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.  
 
 
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 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.  
 
 
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’)
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.  
 
But, as time passes, it does get bigger, outgrowing its original space.  
 
 
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
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 is prized for its succulent, green leaves that resemble an ornamental grass and its coral flowers, which appear spring through fall.
 
 
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
 
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?

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 succulents in my pots.

Victoria Agave ‘Compacta’
 
Much of my inspiration for using succulents 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.

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!
 
 

 

‘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

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.

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.

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 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?

flowering perennial firecracker penstemon
flowering perennial firecracker penstemon

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?

pink blooming Parry's penstemon

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.

flowering echinopsis Ember

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.

blue flowering shrubby gerrymander

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.

Calliandra red powder puff shrub

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.

flowering annuals Callibrochoa

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.

severely pruned yellow bells

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 arizona 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.

blossom of meyer lemon

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!

fragrant chocolate flower

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.

purple flowering verbena

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.

ripening peaches

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!

flowers of apple tree

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?

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.

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. 

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

 

Plants can do some spectacular things, and the dramatic process when agave send up their flowering stalk, definitely qualifies. Yesterday, I noticed that my octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) had begun to send up its fleshy shoot. 

I must confess that I had mixed feelings about it. My first reaction was excitement in getting to view the impressive growth of the fleshy stem and the flowers that will follow. But then, I felt sad that this signaled the beginning of the end for my octopus agave. 

You see, this agave is the ‘grandbaby’ of the first agave that I ever planted, back in the late 1990’s, making three generations of flowering agave in my Arizona garden.

Eventually, that agave flowered, and I harvested one of the babies and planted it in a pot. Several years later, that octopus agave went through the same process, and I collected two babies.

The two siblings started out growing in a pot, and when they got large enough, I transplanted them out into the garden.

One was planted in a corner but had a short-lived stint in the garden as construction near the wall meant that it had to go.

Its sibling did great in its new spot in the front garden when it was planted in 2010, and now it is getting ready for babies.

The tiny baby agave are barely visible, and the stalk will grow several inches a day.

Octopus agave don’t have a long lifespan and mine average eight years in the ground before they flower. 

In a few months, miniature octopus agave will cover the flowering stalk, which can be easily detached and replanted in the garden. It’s hard to believe that I will be planting the fourth generation of agave in my garden.

*I will keep you updated as it continues to grow and the arrival of baby agave.

It’s Day 3 of our garden gift ideas and today it’s all about books.

Gardening in the Southwest can be challenging because many of the traditional gardening rules and plants just don’t work here and traditional garden literature often ignores the unique opportunities and challenges that our arid climate presents. A good book that focuses on our distinct region can become an invaluable tool. As a garden writer, I know many garden authors and have been asked to review many books, and I include my top eight with you.

As a garden writer, I’ve been asked to review some garden books and know several of the authors personally and can attest to their expertise in gardening in the Southwest.

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

 

1. Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Our dry climate is an ideal region for growing fruits and vegetables because we have fewer insect pests and disease than more temperate areas. From apples, peaches, to citrus – many types of fruit can be grown here. Vegetable gardening is a favorite pastime of mine, and due to our relatively mild winters, we can grow them throughout the entire year. Tucson native, Jacqueline Soule, teaches you how to create your own edible, southwestern garden. Click here to order. 

2. Gardening In The Deserts of Arizona

Mary Irish is one of my favorite authors and worked for years at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Her books are what I like to refer to as the ‘bible’ of growing ornamental plants in the Southwest. From lists of plants that grow well in our climate to how to maintain them each month, this book is a must-have for new (and old) desert gardeners. She has written several books, but this is a good one to start with as it breaks down how to care for your garden. I met her at a conference in California and found her utterly charming and down to earth. Click here to order. 

3. Lawn Gone

Austin, Texas resident, Pam Penick, is well known for her blog, Digging, as well as her frequent contributions to a variety of gardening magazines. Her approach is saving water in the garden by removing or minimizing lawn areas, with an emphasis on simple and creative design solutions. I am fortunate to call Pam my friend and have toured gardens with her in Arizona and California. I’ve owned this book for several years, and it still ranks as one of my favorites. Click here to order. 

4. Potted

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Annette and asked to review her book. She and Mary own a trendy garden shop in Los Angeles that focuses on outdoor accessories and design services. As its title suggests, this book focuses on instructing readers on how to create unique containers using everyday items. The results are eye-catching and add a welcome design element to garden spaces. This book is for those on your list who like to be on the cutting edge of gardening trends. Click here to order. 

5. Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert, and Dry Times

If you or someone on your gift list like to grow vegetables, this is an invaluable book which speaks specifically to growing an edible garden in an arid climate. Tips for maximizing your harvest while managing water is an important skill to learn and the author draws upon her experience of living and gardening in the desert regions of California. Grouping this book along with packets of vegetable seeds and a raised bed kit, would be a much-appreciated gift for a beginning vegetable gardener. Click here to order. 

6. Homegrown Herb Garden

Herbs are very easy to grow and flourish in arid climates. I grow them in pots, in my vegetable garden, as well as indoors. One of the authors, Ann McCormick, also known as the ‘Herb n’ Cowgirl’ has a blog by the same name. This book provides helpful growing tips along with how to use them to flavor your favorite dishes making it a great choice for the gardener and cook on your list. Click here to order yours.

7. Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest

Many gardening books contain smaller lists of plants, but this Mary Irish book has comprehensive lists of shrubs and trees that flourish in the Southwest. It delves beyond the often repeated plant palette of bougainvillea, oleander, and Texas sage, and goes further into the impressive variety of plants that can grow here. This book is a thoughtful choice for those who want to learn more about the plants that can grow in our arid climate. Click here to order.

8. The Water-Saving Garden

This book holds a special place for me because of the author, Pam Penick, who made a journey to visit me in Arizona while researching her book. We spent an entire day together visiting gardens throughout the greater Phoenix area (including mine), covering over one-hundred-fifty miles. Many of the photos that she took that day are in the book, which as its title suggests, focuses on how to create lovely gardens that don’t need a lot of water. Click here to order. 

All of these books will serve to inspire and teach the gardener on your list, how to create a beautiful garden that will thrive in the arid Southwest climate.

Want more ideas? Check out Day 1 and Day 2 of my garden gift ideas. 

Tomorrow, I’ll share my picks for garden gifts for kids. 

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If I had to pick the busiest month of the year, it would be November.

Life is filled with the kid’s school activities, plant sales, speaking engagements, and a lot of WORK helping people update their outdoor spaces. But, is also a time where my garden is reveling in the cooler temperatures of fall and I start to make some tweaks to it. I love the quote, “That a garden is never finished” and that is certainly true of mine, hence the little green flags indicating new plants that need irrigation run to them.

Earlier this month, I was a special guest expert at a local plant sale that raises money for community services. I enjoyed coming up with creative combinations for those who were shopping and answering their questions about the best exposure for the different plants offered for sale.

A few days later, it was all about creative container gardening as I spoke to a group of interested gardeners at a local branch of the Phoenix Public Library. While I like to talk about gardening to groups, there is always a little fear before it begins when you stare at a sea of empty seats and pray that they will be at least half filled by the time it starts. I must say that I was thrilled when they had to bring in extra chairs for my talk. Yeah!

Fall is my favorite time of year in the garden when the summer bloomers are still producing colorful flowers and my cool-season plants are beginning to show off as well. 

You know what else I like about November? It means that Christmas is just around corner! I wonder how early I can get away with putting up Christmas decorations?

Overgrown, old Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

You have undoubtedly seen an old, overgrown shrub filled with mostly leafless branches that rarely flower anymore. Or, perhaps it is an aged succulent that has brown patches that are slowly encroaching onto the upper parts of the plant from the base. So, what is the solution for plants that no longer add decorative value to our landscape?

Old rosemary filled with unproductive woody growth

While some woody plants such as Texas sage or oleander can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, not all plants respond favorably to this and grow out again. Let’s take a look at some Southwestern favorite shrubs and succulents and talk about whether you should prune severely or when it’s best to replace.

Oleander that has undergone severe renewal pruning in spring.

Many shrubs can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, which gets rid of old, woody growth and stimulates the production of new branches, which will flower more (in the case of flowering shrubs). It is helpful to think of severe renewal pruning as the “fountain of youth” for many plants. This type of pruning is best done in spring, once the weather begins to warm up. Shrubs that respond well to this include bougainvillea, jojoba, lantana, oleander, Texas sage, and yellow bells. It’s important to note that not all shrubs will come back from this method, but the pruning didn’t kill the shrub – it only hastened the demise of the plant that was already in progress. If this happens, replace it with another.

Old desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

There are some plants that don’t respond well to renewal pruning or where that isn’t possible to do in the case of succulents. In this case, the solution is simple – take them out and replace them with a younger version of the same plant. Examples of plants that are better removed and replaced include aloe, desert spoon, red yucca (hesperaloe), rosemary, and prickly pear cactus. When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

Heavenly Cloud Texas Sage several weeks after severe pruning.

When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

*Have you severely pruned back an old shrub and had it come back beautifully? Or, maybe you recently removed and replaced some old succulents?

 

For those of us who love succulents, there is a price to pay. These water-wise plants often cost a lot of money. If you have a bottomless wallet, that may not be a problem, but for those of us who live on a budget and want to include these lovely plants in our landscapes, it can be a problem.

Thankfully, there is something that you can do in many cases to turn one succulent plant into several. I’ll show you how I did this when I bought a ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, which I had wanted for a long time.

‘Blue Elf’ aloe is somewhat unique among aloe species. They thrive in hot, reflected heat handling full sun where most other aloes turn brown, while yearning for winter. Orange flowers appear in later winter and last into spring adding a welcome splash of color to winter gardens.

I visited the Desert Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale the other day and had a list of plants that I wanted in my garden. One of my must haves was three ‘Blue Elf’ aloe plants. The holes were already dug, and all I needed were my little aloes.

The problem was that initially, I could only find 3-gallon specimens for $30 and not the smaller 1-gallons I was hoping to find. Later, I did see them in the 1-gallon size, for $20 a piece. Ouch! So, what was I to do? I certainly didn’t want to spend $60 for three 1-gallon plants.

I went back to look at those in the 3-gallon containers and noted that there were at least three good-sized clumps of aloe, which was all I needed. So I bought it and took it home.

Using a sharp hand shovel, I cut my way through the root ball, isolating each clump.

Out came several nice-sized aloes, ready to be planted. 

I planted them in my pre-dug holes where they will root out nicely with some supplemental water.

It turns out that there weren’t just three, but five clumps of ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, so I found two more areas to plant them. 

So, instead of paying $60 for three 1-gallons, I got 5 ‘Blue Elf’ aloe for $6 each, which for succulents, is a great deal!

Another type of succulent where you can sometimes find ‘extra’ plants in a nursery container include agave.

At the same plant sale, many different species of agave were on display ready to be purchased. While not all types of agave make ‘babies’ (pups), a lot of them do. Can you spot the two agave containers in the photo above where there is more than one agave growing?

The next time you are shopping for aloe or agave for your garden, take a close look at them in their nursery containers – you may find two or more plants for the price of one. How cool is that?