s, and other handouts. Newsletters will be emailed to you monthly. When you join the club, you will be provided with a link to join our private Facebook group as well as information on how to log on into the online library.

How long does the subscription last? It is designed as a monthly subscription, which means that it can last as long as you would like it to. I will be adding new content each month, which along with the live group coaching, will help you in your garden journey for as long as you want. You can cancel at any time.

 

So, are you ready to join and learn “the dirt on gardening in the desert”? You get all this PLUS group coaching for only $19.99 a month!

I am opening the doors for new members to join “Through the Garden Gate” for just a few days. Sign up beginning September 5th. Doors close at midnight MST on September 10th!! 

I’d love to come alongside you on your desert garden journey!