Have you ever moved to a new area with no clue what type of plants you have or how to care for them?  Well, your plight isn’t unusual – people find themselves in this situation often.

Thankfully, there are steps that you can take to learn about your landscape, the plants in it, how to care for them and what types of new plants will do well.  

Believe it or not, it doesn’t matter what region you live in – the steps are the same.



In my last post, I shared about my daughter’s move from Arizona to Michigan.  She and her husband became new homeowners the beginning of this summer and were faced with many questions about their landscape.

I invite you to join them in their garden journey, learning helpful tips finding out about their new landscape, what plants to choose, and how to care for them.  

Even if you live in a completely different climate than Michigan, my hope is that you’ll learn what steps to take when you find yourself in a new place with no clue how to take care of your garden.


1. Take stock of the existing landscape.

We walked around the entire landscape, including the areas up against the house and further out.  The front of their home had a combination of shrubs, perennials, and flowering bulbs while the outer areas had a number of different trees.


Lilac shrubs were in full bloom and peonies were just beginning to open…



 I must admit to being slightly envious since my Arizona garden doesn’t get cold enough in winter to be able to grow these lovely plants.  However, I was fortunate to be there when hers were in bloom.

2. Take pictures of large areas as well as individual plants – particularly those that you don’t recognize.


 While I knew what most of the plants were in my daughter’s landscape, she didn’t and there were a few that even I couldn’t identify (plants from more temperate climates aren’t my specialty).



If you see something that you think is wrong with your plants, take a picture of that too.  I wasn’t sure what was growing on the surface of the maple trees.  (It turns out they are leaf galls, which are fairly common and don’t seriously impact the tree.)

3. Visit a local nursery.


You will find most of your answers at a local plant nursery.  Show the nursery staff pictures of your plants.  They can help you identify what you have and can often tell you how to care for them. 


Often, you will find the same plants at the nursery, where you can check the labels for the names along with instruction on how to care for them.



We found that the shrubs alongside the house are ‘dappled willow’.


During your visit, take pictures of plants that you like along with a clear photo of the plant label.  But, avoid buying anything at this point.

Be sure to show pictures to the nursery professionals of any suspected problems of your plants.  They can often tell you what it is and how to treat it, if needed.

Local nurseries often have free (or inexpensive) guides on a range of gardening subjects.  Be sure to ask if they have any.

**I advise against going to a big box store for advice on plants.  Not all the staff is particularly knowledgeable and you’ll often find plants for sale that aren’t always suited for that climate.  Local nurseries are best.


For example, I found this Texas sage for sale at the local big box store.  The problem is that this shrub can only handle temperatures as cold as 10 degrees F.  In northern Michgan, winter temperatures can get down to -20 degrees.  Unfortunately, this isn’t isolated to just this instance – it happens everywhere.  So, visit local nurseries for the best advice and plant selection.

4. Contact the local cooperative extension office.

If you’ve never heard of cooperative extension services, you are missing out on a valuable resource.  They are an “educational partnership that offers numerous programs implemented by county field faculty and supported by university-based specialists”.  

Master Gardeners work for the cooperative extension office in your area, which is usually divided up by counties.  

They have many resources for homeowners, especially in regards to their landscape, that is specifically tailored for that specific region.  Often, much of the information can be found online and/or you can talk to a master gardener on the phone.  

Here are some helpful questions to ask:

– What USDA planting zone do you live in?

– What type of soil is present in the area?  Acidic or alkaline?  That’s important to know since certain plants do better in one or the other.

– What is the average first and last frost date?  In other words, how long is the growing season?  For my garden in Arizona, the growing season is 10 months long while my daughter’s is only 6 months.

– When is the best time to prune roses, trees and shrubs?

– What are the planting dates for specific vegetables?

– Are there any insect pests that are particularly troublesome?  How do you get rid of them?

For a listing of cooperative extension services, click here

5. Take pictures of local landscapes and plants that you like. 

When you are walking your dog or taking a stroll through the downtown area, grab your phone and take photos of plants that you like.  



If it’s growing and looks healthy, than it will probably grow in your garden.  You can take the photos to your local nursery to help you identify what they are.

6.  Wait 6 months to a year before making dramatic changes to the garden.

A garden undergoes several transformations throughout the year as plants bloom, change colors and fade.  It is helpful to observe the plants, to see what you want to keep and those that you went to remove.  

In addition, this is also a period of time to see how functional the design of your garden is.  If plants are struggling, it may be because they are planted in the wrong exposure, get too wet from storm runoff or don’t have enough room to grow.

Once you have lived with your new landscape for awhile, it’s time to make changes.


BEFORE


I invite you to come back to see the changes that we undertook in my daughter’s landscape.  We took out some plants while adding some new ones.  I’ll also provide some helpful planting tips.

See you next time!

Summer is a season filled with warm weather (or hot if you live in the desert) and brightly colored blossoms.


While I usually enjoy the view of my summer garden from the comfort of my air-conditioned house, this year I’ve experienced a twist in my summer gardening experience.  


I have spent time gardening this summer in an entirely different state.


It all started back in 2007 when my daughter, Brittney, met a handsome geologist and got married.  Fast forward to 2015 and that same geologist finished his Ph.D. and got a job offer in Michigan.  So, they packed up and moved to the picturesque town of Petoskey, which is located at the ‘top of the mitt’ as Michiganders like to say.


In June, they bought their first home, and I was on hand to help them with their new garden.  Now, to be honest, my oldest daughter has never shown any particular interest in gardening to this point in her life, despite my best efforts.  But, that was before she had her very own house and garden.


These next few posts will highlight our garden adventures, including me learning some new things about gardening in a climate where temperatures dip to -20 degrees in winter.

Planting roses for my daughter.

Whether you live in the desert southwest, Michigan or anyplace where you have a small area in which to garden – many of the same gardening guidelines apply, and I invite you to join me on a summer gardening adventure where I promise, you’ll learn a few helpful tips for your garden.


Do you remember exploring your backyard as a child?  I do.


I loved smelling my dad’s roses, digging into the soil for worms and hoping to find some interesting bugs (not spiders).  My mother would give me a little margarine tub to put in any insects that I found along with some torn grass and leaves for them to eat.  Sound familiar to anyone else’s childhood experience?

Last month, while in Michigan visiting my oldest daughter and her family, my granddaughter, Lily, showed me her little bug container, which was filled with bits of grass and leaves and a bug that I honestly couldn’t see.

It was during our trip that I found myself at the local store where I saw a plastic magnifying glass just for kids.  So, I did what any self-respecting grandma would do and bought it.


Lily could hardly wait to get home and explore the front garden with her new toy.

First, we had to examine the intricacies of a dandelion.

And then, the little white daisies at the base of the maple tree.


An ant hill was next on her list as she watched them busily scurrying about.


When I told her that these were lily flowers, she was delighted since they share the same name as she does.


I admit, that I had so much fun watching Lily explore the world around her and it did bring back some fond childhood memories of my own.

All said, it was probably the best $5 I’ve spent in a long while.

*What did you use to explore your garden when you were young?

One of the most difficult places in the landscape to grow plants is in areas that receive full sun as well as reflected heat.

Reflected heat occurs when sidewalks, walls, and patio decks absorb the heat during the day only to  re-radiate that heat back out.

As you can imagine, when you couple the intensity of areas that get full sun AND reflected heat, it can be hard to find plants that can not only survive, but add beauty to these spaces.

Thankfully, there are a number of attractive plants that will thrive in these hot spots.

I recently shared 10 shrubs, in my latest article for Houzz, that can handle full sun as well as reflected heat.


Do you have a plant that you like that does well in full, reflected sun?


**For additional shrub suggestions, I recommend Mary Irish’s book, Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest.





Forecasts of a heatwave in the desert may seem a rather foreign concept when temperatures in summer are routinely over 100 degrees.  However,  when temps are predicted to be 110 degrees and over, plants in landscapes that normally handle hot weather without complaint, can suffer. 

The best preparation for heat-proofing your landscape begins before summer.  However, with the imminent arrival of a heatwave, here are two tips that will help your plants survive.
 
 
1. Provide extra water by irrigating shrubs and groundcovers in the early morning hours for an extra 1/2 hour when temperatures are forecast over 115 degrees.
Plants can uptake water more easily in the early morning as opposed to being watered during the day.  During the heat of the day, plants have to devote much of their resources to handle the stress of the heat and cannot uptake water efficiently.  Therefore, it’s best to water early in the morning so that they are replenished with water and ready to face the excessive evaporation that will occur with temperatures over 115 degrees.  
*It’s important not to overwater plants, so if the heatwave lasts more than three days, skip a day between providing extra water.
 
2. Provide temporary shade for heat susceptible plants such as hibiscus or roses.
The sun’s intense rays are even more focused during a heatwave and can cause stress to the plant itself, including sunburn damage.  This is especially true for plants that receive hot, western sun or in areas that receive reflected heat.
 
For shrubs and groundcovers, leaves may wilt and turn brown in response to a heatwave.  Even cactus and other succulents can suffer sunburn or other heat stress, which often reveals itself as yellowing.
 
Temporary shade can be provided using sections of shade cloth.
 
 
In a pinch, a lawn chair can work to add a welcome spot of shade for a plant.
 
Old sheets tied to posts, chairs or trees can also provide temporary shading until the heatwave subsides.
 
 
As I mentioned earlier, the best way to handle a desert heatwave is wise planning including using native plants, mulch and the use of trees to provide shade.  
 
In the meantime, escape the heat by hibernating indoors as much as possible 🙂
 
**You can read more about how to create a heat-proof garden in an earlier blog post.  

Did you ever garden when you were a child?


I did.  My dad gave my siblings and me, each a small raised bed in the backyard.  We would spend hours leafing through the latest Burpee catalog, deciding what seeds we would buy to plant in our little gardens.


I never forgot my introduction to gardening under my father’s guidance, and I enjoy doing the same thing with my granddaughter, Lily.  

Lily, and her mom and dad, just moved into their first house, and she was very excited to be able to garden.

So, I took her to the local nursery in their town of Petoskey, Michigan and told her that she could pick two types of flowers.

After some deliberation, Lily decided on cosmos and marigolds.

We brought them home and got ready to create a pot filled with flowers.  

The pot was purchased from the local big box store and painted a bright shade of blue using spray paint.  

The first step was filling the pot with planting mix, which is specially formulated for container gardening as it holds onto just the right amount of soil as opposed to potting soil, which can become soggy.


As we planted the flowers, I took the time to explain to 4-year-old Lily how the roots help the top part of the plant grow and flower.


I dug the holes, and she would put each plant inside.


Then we patted down the soil and watered them well.


When we were finished, we had a colorful pot filled with cosmos and marigolds ready to sit by the front door.
As the flowers mature and eventually dry out, Lily will collect the seed and save it for next year’s garden.

We had a lovely time and Lily would call me “Plant Lady” and herself the “Plant Girl”.  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Have you ever spent time teaching kids to garden?  What did you plant?

One of my favorite things as a horticulturist and consultant is to help people discover the new plant introductions that they may have never heard of.


I like to tell them that they can be the first on their block with the latest plant that all their neighbors will want to add in their landscape.  

Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’

Many of you may be familiar with the large, orange-flowering shrub Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’ with its clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers.  Its long bloom period and up to 12-foot height makes it a favorite for screening out a block wall or unfavorable view.

While the flowers and lush foliage are a plus, Orange Jubilee is too large for many smaller areas, which is why this new shrub is one of my new favorites. 


This Tecoma hybrid has bi-color flowers and is affectionately named ‘Sparky’ after Arizona State University’s popular mascot.  This hybrid was created by a horticulturist and professor at ASU.


‘Sparky’ is about half the size of ‘Orange Jubilee,’ which makes it suitable smaller spaces.  It also has smaller leaves and a slightly more compact growth habit.

Both types of Tecoma have the same requirements – full sun and pruning away frost-damaged growth in March.  ‘Sparky’ is slightly more cold tender than ‘Orange Jubilee’.

While I have an ‘Orange Jubilee’ shrub screening the view of my A/C unit, I believe that I need to find a spot for a ‘Sparky’ shrub – especially since I’m an ASU alumni.  
For those of you U of A alumni, there isn’t any word of a red, white and blue hybrid yet – but, I’ll be sure to let you know if they create one 😉

**Would you consider adding a ‘Sparky’ Tecoma shrub to your garden?

What do you do when you see damaging insects such as aphids sucking on your plants?


Do you reach for the nearest bottle of insecticide? Pluck them off or spray them with a hose?  


Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing.  I learned this lesson long ago before I went to school to become a horticulturist.


I remembered this important lesson when I passed by a severely pruned oleander shrub on my way to our weekly bagel lunch after church.  


The oleanders were growing back nicely.  However, there was some yellow aphids on the young leaves.

Years ago, my oleander shrubs had an infestation of yellow aphids like this, and I was anxious to get rid of them.

I had several methods at my disposal – insecticidal soap, a strong jet of water or my fingers – all of which, would help get rid of most of the aphids.  But, life got in the way, and I didn’t have a chance to get out to treat my shrubs until about ten days later.  

Can you guess what I found?  Not a single aphid.  I didn’t have to do a thing, and the aphids were gone, and my shrubs look great.

So, what happened to the aphids?

When harmful insect pests first appear, it can take a week or two before their natural predators follow.  In the case of aphids, lacewing and ladybugs showed up and ate the aphids.  

Plants are tougher than we give them credit for and can handle a certain amount of insect pests without any adverse effects to the plant itself.  

So, when I come back in a couple of weeks to the same bagel shop, I expect to see no aphids in sight and a healthy oleander shrub.

This morning, I was on my way to a landscape consultation for my fellow Arizona gardener, Claudette, who blogs over at Gilbert Garden Girls.


As I always do before driving to an appointment, I entered the address into my car’s GPS and was pleased to see that it would only take 20 minutes to get to her house from mine.
  
However, as I drove down her street, the addresses did not match up with hers.  So, I took out my phone and brought up my trusty Google Maps app and found that my car’s formerly reliable GPS had misdirected me.  Luckily, I was only 1 mile away and so I was only a couple of minutes late, which truth be told, is normal for me.


My unanticipated detour did have a silver lining, though.

I drove by a house that had a beautiful hop bush shrub (Dodonaea viscosa).  


 This evergreen, drought tolerant shrub does wonderfully in our southwestern climate, and it is a frequent addition to landscapes that I design. 

Hop bush is quite versatile and relatively fuss-free, especially if maintained by pruning every 6 months or so, as shown above. 


Here is another example of a hop bush shrub that has been pruned more formally, which it handles well.


 Of course, you can always let it grow into its more natural form as a large shrub.

For more information on hop bush including what its flowers look like and why it’s becoming a popular substitute for oleanders, you can read my earlier blog post – “Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Hopbush the Alternative to Oleanders.”


Have you ever seen this shrub where you live?  How was it maintained?  As a shrub, hedge or small tree?

Do you enjoy reading magazines about home and gardening?  I do.

Often with the busyness of life, I don’t have as much time to read magazines as I used to.  But, always make time for my favorite subscription, which is Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine.

I enjoy thumbing through the pages that are filled with colorful photographs and articles about beautiful landscapes and lovely home decor with a Southwestern flair.



I must admit that I have been impatiently waiting for the June issue in my mailbox.  Day after day, I volunteered to go out to get the mail and several times, would come away with a handful of junk mail and bills and little else.

But, finally, it came.

So, why was I so excited about this particular issue?


Because my first article for Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine was contained within its pages.

Two months ago, I was contacted by one of the editors and was asked if I was interested in writing for them.  Of course, I said yes!

I visited a stunning garden and met with the homeowners as well as the architect who helped them create their landscape.  

It was a slightly new experience for me as I had to interview the homeowners, their architect, gardener, and builder.  

There was so much to see from multiple water features laid with handcrafted Spanish tiles, beds of roses around the pool, a Southwestern Zen garden and an edible garden.

If you have a chance, I highly recommend grabbing a copy so you can see this spectacular outdoor space.  There are also several other lovely gardens featured in the magazine as well.


You can also view the article online, here.

I look forward to more opportunities to write for this fantastic publication.

If you don’t have a subscription to this magazine, you can get two years for the price of one for readers of my blog.  Click here for details.