design notes landscape new home

Design Notes from the Field – Landscape Insights

I’m back with design notes from the field, where I share observations and recommendations from my work as a landscape consultant. This edition features a new build, metal art, weeds, and shade. I hope that you can pick out helpful tips that you can use in your landscape.

Designing a Modern Landscape for a New Build

Up first, is a new house that is being constructed in east-central Phoenix. The home that used to stand on this lot was taken down to the foundation. An energy-efficient home is coming up in its place. I was hired by the architect to design a landscape that will fit its clean, modern lines.

Adding Artistic Flair with Metal Garden Art

Several years ago, I solely worked as a landscape designer. I worked with homebuilders, creating new landscapes from scratch with a blank palette. Nowadays, as a landscape consultant, design is just one aspect of what I do. I have an overall plan within an existing landscape, which also includes maintenance recommendations. Now and then, I create one for new homes, and this one has some fun challenges.

The look the architect wants is simple and uncluttered. This gives the new homeowner room to add to it if desired. So, I am concentrating on using plants to create a framework. This includes two trees in the front. Then there will be two along the west-facing side to provide screening from the road and protection from afternoon sun.

Foundation Plants and Color

Foundation plants will soften the base of the house while taller shrubs will soften the corners. Ground covers will add low-level interest along with a few agave and cactuses for an accent.

A splash of color will be added by the front entry with the placement of a large, colorful pot. Fill it with an easy to care for succulent.

Design Notes Landscape Barbecue Area Solutions

what to do with a blackened barbecue wall in the garden

Often, I am asked for advice on what to do in somewhat unique situations. In this case, the homeowner needed advice for what to do for the wall behind the BBQ. It regularly turns black after grilling. 

I tend to look at problems like this as opportunities for adding more interest to the outdoor space. In this case, I recommended adding garden art in the form of rusted metal botanical panels. There is a local artist in Phoenix who creates metal panels with plant shapes cut out of them. He offers standard pieces but also does custom work. 

The rusted metal garden art will add welcome interest and design notes landscape touches behind the BBQ as well as disguise any blackened area on the wall.

Botanical Panels Add Beauty

design notes landscape metal panels

Here is an example of the metal botanical panels from another client’s home. This is where I first encountered the work of this artist. You can learn more about this metal artist here

Battling Weeds and Embracing the Beauty of Shade

weeds in cracks of travertine

Weeds will always be a problem in the landscape. Like these I saw at a client’s home growing through the patio. The solution to this area is to slowly pour boiling water on weeds growing through the cracks. This will kill them. For travertine, only do this if the stone is sealed. 

design notes landscape trees and shadows are important for design

Leveraging Shade and Tree Patterns in Landscape Design

To wrap our design notes, here is a landscape. The homeowner wants to concentrate on plants up close to the house and not add any further out. If this front yard didn’t have any trees, the absence of plants would cause it to look barren and washed out. However, the patterns from the branches of the ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde add beautiful patterns on the ground here. So you can get away with leaving it bare, which draws attention to the lovely shadows of the branches.

I hope you have enjoyed this latest session of design notes. I’ll have more for you in the future.

**Stay tuned for a special announcement that I’ll be making the beginning of September. I’m working on a new project that will enable me to help you even more to create, grow, and maintain a beautiful outdoor space in the desert. I’ve been working on it for a while and am so excited to share it with you soon!

palo verde trees yellow flowers

My garden has been transformed with yellow showers of flowers, courtesy of my palo verde tree. It’s a delightful time of year with warm spring temperatures and colorful landscapes filled with flowering shrub, perennials, and trees.

palo verde trees yellow flowers

However, nothing heralds the arrival of spring in the desert Southwest like the golden yellow flowers of palo verde trees. I have three ‘Desert Musuem’ palo verde trees spread throughout my garden – one in the front, in the side garden (our dog run), and in the backyard.

palo verde trees yellow flowers

The flowers do spread everywhere, which bothers some people, but I like to focus on the lovely yellow flowers transform things in the garden, like my artichoke agave where the flowers nestle inside its rosette.

palo verde trees yellow flowers

One of my favorite views of the garden is looking out the patio door to the side garden where the branches of my palo verde tree frame the view.

There are several different species of palo verde and each one has a slightly different color flower, form the pale yellow of the foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) to the deep yellow of ‘Desert Museum’ (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’).

Here is more information about palo verde trees from an earlier post. Do you enjoy the blooms of palo verde trees?

Pruning Terms Defined

Understanding Key Pruning Terms for a Beautiful Garden

As the garden begins to awaken in spring, our thoughts turn to getting our plants ready for the growing season, which often involves pruning.

Pruning your favorite shrubs and trees is essential to maintain their health and appearance. To do this properly, you need to be familiar with common pruning terms. As a certified arborist, I’m here to help you understand these terms, so you can care for your plants effectively, whether you do it yourself or hire a professional.

5 Reasons Why Pruning Is Important

There are different types of pruning, each of which, are used to accomplish particular results, ultimately keeping your plants attractive and healthy.

Before diving into pruning terms, let’s explore why pruning matters:

  • Encourages Strong Branching: Pruning eliminates weak or crossing branches and promotes strong growth.
  • Removes Dead or Diseased Wood: It helps maintain the overall health of your plants.
  • Stimulates New Growth: Proper pruning encourages attractive, new growth.
  • Enhances Wind Resistance: It makes your trees more resistant to windy conditions.
  • Improves Air Circulation: Pruning promotes air circulation, reducing the risk of fungal diseases.

In short, pruning is crucial for maintaining the beauty and vitality of your garden’s trees and shrubs.

Pruning Terms Defined

If you are learning how to prune your trees and shrubs yourself, it’s especially important to learn about the various ways of pruning to help you determine which way(s) are the best to employ.

A List of 10 Common Pruning Terms

Now, let’s dive into some of the most frequently used pruning terms:

1. Crown:

The upper part of a tree, including branches, stems, and leaves, often referred to as the “canopy.”

2. Crown Cleaning:

Pruning away dead or diseased branches and stems, including the removal of “stubs” or dead branch bases.

3. Crown Raising:

Removing lower branches to elevate the crown of a tree or shrub for clearance.

4. Crown Reduction:

The removal of part of a tree or shrub’s outer growth to prevent wind damage or excessive growth.

5. Crown Thinning:

Removing select interior branches to improve air circulation and reduce the tree’s weight while maintaining its shape.

6. Heading Back:

Pruning branches by up to half of their length to reduce outward growth and promote a natural shape.

7. Root Prune:

Trimming roots, often with a root barrier, when they pose problems to foundations, sidewalks, or walls.

8. Shearing:

Using hedge trimmers to remove a portion of a shrub’s outer growth, commonly for formal hedges or topiary.

9. Structural Pruning:

Shaping young trees by selecting branches for a strong form and better wind resistance.

10. Topping:

The harmful practice of removing the top part of a tree, which should be avoided due to its detrimental effects on the tree.

Pruning Terms Defined

Best Garden Pruning Tools

Lastly, let’s discuss some common pruning tools:

  • Chainsaw: Ideal for cutting larger branches that other tools can’t handle.
  • Hand Pruners: Used for cuts under 1 inch in diameter; bypass pruners are recommended for clean cuts.
  • Hedge Trimmer: Comes in manual and power forms for shearing cuts in shrubs.
  • Loppers: With long handles, they cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter and are suitable for tree branches and shrub interiors.
  • Pole Pruner: Allows pruning high branches while staying on the ground, available in manual and power options.
  • Pruning Saw: Suitable for branches over 1½ inches in diameter, it’s essential for larger limbs and branches.

Understanding these pruning terms and tools will help you maintain a beautiful and healthy garden.

The Ugly Stepsister – The Floral Edition

Protect Citrus Trees From a Heatwave

Living in the desert southwest has its perks, I am blessed to be able to grow a variety of citrus trees in my garden and they do very well under most circumstances because I protect citrus trees during hot weather.

However, when temperatures outside of the average highs and lows occur, steps need to be taken to protect them. With this week’s record-breaking highs, my orange tree has been suffering as is evident from its sunburned leaves. So I thought, this is a great opportunity to talk about how to protect citrus trees from a heatwave.

Citrus tree covered with burlap in order to protect it from extreme heat and sun

1. Protect Citrus Trees Provide Temporary Shade 

Sunburn isn’t just a human woe; it affects citrus trees too. The west and south-facing sides of citrus trees are susceptible to sunburn during a heatwave. This shows up as yellowing or browning on the leaves on those sides of the tree. Sunburn can also occur on immature citrus fruit, so it’s important to protect them.

Burlap is a Great Shade Cover for Trees

While spraying citrus trees with sunscreen isn’t an option, adding temporary shade is, especially for citrus trees facing south and west that are particularly vulnerable. Put a large piece of burlap over the tree, focusing on those south and west-facing exposures. Burlap is lightweight and inexpensive. It allows some sun to penetrate, which is important, without overwhelming the tree. You can purchase burlap at your big box store, nursery, or Amazon (affiliate link below).

Burlapper Burlap Garden Fabric (40″ x 15′, Natural)

Shade Cloth Protects Citrus Trees  

Shade cloth is an adaptable guardian against sunburn. Whether draped over a scaffold or enlisted to shield neighboring plants, its sun-blocking power proves invaluable during heatwaves. You can easily use a bed sheet in place of burlap for temporary shade. Another option would be to place a shade tent/canopy to help block the sun’s westerly rays.

Shade cloth is very useful as a sun shield when placed on a scaffold or other support – it also works great to help protect other plants in your garden.

Protect citrus trees from a heat wave by watering regularly

2. Increase Irrigation and Water Early to Protect Citrus Trees

When temperatures soar above normal, citrus trees, like most plants, lose more water through their leaves. As a result, their regular watering schedule isn’t enough to meet their needs, so increase the frequency of watering as long as the heat wave lasts. 

The Morning Watering Advantage for Citrus

Watering isn’t just about quantity; timing matters. When you water is vital as it is difficult for plants to uptake water in the middle of the day. This is because all of their resources are dedicated to enduring the stresses of the heat and it’s hard for them to divert those to uptake water. Water in the early morning, will allow them to build up a water reserve that will help them bolster their endurance throughout the day.

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Restoration after the Extreme Heat and Sun

When the heatwave subsides, it’s time to bid farewell to temporary shade. Remove the temporary shade in order to protect citrus trees for cooler conditions. As temperatures stabilize, return to your usual watering schedule. By implementing these two proven techniques, you’re empowering your citrus trees to defy the scorching grip of brutal summer temperatures and minimize any negative effects.

Beyond Heatwaves: Year-Round Trunk and Bark Care to Protect Citrus Trees
 

Remember, safeguarding citrus trees transcends seasons. Ensuring your trees’ trunks and bark receive proper sun protection is a year-long responsibility. Explore this previous blog post for insights on why and how to provide this vital shield.

peaches in Arizona

Growing peaches and making peach jam

It’s one of my favorite times of year in the garden – my peach trees are heavily laden with delicious, sweet fruit ready for picking.

Many people are surprised to learn that you can grow peaches in Arizona, but they do very well. However, they do ripen earlier than in cooler climates. May is peach season here in the desert.

 peach trees

My peach trees sit outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been keeping my eye on them to see when they were ready to harvest.  Finally, the day arrived, and I brought out my bushel basket and got to picking.

Making Delicious Peach Jam

One peach tree can provide you with most of the peaches you need. Last year, I made peach blueberry jam, which was so good, that it didn’t last long. Today, I’m planning on making regular peach jam, but I can always buy peaches from the store at another time to make other variations if I choose to.

Every May, I haul out my water bath canner, and canning jars, and spend 2 hours making delicious peach jam.

Growing peaches and making jam isn’t difficult or expensive. Here is a link to the guidelines that I follow.

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

For those of you who are familiar with ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees, you know how their stately beauty enhances desert landscapes. The curving branches of this tree are a lovely shade of green, which reaches toward the blue sky creating welcome shade underneath.

I have three of these palo verde trees planted around my landscape, but the one in my back garden is my favorite. Its broad canopy adds welcome relief from the summer sun, and I’m able to grow flowering perennials underneath its branches that otherwise wouldn’t survive in full sun.

Two weeks ago, this ‘Desert Museum’ tree experienced an unfortunate event. It happened around 9 p.m. on a windy day was drawing to a close. I heard a sound that sounded like firecrackers and didn’t think much of it, attributing it to kids in the neighborhood.

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

However, once the next day dawned, my husband called me outside to view the damage to my beloved tree. A massive section had broken off.

I must admit that I was heartsick when I saw what had happened. We had had our tree pruned by an arborist last summer and wasn’t expecting any major problems like this one. That being said, the combination of the extra weight on the branches from the flowers as well as the windy conditions of the day before was simply too much for this section of the tree.

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

The broken branch served to illustrate something that I frequently tell my clients; properly pruned trees are much less susceptible to branches breaking off, but they aren’t immune as my tree clearly showed. 

Under normal circumstances, I would have been upset about the loss of this major branch, but I felt a bit worse than that since we are hosting a wedding in our backyard in a few weeks and the ceremony was to take place underneath this lovely tree.

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

The affected branch was pruned back to a couple of smaller branches and the debris removed. Yes, my tree looks quite lopsided, however, ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees grow fairly quickly, and within a year, it should have filled in.

As for the wedding, plans for it take place underneath the tree haven’t changed. The small branches will grow more quickly in response to the pruning cut just above them, and I’ll probably notice the off-center appearance more than anyone else. It will still serve as a beautiful backdrop. 

Meyer Lemon

Meyer Lemon

There is nothing quite so refreshing as the fragrance of lemons as you slice through their yellow skin.  Lemons are a very popular fruit tree for those of us who in zones 8 and above and their lush green foliage and yellow fruit add beauty to the garden.  

Meyer Lemon

If you have been thinking of adding a lemon tree to your landscape, March is the best time of year to plant new citrus in the garden as it gives them time to become established before the heat of summer arrives.

I am often asked about what type of lemon is best for the garden.  My personal choice is Meyer lemon for a number of reasons.  You may have heard of this type of lemon tree, but what you may not know is that it isn’t a ‘true’ lemon – it’s actually a naturally occurring hybrid of a lemon and ‘Mandarin’ orange.  This results in a pseudo-lemon that is sweeter and less acidic than true lemons such as ‘Eureka’ and ‘Lisbon’.

See why you should consider planting a Meyer lemon tree in your backyard in my latest article for Houzz.com.  (Click on the photo below to read the article).

*What type of lemon tree to you grow?

While fall color may be somewhat lacking in the Southwest landscape in comparison to areas with brilliant fall foliage, we do have several plants that wait until fall to begin to color the landscape with their blooms.

Turpentine bush(Ericameria laricifolia)

Turpentine bush(Ericameria laricifolia) is a desert native that has lovely, dark green foliage year-round. With the arrival of fall, they are transformed by the appearance of golden yellow flowers.

It’s hard to find a plant that needs less attention than this drought-tolerant beauty – pruning every 3 years and monthly watering in summer is all it needs.

Learn more about why you should add turpentine bush to your landscape including how to use it for the greatest effect and what plants to pair it with in my latest article for Houzz.com

 

Purple Blooms for the Fall Garden

Do you have oleanders?  If so, you might have heard of a fatal bacterial disease called oleander leaf scorch that affects oleander shrubs.

This disease is slowly spreading and I have been seeing it more often when I visit clients.  

I wrote an earlier post about oleander leaf scorch, its signs and how it affects oleander shrubs, which you can view here.

Earlier this month, I visited another client whose entire backyard was surrounded by tall oleander shrubs that were quite mature.  She suspected that her oleanders were starting to show signs of oleander leaf scorch and it turns out that she was right.

oleander leaf scorch

Her suspicions began when she noticed browning of her a few of her oleander shrubs that began this spring and was worsening as summer progressed.

It’s important to note that browning of oleanders doesn’t necessarily mean that they are infected with oleander leaf scorch – browning can be caused by any number of problems from drought stress, salty soil or other excess minerals in the soil.

characteristics of oleander leaf scorch disease

However, a closer look at the foliage showed some of the characteristics of oleander leaf scorch disease with the outer leaves and tips turning brown.

This occurs because the bacteria rapidly multiply, blocking the vascular system of the plant. 

sign of oleander leaf scorch

These browning tips are also a sign of oleander leaf scorch, but this particular sign can also indicate high salts in the soil.

Even if you see only a few leaves affected, the entire shrub is infected and will die within 3 – 5 years.  Because this disease is spread by a flying insect called a sharpshooter, not all oleander shrubs in a given area may be affected as it hops from bush to bush.  However, these insects carry the bacteria in their saliva and spread it to each oleander shrub that they feed from.

While I was able to tell my client that her oleander shrubs likely were infected this disease, the only way to confirm the diagnosis was to contact her local cooperative extension office and send in some leaves from her oleanders to be tested.

If the test comes back positive, she will need to remove all of her oleander shrubs.  While they will live 3 – 5 years after being infected, they will turn brown.  The most important reason for removal is to help keep the disease from spreading to other oleanders in the neighborhood.

For more photos and a detailed description of this oleander disease as well as a suggested replacement plant for oleanders, read my previous post, “Plant Disease: Oleander Leaf Scorch”

I have a love affair with trees.

It’s true. I love their beautiful branch architecture, foliage and the dappled shade that they provide. Living in the desert Southwest, shade is a valuable commodity with the relief it offers from the intense sun and cool temperatures it offers.

desert Southwest

For all these reasons and more, I can’t fathom why people would prune their trees like this, stripping them of all their beauty and much of their function.

Badly Pruned Trees OR How Not to Prune Trees

Badly pruned trees

The phrase that comes to mind when seeing something like this is badly pruned trees or how ‘not’ to prune trees.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many trees in this parking lot that have fallen prey to terrible pruning practices.

As a certified arborist, I see many bad examples of pruning, but I can honestly say that the trees in this parking lot are the worst.

Badly Pruned Trees OR How Not to Prune Trees

Years ago, my husband and I used to live next to the area in Scottsdale and the appalling pruning that was done to the trees was well known by me.

On this lovely day, the kids and I were on our way home from the Desert Botanical Garden when we drove past this shopping plaza. I quickly made a detour to see if anything had changed.

Sadly, they hadn’t. So, I took out my camera and started taking photos.

See if you can guess what each badly tree is:

Badly Pruned Trees OR How Not to Prune Trees

#1

Badly Pruned Trees OR How Not to Prune Trees

#2

Badly Pruned Trees OR How Not to Prune Trees

#3

Badly Pruned Trees OR How Not to Prune Trees

#4

Feel free to leave your answers in the comments section. After guessing, click here for the answers with examples of what the trees should look like when properly maintained.

Needless to say, you don’t need to know what type of trees they are to realize that they have been ‘butchered’.