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 ūüôā

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!

No matter where you live, you will see the same shrubs being used over and over again in countless landscapes. While the shrubs may be attractive, their overuse throughout neighborhoods creates a boring appearance because they are so common.

 

In California, Nevada, and Arizona, oleanders have held a prominent spot in the landscape for years. Their popularity is due to their lush evergreen foliage, ability to withstand intense heat, and their pretty flowers.

However, their overuse in many areas makes their beauty less impactful and frankly, almost forgettable.

 At a recent conference, this point was put quite succinctly by the head of horticulture for Disneyland who said,

“When things are expected (in the landscape), they become less powerful and impactful”.

His statement sums up what happens when we use the same plants over and over.

In the case of oleanders, there is another problem.

 
 Oleanders are susceptible to a fatal disease called, oleander leaf scorch. This disease has come from California into Arizona where it is popping up in neighborhoods in Phoenix and also Lake Havasu. I have consulted with several cases affecting large, mature oleanders in Arcadia, Biltmore, and Moon Valley areas in Phoenix. 

This bacterial disease is spread by leaf-hopper insects and there is currently no known cure or control available. Infected oleanders slowly decline over 2-3 years before dying. To date, dwarf oleanders have not shown signs of the disease, only the larger forms. But, that could change sometime in the future.

Objectively, there’s a lot to like about oleanders; they thrive in hot, dry climates with minimal fuss, have attractive dark green foliage, and add color to the landscape when in flower. However, their¬†overuse in the landscape makes them less impactful and coupled with their susceptibility to oleander leaf scorch, people want an alternative.¬†

You can learn more about this disease that affects oleanders here.

Hop Bush: 

 
When asked for another option for the large, tall forms of oleanders, I recommend Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa), also known as Hopseed Bush.
 
This native desert shrub has attractive, evergreen foliage and a similar growth habit to oleander. They grow up to 12 feet tall or prune to a shorter height.
 
 
Use Hop Bush in the same ways as oleanders to provide a nice green hedge or privacy screen.
 
Hop bush flower
 
While they don’t have colorful flowers; they have lovely foliage that is only mildly poisonous as opposed to oleanders which are highly toxic.
 
 
Hop bush has a lovely natural shape or prune as a formal hedge.
 
Want to learn more about this oleander alternative? In my latest Houzz article, I share what types of plants look nice next to hop bush, how to care for them and show a purple-leaf form.
 
I hope that you find a spot for this lovely shrub in your landscape.

Have you ever seen hop bush growing in the landscape?  

For those who live in the western half of the United States, water has always been a precious resource. In recent years, this has become especially true during a long-term drought has made its impact felt.

As a result, many of us find ourselves looking for ways to save water. The first place you should start is your landscape as that is the largest percentage of your water consumption.

Today, I’d like to show you examples of three different low water landscape options:¬†

Option #1

Drought Tolerant ‚Äď This landscape is characterized by lush green, semi-tropical flowering plants. These include bougainvillea, lantana, oleanders, and yellow bells. All these do well in hot, arid climates in zones 9 and above. While most aren‚Äôt native to the Southwest, they are considered moderately drought tolerant and suitable for those who want more a lush look for the desert garden. ¬†
For best results, deep water approximately once a week in summer and every 2 weeks in winter.
 

Option #2

Moderately Drought Tolerant ‚Äď Native, flowering plants make up this type of landscape. ¬†Plants like chuparosa, damianita, penstemon, Texas sage, and turpentine bush are examples of this.
Because these plants are native to the Southwestern region, they need infrequent watering to look their best ‚Äď a good guideline is to water deeply approximately every 10 days in summer and every 3 weeks in winter.
 
 

Option #3

Extremely Drought Tolerant ‚Äď For a landscape to exist on very little water, a collection of cacti and succulents are the way to go. Columnar cacti such as Mexican fence post, organ pipe, saguaro, and totem pole add height to the garden. Lower growing succulents like agave, candelilla, and desert milkweed can be used for mid-level interest. ¬†
Golden barrel, hedgehog cacti and mammillaria fill in smaller spaces and look great next to boulders. Once established, they do best with watering approximately every 3 weeks spring through fall.
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Tired of struggling in the desert garden? Sign up for my online course, DESERT GARDENING 101.

 
It‚Äôs important to note that shrubs should be watered deeply to a depth of 2 ft., which promotes deep root growth, and the soil stays moister longer. Succulents do well at 12″ depth.¬†
**Watering guidelines can vary from region to region within the desert Southwest, so it’s wise to consult with your local city’s landscape watering guidelines.
 
Whichever option you select, creating an attractive water-saving landscape is within your reach that will thrive in our drought-stricken region.

Gardeners have long known about white flowering plants and the beauty that they bring to the garden.

The color white is seen by many as a bright, clean color that makes surrounding colors ‘pop’ visually. ¬†Others like how white flowers seem to glow in the evening and early morning hours in the landscape.

Thankfully, there are several white flowering plants that do very well in the Southwestern landscape. In Part 1, I showed you four of my favorites, which you can view here.

Today, let’s continue on our white, floral journey…

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

 

White Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
 
The arrival of spring transforms the low-growing green foliage of White Evening Primrose with the appearance of beautiful white flowers. What makes these flowers somewhat unique is that as the flowers fade, they turn pink.
 
White Evening Primrose looks best when used in a landscape with a ‘natural’ theme or among wildflowers.
 
The flowers appear in spring and summer on 10″ high foliage. ¬†Hardy to zone 8 gardens, this small perennial is native to Southwestern deserts.
 
White Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua ‘White’)
This is a shrubby perennial that is in my own landscape.  While the most common color of Globe Mallow is orange, it does come in a variety of other colors including red, pink and white Рall of which I have.
 
The white form of Globe Mallow shares the same characteristics of the orange one Рit thrives in full sun and can even handle hot, reflected sun.  The foliage is gray and looks best when cut back to 1 ft. high and wide after flowering in spring.
 
I pair white Globe Mallow alongside my pink ones for a unique, desert cottage garden look.
 
 
See what I mean about white flowers helping other colors to stand out visually?
 
Hardy to zone 6, Globe Mallow grows to 3 ft. tall and wide.  It does best in full sun and well-drained soil.
 
To learn more about this beautiful desert native, click here.

                                    Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

 
Blackfoot Daisy is another perennial that looks great in a natural desert-themed landscape.  This ground cover produces sunny, white daisies in spring and fall in desert climates Рit flowers during the summer in cooler locations.
 
Hardy to zone 5, Blackfoot Daisy can handle extreme cold when planted in full sun.  I like to plant it near boulders where it can grow around the base for a nicely designed touch. It grows to 1 ft. high and 24 inches wide.
I have several in my front garden and I love their beauty and low-maintenance. They need very little maintenance other than light pruning with my Felco Hand Pruners in late spring to remove dead growth.
 
Little Leaf Cordia (Cordia parvifolia)
 
This white flowering shrub is not used often enough in the Southwestern landscape in my opinion.  It has beautiful flowers, needs little pruning if given enough room to grow, is extremely drought tolerant and evergreen.
 
Little leaf cordia can grow 4 – 8 ft. tall and up to 10 ft. wide. Unfortunately, some people don’t allow enough room for it to grow and shear it into a ‘ball’.
 
You can go 2 – 3 years or more between prunings. It’s best when left alone to bear its attractive, papery white flowers spring into fall.
 
Hardy to zone 8, little leaf cordia does great in full sun and well-drained soil.
 
‘White Katie’ Ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana ‘White Katie’)
 
During a visit to a nursery some time ago, I noticed a white flowering variety of the more commonplace purple ‘Katie’ ruellia and I immediately decided that I liked the white color better.
 
‘White Katie’ ruellia grows to 8 inches tall and 1 1/2 ft. wide in zone 8 gardens and warmer. ¬†It looks great when planted in groups of 3 or more. ¬†You can plant it alongside the purple variety for fun color contrast. ¬†It does suffer frost damage when temps dip below freezing but recover¬†quickly in spring. ¬†
 
This white flowering perennial does best in morning sun or filtered shade in desert gardens.
 
I hope you have enjoyed these white flowering plants and decide to add them to your garden!  
  

Do you use white flowering plants in your landscape?

I do.

However, some people tend to overlook white flowers in favor of flashier colors such as yellow, orange or red.  But did you know that white flowers can help show off the other colors in your landscape by providing color contrast?

In addition, white flowering plants also have a visually cooling effect in the garden, which is a welcome sight in the Southwest where summers are hot.

I’d like to share with you some of my favorite white flowers, all of which do well in the Southwestern landscape.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum)
 
Pretty white flowers with yellow centers are just one of the reasons people love Bush Morning Glory. Its silvery foliage is another great color that it adds to the landscape.
 
In the desert, the flowers appear for several weeks in spring before fading away. However, the silvery foliage is evergreen and will add great color contrast when planted nearby plants with dark green foliage.
 
Do you have an area that gets full afternoon sun and reflected heat?  Bush Morning Glory can easily handle it while looking great.
 
Hardy to zone 8, bush morning glory grows approximately 2 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide.  Prune back in spring, after flowering has finished by 1/2 its size.
 
White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
 
White Gaura is a flowering perennial that has a prominent place in my landscape. It has small flowers, shaped like small butterflies, that start out pink and turn white as they bloom.
 
 
This lovely perennial does best in filtered sun and flowers in spring and fall. It requires little maintenance other then shearing it back in spring to 1/2 its size.
 
White gaura is related to the pink variety ‘Siskyou Pink’, but has a bushier appearance and grows larger – approximately 2 1/2 ft. wide and tall. This native perennial is hardy to zone 6 gardens.
 
‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’)
 
While most of us are more familiar with the purple flowering Texas sage shrubs, there is a white variety that is well worth adding to your landscape.  
 
‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage can grow large, 6+ feet tall and wide, if given enough space. It thrives in full sun and in summer and fall, periodic flushes of white flowers cover the silvery green foliage.
 
Avoid the temptation to excessively prune this shrub, which decreases the flowering and is not healthy for this type of shrub.  Hardy to zone 7, this shrub looks great when used as an informal hedge or against a wall.
Hedgetrimmers aren’t needed for pruning Texas sage. My Corona Compound Loppers are what I’ve used to prune mine for over 10 years with some hand pruning as needed for wayward branches.
 
For guidelines on how to (or how NOT to) prune flowering shrubs, click here.
 
Texas Olive (Cordia boissieri)
This Texas native is a huge favorite of mine РTexas olive is a large shrub or small tree, depending on how you prune it. It has dark green, leathery leaves, and beautiful white flowers, which appear spring through fall on evergreen foliage.
 
Whenever I see this shrub, I always take a moment to admire its beauty, since it isn’t used often in the landscape – but it should be!
 
Small fruit, resembling an olive is produced, which are edible. They thrive in full sun. Allow plenty of room for it to grow as it gets 25 ft. tall and wide. Hardy to zone 9, the only drawback of this white-flowering beauty is that it can be a little messy, so keep away from swimming pools.
 
All of these white flowering plants are drought tolerant and do well in hot, arid climates.  
 
Do you grow any of these in your garden? Which is your favorite?
 
As beautiful as these plants are, I have more to show you next time in Part 2 next week!

Okay, correct me if I’m wrong, but¬†wasn’t it October 1st just a few days ago? It’s hard to believe that November is already here. You know what that means – Christmas is just around the corner.

Last month was a busy one in the garden.  While there are not as many tasks to be done in November, there are still a few things to do.

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Continue planting cold-tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials.  These include Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana), Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla), and Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata).  All of these plants do well in full sun.

Wait until spring to tropical flowering plants such as Lantana, Bougainvillea, and Yellow Bells since these frost-tender young plants are more likely to suffer damage from winter temperatures.
 
Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
 
Other shrubs to consider planting now include Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) and Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera). Each of these do well in an area that receives filtered sun.
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia mexicana)
 
Mexican Honeysuckle is one of my favorites because it thrives in light shade, is frost-tolerant AND flowers much of the year.
 
Snapdragon Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)
 
Perennials are a great way to add color to the landscape and Penstemons are some of my favorites. ¬†Parry’s and Firecracker Penstemons are seen in many beautiful landscapes, but there is another that I love. Snapdragon Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) is not often seen but is stunning. It grows up to 4 ft. tall blooms in spring and its flowers are fragrant.
 
It’s not always easy to find but is well worth the effort. Use it in an area that gets some relief from the afternoon sun.
 
‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’)
You may have seen this colorful ornamental grass blooming this fall. Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a lovely green, ornamental grass in spring and summer. Once cooler temperatures arrive, it undergoes a magical transformation.  Burgundy plumes appear in fall, turning this grass into a show-stopper.
 
‘Regal Mist’ in winter.
In winter, the burgundy plumes fade to an attractive wheat color.
 
 
There is still time to sow wildflower seed for a beautiful spring display. My favorites are California Poppies, California Blue Bells, and Red Flax.
 
My edible garden is usually filled with delicious things to eat in fall.
Herbs are easy to grow and most will thrive throughout the winter. The one exception is Basil, which will die once temperatures dip below freezing. Harvest your basil before the first frost arrives. You can dry it and put it into spice jars or freeze it into ice cubes.
 
 
Thin vegetable seedlings.¬†This is easiest to do using scissors and snipping them off at the soil line so that you don’t disturb the roots of the remaining seedlings.
 
Check your seed packet to determine how far apart the seedlings should be.
 
 
Many vegetables can be planted in November. Leafy greens like bok choy, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, and Swiss chard can be added. Sow carrots and radishes.
 
 
I am so happy to be able to make salads from my own garden again instead of relying on a salad from a bag.
 
 
If you haven’t done so yet, this is the last month to plant garlic in your garden. It is easy to grow, and I grab a few heads of garlic from the¬†grocery store to plant.
 
Broccoli and cauliflower transplants can still be added to the garden this month. Onions, peas, and turnips can also be planted in November.  
 
If you haven’t already done so,¬†adjust your irrigation schedule to water less frequently then you did in the summer months. More plants die from over-watering than under-watering, even in the desert Southwest.
 
I find that monthly gardening task lists keep me on track in the garden. This book is a great resource for Arizona gardeners:
*What will you be doing in your garden this month?

Imagine finding yourself stepping back in time, surrounded by small adobe homes and extensive gardens – all in modern-day Phoenix.

 
The Phoenix Homesteads District dates back to the 1930s and is the only adobe neighborhood in Phoenix.  Mature pine trees line the streets interspersed with Mexican fan palms creating a green tunnel that beckons you to explore further.
 
 
Small adobe homes sit on large lots with large, mature trees and shrubs.  
 
The¬†homes were built in the ’30s, and 40’s so residents could grow much of their food and own small livestock.
 
The purpose of my journey to this historic neighborhood was to visit a local artist and her picturesque gardens. 
 
 
This historic garden jewel is located on ‘Flower Street.’
 
I came to visit this special place at the recommendation of a client who told me about a resident artist, Suzanne Bracker, who not only had a beautiful garden but creates wonderful pieces of art.  
As I pulled up to her home, little did I know that the garden was just the beginning of the wonderful things I would see.
 
 
Suzanne met me by the curb in front of her home to lead me on a journey of inspiration and discovery. 
 
 
Just a few steps into the garden, it’s apparent that Suzanne loves to repurpose items in her garden. ¬†The curved pathway at the garden entrance is edged with broken concrete, often referred to as ‘urbanite’.
 
 
The property consists of two 1/4 acre lots. The adobe structure that used to serve as a garage/shed, straddles the original property line. 
 
Queen’s wreath vine (Antigonon leptopus) and lantana grow on large river rocks within wire (gabion walls). ¬†The bright blooms of bougainvillea provide a welcome pop of color.
 
 
An old, gnarled tree root sits among vines and adds both color and texture contrast.
 
 
A Peruvian apple cactus (Cereus peruviana) grows through a giant bush lantana (Lantana camara) that is trained up as a small tree. 
 
After only 5 minutes in this artist’s garden, I could tell that I was on a journey of the unexpected and could hardly wait to discover more.
 
The garage/shed is now an artist’s studio where pieces of Suzanne’s work are on display.
 
 
The original adobe wall can be seen inside the studio.  Adobe walls (made from mud and straw) keep buildings cool in summer.
 
 
You can see the bits of straw mixed in with the adobe as well as a small note in a crevice just waiting to be discovered and read.
 
Evidence of Suzanne’s interest in a variety of artistic mediums is immediately apparent.
 

 

From mosaics…
 
 
To paper…
 
 
¬†Clay…
 
 
 
And jewelry. Her talent is evident in almost everything she touches.
 
As we ventured back outdoors, Suzanne revealed a particular spot she affectionately calls her “graveyard”.
Underneath the shade of a large carob tree, the ‘graveyard’ is an area where the broken clay heads from Suzanne’s clay art find a place to rest.¬†
 
 
This is a novel way to repurpose items that otherwise would have found its way into the trash.
 
 
Weights from old windows in the house now hang from metal trellises alongside snail vine.
 
 
Small crystals from old chandeliers now decorate the trellis and cast small rainbows wherever they catch the sun’s rays.
 
 
Peach-faced parrots, who live in the wild, stop by the bird feeder under the carob tree.  
 
 
Sprays of delicate purple flowers from a large skyflower (Duranta erecta) shrub, arch over the garden path. 
 
 
Along flagstone pathways, a flash of blue and green color catches my eye. Where most of us would throw out a few leftover glass beads, she uses them for a touch of whimsy.
 
 
As I enter her home, the original kitchen catches my eye – there’s no granite countertops or stainless steel appliances here.
 
 
Although small, this 1930’s kitchen is functional and very cute.
 
Back outdoors, there is still more to see in the garden.
 
 
 
Plants aren’t the only thing that provides color in this garden – the buildings are painted in vibrant shades of blue and purple.
 
 
Old oil cans, a kettle, and creamers find new life as garden art.
 
 
As I walk through the garden, we come upon a shady oasis, underneath the massive canopy of an old Lady Bank’s rose – this is the same type of rose as the famous Tombstone Rose.
 
 
A colorful rooster and his chickens enjoy the shade from the rose.
 
 
Gold lantana grows among round step stones. The sizes and location of these step stones were poured in place. Their shape adds another artistic element to the landscape.
 
 
One of the many enjoyable aspects of this garden are the ‘garden rooms’ interspersed.¬†
 
Among the garden paths, there’s always something to discover like these old, antique, toy cars. ¬†These were left by the previous owner and Suzanne put them on top of an old tree stump to add another fun element.
 
 
At the end of our garden journey, we pass by a jujube (Ziziphus jujube) tree, which tastes a little like apple.  
 
 
The second house on the property has a lovely Rose of Sharon tree in front along with some interesting garden art.
 
True to the historical roots of this home, the concrete pipes that decorate the front are made from old irrigation pipes used for the flood irrigation This practice is still common throughout parts of Phoenix in older areas. 
 
 
This garden still uses flood irrigation – the same as in the 1930s.
 
 
The blossoms of a small, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) add whimsical beauty with its flowers that change color as they age. 
 
 
Gardens that both surprise and inspire us are a real treasure – especially when found in the middle of a city.
 
Suzanne’s garden is a historic jewel. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met her and observe how her artistic talent extends to everything she touches.

With the imminent arrival of fall, I can’t wait to get to the nursery to choose plants for some empty spots in my landscape. Each year, I do an inventory or audit of my garden and look at plants that are struggling or just not adding much to my outdoor space.

If you are like me, you may be thinking of adding plants this fall too. 
 
 
In my career as a horticulturist, I’ve designed, planted and overseen the installation of thousands of plants over the years. ¬†
 
As you can imagine, I have accrued tips along the way of how-to and how NOT to select the best plants for the landscape.
 
Plant nursery at The Living Desert Museum in Palm Desert, CA
 
In my online course, Desert Gardening 101, one of the very first sections deals with how to best choose plants from the nursery. Today, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite tips on how to select the best plants at the nursery that will save you money and future problems.
 
Earlier this month, I wrote about how important it is to research plants before buying. This is a crucial step to make sure that you are select a plant that will thrive in your climate.  
 
I encourage you to take a few¬†minutes to read these tips, which could save you from buyer’s remorse and a dead plant.
 
Foxglove for sale in front of an Arizona big box store nursery.  This lovely perennial is not the easiest plant to grow in the desert garden.
 

1. Avoid impulse buys.

 
Believe it or not, some nurseries carry plants that will NOT grow well in your area. There are many times I have seen hydrangeas offered at my local big box store. While I would LOVE to be able to grow hydrangea in my Southwest garden, I know that within a few weeks of planting – it will soon languish and die.
 
Don’t assume that just¬†because your local nursery sells a certain type of plant, that it will grow in your climate. Sadly, this is particularly¬†true of big box stores.
 
Why do the stores stock plants that won’t grow in the local climate? The answer is simple – most people are drawn to these plants¬†because they are colorful and beautiful. ¬†So, they inevitably purchase them assuming that they will grow in their garden. A few weeks later, they are dismayed when their new plant becomes sickly and dies. This leads to many people believing that they have a black thumb.
 
 

2. Smaller sizes can be better.

In many cases, skipping over the larger-sized plant in favor of one in a smaller-sized container is the better choice.
 
Of course, there is the amount of money you will save, but did you know that the smaller plants have an easier time becoming established? 
 
Smaller plants are younger and are better able to handle the shock of being transplanted than older plants. In addition, they have less upper growth (branches, leaves & stems) to support, so they can focus on growing roots, which is vital to its growth rate. 
 
Bigger and older plants aren’t as adaptable and take an extended length of time to grow.
 
Planting smaller plants works best with those that have a moderate to fast growth rate. For plants that take have a slow rate of growth, you may want to select a larger plant size.
 
Another bonus is that in addition to saving money, you don’t have to dig as large a hole!
 
Root-bound plant

3. Avoid plants that have been in their containers too long.

 
Sometimes, nurseries don’t¬†sell plants as quickly as they’d like. So what happens when a plant sits in a container too long?
 
The roots start growing around and around each other causing the plant to become root-bound. Once roots grow this way, they have a hard time growing outward into the soil as they should. Eventually, the plant will can decline and even die.
 
How can you tell if a plant has been in its container too long?
 
– Look for signs such as weeds growing in the pot, which indicates that it may have been in the nursery for a while.
 
РAre there any dead leaves inside the pot? This is also an indicator that it may have been sitting in the nursery for a long time.
 
РSee if roots are growing through the drainage holes Рif so, that is a clear indication of a plant that has been its container too long.
 
This blog post contains affiliate links.
 
If you have brought a plant that turns out to be root bound, you can help it out. Take a box cutter or ‘hori-hori’ garden knife¬†which is a soil knife that is useful for cutting and digging. I use it to make a series of¬†vertical cuts around the root ball¬†so that you are cutting through the circled roots. Do this on the bottom too.
 
By cutting the roots, you are disrupting the circular growth pattern, and they should be able to grow out into the surrounding soil.
 

4. Select healthy plants.

 
While most plants at the nursery are usually healthy and in good shape, this¬†isn’t always the case.
 
Avoid plants with yellow leaves, which can be a sign of incorrect watering. Look for signs of any yellow or brown spots on the leaves as well, which can be a sign of disease. Also, check for signs of disease such as insects or the presence of webs or chewed leaves.  
 
Bringing any plants home with a disease or damaging insects can inadvertently infect your existing plants.
Check the soil in the pot and if appears overly moist or has a funny odor, walk away. Overwatered plants rarely do well.
 
 

5. Select plants that are grown locally whenever possible.

 
In Arizona, where I live, many plants found in our nurseries are grown in California. (I don’t have anything against things from California – I grew up there ūüėČ
 
However, plants that are grown in a different climate and then brought over to another one can have a tough time adapting to the new climate unless they have had time to ‘harden off’ and adjust to the weather conditions.
 
When possible, choose plants grown by local growers. Not only will the plants have an easier time becoming established, but you will also be supporting your local economy.
Do you have any plant-buying tips? Please share them in the comments.
 

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The signs that fall is approaching are sometimes so subtle that it is easy to miss them.  But, they are there just the same.


You may notice the lengthening shadows on your way home from work,¬†signaling shorter days. ¬†Or maybe¬†you’ve noticed that you aren’t¬†rushing indoors as quickly as you did earlier this summer.

 
Fall is a time to celebrate the end of hot summer temperatures and what better way to do that than to venture out into the garden again?
 
Before you head out to shop for plants, it’s important to pick the right ones or you may be left with a dead or struggling plant and a thinner wallet.¬†
Here is my most important piece of advice before you head to the nursery:
 

Research plants before buying.

 
It sounds¬†simple, doesn’t it? ¬†But you would be surprised to learn that most people don’t research plants before they add them to their landscape. ¬†
 
There are three questions you should have the answers to before planting.
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1. Know how large your plant will grow at maturity.

 
Neglecting to get the answer to this question can have unfortunate results.
 
This homeowner had ficus trees planted in the raised bed around their swimming pool.
 
Now, when you look at this picture, you may be wondering why would anyone plant ficus trees in this area.
 
Newly planted ficus tree
 Well, it goes without saying that new plants are much smaller than they will be once they are planted and have a chance to grow.
 
Mature ficus tree.
 
But, once plants are in the ground and begin growing, that small little plant can increase in size exponentially.  In this case, the ficus looks like it is ready to swallow up this house.
 
Over-planted shrubs
Another example of not researching the mature size of plants can be seen in many landscapes throughout the Southwest.  
 
In a nutshell, the small 1 foot tall and wide shrub in the nursery can grow more than 10X its original size.
 

2. Know what exposure the plant does best in.

 
Putting a plant that needs full sun in a shady spot will result in a leggy plant with few leaves and almost no flowers.
 
What a plant that does best in filtered shade looks like when planted in full sun.
 
Conversely, if you place a plant that does best in the filtered shade in an area that gets full, afternoon sun – it will suffer.
 
You will save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration by simply placing plants in the exposure they like.
 

3. What type of maintenance will your plant require?

 
Fuss-free Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’
 
Some plants need frequent pruning, fertilizing and protection from pests.
 
Others are what I like to call ‘fuss-free’ and need little else besides water.
 
The amount of maintenance a plant needs is largely dependent on whether or not it is native or adapted to your client.
 
 
For example in the Phoenix area where I live, queen palms are very popular.  The problem is, is that they are not particularly well-adapted to our desert climate.
 
In fact, it is rare to see a healthy queen palm growing in the greater Phoenix area.  Frequent applications of palm fertilizer are required to get them to look okay and even then, they will never look as good as those growing in Florida or California.
 
I don’t like to fuss over plants except for a couple of rose bushes in my garden, so I am a strong proponent of using native or adapted plants that need little pruning, no¬†fertilizer and aren’t bothered by insect pests.
 
Now we know three important questions to get answered before selecting plants for your garden.
 
So, where can you go for the answers to these questions?
 
There are a few different places you can go to find out these as well as other questions.
 
Master gardeners are an invaluable resource and their job is to help people learn how to grow plants successfully. You can call them, email your questions or stop by and talk to them in person.
 
Take some time to visit your local botanical garden. Write down which plants you like, or snap a photo of them with your phone. Note how large they are and what type of exposure they are growing in.
 

I have a weakness (well, one of many) to confess to you today….

I absolutely love salt.  

In fact, I have a theory that the reason that so many people love french fries is not the potatoes or the fat it is fried in. No, it is the salt that you put on them afterwards. I mean, can you imagine eating an unsalted french fry? 

In preparation for this blog post, I went through my kitchen and pulled out all of my salt & pepper shakers.

 
It’s kind of embarrassing isn’t it?¬† I have so many.
 
But in my defense, I must admit that I collect different types of pottery and need salt and pepper shakers for each set.  
My husband made me my wooden salt cellar, which I keep near the stove when I cook.
 
Now, I do not use as much salt as I used to. In fact, I am trying to be better about it.  When I visited the doctor earlier this week for my physical, I still had low blood pressure, much to my relief.
 
Well, we all know that too much salt is bad for you and can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure. But did you know that too much salt is not good for your plants as well?
 
Plants don’t get ‘high blood¬† pressure’ with too much salt, but they do have another problem that shows up.
They get brown tips on their leaves, which we call ‘salt burn’.
 
white-crusty-salt-build-up-plants

Here is another way that you can tell plants are getting too much salt. Shallow watering causes the water in the soil to evaporate quickly, leaving behind the salts. The salts look like a white crust on the soil around your plants.

At this point you may be wondering how plants get too much salt?  

Well, both soil and water have naturally occurring salts in them. This is especially true in the Desert Southwest where our water is somewhat salty and our soils can suffer from salt build-up due to high evaporation.
 
So what do you do if you have indoor or outdoor plants that have brown tips?
The solution is very easy.
 
Water deeply.
 
That’s it!
 
 
Here is a shrub that has signs of salt build-up. I encountered with one of my clients during a landscape consultation – he had other shrubs that looked similar.
 
I will tell you what I told him:
 
If your outdoor plants look like this, first water the affected plant with your hose on a slow trickle for at least 2 – 3 hours.¬† This helps to ‘leach’ or flush the salts away from the roots.
Thereafter, adjust your irrigation schedule so that your shrubs are watered to an approximate depth of 18 inches deep each time. Sadly, most people water too often, too shallow and not long enough.  
 
For example, I water my shrubs and perennials every 5 – 7 days in the summer. This takes approximately 2 hours for my plants to be watered to a depth of 2 ft. Of course the time it takes to water that deeply is different for each landscape and is dependent on a variety of factors including soil type and water pressure.
If your houseplant has brown tips (salt burn), then simply flush the salts out by deeply watering.  You can do this by putting your plant in the sink or bathtub and let water slowly trickle on your plant for 1 Р2 hours.
I cover landscape irrigation in depth with my students in my online course, Desert Gardening 101, but for those of you looking for advice right now here’s what I recommend. Search online for watering guidelines on your city’s website – most have schedules including recommended depths.
So in closing I’ll leave you with these two tips:
Be sure to limit your salt intake AND water your plants deeply to prevent salt burn.