Do you love the beauty of bougainvillea? Many of us will agree that bougainvillea is beautiful, but many homeowners hesitate to grow them for a variety of reasons. The most common that I hear is that they get too big and as a result, too messy.

While both statements are certainly true, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the beauty of bougainvillea while minimizing its size and messiness?

Let’s face it; summers in the desert can be brutal and bougainvillea are one of the lush green, flowering shrubs that thrive in intense heat and sun. So, why not consider adding one in a high-profile area where you can enjoy their beauty throughout the warm season?

Growing bougainvillea in pots limits their overall size, and with smaller shrubs, there is less mess. It also makes it easier to protect them from frost damage in winter by moving the container to a sheltered location, such as underneath a patio or covering them with a sheet.

Bougainvillea make excellent container plants. In fact, many gardeners who live in cold climates, only grow them in pots and move them indoors in winter. I met a gardener in Austin, Texas who treats bougainvillea like an annual plant, planting a new one every year to replace the old one lost to winter cold. Thankfully, we don’t need to do add a new one every year.

Growing bougainvillea in pots is easy to do. Select a location in full sun where it will promote the most bloom. Bougainvillea are one of the few flowering plants that can handle west-facing exposures. 

Provide support for them to grow upward if desired. You can also grow bougainvillea as more of a compact shrub form if you wish.

Water deeply and allow the top 2 inches to dry out before watering again. Bougainvillea does best when the soil is allowed to dry out between watering.

Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring, after the danger of frost is passed. You’ll want to reapply fertilizer every three months until September.

Growing bougainvillea in pots keeps them small enough to make it feasible to cover them when freezing temperatures occur.    

So, if you like container gardening, consider growing bougainvillea in a pot.

garden in the desert with small tree and plants

Let’s face it. Hot summers are not surprising to desert dwellers. In fact, a typical garden with native and desert-adapted plants will weather intense heat with little fuss.

However, this summer has been one for the books and I’ve seen signs of heat-stress that I’ve never seen before. And yes, within my own garden.

Heat-stressed Rock Penstemon and Golden Barrel Cactus

I must admit that it’s been hard to see certain plants struggling in my garden and I know you may have similar feelings. So, why has this summer been so much more difficult than others?

Pink Trumpet Vine partially defoliated due to the heat

While it is normal to have several days above 110 degrees F., the summer of 2020 is one for the record books. We have experienced not just a couple of stretches of above-normal temps but, several long spans of infernal heat. Damage to plants is often cumulative. This means that the more days of above-average (or below-average) temperatures – the higher incidence of reaction from plants.

Take a walk outside in your garden. You will likely notice some plants that are yellowing, wilting, or have given up and died. However, you may also note that there are some that are doing well.

Why is that? Let me show you some examples from my own garden – the good AND the ugly.

Let’s start with the ugly:

New Mexican Fence Post cactus transplants

In March, much of my backyard was renovated. This included the addition of two separate plantings of Mexican Fence Post cacti. They are located along my back wall and as you can see, one is doing very well while the other makes me cringe when I see the yellowing.

Does the yellowing cactus need more or less water? No. Many succulents yellow in response to summer heat. Of course, this very hot summer has made it more severe. So, why the difference between the two?

The one on the left gets filtered shade in the afternoon from a nearby Palo Verde tree. You can tell that the one on the right doesn’t get any shade but full afternoon sun. In a normal summer, it would be normal to see some yellowing that will return to green once temperatures cool. I am hopeful that will happen. As plants age, they tend to handle heat stress better and as these are young, the stress was especially severe.

Signs of heat stress

In another area of my garden, I have Green Desert Spoon and Hardy Spineless Prickly Pear, which are very heat-adapted. Yet, they do show signs of mild heat-stress that I haven’t seen before. But, they will green back up in fall. Other plants that are struggling include Artichoke Agave, Gopher Plant, and Shrubby Germander.

I am thrilled that my young Desert Willow tree in this photo is thriving despite the heat. I have four others scattered throughout my landscape and all are doing just as well.

Here are some of the good:

Young Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis) doing very well. The neighbor’s Dwarf Myrtle isn’t.

‘Sparky’ Tecoma shrub (Tecoma ‘Sparky’)
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Will soon burst forth in burgundy plumes in fall.
Gold Lantana in full sun all day

Feathery Cassia, Purple Trailing Lantana, and Yellow Bell shrubs are also doing well.

Here are a couple of exceptional performers that get full, reflected sun:

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage
Bougainvillea

There are still six weeks of summer heat ahead of us. So, what should we do for now?

  1. Be sure plants are receiving enough water. You may need to increase the frequency when temps are above 110 degrees.
  2. Don’t fertilize. Feeding plants simply makes them work harder to produce new growth when all they are trying to do is deal with the heat.
  3. Don’t prune away heat-damaged growth until September. While brown leaves are ugly, they are protecting the interior of the plant. Some pruning is recommended in mid-September, which I teach in my Shrub Pruning Workshop.

We don’t know if this summer will be an anomaly or the beginning of a new normal. But, instead of throwing in the towel, I invite you to do the following instead:

Take a stroll through your garden and take note of which plants are doing well and those that aren’t. If this is to be the new norm, it would be a good idea to add more of those that handle the heat well.

b

I am not going to make any major changes in my own garden. Most of my plants have done just fine in past summers. I’ll replace the few plants that died but am hopeful that next summer will be one with average temperatures. If not, then I know what plants have withstood the heat best.

Before we know it, fall will be here, and I for one, can’t wait!

Photo: My Abraham Darby shrub rose and my little dog, Tobey.

If you live in a hot arid climate like me, chances are that your roses are feeling the heat and aren’t looking their best right now. While gardeners in cooler climates celebrate summer with beautiful rose blooms, the opposite is true for those of us who live in the desert.

Roses actually grow quite well in hot, southwestern zones, and even though mine has a somewhat sunburned appearance – I’m not worried because this is normal.  

You see, roses that are grown in the low desert regions, don’t like the intense sun and heat that summer brings. As a result, the flowers become smaller, and the petals burn in the sun and turn crispy.  By July, you will likely not see any new roses appearing until October once the weather cools.

The rose blooms themselves aren’t the only parts of the roses affected by the summer heat – the leaves can come away sunburned as well.  

When faced with brown crispy petals and leaves, you may want to prune away the damaged leaves, but don’t.    

There are two reasons why you shouldn’t prune your roses in the summer.  The first is that pruning will stimulate new growth that will be even more susceptible to sunburn damage.  Second, the older branches and leaves will help to shade the growth underneath the sun.  

I know that it is very hard not to prune away the browning leaves, but once September comes around, you can get out your pruning shears and prune back your rose bushes by 1/3. This will remove the sun-damaged flowers and leaves, stimulating new growth. 

Before you start lamenting the less than stellar appearance of your summer roses and feel that it is easier to grow roses in other regions, you would be wrong. Oh, certainly, we have to deal with our roses not looking their best in the summer.  But, compare that with gardeners in other areas who have to deal with the dreaded Japanese beetle that shows up every summer and eats their roses. Or, how about those people who live in more humid climates and are having to deal with severe cases of blackspot or powdery mildew (white spots on the leaves).    

And lastly – we are fortunate to enjoy two separate blooming seasons for our roses.  In fall, when many other gardeners are putting their roses to bed for the winter, ours are getting ready to bloom a second time that year.

And so, I will ignore my less than beautiful roses this summer, because I know that they will look fantastic this fall 🙂

“Where do you recommend I go to buy plants?” This is one question that I’m often asked by desert dwellers.

The choices that people have for purchasing plants range from a locally owned nursery, a nursery chain, or a big box store.  

So which is best? Well, that depends on the situation. So, I am going to give you my recommendations based on different factors.

Local Nursery
Situation #1:
You have just moved into a new house and want to add some plants, but you have no idea what kind of plants do well in your new region, how to care for them, or what type of exposure is best.
Answer: 
I would highly recommend visiting a locally owned nursery, which employs people who are knowledgeable about plants. Also, the types of plants they carry are most likely well-adapted to the growing conditions of your area as well.  
Local nurseries also sell a greater variety of plants.
 
The mature size of a plant often depends on what climate they are grown in.  So your local nursery professional can tell you how large the plant will become in your zone, what type of exposure it needs along with watering and fertilizer requirements the plant will require.
You will pay a little more at a locally-owned nursery or a small chain, but you will save money due to the excellent advice and the fact that they usually only stock well-adapted plants for the region.

 

Big Box Store Nursery
Situation #2:  
You have a list of plants that you need for your garden, are familiar with the plants that do well where you live and how to care for them. Also, your budget for purchasing new plants is small.
 
Answer:
When you exactly what plants you need and are dealing with a tight budget, you may want to check out your big box store’s nursery
Another important thing is to be familiar the plant’s needs because, while their nursery personnel may be helpful, not all of them are knowledgeable about plants.
 
The biggest benefit for shopping at a big box store’s nursery is that plants are often less expensive than at your local nursery.  Many also offer an excellent plant warranty as well.
 
One important thing to remember about shopping at a big box store nursery is that just because you see a plant there, does not necessarily mean that it will do well in your area.  I have seen quite a few plants available in my local big box store that is sold out of season or very difficult to impossible to grow where I live.
 
So where do I shop for plants?
Well, it depends on several factors.

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

 
For flowering annuals, I shop at the nearby big box store as it’s hard to beat their variety and amount plants available.

When I need perennials, shrubs, succulents, or trees, you’ll find me at my favorite local nursery. They grow most of their nursery stock, so I know that it is adapted to the climate.

While traveling to areas with similar climates to mine, I take time to see if they have any specialty nurseries and take time to visit.

I do need to confess that my favorite place to find plants is not at a nursery, but at my botanical garden’s seasonal plant sale. They have hard to find plants, and I know that whatever plants I come home with will do well in my garden.

 Regardless of where you shop for your plants, I highly recommend researching plants ahead of time.  

 
Learn how big they get, what type of maintenance they require, watering needs and how it will do where you live.  You can find most of this information easily online by doing a simple search using the plant name + where you live, which will give you links on the plant and how it does in your area.

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Have you ever had the experience of receiving an unexpected bouquet?

I’ve been blessed to have gotten bouquets throughout my life from my wonderful husband, my children, and in the past – from a boyfriend or two.

But recently, I was presented with a bouquet from an unlikely source.

If you look up the definition of the word, ‘bouquet’, it states “an attractively arranged bunch of flowers, especially one presented as a gift or carried at a ceremony.”

This spring, I was delighted to see that my garden had presented me with an unexpected bunch of flowers – in other words, a bouquet.

This area in my front garden has a lovely Sandpaper Verbena (Glandularia rigida), which is a ground cover with vibrant purple flowers. It blooms spring through fall and thrives in full sun.

I planted the Sandpaper Verbena, however, I didn’t add the other flowers in this area.

Last year, I noticed the white flowers of Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) growing up in the middle of the Verbena. It came from a seed from a nearby plant that alighted in this area and grew in the presence of irrigation.

I liked the look and as the plants were doing well together, I left them to their own devices.

Well evidently, someone else wanted to join the party. Enter, Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) that came up on its own. I have several throughout the landscape and they do self-seed sometimes.

I absolutely adore colorful plants and I must say, I am so happy with this bouquet growing in my garden. As long as they play nice and one doesn’t try to take over the other, they can remain.

Who knows who will show up in my living bouquet next year?

Have you ever paused in the shade of a mesquite tree (Prosopis spp.) and noticed that its branches grow every which way? 

I was reminded of this when I was visiting a client earlier this week and was advising him on how to care for his mesquite tree. I looked up and saw a cluster of branches growing up, down, sideways, and in curvy pathways.

Texas Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

 

In an ideal situation, mesquite trees resemble the shape of more traditional tree species, as shown above. However, they don’t always turn out this way. 

Have you ever wondered why mesquite trees grow in such crazy ways?

The answer is quite simple – in nature, mesquites grow as large shrubs. The branches of shrubs grow in all directions, up, down, sideways, etc., and so do mesquites.  

The problem arises when we train them up as trees, and their branches don’t always behave as trees do. Because of this, mesquites that have been pruned into trees, do best being pruned by a professional, particularly when they are young and certain branches are being chosen to remain while others are pruned off.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and you can see the results of bad pruning practices in many places. 

I do love the shade that mesquite trees provide and I must admit that I enjoy a good chuckle when I see the unusual shapes that some mesquite trees have taken.

How about you? Have you ever seen a mesquite tree with crazy branches?

What do you do when you spot aphids on your plants?

Do you reach for the nearest bottle of insecticide? Spray them off with a hose or remove them with your fingers?  

Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing.

So, is this something I learned in school? No. I figured it out by observing the plants in my first garden.

 
I remembered this early lesson when I passed by a severely pruned oleander shrub in front of my favorite bagel shop.  
 
The oleanders were growing back nicely. However, there were yellow aphids on the young leaves.
 
Years ago, my oleander shrubs had an infestation of yellow aphids like this, and I was anxious to get rid of them. Really, this is our first reaction when we see bugs on our plants – we want them gone.
 
I had several methods at my disposal – insecticidal soap, a strong jet of water or my fingers – all of which, would help get rid of most of the aphids. But, life got in the way, and I didn’t have a chance to get out to treat my shrubs until about ten days later.  
 
Can you guess what I found?  Not a single aphid.  I didn’t have to do a thing, and the aphids were gone, and my shrubs look great.
 
So, what happened to the aphids?
 
When harmful insect pests first appear, it can take a week or two before their natural predators follow. In the case of aphids, lacewing and ladybugs showed up and ate the aphids.  
 
Plants are tougher than we give them credit for and can handle a certain amount of insect pests without any adverse effects.  
 
So, when I come back in a couple of weeks to the same bagel shop, I expect to see no aphids in sight and a healthy oleander shrub.
The lesson here is that you don’t need to freak out when you see aphids as the normal cycle of nature will take care of them. However, you can step in to get rid of them if you see adverse effects on plants such as wilting, smaller blooms, or discoloration.

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

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

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

Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

A chilly winter’s morning dawns over this Phoenix garden

Winter is a beautiful time of year in the desert landscape with bright blue skies, fresh cool air, and the plants in the garden add subtle beauty.

A seating area beckons you to sit and enjoy the peace and beauty of the garden

This particular garden was the backdrop for a video shoot by the horticultural filmmaker, PlantPop this past December. They asked me to be the subject of their first video shoot in Arizona, and I was thrilled to do so.

succulent container

A variety of succulents add beauty to this large galvanized steel horse trough container

Shooting the film in my garden wasn’t possible as my backyard is undergoing renovation. So, I asked one of my clients if we could film in her landscape instead. Thankfully, she said yes!

green hedge doorway

Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) shrubs

We met at her house early in the morning with the filmmaker who set up the cameras and microphones. Our host is one of the most gracious people I know and kept us warm with the outdoor fireplace and feeding us donuts 🙂

Being interviewed – I love talking about desert gardening!

We spent about 3 hours there with me talking about the unique challenges and possibilities of gardening in a hot, dry climate. During the filming, I walked around the garden, highlighting different areas throughout the garden. This garden has many ‘rooms’ and corners that display the beauty of winter in the desert.

The video has come out, and I’m so happy at how well the folks at PlantPop condensed our visit into a 4-minute video so nicely.  I hope you enjoy it and come away inspired by what you can do in your own desert garden!