Yesterday evening, we enjoyed dinner at Double S Farms.  My mother hosts the family every week and we not only get to enjoy her delicious food, but we also get a night off of cooking.

We ate outside and the chickens surrounded us, hoping that for any food scraps. 

My mother’s vegetable gardens are doing so well and are full of lettuce, beans, artichoke and so much more.

I was so happy to see that her fruit trees are laden with little green fruit that will soon ripen this summer.  Peach, plum, apple and for the first time…..

She has two apricot trees that my siblings and I gave to her for Christmas 2010.  You can read more about our gift and how to plant fruit trees here.

One apricot tree has 4 little fruits and the other has a single apricot.

When you plant a fruit tree, the first fruit that appears is a reason to celebrate….even if there are only five of them 😉

How about you?

Do you remember the first fruits that appeared on your fruit trees?

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I can hardly wait until early June to start making peach jam!

Last winter, we suffered a severe cold snap.  Okay, for those of you who live in more northerly climates, it wouldn’t seem all that cold to you perhaps.  But, we had temps that ranged in the low 20’s for three days in a row, which is definitely below normal for us.

As a result, many trees and plants that normally stay green in the winter, suffered severe frost damage.  That included my mother’s young Sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo).

I wrote about her tree and how the top died back to the ground.  However, there were some new growth coming up from the bottom.  So instead of taking out the tree, we opted to cut off the dead portion and let one the new growth take over.

We re-staked the little tree and waited to see how it would do.

That was in the beginning of June.

Now, just 4 1/2 months later, look at it now…

Doesn’t it look so much bigger?

That’s because it is.

Why has it grown so quickly?  Well, that is because it had a great root system – actually the root system of a grown tree, so it had many resources to help it to grow quickly.

It is still hard to believe how quickly it grew.  But, we are so happy with the decision to give it a chance instead of buying a new tree.

If we had planted a new tree, it would never have grown so quickly.

So, next time you have a frost-damaged tree, wait a few months to see if there is any re-growth – even if it is on the bottom.

You never know, it might end up with a fast-growing tree and save yourself some money at the same time 🙂  

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5 days and counting until my daughter’s due date.  We had a ‘false alarm’ on Monday.  But, I guess our little granddaughter wasn’t ready to come yet 😉

I must admit that I have been contemplating this post for quite some time. To be honest, I have been hesitant about it because of people’s overwhelming affection for ficus trees (Ficus nitida).

At first, the benefits of planting a ficus tree are obvious. They are lush, beautiful and provide dense shade, which is sometimes scarce in the desert.

So what’s the problem with having a ficus tree?

Well there are a couple of things that you should be aware of before you plant a ficus tree.

First, is the fact that they do suffer frost damage in the low desert when temperatures dip below freezing. It can be worse when consecutive days of freezing temperatures occur.

Photo: Frost-Damaged Ficus nitida

This past winter, we had temperatures in the low 20’s for three days in a row and the damage to the local ficus trees was noticeable. I could drive through any neighborhood street and tell from a distance who had Ficus trees and who didn’t by simply noting the ‘brown’ trees.

Once the warmer temperatures came back, there were quite a few ‘short’ ficus trees seen around the neighborhood due to the frost-damage branches being removed.

Photo:Ficus tree that had frost damaged branches removed.

The second problem that sometimes occur when people don’t research how large ficus trees will become.

Photo: Young Ficus Tree

They are soon caught unprepared when the pretty, shade tree that they planted soon grows so large that it almost seems like it is ‘eating’ up the house….

Photo: Mature Ficus Tree

So, what should you do if you absolutely love ficus trees and want one in your garden?

By all means, buy one. Just know that you will have some winters where it will suffer frost damage and will look unsightly until new branches grow in.

Also, be careful where you plant it.  Allow enough room for it to grow so that it doesn’t ‘eat’ your house.  In addition, keep it away from patios and pools or its roots can become a problem with shallow watering.  It can grow 30 – 50 feet high and 40 feet wide.

Some people look to sissoo trees as an alternative to ficus.

Photo: Sissoo Tree

The sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo) is similar in appearance to the ficus tree, but they do have greater tolerance to frost.

Like ficus trees, sissoo trees do grow quite large but I no longer recommend them for average size residential landscapes. The photo of the tree above was taken four years after it was planted from a 15-gallon container and it rapidly grew even larger.  This tree made it’s debut in the Phoenix area about 15 years ago and rapidly became quite popular for its lush green beauty.

However, as sissoo trees have been grown in the southwest landscape for several years, problems have begun to crop up. They have invasive root systems that cause problems with sidewalks, patio decks, pools, and block walls. In addition, their mature size is so big that they dwarf the landscapes they have been planted in. 

Photo: 3 Sissoo Trees

Sissoo trees are a better choice than ficus trees when used in large outdoor areas such as parks as they have greater tolerance to frost.

Okay, I must begin this by admitting that I have no idea what to post about today….

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this to you, but there are times when I have nothing.  I think it may be because there is so much going on in my life. 

– My three youngest kids start school on Monday (we have a modified year-round school calendar).  My daughter Ruthie, begins Jr. High and is understandably nervous.  We went shopping yesterday for some new clothes and shoes.

– We have guests arriving tomorrow from Kansas City who we will be entertaining for the weekend.  There is a very special story behind these people and my daughter Ruthie.  I can’t wait to share it with you later 🙂

– I just finished writing 4 gardening articles and have one more left to go.

– We are busy helping my in-laws each week with miscellaneous tasks around their home.  My father-in-law is continuing to suffer more debilitating effects from ALS.

However, with all of this going on, my garden is thriving.  I thought that I would share with you some summer things that you should do in your garden.  

It is from an article that I wrote earlier this month for a local community newsletter.  I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Thankfully, there is not a lot of things to be done in the garden during the hot Southwest summer, but there are some tasks that are important this time of year.  

I recommend going out into your garden during the early morning hours to do these tasks, as I do, or at dusk, once the sun begins to set to avoid the extremely hot period of the day. So, put on your hat, sunscreen, gloves and sunglasses and let’s get started.

Succulents: Cacti, agave, yucca and other succulent plants can suffer from both the extreme heat and sun of summer, especially on the side of the plant that points toward the southwest. Signs of heat damage include a yellowing of your succulents. If your succulents are not connected to your irrigation, they need to be watered to a depth of one to two feet. Larger succulents such as saguaro, ocotillo and yuccas need to be watered to three feet deep. Do this once this month and again in August. 

This can be easily done by simply placing your hose next to the plant and barely turning the water on so that the water trickles out slowly. Leave the water on for at least an hour and then check to see if you need to leave the water on for longer.

Shrubs: Make sure that your shrubs are receiving enough water. They should be watered to a depth of 2 feet each time you water. Avoid fertilizing this time of year since this creates more stress for your plants, which are struggling to handle the heat of summer. You can deadhead spent flowers from your shrubs to promote additional bloom, but avoid pruning away any foliage at this time of year. Spider mites can become a problem this time of year. Look for any tiny webs, which are a sign of these tiny mites. Controlling them is easy since they like to hide in the dust, so spray your plants every few days with water to help keep the mites from becoming established.

Trees: Avoid planting any trees this month, except for palms. Mature, established trees require deep watering this time of year, especially if they are not connected to your irrigation system. This should be done once a month in summer, watering to a depth of 3 feet. Using a hose, allow water to slowly trickle out around the drip line of the tree (where the branches end, not against the trunk) which is where the roots are located. You may need to move the hose so that you water around the entire tree. You can skip one watering if you receive 1 inch of rainfall, which replaces a single irrigation. 

As the increased humidity, (25 – 33% humidity is considered high in the desert), makes it more uncomfortable for us to go outside, it helps to keep in mind that plants just love the extra moisture even if it is only in the air around them.

**I hope you find this helpful.  I wanted to also tell you about a fabulous sight that I saw on our vacation.  I blogged about it on my Birds & Blooms blog.  

Earlier this week, we were enjoying our weekly dinner at Double S Farms, where my mother, sister and her family live.  I must admit that I always look forward to these nights.  I get to enjoy being with my family, plus I don’t have to cook dinner 😉

Usually after dinner, we take a stroll out in the back garden and check out what is going on in the vegetable garden – cucumbers, corn and tomatoes this week.  The fruit trees are heavily laden with fruit – apple and plum trees will soon be ready pick.  

What drew my attention this week was the young Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo) tree that had suffered frost-damage from our severe cold snap last winter.  The entire top of the tree had died.

For a few months, my brother-in-law and mother had waited to see if the tree was still alive and if any new growth would occur.

Well, the entire tree above the ground, was killed by the frost.

However, at the soil surface, by the tree trunk, there was new growth.  There was vibrant new growth occurring.

So, I recommended that they keep the tree and remove the dead part of the tree.  This was easily done using a pruning saw.

There were numerous new branches growing from the base and we selected the strongest one to keep and pruned off the others. 

We kept the stakes and simply readjusted downward to help hold up the new growth, which will help to train it upright.

Of course, the other option was to remove the entire tree and start over with a new one.  However, there is a well-established root system already in place.  So why not take advantage of that?  When you first plant any type of plant, there is transplant shock and then it takes time for the roots to establish themselves.

By simply selecting the new growth, we have a huge head start.  Yes, it is short, but with an established root system, it will grow very quickly.

Plus, just think of the $ saved – I just love a good bargain 🙂

Here in the Southwest, we were hit with a deep freeze this past winter.  Temps in my garden fell to 20 degrees F.  Now we aren’t strangers to occasional freezes each winter.  But what made this one different was that we had 4 successive days of extreme cold.

As I drive down the streets in my neighborhood, I see trees that look much like the Lysiloma tree above.  Do you have trees that suffered frost damage too?  Ficus trees seem to have been most heavily affected by frost damage.  But I also see some Jacaranda trees that look much the same.

Why are the upper branches more affected then the lower?

Well, the upper branches were the most exposed to the cold and they protected the lower branches from the cold.

With the arrival of warm weather, some of the ugly, brown branches are beginning to be covered with green again.  The leaves start appearing towards the bottom of the tree canopy and work their way upward.

As a result, you see lush, green growth below and brown up above.  So the question that many people have is when do you prune back the brown branches?

I recommend waiting at least 3- 4 more weeks (mid-May) to see if any leaves begin to appear.  If they do not, then it is usually a sign that the upper branches are dead and can be pruned back.  You can also bend the smaller branches to see if they break off easily – this is a sign that the branch is dead.  If the branch is still flexible, then there is still live wood inside.

Because your tree has lost much its leaves to frost, it often produces a huge flush of new growth like the Lysiloma tree, above.

Now you may be tempted to remove some of the excess growth because it looks ‘messy’.  But, please DON’T.

Leaves are what make ‘food’ for your tree and it needs all the leaves it can get right now until it has produced enough new growth to compensate for the leaves lost.  I would recommend waiting as long as possible before removing any excess leaves.

Rest assured, before you know it, your tree will soon recover and look beautiful once again.

I would like to thank Becky who sent me these photos of her tree and suggested the topic for this post 🙂

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So, I am spending the day starting to pack for my upcoming road trip.  It is so much easier when all you have to do is pack yourself and not 3 kids as well.

I am traveling with my mother.  It is very strange to be traveling without my husband and kids, but I know we will have a fabulous time.

So, where are we going?

I’ll tell you next time….

A few days ago, I talked about the proper way to dig a hole for a tree.  Now I realize that it may seem like a boring subject, but you would be surprised at how many people get it wrong and their trees suffer problems afterward.

So I am determined to go forward and talk about another fascinating subject, which is how to and how not to stake trees 😉

Okay, before we get into staking, we need to get our tree into the hole.  It can seem a bit daunting when you have to figure out how to get the tree out of the container.  For trees that are in 15-gallon containers, cut down one side of the container until you reach the bottom and do the same on the opposite side.  Then cut along the circumference of the bottom between the two vertical cuts.  Get the tree as close as you can to the hole and as you carefully grab the root ball, have another person slide the container back away from the tree.


Hasn’t this been incredibly so exciting so far?  Well, there is more….

When planting a tree that has been in a wooden box, first tilt the tree and have someone take out the wooden bottom.  Then place the entire box, with the tree, inside of the hole.  Then cut the metal strips that are bound around the box and lift out the sides of the box.  That’s it!  You can now fill the hole in around the tree, while gently packing in the dirt around the tree.  Water in well.


Okay, now some trees need to be staked while others do not.  If your tree does not stand upright on its own, then you probably need to stake it.

Now there is a right way and a wrong way to do this and many trees are staked the wrong way.

A single trunk tree should be staked, using two stakes that are tied to the tree at one point.  That’s it!

Well okay, there is a bit more.  First off, make sure that the part that is tied to the tree is covered cable or wire.  You can cut a piece of hose or drip tubing to cover the wire where it ties to the tree.

**If your tree came with a stake that is tied right up against the trunk – REMOVE IT!  This stake does not help your tree and actually keeps branches from growing where the stake covers the tree trunk.  It also limits the movement of your tree that is necessary to develop trunk strength.

The point where the cable or tie should be attached to the lower half of the tree.

Stakes should not hold up a tree so tightly so that the tree cannot move.  Trees need to move in the wind.  They build their trunk ‘muscles’ that way.  The goal is for your tree trunk to flare out at the bottom, which is an indicator of strong root growth and trunk strength.

If you have a multi-trunk tree, then you may need to use more then two tree stakes, above.

Tree stakes are not meant to be permanent.  Think of them like your kid’s braces – they are temporary.  From time to time, check the tree cable (tie) and adjust if necessary to allow for tree growth.

A good goal is to try to remove the stakes one year after planting.  I have seen quite a few large trees that are still attached to their stakes.  It often looks more like the tree is holding up the stake.

Removing tree stakes is very easy and you don’t have to dig them out.  You can usually break them off at the soil surface.

Unfortunately in some cases, people do not remove the stakes  and damage occurs….

This can actually kill your tree.

So remember, stakes are temporary and should be used to keep your young tree from falling over until it can increase its trunk strength.  So, be sure that your tree can move about while still staked and be sure to remove your stakes AND ties once your tree is able to stand on its own.

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I hope all of you are having a good April so far.  For me, life has been extra busy with consults as well as with writing.  I wanted to share with you that I have been asked to become a garden columnist for another magazine and I am very excited about it.  I will let you know when my first article for this newer magazine is published 🙂

 Some of you may be surprised to find that many trees are not planted correctly.  As a Certified Arborist, I have seen countless trees that are suffering from problems that are caused by improper planting.  The damage can actually take years to show up in some cases.

As a young horticulturist working for a 36-hole golf course, I had hundreds of trees that I was in charge of.  At that time, there was we were planting quite a few more trees around the golf courses. During I was fortunate to work with a Consulting Arborist whose company we would hire annually to prune the very tall trees that my crew could not reach.

I learned so much from him and he inspired me to obtain my Certified Arborist certification.

Growing beautiful and healthy trees is not very difficult, especially if you start them out right.  So over the next few posts, we will cover how to prepare the hole, how to plant trees, stake and water them.

Okay, so you have your tree all picked out and you are ready to plant.  Before you dig your hole, you need to do one thing first if your tree is a box tree or in a container.

Gently scrape the top layer of soil until you reach the part of the tree trunk where it begins to flare out.

Many trees from nurseries and even those that have been boxed, often have an extra layer of soil.  This layer can smother the roots if it is too thick.  Roots need oxygen and if there is too much soil, that decreases the amount of oxygen that is available to them.

Okay, now we are ready to dig ‘the hole’.

Now if you are like me, I love it when someone else is digging the hole 😉

So at this point, may you are just quickly reading through this post, which is fine with me. BUT, if you will only remember a little bit of this post, this is the most important piece of information:

Make a hole at least 3X as wide as the root ball of the tree and just as deep as the root ball (once you have scraped off any excess soil from the top).

There, that wasn’t so bad was it?

You want the hole wider then the root ball so that the roots can grow easily outwards.

The hole should be no deeper then the root ball because the roots can be easily smothered.

Now if you live in an area with poor drainage, you will need to check the drainage in your hole.  To do this, simply fill the hole with water and let it drain (this may take a while).  Then fill it up again and if it does not drain out within 24 hours – you have a drainage problem.

You can either locate your tree in an area with better drainage, or create a ‘chimney’ through the bottom of the hole to break through the impermeable layer, known as caliche.  This is back breaking work, but it will be worth it when your tree lives instead of dying.

Look at the original soil level that this boxed tree had (where the shovel is) and where the trunk flare is at the bottom.  The workers actually had to dig their newly planted tree up and add more soil to the bottom of the hole so that the soil level would be where the trunk flare started.

Okay, we are almost done with preparing our hole.

Now many of you would probably think that this would be a good time to add organic matter such as compost and maybe a handful of fertilizer.

Well the answer is actually NO…..

Numerous studies have shown that when people add organic matter to enrich the soil for ornamental trees that something interesting happens…..

Imagine that you are a tree root and you have just been planted in a mixture of really rich soil.  So, you begin to grow outwards and then you reach an area where the soil is not rich…..in fact it is rather boring.  Well, at this point you decide to just stay where the soil is rich and you do not grow outwards any further.

So, just use the existing soil when planting ornamental trees, which will result in the roots growing outwards for greater distances.  

Okay, so now we have the perfect sized hole and our tree is ready.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on how to plant and stake your tree….

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Please check out my latest Birds & Blooms post

“A Hummingbird Takes a Bath”

Anyone who has spent any time with me in the garden, soon learns how much I dislike formal pruning of flowering shrubs and desert trees.  In the plant industry, we sometimes refer to this type of pruning as ‘poodle pruning’ because of the over abundance of round-shaped trees and shrubs.

I spend a lot of time with clients, teaching them how to properly prune their trees and shrubs and most of the time it does not involve the use of a hedge trimmer.  

I recommend throwing away your hedge trimmers if you are tempted to use them on your native, desert plants and use only loppers and hand pruners 😉

Over ten years ago, the community where I was working asked me to do a consultation for the local church.  Part of the consultation involved going over the current maintenance practices.  This church had a Texas Ebony tree (Ebenopsis ebano) that had not been pruned correctly.  In fact, there were signs that the infamous hedge trimmers had been hard at work…..

Now you may not think that this Texas Ebony tree looks all this bad.  There may even be some of you who think that most trees should be maintained this way.

Well the reasons for not pruning your trees this way are many:

– Repeated shearing blocks the sunlight from reaching the interior branches, causing their eventual death which leaves large dead areas which are unattractive.

– This same type of pruning actually increases the maintenance required, because each time you prune, the tree works hard to replace the leaves lost.  Remember, it is the leaves that make the food for the tree.

This extra growth also requires the tree to take more water, which is already a precious resource here in the Southwest.

Now if those reasons do not convince you, please look at the photo below of the same tree, which is now being maintained as I had recommended….

You know what?  It is so incredibly rewarding to revisit a landscape when those in charge have implemented some of my suggestions.  Sadly, that doesn’t always happen 😉

Doesn’t this Texas Ebony look beautiful?

Now, a yearly pruning using a lopper or pruning saw is all this tree requires instead of multiple visits using a hedge trimmer.

Prune any dead and/or crossing branches and any over-reaching side branches as desired.  Raise the tree canopy gradually until you reach the desired height above the ground.

Texas Ebony is a slow-growing tree with beautiful, dark green leaves.  It does have thorns, so be sure to wear gloves and keep away from high traffic areas.  Brown seed pods appear later in the year.

If the photos above have not convinced you not to prune your Texas Ebony into a ‘ball’, are some other examples of others that have been pruned to accentuate their natural shape…

So, which one would you rather have in your garden?

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I would like to thank you all for your nice comments about my new Southwest blog at BirdsandBloomsblog.com

Here is a related post about formal pruning that you can read if you like:

Flowering Shrubs Aren’t Meant to be Cupcakes, Poodles or Frisbees

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I sometimes have trouble remembering what gifts I received a year ago for Christmas.  Does that happen to you too?  It’s not that I am not happy with the gifts……I am frequently amazed at the creativity and thoughtfulness of the giver.  But sometimes all I can handle is just trying to keep up with my 5 kids and my husband so many other things get pushed onto a back shelf inside my brain.

There have been extra special Christmas gifts that I have received that stick out in my mind.  Not because they were particularly expensive but because they were long lasting.  Each time I would use or look upon the gift, I would remember the thoughtfulness of the giver.

One of my favorite Christmas memories involve my dad and mother.  Each year my dad would give my mother something special for Christmas.  He would usually ask one of his daughters to wrap it for him and I can remember the happiness on his face when he would give my mother her gift.

After my father passed away a few years ago, my siblings and I started a new tradition – in addition to our individual gifts to our mother, we also joined together to give her a gift from all of us on behalf of my father, who is no longer here.

We have had a lot of fun thinking of ideas of what to give her each year.  This year we decided to give her two Apricot trees.  You see, my mother loves to can fruit.  Double S Farms, where she lives, has apple, peach, plum, kumquat, lemon, grapefruit, almond and pecan trees.  

This past summer, my mother taught me how to make peach and plum jam as well as applesauce.  I am still using peach jam on my morning toast 🙂

As many different kinds of fruit trees that my mother has, she does not have any apricot trees.  That was kind of sad really because apricots were among her favorite fruit.  So our decision was really quite easy.

We bought her two apricot trees and tied big red bows on each one and placed them on the side of the house.

We placed the apricot trees in the same area that already had peach trees growing.  Little Farmer and Littlest Farmer were happy to help 😉

Now it was time for her surprise…..I think she was very happy with her gift.

Many people find it surprising that we can grow many different kinds of fruit trees.  Trees with low chill hour requirements do very well in our area.  (Chill hours occur when temperatures below 45 degrees F.  Fruit trees require a minimum number of chill hours to produce fruit.).  We selected two different varieties of apricot trees – ‘Katy’ and ‘Gold Kist’.  

Apricot trees are self-pollinating (which means that they doesn’t need pollen from another apricot tree to produce fruit), so we really only needed one, but since we planted two, that means more apricot jam in our future.

The apricot trees will be ready for harvesting in late May / early June.

When planting fruit trees, it is important not to dig the hole deeper then the depth of the root ball.  What is a good thing to do is to dig the hole at least 3 times the width of the root ball, which helps the roots to grow out into the surrounding soil.  January is the month to plant your bare-root fruit trees in the Arizona deserts.

No fertilizer should be added to newly planted trees for the first year.  The reason is because fertilizer will trigger the growth of the upper part of the tree – you may be asking what is wrong with that?

Well, all trees need a good root system that can support the branches, leaves and fruit and that takes at least a year.  So please don’t add fertilizer unless you live in an area with sandy soils, which may require the addition of phosphorus and potassium when planted.

My mother was very happy with her gift, which will continue giving year after year.

I can almost taste the apricot jam……but it will take a few years for the new trees to produce enough fruit 🙂

For information on fruit varieties for the desert southwest, click here.

Here is a link for general fruit tree growing information for Arizona.