succulent plants near a front entry in Arizona garden

Do you enjoy the summer heat?

I’m going record to state that I’m not a huge fan. I prefer to endure the intense heat indoors in the comfort of air-conditioning.

However, the plants in my garden don’t have that option. They are stuck outside no matter how hot it gets.

I always feel sad when I see plants struggle in the heat of summer. If I could bring them indoors to cool off I would 😉. But, let’s face it, that isn’t realistic or really what is best for plants.

For that reason, you will find the plants around my home are fairly heat-tolerant.

If you think that heat-proof plants are boring (and if I’m being honest, some are), many are attractive and beautiful.

One of my clients has a great example of an eye-catching entry that is fuss-free and shrugs off the heat of summer.

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi v. truncata), golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Euphorbia lomelii), and yucca create a living sculptural landscape with their unique shapes.

As you can see, you don’t have to settle for a blah garden or one filled with heat-stressed plants. In fact, I loved this example so much that I featured it in my book, “Dry Climate Gardening” which is available for pre-order.

You know that I don’t care for fussy plants – I prefer plants that look great with little effort on my part and this succulent garden is a great example, don’t you agree?

I invite you to take a walk through your garden to see what plants may be stressed from the heat. It may be time for you to switch them out for more heat-tolerant ones.

flowering groundcovers and a cactus landscape

Let’s face it…summer can be brutal.

I tend to spend as little time outdoors as possible when temperatures soar above normal ranges. It’s times like this that I praise the inventor of air-conditioning.

While we can escape record-breaking temperatures, our plants can’t.

However, you can create a landscape filled that thrives in the heat by using native or desert-adapted plants. And you know what? Most are very pretty!

Last weekend, I saw a great illustration of this…

Our church recently opened up a new campus, filled with new plants, but many of them were struggling to survive the intense heat. Many were plants native to more tropical climates.

After church, my husband and I headed out to the hospital to visit a loved one. The hospital had just undergone a renovation and brand-new landscape areas surrounded the entrance.

I stopped to take a photo of one of the areas that were doing very well so I could share it with you. Full disclosure: if you hang out with me, be prepared for sudden stops to take pictures of plants.

There were two main reasons that the landscape by the hospital was doing better than the one by the church:

  • The plants by the hospital were better adapted to hot summers – desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’), and Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus).
  • Additionally, these plants had been installed three months earlier than the ones at the church. Yes, plants can technically be added any time of year BUT there are times that should be avoided if at all possible – specifically May and June.

Sometimes you need to add new plants at the wrong time of year due to construction schedules, etc. In that case, I advise the use of shade cloth on a temporary basis for young plants through September IF you see that certain plants are struggling. This is in addition to watering them more often than existing plants in the landscape to help them establish their roots.

Use native or desert-adapted plants (those from other regions with similar weather conditions) to help your garden to be more resilient to hot, dry temperatures and they will need less help from you to beat the heat.

Stay cool friends!

 

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.

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

Shopping for Succulents

1. 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!

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. 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.

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.

cacti

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 it yourself

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. 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.

*******************

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

Desert Garden heat with little fuss.

Let’s face it. Hot summers are not surprising to desert dwellers. In fact, a typical desert 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.

Desert Garden heat-stressed Rock Penstemon and Golden Barrel Cactus

Heat-stressed Rock Penstemon and Golden Barrel Cactus

I must admit that it’s been hard to see certain plants struggling in my desert 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 in desert garden

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 desert garden

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 desert garden

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 in desert garden

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

'Sparky' Tecoma shrub (Tecoma 'Sparky') in desert garden

‘Sparky’ Tecoma shrub (Tecoma ‘Sparky’)

Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Will soon burst forth in burgundy plumes in fall

Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Will soon burst forth in burgundy plumes in fall.

Gold Lantana in full sun all day in desert garden

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 in desert garden

‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage

Bougainvillea in desert garden

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.
garden in the desert with small tree and plants

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.

desert garden

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!

Gorgeous Germander for Desert Gardens

Creative Container Gardening

Spring in the desert brings a flurry of activity out in the garden – much of it involving container gardening.

As they say, in late spring, it’s “out with the old and in with the new.” In the desert garden, it’s when cool-season flowering annuals are traded out for those that can handle the hot temperatures of summer.  

Examples of cool-season annuals are pansies, petunias, and snapdragons, which are grown fall through spring. BUT, they won’t survive hot, desert summers. So, in late April, it’s time to plant flowering annuals that can take the heat. My favorites include angelonia, ‘Blue Victoria’ salvia, and vinca.

While flowers are a popular pot filler, there are so many other things that you can do with growing plants in containers.

Here are some of my favorites:

Jazz up the appearance of your containers by painting them a different color.

beautiful container

Let’s face it – beautiful containers can be expensive while inexpensive plastic containers are a bit boring. I like to dress up my plastic containers by adding a coat of paint.  

Many spray paints can be used on plastic and last a long time. I have several painted pots in my garden that add a welcome splash of color.

Grow herbs and vegetables along with flowers in pots.

Leaf lettuce and garlic grow along with flowering petunias in Container

Leaf lettuce and garlic grow along with flowering petunias.

Did you know that you can grow vegetables in pots? I love doing this in my garden. In the fall, I plant leaf lettuce, spinach, and garlic in my large pots alongside flowering petunias. When March arrives, I like to add basil, peppers along with annuals.

Winter Container Gardening with spinach, parsley and garlic growing with pink petunias

Winter container garden with spinach, parsley and garlic growing with pink petunias.

For pots, I recommend you use a potting mix, which is specially formulated for containers and holds just the right amount of moisture.  

Container plants need to be fertilizer. You can use a slow-release fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer of your choice.

Cucumbers growing with vinca and dianthus Container

Cucumbers growing with vinca and dianthus.

In spring, vegetables such as cucumbers, bush beans, and even zucchini can grow in containers paired with flowers. 

*If you would like to try growing edible containers, click here for more info.

Plant succulents for a low-maintenance container.

Creative Container Gardening

My favorite filler for containers in the desert garden is cacti and succulents. They do very well in pots and need less water than those filled with flowering annuals and perennials.

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) Container

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).

Succulents are an excellent choice for planting in areas where water is not easily accessible. While they will need supplemental water, they don’t need water every day, making them a better choice for these areas.

cactus & succulents Container

In general, succulents are lower-maintenance as well, so they are an excellent choice for the ‘fuss-free’ gardener.

Use a potting mix specially formulated for cactus & succulents, which will drain well.

Fertilize succulents spring through fall using a liquid or slow-release fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength.

*For more information on how to plant succulents in containers, including how to do it without getting pricked, click here.

Fill the bottom space of large pots with empty, plastic containers. 

Container Gardening

Let’s face it – potting mix is expensive and makes your pots very heavy. If you have a large pot, your plant’s roots most likely will never reach the bottom – so why waste soil where you don’t need it?

Fill up the unused space with recycled plastic containers and then add your potting mix. You will save money, AND your container will be much lighter as well. 

Whether you are new to gardening, an experienced pro, or have a small or large garden space – I invite you to reimagine what you can do in a container!

newly-planted landscape

Have you ever driven by a newly-planted landscape?  If so, you probably noticed that many of the plants were quite small.  

I like to joke that sometimes you need a magnifying glass just to see the new plants. But as small as they are, within a short amount of time, those plants start to grow.  

overgrown plants are unattractive.

Look at the same landscape three years later. The plants are well-established and look great.  

Fast forward eight-ten years, and you may start to see signs of some plants becoming overgrown and unattractive.

When this happens to shrubs, we can often push a ‘restart button’ (for most types of shrubs) and prune them back severely in spring using a good pair of loppers, which reduces their size. I use my Corona loppers to do major pruning of my shrubs.

However, there are some plants where this approach doesn’t work.

Let’s identify a few of these plants and how to deal with them once they outgrow their allotted space or become filled with old, woody growth.

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

Desert spoon is one of my favorite plants.  I love how its blue-gray, spiky leaves add texture to the garden and contrast with plants that have darker green foliage.  

Old, Overgrown Plants

After ten years or more in the landscape, desert spoon can start to take on a ragged, rather unattractive appearance, as well as grow quite large.

When this happens, I recommend that they be removed and a new one planted in its place.  

Now, some of you may think that may seem wasteful, but I invite you to take another look at your landscape and the plants within it.

Your outdoor space isn’t static and unchanging. Its appearance changes with the seasons with plants blooming at different times. Trees gradually extend the amount of shade they provide and plants change in size.  

A newly planted garden doesn’t look the same through the years, it changes.  

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus')

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’)

Rosemary is a good choice for those who want rich, dark green color in the garden. Bees love the light blue flowers that appear in late winter and spring, and the aromatic foliage can be used to flavor your favorite dishes.  

Old, Overgrown Plants

But, as time passes, it does get bigger, outgrowing its original space.  

Old, Overgrown Plants

When this happens, people start to shear their rosemary, which is stressful for the plant and contributes to sections of branches dying.

For those who don’t like the formal look, pruning rosemary back severely would be your first impulse. But, the problem with rosemary is that they don’t respond well to severe pruning.

So again, in this case, it’s best to pull out the old rosemary and add a new one, which will provide beauty for several years.

 Rosemary hedge

Rosemary hedge

To avoid having to remove and replace rosemary too often, allow them plenty of room to grow to their mature size.

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red yucca is prized for its succulent, green leaves that resemble an ornamental grass and its coral flowers, which appear spring through fall.

red yucca Overgrown Plant

Once it has been growing seven years or more, red yucca may overwhelm the landscape visually. This is particularly true if the area it’s growing in isn’t very big.

Occasionally, some people will try to remove the outer leaves at the base. However, this is laborious and only serves to stimulate red yucca to grow back faster.

In those situations, I tell people that their plant has had a nice life, but it’s time to start over.

Newly-planted red yucca

Newly-planted red yucca

You may be thinking, why use plants that you’ll only have to replace after seven to ten years?

Well, all three of these plants add beauty to the landscape and are low-maintenance.

Another way to think of it is to compare your landscape with the interior of your home.  Do you make small changes to the decor of your home every few years to keep it looking fresh and attractive? The same should be true of the outside.

Replacing a few plants after seven years or more isn’t expensive. Don’t you think that the beauty these plants offer to your outdoor space makes them worth it?

What have you replaced in your garden recently?

Got Old, Overgrown Plants? Know When to Prune or Replace

I have a confession to make.  

I don’t have any containers filled with flowering annuals. Shocking isn’t it?

There are a few reasons for this, the most important one is that I prefer using relatively fuss-free plants that look great all year in my pots.  

I don’t have much patience for high-maintenance containers. In particular, ones with flowering annuals that need frequent irrigation. Not to mention deadheading of spent flowers and having to change them out seasonally. But, I do love the way they look.

container-red-geraniums

Red Geraniums and White Bacopa

My inclination to avoid flowering annuals in my own garden has to do with my past and no, it’s nothing scandalous.

It does have to do with my work in the past. For five years, I was in charge of 45 pots. Each container was always be filled with colorful flowers.

Believe me, keeping all of those pots looking beautiful was a lot of work! Countless trips to the nursery, fertilizing, watering and replacing them twice a year got tiresome. Not to mention that I broke my foot when I tripping on a curb, while loading flats of flowers. 

So, it may not come as a surprise that I prefer using succulent plants in my pots.

Victoria Agave 'Compacta' Small succulent plants for Containers

Victoria Agave ‘Compacta’

Much of my inspiration for using succulent plants in containers come from those at the Desert Botanical Garden as shown in the photo above and below.

Agaves are some of my favorite succulent plants and the smaller species do very well in containers.

Small succulent plants for Containers

In an article I wrote for Houzz, I list my ten favorite small agaves for Houzz that are suitable for growing in pots.

I hope you enjoy it and find one that is perfect for you!

10 Small-Scale Agaves Just Right for Containers

 
 
 
Spring in the desert 'Tangerine Beauty' Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty')

Spring in the desert ‘Tangerine Beauty’ Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’)

Spring in the desert is the most beautiful time of year with the majority of plants in the landscape bursting out with flowers. It’s also a very busy time for me with landscape consultations, speaking engagements, work in the garden, and family life. I love to document the happenings in my life by taking photographs with my phone, and I’d like to share a sampling with you. It’s a fun combination that includes colorful plants, spiky pots, snakes, roses and the prom!

No matter how busy I may be, the sight of a beautiful plant stops me in my tracks. It doesn’t matter how rushed I may be; I will always stop and take a photo. That’s what happened when I spotted this row of ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvines on our way into church. Even though we were running a few minutes late (as usual) I had to pause to admire the beauty of the lovely blooms and take a photo.

‘Tangerine Beauty’ does very well in the low desert garden. It has lush green foliage and orange/pink flowers that hummingbirds love. It needs a trellis or other support to climb up on and does well in full sun to filtered sun, but avoid planting along a west-facing wall as it may struggle in reflected sun.

entryway-desert-gardening-flowering-annuals-geraniums

As I mentioned earlier, I do a lot of speaking on a variety of gardening topics at the Desert Botanical Garden, public libraries, and also to garden groups. Upon my arrival to give a presentation at the Paradise Valley Country Club, I was greeted by this beautiful bed filled geraniums, foxglove, and yellow daisies. The spiky shape of agave adds welcome texture contrast in this area.

agave-planted-in-containers-arizona (Spring in the desert)

Across the way, I spotted this dramatic example of spiky succulents growing in pots. Agave are excellent container plants, and their spiky shapes look fabulous along this wall. The plantings underneath the wall are well chosen as they do well in areas with full sun and reflected heat.

Cave Creek Branch of the Phoenix Public Library

Here is a very different entry to another presentation I was to give at the Cave Creek Branch of the Phoenix Public Library. Two identical caution signs flank the raised metal bridge, which makes you look carefully before approaching. I know that libraries work hard to get kids to read, but these signs just might scare them off 😉

David Austin Olivia Rose

‘Olivia Rose’

Back home, the rose garden is in full bloom with my favorite ‘Olivia Rose’ completely covered in fragrant, delicate pink color. She flowers more than every other rose in the garden and for the longest, ensuring her favored status.

red David Austin rose Darcey Bussell

‘Darcey Bussell’

The best performing red rose in the garden is ‘Darcey Bussell,’ and she never disappoints as I view her vibrant blooms from my kitchen window.

David Austin rose Lady of Shalott

‘Lady of Shalott’

This rose is a relative newcomer to my rose garden. ‘Lady of Shalott’ was planted in the winter of 2018 and didn’t produce many blooms in her first year, which is typical of most new roses. However, this year, she is covered with roses in delicate shades of pink and peach.

AZ Plant Lady

On the home front, spring means that it’s time for the prom. I can hardly believe that my son is old enough – it seemed like it was just yesterday when I came home with a darling little two-year-old boy from China.

Kai's favorite color

Kai’s favorite color is red, can you tell? It takes confidence to wear a bright color like this, and he does it so well. He is the youngest of four sisters, so this was my first time helping a boy get ready for a school dance. Honestly, it is a lot simpler – all he needed was help with his tie and his boutonniere.

I love spring and all the busyness that comes with it. How about you?

Tour of My Spring Garden

Tour of My Spring Garden, Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Tour of My Spring Garden, Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) Spring Garden

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

Echinopsis hybrid 'Ember (Spring Garden)

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans) Spring Garden

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) Spring Garden

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)  Spring Garden

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

Yellow Bells recently pruned (Spring Garden)

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

Meyer Lemon blossom from Spring Garden

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) Spring Garden

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

Verbena in bloom

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

Young peaches from Spring Garden

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

Apple tree blossoms from Spring Garden

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

My favorite type of succulent are agave and while there are many different species, I’ll never forget the first one I ever grew. It was an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) that planted years ago while in college studying for my horticulture degree. Even though that was long ago, I have a daily reminder of that first agave plant in the form of one of its descendants growing in my garden today.

This agave is the ‘grandbaby’ of the first one that I grew all those years ago and it was with a feeling of sadness when I noticed it sending up its flowering stalk late in winter, signalling that it was nearing the end of its life. At the same time, there was also a sense of excitement about new birth with the promise of a new generation of agave babies on their way.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

The age that an agave is when it flowers varies between the different species, with some living for decades before they send up their towering spikes. With octopus agave, they generally live less than ten years before this wondrous process begins to take place. 

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

Watching the rate of growth of the flowering stalk of an agave never ceases to amaze me – they grow several inches a day.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

Golden yellow flowers began to open along the length of the giant stem much to the delight of bees who happily pollinated the blooms.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

Pollinated flowers soon gave way to tiny octopus agave along the stem.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

And a few weeks later, they were ready to be picked ready to create a new generation of octopus agave for my garden.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

There are probably over a thousand small agave growing along the stalk. However, I selected only nine to represent the next generation. I’m not likely to plant all of them in my garden once they are rooted, but it’s a good idea to select a few more than you are planning for in case some don’t make it, or if you want to give a few away.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

Each baby agave are referred to as ‘bulbils’. They don’t have any roots yet, but will soon appear when planted.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

I filled three pots with a planting mix specially formulated for cactus and succulents, which means that it is well-drained, which is important when growing succulents. Three agave babies went into each pot, which I placed in the backyard in an area that receives morning sun and filtered shade in the afternoon – placing them in full sun all day would be too difficult for them at this stage as they still need to grow roots.

octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

My job now is to keep the soil moist, but not soggy until roots begin to form, which should take approximately 3-4 weeks. At that time, I can start to space out the watering to every five days or so. Eventually, I will move them out of the pot and transplant them into the garden or into a large container (2 1/2 feet tall and wide) where they can make their new home.

I’m not sure where I will plant each new octopus agave, but I will transplant one to where the parent plant used to be, continuing the cycle of life.

King Ferdinand agave

The baby boom isn’t over. Soon, I will be welcoming another set of baby agave into my garden as my King Ferdinand agave has also sent up its flowering stalk. This species is somewhat rare in the landscape and takes a very long time before it flowers, so I am very excited to welcome its babies next month.