Cultivating Wildflowers: Nature’s Colorful Display

Rediscovering the Desert’s Beauty in Fall

As summer begins to slowly fade and the heat begins to dissipate, the Southwestern garden comes alive with second spring.

"Second Spring" in the Southwest Garden

In the absence of scorching 100+ degree temperatures, both plants and people reawaken to the vibrant beauty of the desert landscape during the fall season.

The Allure of Autumn is “Second Spring”

When people talk about their favorite season, many will tell you that spring is the time that they enjoy the most as their gardens come alive, spring forth with new green growth and colorful blooms. But in the desert Southwest, there’s another season that deserves just as much acclaim – fall, often referred to as the “second spring.”

Sky Flower (Duranta erecta) during second spring

Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

While spring is a glorious time in the desert landscape with winter blooms overlapping with spring flowering plants along with cactus flowers – it isn’t the only ‘spring’ that the desert experiences.

"second spring" garden beauty in the desert Southwest

A Season of Renewal

Fall in the desert brings a rejuvenating touch. The cooler temperatures breathe new life into plants, coaxing them into refreshed appearances and prolonging their flowering displays. Irrigation becomes less of a chore. Birds, butterflies, and various wildlife also make a prominent return during the daytime hours.

The Great Outdoors Beckons

With the arrival of fall, desert residents find themselves irresistibly drawn outdoors. Whether it’s leisurely walks, al fresco dining, or simply working outdoors, the comfortable temperatures and captivating landscapes make every moment spent outside a delight.

"second spring" pathway in the desert Southwest

Fall is the ideal season for making alterations to your garden. It’s the perfect time to replace thirsty, old plants with drought-tolerant alternatives or expand your outdoor living space by adding new features like patios or pergolas.

Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii) during second spring

Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii) 

Second Spring Planting for the Future

Regardless of your garden’s location, fall stands as the prime season for introducing new plants to your landscape. With three growing seasons ahead, it offers them the opportunity to establish robust root systems before the next scorching summer arrives.

No matter what garden region you live in – second spring is the best time of year to add new plants to the landscape as it provides plants with three seasons in which to grow a good root system before the heat of the next summer arrives.

**Thinking of making some changes to your landscape?  Click here for a list my favorite drought tolerant plants that provide fall blooms.  

Exploring the Beauty of the Desert Museum Palo Verde

Lovely flowering Desert Museum Palo Verde Tree

‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde Trees

The Desert Museum Palo Verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’), a beloved tree in arid climates, graces numerous residential, commercial, and community landscapes. Its striking medium-green trunk, feathery foliage, and golden late spring flowers contribute to its widespread popularity. While wind damage can be a concern, proper care and selection can ensure these trees thrive.

Avoiding Storm Damage of the Palo Verde Tree

Fallen ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees after a monsoon storm

These wonderful trees stand as a captivating addition to arid landscapes. Its medium-green trunk, delicate foliage, and vibrant late-spring blooms make it a cherished choice for many. However, understanding and addressing potential wind damage is crucial for their successful growth.

Understanding Wind Damage Concerns

One common hesitation in planting palo verde trees is their perceived susceptibility to wind damage. However, most issues arise from improper maintenance, unsuitable locations, or the selection of the wrong tree type within the Palo Verde family.

Palo Verde Tree in full yellow bloom

Desert Museum Palo Verde tree in my backyard

Personal Success with Desert Museum Palo Verde

I have three of these Palo Verdes around my house. They range in age from 10 to 20 years old. In all that time, I have not lost a single one. While minor branch breakage occurred at times, these resilient trees quickly recovered, showcasing the hardiness of this species.

So, how can you enjoy the beauty of this tree while lessening the danger of wind damage? As a retired certified arborist, I’m here to tell you that there are definitely things you can do.

5 Strategies for Structurally Healthy ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verdes Trees

1. Water deeply to a depth of 3 feet.

Deep roots are key to the stability of a tree and also decrease the chance of uplifting roots. Apply water toward the outer reaches of the branches where the roots are concentrated. As a tree grows, its roots move outward, so move your drip emitters or hose as needed.

Be sure to plant in an area where there is adequate area for root growth. Parking lot islands and narrow areas don’t allow enough room for roots to anchor the tree.

A blooming Desert Museum Palo Verde Tree

‘Desert Museum’ palo verde that has grown too rapidly due to excess irrigation

2. Irrigate less frequently to avoid your tree growing too fast.

This is a big cause of wind damage with palo verde trees. It’s important to remember that they are desert trees and don’t need as much water as other plants in the landscape. But, people often overwater their desert trees, which causes them to grow too quickly. This causes the formation of weak wood because they haven’t had the time to grow strong trunks and branches. In the photo above, notice how thin the multiple trunks are.

Established native desert trees, that have been in the ground for at least 3 years, can follow these general guidelines – water 1 to 2X a month in spring/fall, 2 to 3X a month in summer, and monthly in winter. These guidelines are for our current drought situation but can be modified as needed.

Several Palo Verde Trees grouped together

Trees that have been pruned up too high (lion-tailing)

3. Prune your tree correctly.

There are examples of awful pruning. One common one is known as ‘lion-tailing’ which is when trees have been over-pruned so the majority of the tree is devoid of branches except for the very top. This pruning deprives the branches of foliage needed to produce energy for the tree and to increase tree strength. It also increases the amount of overhanging branches toward the top making the tree more likely to fall.

Many landscapers don’t know the right way to prune trees and can inadvertently cause harm to your tree. I highly recommend enlisting the services of a certified arborist to prune your tree correctly.

4. Select a multi-trunk form of Palo Verde instead of one growing on a single trunk.

Desert trees naturally in a multiple trunk form, which distributes the weight of the upper branches. Palo Verde trees that have been trained to grow on a single trunk, are under more stress from the wind with their heavy top half. The majority that you see fallen have been trained into a single-trunk tree.

a large desert museum palo verde tree

This tree needs pruning before the monsoon season to lessen the weight of the canopy

5. ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees generally need pruning at least once (sometimes twice) a year.

You want to be sure to prune them before the onset of monsoon season – removing any heavyweight or branches that are weakly attached.

Desert Museum Palo Verde Tree in the front garden

Newly-pruned ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree ready for the monsoon season

Ensuring the Future of Your Desert Museum Palo Verde

Desert Museum Palo Verde trees are a valuable asset to desert gardens, offering beauty and shade. By following these tips, you can safeguard your tree’s health and stability for years to come. Join me in celebrating the enduring allure of these magnificent desert trees.

Want to learn more about this and other Palo Verde tree species? Check out my previous blog post here.

The Sunburn Experience: Not Just for Humans

Have you ever had a sunburn? Maybe a better question is, “Who hasn’t?”

Well, did you know that many plants get too much as well?

Sunburned Citrus: A Common Concern

On a recent visit to a client who was worried about her newly planted citrus trees.

new citrus trees planted in pots.

Sunburned Citrus

The Leaf Yellowing Dilemma on Citrus Trees

This particular client has a large courtyard with several new citrus trees in pots. Her citrus trees, planted in spring, showed yellowing as summer progressed.

sunburned citrus leaves

Now yellow leaves can indicate a number of different problems.  In this case, the diagnosis was rather simple – her citrus tree has a case of sunburn.

Common Signs of Sunburned Citrus and Other Plants

– The areas of the leaf that are yellow are in the center and NOT along the tips or edges.

– Often, the yellow areas begin to turn brown.

– Signs normally occur in the summer months.

– The sunburned leaves are usually located on the south and west-facing parts of the plant.

– This particular citrus tree is in an area that receives reflected, afternoon sun.

Citrus-tree-in-container-ASU


How to Prevent Sunburned Citrus

In this case, the solution is simple. Move the citrus tree to another part of the courtyard that receives afternoon shade is all that is needed to prevent further sunburn damage. Another choice is to put 50% shade cloth on from mid-May through September.

Citrus do best when planted at least 10 – 15 ft. away from walls. Unfortunately walls absorb the heat of the day and re-radiate it out.

Avoid planting where they get the full force of afternoon sun.

When people think about what a desert garden looks like, what comes to mind? Perhaps, visions of lots of brown with rocks and a cactus or two? Maybe visions of mostly brown terrain with scattered rocks and a couple of cacti? But in reality, the possibilities for colorful plants for the desert garden are far greater. Picture a vibrant landscape adorned with the entire spectrum of colors – from varying hues of red, orange, and purple to shades of pink and yellow.

I’m excited to introduce you to eight vividly colorful plants flourishing within my desert garden. All are vibrantly colorful and thrive in a hot, dry climate:

Bougainvillea 'Barbara Karst' is boldly vibrant with hot pink blooms

Colorful Plants for the Desert Garden

The Best List of Colorful Plants for the Desert Garden


Bougainvillea – Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’

You can’t beat Bougainvillea for the vibrant color in the garden. It thrives in our dry, hot climate and flowers off and on spring through fall. Record-breaking heat doesn’t bother it in the least. Its resilience makes it a prime candidate for covering walls and facing challenging western exposures. For maximum flowering, they need to be in full sun. For those that don’t like the messy flowers, you can opt for dwarf varieties or plant one in a large pot, which will limit its size.

Hardy to 20 degrees F. Plant in full sun for optimal flowering.

Coral Fountain Russelia equisetiformis has cascading red tubular flowers

Coral Fountain – Russelia equisetiformis

Often referred to as Firecracker Bush, this resilient plant is a colorful plant for a desert garden. It is a tropical beauty has a lovely cascading growth habit. Arching stems produce orange/red tubular flowers that delight hummingbirds. Blooming occurs spring through fall. This shrub takes a year or two before really taking off, but it’s worth the wait – I like to use them in groups of 3 to 5. It is also a good choice for adding to large containers – especially blue ones!

Cold hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Firecracker Penstemon Penstemon eatoni has bold red flowers that bloom off long stems

Firecracker Penstemon – Penstemon eatoni

Winter color is often lacking in desert gardens. However, there are many colorful plants for a desert garden that offer color through winter. This western native is my favorite during winter and spring in my front garden when it burst forth with brilliant orange/red blooms. Hummingbirds really enjoy the blooms as there aren’t many other plants for them to feed on this time of year. Prune off spent flowering stalks once the flowers begin to drop and you may get another flush of blooms to extend the season. It can be hard to find Firecracker Penstemon in box stores but local nurseries usually carry them.

Hardy to -20 degrees F. Plant in full sun.

Yellow Bells Tecoma stans var. stans is a lovely green shrub with bold yellow flowers

Yellow Bells – Tecoma stans var. stans

Admittedly, there are many yellow-flowering plants in the desert, but this one is my favorite! I look forward to the gorgeous yellow blooms opening each spring in my back garden. Yellow bells bloom spring through fall,and hummingbirds are attracted to their flowers. They are fast growers and have lovely, lush green foliage. To keep them looking their best, prune them back severely to 1-2 feet tall once the threat of frost has passed in spring. There are several notable varieties of Yellow Bells in shades of orange including ‘Crimson Flare’ and ‘Sparky’.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun to filtered sun.

Shrubby Germander Teucrium fruticans 'Azurea' is a Mediterranean shrub with blue-purple flowers

Shrubby Germander – Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’

Photos don’t do this Mediterranean native justice. When viewed in person, people are immediately transfixed by the light-blue flowers (they appear more purple in photos), which appear in spring. I have several scattered throughout my back garden, and for me, they bloom throughout winter too! Using plants with silver-gray foliage near those with darker green leaves is a great way to add interest to the landscape, even when not in flower. I dearly love this shrub for its colorful winter/spring blooms in my desert garden.

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in filtered sun.

Purple Lilac Vine Hardenbergia violaceae is a great desert plant that has lovely lilac-like blooms

Purple Lilac Vine – Hardenbergia violaceae

Here is another winter-flowering beauty. Purple flowers cover this vine from February into early March. Believe me when I say that they are a welcome relief to the winter blahs. Bees enjoy the blooms, which resemble lilacs but aren’t fragrant. It does require a trellis or other support to grow up on. When not in bloom, its attractive foliage adds a welcome splash of green throughout the year on vertical surfaces. The Purple Lilac vine is a very colorful plant for a desert garden and can be found in nurseries in fall and winter, during its flowering season.

Hardy to 20-25 degrees F. Plant in full to the filtered sun but avoid west-facing exposures.

'Rio Bravo' Texas Sage Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Rio Bravo' has masses of purple flowers

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage – Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’

If you love the color purple, you’ll want to include this variety of Texas Sage in your garden. Branches covered in masses of purple flowers appear off and on spring through fall, often in response to periods of increased humidity. The more humidity, the more flowers produced. There are many different types of Texas Sage and all add color to the desert garden. Now, you may not see them looking like this for the sad fact that many people prune them into unnatural shapes like balls, cupcakes, and even squares. Which would you rather have – a green ‘blob’ or a gorgeous purple beauty like this?

Hardy to 10 degrees F. Plant in full sun for maximum flowering.

Desert Willow Chilopsis linearis tree has colorful pink blooms

Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis

I want to include a tree in our list of colorful plants for the desert garden. Desert Willow is small to medium-sized tree that are native to the Southwest. Throughout the warm season, branches with bright green leaves are covered with pink blooms. The flowers add a lovely shade of pink, which is a color not always seen in the desert. There are many newer varieties of Desert Willow – I have four different ones in my garden, but ‘Bubba’ is my favorite. This is a deciduous tree and will lose its leaves in winter. 

Hardy to -10 degrees. Plant in full sun.

SO, where can you find these plants?

Where to Buy Colorful Plants for the Desert Garden

I am often asked where is the best place to buy plants. Yes, you can head to your big box store, but they usually lack variety and are known to sell plants that don’t do well in our hot, dry climate.

My advice is to look to your local garden center and nursery for these and other plants for your garden. 

This is a Fantastic Desert Nursery

I’d like to share with you about a new nursery that is mixing things up in a good way! Four Arrows Garden is a family business, located in Vail, AZ, where you order your plants online and they deliver them to you!

The Chavez family began their business with cuttings from succulents in their backyard that soon grew to people wanting them to offer other types of plants. She explains their unique nursery, “Our business model has changed over the year to fill the need in our community. We have transformed into “not your average nursery” because of a niche market to deliver landscape plants and creating an online shopping outlet for desert-adapted plants. We are different because we allow customers to shop for plants from the comfort of their homes.”

This Nursery Has Special Desert Plants

They source their plants from wholesale growers in the Phoenix and Tucson area. While their delivery area is primarily in the greater Tucson area, They can accept special requests from Phoenix area customers.

I encourage you to incorporate colorful plants within your desert garden to improve your curb appeal and your enjoyment of your outdoor space. Local nurseries are the best sources for these plants. If you are in the Tucson area, visit Four Arrows Garden’s online nursery to make your special order and they will deliver it to your door. Check them out on Facebook where Linsay keeps you updated on the latest plants available!

*Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Four Arrows Garden. My opinions and advice are my own.

Protecting Your Desert Garden From a Heatwave

Protecting Your Desert Garden From a Heatwave

Summers in the desert garden is hot. That’s no surprise. However, there are periods within these hot months when temperatures climb higher than normal. Because of this, we do need to help protect our gardens from the effects of a heatwave.

So, what is considered a heatwave in the low to mid-altitude desert? As a rule, when the mercury edges above 110 degrees F. During a heatwave, they can even go close to 120 degrees – ouch!

Thankfully, there are things you can do to help prepare the plants within your garden right now.

Here is my #1 tip…

Water your plants deeply the night before three – four day span of 110+ degree are forecast. This is in addition to your regular drip irrigation schedule.

The goal of this supplemental irrigation is to water deeply. This allow the soil to stay moister for longer, which will benefit your plants.

Under normal circumstances, I water my plants for 1 1/2 hours. However, in preparation of a heatwave, I water 2-3 hours. Plants will need more water in order to deal with the extreme temps and the extra water that will be lost to the atmosphere through their leaves.

Don’t do this every night, only every 4 days or so during a heatwave.

My second piece of advice…

Provide temporary shade for young plants in your landscape as they are more susceptible to stress from a heatwave.

This is because they don’t have a well-established root system to uptake much water and sparser foliage, so there aren’t many leaves to shade other parts of the plant.

Shade cloth is useful for protection lasting over several months. But for short-term shade during a heatwave, you can use burlap, sheets, an umbrella, or even place a patio chair over a susceptible plant. Uncover plants once temperatures are within the normal range.

Hot temperatures are a fact of life during the desert summer as are heatwaves. But, implementing one, or both, of these tips will help the plants in your garden.

For more tips for heat-proofing your garden, check out Heatproof Garden: 5 Amazing Tips.

Cactus Farm

The Art of Container Cacti

Have you ever seen the beauty of cactuses showcased in containers? Adding a cactus to a container helps to set it apart from the rest of the landscape and helps it to stand out so that its unique texture and shape really stand out. However, if the thought of having to plant a prickly cactus yourself has given you second thoughts about doing it yourself, it isn’t as hard as it seems. Let’s take a closer look at how to plant a cactus in a pot.

Cactus Farm

Tried and True Cactus Planting Steps

I have planted my share of cactus over my career (usually) without getting stabbed with the spines. My method of choice is to use an old towel to cover the cactus while I removing it from a pot and planting it. However, on a trip to B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson, I was able to observed an expert at work (see the video below for a few smart tips).

1. Selecting the Right Container

Choose a large pot with good drainage that is at least 2-3 inches wider in diameter than the cactus. Ensure the container is made of a durable material like terracotta or ceramic. This will provide stability and allow the cactus to grow comfortably.

2. Gathering Your Materials

Gather the necessary materials:

  • Large cactus
  • Well-draining cactus potting mix
  • Gravel or small rocks
  • Safety gloves
  • Tongs, newspaper, or plastic bag
  • A piece of burlap or an old towel

3. Preparing the Pot

  • Start by placing a layer of gravel or small rocks at the bottom of the pot to enhance drainage.
  • Fill the pot with the well-draining cactus potting mix, leaving enough space at the top for your cactus.

4. Handling the Cactus

  • Put on safety gloves to protect your hands from the cactus spines.
  • Use tongs or wrap the cactus in newspaper or plastic bags to gently lift it out of its current container. Be cautious not to damage the roots or prick yourself.

5. Positioning the Cactus

  • Carefully position the cactus in the center of the prepared pot, ensuring it sits at the same depth as it was in its original container. You may need someone to help hold the cactus steady while you fill in the soil.

6. Filling the Pot with Soil

  • Using the well-draining cactus potting mix, start filling in the space around the cactus. Tamp the soil down gently to provide stability.

7. Mulching (Optional)

  • Consider adding a layer of decorative gravel or small stones on top of the soil for both aesthetics and to help prevent moisture loss.

8. Watering

  • Water the newly potted cactus sparingly, allowing the soil to become slightly dry between waterings. Overwatering can lead to root rot.

9. Placement and Sunlight

  • Find a suitable location for your potted cactus. Most cacti prefer bright, indirect sunlight, so place it near a window with filtered light. Avoid direct, intense sunlight initially.

10. Maintenance

  • Regularly inspect your cactus for signs of pests, disease, or any issues with drainage.
  • Re-pot your cactus into a larger container when it outgrows its current pot.

By following these steps, you can successfully plant a large cactus in a pot, creating an attractive and low-maintenance addition to your indoor or outdoor space.

Cactus Farm

B&B Cactus Farm

Exploring B&B Cactus Farm

Whenever I find myself in Tucson, I always try to find time to visit B&B Cactus Nursery. They have a large selection cacti, including my favorites – Torch cactus (Trichocereus hybrids).  While they are rather unassuming when not in flower, they transform win spring when their large blossoms open.

Cactus Farm

‘First Light’ Torch Cactus Hybrid

‘First Light’ Torch Cactus Hybrid

My first visit to B&B Cactus Farm was several years ago and I had the intention of buying one torch cactus. However, as often happens with me and plants, I came home with two, including this stunning ‘First Light’ torch cactus.

On my second visit, I bought a new torch cactus hybrid and a colorful blue container to plant it in. 

Cactus Farm

Meeting a Cactus Expert

Normally, I plant my own cactus, but a conversation with one of the cactus experts at the nursery changed my mind.

Damon was busy potting cactus at a table with a large pile of succulent potting mix behind him. I struck up a conversation with him and found that he had an interesting story that had him ending up at a cactus nursery in Arizona. He worked in the banking industry and moved to Arizona from Oklahoma a year ago, and began work at a local bank.

Cactus Farm

After awhile, he decided that being a banker wasn’t for him and found happiness working with cactus. As he put it, “People are always stressed about money when they visit the bank, but everyone who comes to the nursery is happy, because plants make people smile.”

We had a great time talking and I decided to have him pot my cactus, which would make it easier to transport home. When I explained that I had a gardening website and wanted to take a video of him potting the cactus, he graciously agreed and provided lots of helpful advice.

So here is a banker turned cactus expert, showing you how to plant cactus in a pot: 

I hope you enjoyed Damon’s helpful tips. For more helpful videos, subscribe to my YouTube Channel

I absolutely love spring.  Some years, spring never arrives.  Sometimes spring goes missing and winter turns right into summer.  But not this year.  We have had beautiful weather and I have enjoyed being outdoors.  

But, all good things must come to an end.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I do like the summer, but you will find me inside much more often then outside.  Sometimes I wonder if some of my plants would rather be inside enjoying the air-conditioning.

Did you know that May and June are the most stressful months for plants in the desert southwest?  Well, it is.  Although the hot summer temperatures cool down in the evening, the daytime heat coupled with the extreme dryness of our climate is quite stressful for plants.  When the monsoon season arrives in July, the increased humidity and rain bring relief to the plants.

So, what is a plant to do when it cannot escape indoors from the heat?  Well, I would love to show you one example of what some shrubs do to deal with the dry heat.

To really see what I am talking about, look closely at the photo below…

love spring

love spring

Can you see it?  Can you tell what helps to protect the flowers from the sun?  

Hint: Look at the little hairs on the petals.

love spring

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) and all other Leucophyllum species have tiny hairs on their flowers, stems and their leaves, which help to deflect the sun’s rays and helps to reduce the amount of water lost to the air. It is these tiny hairs that give the leaves a gray-green color.

love spring

Drive down any street in the Desert Southwest and you will see these beautiful shrubs throughout the residential landscape.

love spring

Even though I have worked as a horticulturist for over 10 years, I am still amazed at how plants adapt to their environment. 

By the way, you may be thinking that I took these close-up photos to show the tiny hairs covering the blossoms, but actually, my goal was to show how beautiful the flower was. It was only after I downloaded the pictures that I saw the tiny hairs.  

It makes you wonder what else you may find just by taking close-up pictures of plants….

pink blooming plants

Pink blooming plant in the desert graden

Embracing Spring in the Desert Southwest

Springtime in the desert southwest is a glorious time, particularly with pink blooming plants.

We say “goodbye” to cold, winter temperatures and delight in the landscape around us and it bursts into bloom.

I enjoy spending time outdoors this time of year, realizing that soon I will go into what I like to call ‘summer hibernation’ as the temperatures reach triple digits.

A Showcase of Pink Blooming Plants

Today, I thought that I would share with you some beautiful, pink flowering plants that are in bloom right now…

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

pink blooming plants pink blooming plants

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

The marvelous pink fairy duster shows off its pink flowers once a year in spring.  The rest of the year, it quietly recedes into the background until spring arrives again.

Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris)

Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris), pink blooming plants

Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris)

My favorite prickly pear has vibrant, pink flowers throughout spring.  One of the reasons that I like beavertail prickly pear is that it stays rather small and does not become overgrown like other species can.

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) pink blooming plants

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

I’m a sucker for plants that produce flowering spikes, like Parry’s penstemon.  It has such a delicate, pink color and hummingbirds find it irresistible.

Pink California Poppy

Pink California Poppy

Pink California Poppy

Did you know that the traditional, orange California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) comes in other colors?  I think I’m in love with the pink variety.

‘Raspberry Ice’ Bougainvillea

'Raspberry Ice' Bougainvillea pink blooming plants

‘Raspberry Ice’ Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea makes an excellent container plant. All you have to do is water them deeply and then allow them to dry out before watering again.  Although I have a deep, magenta bougainvillea in my own garden – I must admit that I really like the variety ‘Raspberry Ice’ which has cream-colored brachts with pink tips.

Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’)

Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink'

Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’

Although traditionally a summer-bloomer, this pink gaura was already blooming in March.  It makes a great filler for container gardens in the warm season.

Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri)

Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri) pink blooming plants

Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri)

Pink, cup-shaped blooms cover Mexican evening primrose in spring.  This groundcover looks great in natural desert landscapes, but can be invasive, so be careful where you use it.

Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

Shopping for Succulents, Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale

Shopping for Succulents, Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale

I enjoy attending plant sales hosted by botanical gardens. Why? Because you can often find the newest plants (even hard to find ones) at them. Of course, you can also find old favorites as well.

Smart Succulent Shopping: Tips to Save on Succulents

Succulents, including cacti are a great way to add texture and interest to the garden at a fraction of the maintenance and water that other plants require. However, they tend to be more expensive than shrubs, vines, and perennials. But, don’t worry – I’m here to help you save money on succulents with these tips…

Shopping for Succulents agave

Shopping for Succulents

Shopping for Succulents

1. Choose Wisely: Avoid purchasing agave in 15-gallon containers or larger.

Why?  Well, almost all species of agave will flower toward the end of their life and then die.  That is what agave do.

Flowering is triggered by the age of the agave. In addition, different agave species live for differing lengths of time – some live less than 10 years. If you buy a 15-gallon or larger boxed agave – it is safe to assume that they are much older then those in smaller pots and will flower and die much sooner.

So my advice is to purchase agave in 1 or 5-gallon sizes – they will last much longer and you’ll save a lot of money.

*BONUS: Look for succulents that have more than one plant growing in the nursery pot. Sometimes, you can find more than one – that’s like getting 2 for the price of 1!

Octopus agave

Better yet, ask a friend or neighbor for a volunteer (pup) from their agave.  Many agave species produce volunteers that can be transplanted.  To learn how, click here.

Shopping for Succulents, My husband and daughter checking out the young saguaro cacti.

Shopping for Succulents, My husband and daughter checking out the young saguaro cacti.

2. Size Matters – Buy smaller cacti rather then larger.

Columnar cacti are beautiful, but expensive. The price is usually based on the height of the cactus. Saguaro cacti are priced based on each foot high they are plus the height of each arm.

The price for a 1 ft. high Totem Pole cactus was $48.

The price for a 1 ft. high Totem Pole cactus was $48.

The reason that I recommend starting out with a smaller columnar cactus such as Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marinatus) or ‘Monstrose’ Totem Pole (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) is that they will begin to grow at a faster rate once planted in the ground.

Smaller Plants are Smarter Plants

In fact, smaller plants have an easier time becoming established then larger ones.

Many columnar types of cacti grow faster in the landscape then in the wild due to the presence of water – that includes saguaro cacti as well.

totem pole cactus in the garden

Cacti from Cuttings

Like agave, you can start some species of columnar cacti from cuttings.

I planted this Mexican Fence Post cactus in my garden 11 years ago.  It started out as a 2 foot cutting given to me by a client from their large cactus.

Look how much it has grown! You can ask a neighbor or friend if they would mind you taking a stem (or pad) off of their cactus so you can start your own.

Many cacti can be started as cuttings. Simply take a piece of cacti, and place it in a dry, shady spot for two weeks and then plant it in the ground or in a pot. Wait a month before watering. For a new cactus cutting, it’s a good idea to water it once a month through its first year.

cactus/succulent

3. Plant with Care: Handling Prickly Succulents

If you hadn’t noticed, many succulents are prickly. So, it is a good idea to plan on how you are going to plant it. Decide whether you can do it yourself or if you will need to hire someone to plant it for you.

For small cacti, you can use a towel to help you plant them without getting pricked. See how here.

For larger cacti, you can use pieces of carpet or rubber straps. But when in doubt about whether you can plant it yourself, hire an expert.  

Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii)

*Years ago, as a golf course horticulturist, I used to transplant Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii) from areas that were to be built upon.  I would use rubber straps to carry the cholla and regular kitchen tongs to pick up the pieces that dropped off.  I would then plant them elsewhere.

discounted plants.

4. Look for Discounts: Keep an eye out for discounted plants.

Often, not all plants will meet the high standards of the nursery.  Sometimes, this can be mostly cosmetic damage, but occasionally you will see a succulent that has not been watered correctly or placed in too much or too little sun.

This can be a great way to save money and provide a little TLC to new succulents.  Research online how to care for that particular plant and soon you will have a healthy succulent growing in your garden that cost you a lot less.

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I hope that these tips will be helpful to you the next time you are shopping for succulents.

Landscape No-No

Photo: Landscape No-No

Addressing Issues in Landscaping: A Guide to Pruned Shrubs

Have you ever driven past a landscape that had some problems with it?  As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, my attention diverts whenever I see ‘Landscape No-No’s’ like this one. In this article, we’ll examine a landscape example and highlight the problems it presents.


Introduction: Identifying Landscape Problems

A while ago, I shared the photo of the landscape, above, on my Facebook page and invited people to identify three things wrong with the landscape.  I received a lot of comments including “looks like Versailles by the inept” and “shrubs arranged like funny-looking ottomans spread across gravel.”  

It’s essential to clarify that the purpose of showcasing landscapes like this isn’t to shame homeowners. Instead, our goal is to help you identify common problems and provide straightforward solutions to correct or prevent them in your landscaping projects.

So, using this landscape as an example, let’s look at the problems and later, focus on how to solve them:

shrubs pruned the wrong way

1. Overcrowded Shrubs

It’s obvious that there are too many plants in this area and the mature size of the shrubs weren’t factored in the original design.  The types of flowering shrubs in this area – desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis), Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), and ‘Green Cloud’ sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) are good choices. They are clearly spaced too closely together due to poor pruning.

2. Lack of Plant Diversity

As you can see, there is a tree, a couple of succulents (prickly pear cactus & yucca), and a LOT of shrubs. While there is a variety of plants in the landscape, there’s an overabundance of shrubs compared to other types. The landscape lacks a balanced mix of different plant types, resulting in an imbalance that affects its overall aesthetics.

3. Incorrectly Pruned Flowering Shrubs

These lovely, flowering shrubs are contorted into anonymous, green blobs. They lack in beauty and character.  In fact, you would have to look closely to be able to identify what each shrub is. The problem is what is missing from this landscape. Primarily attractive shrubs which grow into their natural shapes, covered in colorful flowers. Other problems associated with maintaining flowering shrubs this way are that it is stressful for the plant, shortens their lifespan, causes them to use more water to regrow their leaves, and creates more maintenance.

landscape-no-no-badly-pruned-shrubs

Solutions: Correcting the Landscape

Now that we have identified the problems, we can now look at the solutions. I will use the landscape above as my example:

  • Remove excess shrubs. Remove 24 of the 32 shrubs. You will be then have eight flowering shrubs. To decide what shrubs to remove, learn what type of shrub they are and look up how large they are at maturity. Then, make sure that the ones that remain have enough room to grow. Place shrubs up near the house. This anchors the corners of the landscape, and flank an entry.
  • Severely prune back remaining shrubs. Many shrubs have a ‘restart button’ where much of the damage that has been done due to excessive pruning can be reversed. Severe renewal pruning entails pruning back shrubs to approximately 1 1/2 feet tall and wide in spring. You’ll have nothing left but woody branches and little to no leaves. However, this stimulates plants to produce new, healthy growth. Do this pruning in spring. The key is to keep hedge trimmers away from your newly pruned shrubs forever. Prune with hand pruners, loppers, and pruning saws. This will work with most shrubs except for a few that were in declining health.
Which one would you rather have? Learn how to maintain shrubs the right way in the desert garden in my popular shrub pruning workshop

Photo: Which one would you rather have? Learn how to maintain shrubs the right way in the desert garden in my popular shrub pruning workshop

  • Incorporate lower-growing plants such as groundcovers and succulents. A well-designed landscape has plants with varying heights, including those at ground level.  For the landscape above, I’d add a few boulders and plant some gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) and twin-flower agave (Agave geminiflora) alongside them.  Other ideas for low-growing succulents include ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, Moroccan mound, and artichoke agave.  Flowering groundcovers would also look nice like angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), and sandpaper verbena (Glandularia rigida).  I like to use damianita, trailing lantana, and penstemon for color at lower heights.
Texas sage shrub with natural shape

Photo: Attractive desert landscape with room for plants to grow

Achieving a Balanced and Beautiful Landscape

Here is a snapshot of a landscape area at the Desert Botanical Garden where plants have room to grow. They grow into their natural shape and form.

Transforming the problematic landscape shown earlier, and others like it aren’t difficult, and the results are dramatic.  What a beautiful landscape filled with healthy plants that use less water and need little maintenance.

Are you tired of shapeless shrubs that look like green blobs? I invite you to learn more about how to prune the ‘right’ way. Attend my online Shrub Pruning Workshop.

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