Does the idea of having to venture outside, when temperatures are above 100 degrees, to care for your garden have you thinking twice? I must admit that there have been times when I have let the plants in my landscape fend for themselves in summer after setting the irrigation controller. But, there is often a price to pay afterward when you have to play catch up with extra pruning and other maintenance.
There are however many different plants that thrive in summer with little fuss allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your air-conditioned home while viewing your beautiful garden through the windows. Here are some of my favorite fuss-free plants for the summer garden.
Mexican honeysuckle has lush green foliage and produces tubular orange flowers throughout the entire year. They do best in filtered shade and attract hummingbirds. I like to plant them underneath trees such as mesquite or palo verde.
Learn more about Mexican honeysuckle.
Artichoke agave is highly prized for its rosette shape, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The blue-gray color and maroon edges add great color contrast to the garden when it is placed alongside plants with dark and light-green foliage.
Of course, these are but one species of agave that would make a delightful, fuss-free addition to the summer garden. I also recommend cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), smooth-edge agave (Agave desmettiana), and Victoria agave (Agave victoria–reginae) to name a few.
‘Summertime Blue’ is a delightful shrub that needs next to no maintenance throughout the year and decorates the garden with its bright green foliage and violet-blue flowers that appear spring through fall. It grows slowly but will reach approximately 6 feet tall and wide. If given enough room, it can go a year (or two) before needing pruning. While you may have to look around for a nursery that carries it, it’s well worth the effort. It is also usually found at the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales.
Lady’s Slipper is a uniquely shaped succulent with thornless stems that have a ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit that is more pronounced in light shade. The upright stems add a welcome vertical element to the landscape, and small orange flowers are produced off and on through spring and fall. They can be grown in containers or planted in the ground and do well in full sun or light shade.
Bush lantana is a familiar sight to many who live in arid climates like ours. This species of lantana is slightly different than the trailing gold and purple lantana. It has larger leaves, grows taller, and has multi-colored flowers that vary according to the variety. Bush lantana is a great choice for a colorful summer garden as they are seemingly heat-proof.
Totem Pole ‘Monstrosus’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’)
Totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ has become quite a popular addition to the desert garden and it’s easy to see why with its knobby shape. Another bonus is that they are almost always thornless, which makes them suitable for areas near entries or patios where a prickly cactus aren’t welcome. Plant in full sun in a row for a contemporary look or place next to a boulder for a more natural appearance.
Learn more about totem pole cactus.
‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas sage is well worth adding to your landscape for its lovely purple blossoms that appear off and on throughout the warm season, often in response to increased humidity. All species of Texas sage do well in summer and can be nearly maintenance-free if allowed enough room to reach their 8 foot tall and wide size as well as left to grow into their natural shape. This particular species blooms more than the more common ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage.
Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
Golden barrel cactus are wildly popular, and it is easy to see why with the globular shapes and yellow coloring. This cactus is quite versatile, able to grow in both sun and light shade. I like to use it in groups of three next to boulders or in a row. They also do well in containers planted singly or along with other succulents.
Learn more about golden barrel cactus.
In the past, succulents were valued primarily for their drought tolerance and found their way into gardens in arid regions. Today, while they are still a great choice for water-wise plants are wise, they offer many other benefits to outdoor spaces including adding colorful flowers and solving common garden problems.
I’ve written a series of articles for Houzz focusing on succulents and how you can add beauty to your garden with these versatile plants that will thrive in arid climates.
I hope you find inspiration through them and look at succulents in a new way.
How do you like to use succulents in your garden?
As a garden writer and horticulturist, I am often asked to review new gardening books, which is one of my favorite things to do; especially if the books are about growing plants in the desert.
Years ago, there were precious few books that dealt with the unique challenges and solutions to creating a beautiful outdoor space in a hot, arid climate. Nowadays, there are several books that focus on desert gardening, but most just scratch the surface of how to do it. When I was contacted by The Desert Botanical Garden to see if I would review their new book, Desert Landscape School: A Guide to Desert Landscaping and Maintenance, I said yes.
The origins of the book arose from the Desert Landscape School at the gardens, which offers classes for individuals who are interested in specializing in certain aspects of desert landscaping. Graduates earn a certification in one or more areas, including desert plant palette, planting and maintenance, and desert design. A large group of experts was brought together in the creation of this book, including many that work in the garden.
Thumbing through my copy, I looked to see how the information was laid out and whether it addressed common landscape dilemmas that are unique to desert gardening. As you may expect, a book from this prestigious garden didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading through its pages and reliving my early days as a horticulturist learning not only the basics of arid gardening principles but also strategies and tips for growing plants that I didn’t learn until later.
This book is for those who want to learn the reasons why we garden the way we do in the desert to more fully understand it. There is also valuable information regarding plant selection, design, sustainability, installation guidelines, and how to properly maintain the landscape.
I’ve always said that “gardening in the desert isn’t hard, it’s just different” and the book offers practical tips that make growing plants in an arid climate, easier. For example, connecting tree wells using swales and gravity to allow rain water to flow to where it’s needed instead of down the street.
For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was interested in the pruning and maintenance section, as I am passionate about teaching people correct pruning practices. One illustration that grabbed my attention was the right and wrong way to prune palm trees.
I had taken this photo a couple of weeks ago of palm trees that had been pruned incorrectly with too many fronds removed. Overpruning weakens the tree and leaves it open to other stresses, which the book addresses.
The structure of the book is set up so that each section can be read on its own, so readers can focus on what they are interested in learning most. Of course, I recommend reading the entire book as it contains invaluable information which leaves the reader well-informed and confident in their ability to garden successfully in the desert southwest as well as other desert regions.
Desert Landscaping & Maintenance is truly a one-of-a-kind book that serves the role of several desert gardening books in one, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this brand new desert gardening guide.
Water features have long had a prominent spot in the landscape, where the both the beauty and sound of water help to create an enjoyable outdoor atmosphere.
However, water features can be high maintenance, messy to clean, and can be problematic in arid climates where water is a precious resource. Because of these reasons, it’s not unusual to see an empty water feature sitting empty without purpose.
In both my garden travels and work as a landscape consultant, I like to discover new uses for water features or ways to mimic the appearance of water, which succulents can fulfill beautifully.
Water features and succulents can add welcome interest, from simulating the movement of water with their shapes to taking the place of water in the basin.
Plumbing hardware can be used, along with succulents, to create an artistic arrangement in the garden such as these galvanized buckets and water pipes.
Succulents can also add a lovely planting around water features like the example above with lady’s slipper (Euphorbia macrocarpus), and it’s unique ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit adds an unexpected design element. It is important to keep succulents far enough away from getting any over splash from the water as they need dry soil to grow in.
Containers filled with succulents can make an attractive backdrop for a water feature as they are low-maintenance and their distinctive shapes add welcome texture.
Visit any nursery, and you’ll notice how popular succulents are, as they make up a larger percentage of the plants on display, tempting people to add them to their gardens.
So go ahead and give your water feature new life with succulents!
I have a love affair with succulents.
There are so many reasons for my passion, but the biggest reason is that they are easy to grow, and a low-maintenance way to add beauty to the garden.
The popularity of succulents is taking off and nursery shelves are filled with numerous varieties to tempt gardeners. Many people are beginning to replace high-maintenance plants with fuss-free succulents.
Succulents can also be a great choice for solving common gardening problems. For example, they make great container plants and require a fraction of the care that flowering annuals do.
I share my favorite ways to use succulents in the garden in my latest article for Houzz. I hope that you find inspiration for solving your garden problems by adding these lovely plants.
|Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale|
|My husband and daughter checking out the young saguaro cacti.|
|The price for a 1 ft. high Totem Pole cactus was $48.|
|Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)|
Our society usually doesn’t equate beauty with age. Instead, we celebrate youthful beauty and spend our money on trying to stay looking younger than our years. Thankfully, in the world of plants, maturity is something to be celebrated.
|Cow’s Horn Agave (Agave bovicornuta)|
|Agave ‘Durango Delight’ (Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’)|
Some agave leaves have filaments along the edges. Most agave end with a sharp terminal spine, which should be taken into consideration when you decide where to plant them. You do not want them in high traffic areas where people can be pricked, (believe me, it hurts).
|Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata)|
Because agave store water inside their leaves – their leaves are thick and succulent. Some of my favorite agave species are Artichoke Agave, Mescal Ceniza, and Victoria Agave.
|Century Plant (Agave americana)|
There are between 200 – 250 different species of agave, in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Some of my favorite features of agave are how beautiful they are with their leaf shapes and imprints. Secondly, their low-maintenance and drought-tolerance also make them a favorite in my garden.
|Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)|
Agave is amazing plants, and I am a huge fan. There is much more information to cover, which I will address in a future post. But, I will answer the most common question that I am asked about agave, “No, they do not live for 100 years.” You may be surprised at the real answer…
Do you like prickly cactus?
I have a few favorites, one being santa-rita prickly pear (Opuntia violaceae var. santa rita). The color contrast of their blue-grey pads and the shades of purple are so striking in the landscape.
This cactus makes a beautiful accent plant for the landscape. Both the pads and fruit are edible, (but you might want to remove the spines first ;-). Cold temperature and drought intensify the purple color.
Lovely yellow flowers appear in spring followed by red fruit in the summer months. Javelina, rabbits and pack rats will sometimes eat the pads. Pack rats use the pads to make their homes.
Many people believe that the appearance of white, cotton-like areas on the pads is a sign of a fungal infection. However, it is caused by a small insect that secretes the white cottony mass, called cochineal scale. Control is straightforward – simply spray off it with a strong jet of water from the hose – that’s it!
|Agave macroacantha with ‘Firesticks’|
Let’s talk a little about how to care for cacti and succulents.
|Silver Spurge (Gopher Plant)|
Agave, cactus, yuccas, as well as other succulent plants, can continue to be planted during this month. Warm soil temperatures are necessary for succulents to grow and they do best when planted during the warm season.
Contrary to popular opinion, newly planted succulent plants need to be watered in order to become established and grow a healthy root system.
Established cacti appreciate some supplemental water during the summer months, (especially this summer with our non-existent monsoon). I typically water large cacti with a garden hose about once a month in the summer unless we have had a lot of rain.
|Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’|
Some cacti and agave plants may show signs of yellowing in the summer. This is usually due to high temperatures. Be sure to give them some supplemental water if you notice the yellowing. Usually, the yellow color disappears once temperatures cool down in the fall.