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‘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?

 

 

The holidays are here and if you are like me, you a long list of people to find the perfect gift for. Because I love plants and gardening, I like to look for gifts with a garden theme to give, as well as to give my husband some hints as to what to get for me.

I’ve created lists of some of my favorite garden gifts and have split them up into different categories, which I will share with you over the next week, so be sure to check back daily.  For your ease and convenience, all items can be purchased online, so grab a cup of coffee and let’s get started.

*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.*

What is gardening without plants? Thankfully, it is easy to order a variety of plants for the gardener in your life. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Waxed Amaryllis

I’m starting out with my favorite this year. Imagine a plant that needs no water, fertilizer or any special care other than to place it by a window? While the dramatic blooms of amaryllis are a popular holiday gift, these waxed amaryllises take it one step further. Covered in wax, they have all the water and fertilizer needed for them to bloom, which makes them an excellent choice for people with a self-professed ‘black thumb’. Click here to order.

Want to learn more about this pretty, low-maintenance flower? I talk about it in my newest Facebook Live video:

Since I’ve posted the video, I’ve heard from several of you that you have seen these for sale at their local grocery and big box stores, so they shouldn’t be hard to find if you don’t want to order them online.

 

2. David Austin English Rose

Christmas is the best time to buy a new rose for the garden, ready for being planted in January. David Austin has created a class of roses the couples the beautiful shape and fragrance of the old-fashioned roses with the repeat blooming of more modern roses.  Why else should you want to add one of these beauties to your garden? They are disease resistant and much lower-maintenance than your more traditional roses. My favorite is ‘Olivia Rose’, which grows in my side garden where I view their pretty pink blossoms from my kitchen window. David Austin roses can be ordered here.

 

 

3. Potted Succulents

Dive into the latest gardening craze, which is all about succulents. You don’t need a lot of space to grow your own – just a pot, potting mix, and a pretty little succulent. Imagine how nice this would look on your windowsill. There are a number of potted succulents available such as this one with a gold-toned planter. Click here to order.

4. Air Plants

Create your own little garden world with this kit, that has all you need, including an air plant, moss, rocks and a lovely hanging glass container. Air plants have such unique shapes and are easy to care for. Click here to order.

5. Assorted Agave

Did you know that there are over 200 species of agave? The different shapes, colors, and sizes mean that there is one (or more) that are right for your garden. You can get a good start on an agave collection by ordering this assortment either for yourself or divide it up into four separate gifts. Click here to order. 

Do you have a favorite plant that you received as a gift? I’d love to hear about it.

Come back tomorrow when I’ll share my picks for garden tools and gear.

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Most of the time when you walk through a parking lot, you are often greeted by the appearance of islands scattered throughout overplanted with badly maintained shrubs.

Last month, I drove into a parking lot that was quite unusual in that it was planted with attractive succulents and not ugly shrubs.



Instead of shrubs, the medians were planted with beautiful agave specimens.


In addition to different types of agave, were gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) succulents, which added a welcome respite to the crowded and over-pruned shrubs that usually characterize most parking lots.


In addition to the agave and other succulents were  flowering shrubs such as Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), which was allowed to grow into its natural shape.


This parking lot was located in front of a hospital where my husband had an appointment for a routine procedure.  Our walk through the parking lot took twice as long as it would normally take with me pausing every few seconds to take pictures of the plants.


It was so refreshing to see succulents such as these  in parking lot islands instead of struggling shrubs.  They thrive in the hot, reflected heat while needing very little water.

Maybe we should rethink what we plant in parking lot islands and ditch the high-maintenance, thirsty shrubs?
Have you ever found yourself driving through a neighborhood past landscapes planted with the commonly planted lantana and oleander shrubs when you see something completely different that catches your attention?

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a client’s home in North Phoenix and started on my way home, when I drove past this beautiful, drought tolerant landscape.


The corner of the landscape was anchored by an ocotillo whose graceful canes added needed height to the landscape.

Palo brea trees add year round green color and yellow flowers are so set appear later in spring.

Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds a welcome spot of orange in late winter and into spring and will bloom again in fall.

Cacti and agave add great texture contrast with their unique shapes.  The Argentine giant cactus (Echinopsis candicans) will produce large, lily-like flowers in spring.


Several species of agave have been used throughout the landscape including Agave species americana, lophantha and victoria-reginae.  With so much variety in the color and sizes available in agaves, there is one for almost any landscape situation.
Several different cacti are tucked in here and there leading one to want to walk around and discover what else is growing in the garden.
The thin, upright succulent stems of candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) add great texture contrast when planted next to succulents and cacti with thicker leaves/stems.

The main planting area in the center is on a slightly elevated area, which offers a glimpse of the plants located toward the back.  Landscape design that creates areas that artfully take center stage and then recede into the background as you walk through, which creates intrigue and heightens the desire to see what else is present in the garden.

Aloes, which do best in light shade, are scattered throughout the landscape, which add color in late winter into spring.  

In the background, the orange, tubular flowers Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) attracts hummingbirds all year long.  

Variegated agave americana adds great color contrast with their bi-colored leaves while Indian fig prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) adds height in the background.  


I love this unusual pathway that zig-zags through the landscape.  Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) are used to greatest effect by grouping them in 3’s.

Large boulders finish the landscape adding mass and texture while not needing any pruning or water. 
It’s important to note that large boulders like this may need heavy equipment to place.  If you want to avoid the hassle and expense of using heavy equipment, you can place 2 medium-sized boulders next to 
each other for a similar effect.

There are several things that I enjoyed so much about this landscape.  One is how they used a large amount of different plant species without it looking ‘busy’.  Also, instead of laying out the entire landscape where you can see everything from the street, this one leads you on a path of discovery when you are treated to glimpses at what is located further in.

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This past week was event filled along with some rather unexpected occurrences for me.  One was that for the first time since early January, my calendar was quite suddenly empty.  I had several landscape consultations scheduled that were cancelled at the last minute by clients and rescheduled for various reasons including a flooded house to a puppy eating a cigar.

It was rather disconcerting to go from trying to keep my head above water to having the gift of extra time on my hands, but I enjoyed it and got some gardening articles finished ahead of looming deadlines.


Last week was also a big milestone for my husband who turned 50.  We celebrated throughout the week, but one of our favorite outings was breakfast at Joe’s Farm & Grill with our granddaughter, Lily.

On a sad note, our friend, neighbor and vet passed away unexpectedly on Friday.  He had treated the furry members of our family for 18 years with love and respect.  We were also blessed to have been his neighbor for over 15 years.  

We will miss his loving care for our animals, seeing him and his wife walk their dogs in the evening and even the lemons he would leave at our door.

After hearing the shocking news of his death, I had a hard time focusing on anything else this weekend and even writing took a backseat – hence the lack of blog posts.  But, it was a blessing to be able to set work aside for few days and let the loss sink in.

My schedule is now filled up again with appointments and the desert is awash in spring color, which is a busy time in the garden. 

I hope your week is off to a good start.


Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale
 
I enjoy attending plant sales hosted by botanical gardens.  
 
Here in the southwest, you can often find the newest succulents including those that are hard to find as well as old favorites.
 
There are a few tips that I’d like to share with you the next time you are buying a succulent whether at a plant sale or your local nursery that can save you money.
 
 
1. Avoid purchasing agave in 15-gallon containers or larger.  
 
Why?  Well, almost all species of agave will flower toward the end of their life and then die.  That is what agave do.  
 
Flowering is triggered by the age of the agave.  Different species live for differing lengths of time – some live less then 10 years. If you buy a 15-gallon or larger boxed agave – it is safe to assume that they are much older then those in smaller pots and will flower and die much sooner.
 
So my advice is to purchase agave in 1 or 5-gallon sizes – they will last much longer and you’ll save a lot of money.
*Sometimes, you can find more then one agave growing in the same nursery container – that’s like getting 2 for the price of 1!
 
 
Better yet, ask a friend or neighbor for a volunteer (pup) from their agave.  Many agave species produce volunteers that can be transplanted.  To learn how, click here.
 
My husband and daughter checking out the young saguaro cacti.
 
2. Buy smaller cacti rather then larger.
 
Columnar cacti are beautiful, but expensive.  The price is usually based on the height of the cactus.  Saguaro cacti are priced based on each foot in height plus arms.
 
The price for a 1 ft. high Totem Pole cactus was $48.
 
The reason that I recommend starting out with a smaller columnar cactus such as Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marinatus) or Totem Pole (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) is that they will begin to grow at a faster rate once planted in the ground.  
 
In fact, smaller plants have an easier time becoming established then larger ones.
 
Many columnar types of cacti grow faster in the landscape then in the wild due to the presence of water – that includes saguaro cacti as well.
 
 
Like agave, you can start some species of columnar cacti from cuttings.
 
I planted this Mexican Fence Post cactus in my garden 11 years ago.  It started out as a 2 foot cutting given to me by a client from their large cactus.
 
Look how much it has grown!
 
You may notice on the lower right side that there has been a section cut off.  Soon, I’ll show you how to take a cutting from an existing cactus to create a new one!
 
 
3. Have a plan in place for planting your new cactus/succulent.
 
If you hadn’t noticed, many succulents are prickly.   So, it is a good idea to plan on how you are going to plant it.  Decide whether you can do it yourself or if you will need to hire someone to plant it for you.
 
For small cacti, you can use a towel to help you plant them without getting pricked.  See how here.
 
For larger cacti, you can use pieces of carpet or rubber straps.  But when in doubt about whether you can plant it yourself, hire an expert.
 
 
*As a golf course horticulturist, I used to transplant Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii) from areas that were to be built upon.  I would use rubber straps to carry the cholla and regular kitchen tongs to pick up the pieces that dropped off.  I would then plant them elsewhere.
 
 
4. Keep an eye out for discounted plants.
 
Often, not all plants will meet the high standards of the nursery.  Sometimes, this can be mostly cosmetic damage, but occasionally you will see a succulent that has not been watered correctly or placed in too much or too little sun.
 
This can be a great way to save money and provide a little TLC to new succulents.  Research online how to care for that particular plant and soon you will have a healthy succulent growing in your garden that cost you a lot less.
 
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I hope that these tips will be helpful to you the next time you are shopping for succulents.

When you envision a drought-tolerant landscape, does a landscape covered in colored gravel with a cactus or two come to mind?



Believe it or not, this type of landscape style was popular back in the 70’s and some people have never moved beyond this outdated trend.

Well, let us fast-forward to present day when a drought-tolerant landscape can look like this…


I drove by this beautiful landscape, filled with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants on a recent trip to Santa Barbara, CA.

I love the magenta-colored brachts of the Bougainvillea, the green spiky Spanish Bayonet Yucca (Yucca Aloifolia) along with the gray/blue of Century Plant (Agave americana).

The orange flowers of Aloe arborescens are also a favorite of mine.  I also like how the blue/gray leaves of the ‘Blue Chalk Sticks’ variety of Ice Plant (Senecio mandraliscae) provides a cool color contrast.  

You may be surprised to discover that this beautiful, drought-tolerant landscape is part of an entry to a large estate and that there is another side filled with drought-tolerant plants.


On this side, you can see Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officials ‘Prostratus’) spilling over the front with Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) right behind.  

A low-growing pink Bougainvillea shows off its bright colors along with the spiky orange flowers of the Aloe nearby.

Look closely, and you can see the paddles of a Prickly Pear cactus (not sure what species) and the variegated spikes of Agave americana ‘Variegata’.


In this last view of this spectacular garden, we see a California Pepper tree (Schinus molle), which is quite familiar to Californians.  (We had these trees lining our neighborhood street where I grew up in Southern California.)  They are found in the low-desert areas of Arizona, but it is rare to see them.

In the background, you can see two very different types of palm trees.  The large one is a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) while the skinny one is a Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia mexicana).

If you look closely, you can see the flowering stalk of an agave as well as the upright columns of a Cereus cactus.

To the left of the mailbox, there is a Jade plant growing, a flowering Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia millii), which I also have growing in my garden.

So, if you think that having a drought-tolerant landscape means looking like this…


It doesn’t!

The majority of plants in the lovely garden in California, can be grown in desert climates.

So, which drought-tolerant landscape would you prefer – a colorful one or one that is boring?

In honor of Halloween, I thought that I would do a ‘scary’ post for all of you.  


Now, this post isn’t filled with ghouls, witches, skeletons or zombies.  But that doesn’t make it any less scary.  


Over the years, I have photographed examples of truly horrific pruning, which are quite scary 😉


WARNING:  The following images are not for the faint of heart…



These used to be Jacaranda trees.  I say “used to” because they died because of this severe and unnecessary pruning.

This is a photo of a Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) that was pruned the wrong way.

Unfortunately, this was a landscape that I was in charge of 14 years ago next to the clubhouse on a golf course.  

My well-intentioned crew member, thought he was doing me a favor by pruning them for me.  He was so proud of the work he had done, that he came into my office and asked me to come outside and see his handiwork.

I must say, that it was hard to criticize him because he was so proud of his work.  Needless to say, I transferred him to doing more clean-up and less pruning around the golf course.

A few months later, he returned to his small town in Mexico where he became mayor 🙂

*This is what Red Yucca are supposed to look like when in flower…


As you can see, you don’t cut the grass-like, succulent foliage below – ever.  The flowers can be pruned to the base when they die.  If the base clump become to wide, then divide the base much like you would perennials.

This photo was taken of another landscape area about 12 years ago that I was in charge of by another golf course.  I made sure that the crew did not prune it 😉


Last month, I was in the historic district of downtown Phoenix returning from a landscape consultation when I drove by these very sad California Fan Palms.  

While fall is the time to prune back – this is NOT the way to do it.  Too much was removed.  For guidelines on how to prune palm trees, click here.


This was a beautiful Palo Brea tree.  Unfortunately, it was ‘topped’ in order for the homeowner to preserve their view of the mountains.

‘Topping’ trees is very bad for trees.  It leaves the upper branches open to sunburn, which is often followed by insect infestations or disease.  

In fact, topping trees causes the tree to grow faster, to replace the lost foliage, which leads to an increased need for pruning.  The branches that appear after ‘topping’ have a very weak attachment, which makes the new branches a hazard because they are in danger of breaking off.

**If a tree is blocking a view that is important to you – then remove the tree instead of subjecting it to torturing it with this type of pruning.


Here is another example of ‘topping’.  This parking lot in Scottsdale, has trees like this.

Believe it or not, this ‘topped’ tree is a Willow Acacia (Acacia salicina).

This is what it should look like…


Hard to believe that they are the same type of tree, isn’t it?


I don’t think that I have ever seen an agave pruned so badly before.

The only time you need to prune an agave is to remove the bottom leaves, once they die.

I think that this agave would have looked much nicer if they had left it alone, like the one below…


It would also be much healthier and less likely to be susceptible to insect attack.


Believe it or not, these are citrus trees.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I drove by and saw what had happened to these trees.

You may be thinking that maybe they suffered from severe frost damage and had to be cut back.  But, I assure you, this wasn’t the case.  I worked just down the road from this house and there was no reason for these trees to be pruned this severely.

Ideally, citrus trees are pruned in March, concentrating on removing dead branches and suckers.  

In fact, did you know that the lower branches produce more fruit that tastes sweeter than that on the higher branches?  That is why you see citrus growers letting the lower branches of their trees grow instead of pruning them up into tree shapes.

**Just don’t let any branches (suckers) from below the bud union grow because they are from the root stock and are thorny and will produce sour fruit.


Much like the Red Yucca I showed you earlier, these Desert Spoon have been butchered.

They also did the same to their own Red Yucca, off to the right.

Desert Spoon has a beautiful, natural form.


The only pruning to be done is to remove the bottom leaves once they turn brown and die.

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I hope you haven’t been to ‘scared’ by these scary pruning practices.

Sometimes it is easy to get carried away when pruning.  But it is important to remember that a plant’s leaves make the food for the plant.  Take away the ability of the plant to make food, it will re-route resources normally used for dealing with environmental stresses as well as defenses against insects and disease toward growing new leaves.

This will make your plants/trees more susceptible to other problems, not to mention leaving them ugly.


When I am driving about town, I tend to look at the landscapes that I pass by.  Usually, I tend to see some “landscape no-no’s”, which I like to share with you now and then.


But, I also take pictures of what I like to call “landscape do’s”.  I realized the other day, that I tend to share with you bad examples of landscapes much more then the good ones, so here are a few that I saw the past couple of weeks…



I love Gold Lantana and how it flowers non-stop spring through fall.  When planted next to boulders, you get a great contrast in textures.

What is even better about this arrangement, is how easy Lantana is to grow.  Unlike many tropical climates, Lantana is not invasive in arid climates.  Just water it regularly and prune it back hard in spring (6″ high), after the last frost.  Periodically prune it back every 2 – 3 months, stopping pruning 3 months before the first frost date in your area.  



Sometimes, I see great examples of desert trees that are properly pruned.


This Texas Ebony (Ebanopsis ebano formerly Pithecellobium flexicaule) is beautiful tree that is prized for its dark green foliage that is evergreen.


It does have thorns and gets seedpods, but it highly prized by those who live in the Southwest.



This nicely designed landscape was located next door to a house where I was visiting a client.


I like how the columnar cacti flank the entry on either side.  Totem Pole (Lophocereus schotti ‘Monstrosus’) is on the left and has the bonus that it is thornless.  Another favorite of mine, Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus), which is one of the few cacti that I have in my own garden.


The yellows of the Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii)with their rounded shapes contrast nicely with the spiky fans of Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri).


**Another bonus about this landscape is that it is extremely low-maintenance.



While stopped at an intersection in Scottsdale, Arizona, I noticed this distinctive landscaped area with contrasting spokes of a wheel fanning out from the sign.


Different sizes of gravel are often used to add interest to the landscape by the contrasts in size.


Agave and Aloe vera make up the plantings in the lighter colored spokes while Golden Barrel are used in the darker rip rap.


Well, these are just a small sampling of the “landscape do’s” that I have seen lately.


I hope you enjoyed seeing them and maybe will be inspired to replicate a couple of these plantings in your own landscape.










One of the iconic plants of the Southwest flowers only once and produces the most unusual flowers you will probably ever see. 

What is even more interesting, is that each one of these plants produces a different type of flower depending on the species. 

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the plant dies after flowering.

So, by now you may have guessed that I am talking about Agave, sometimes referred to as Century Plant, although they do not take that long to flower.

As I was preparing this post, I was going through my photos of flowering agave and I was struck again at how unusual they are and how different they look from species to species.  Some form a single stalk and others branch out from the single stalk.

I would like to share with you some of my favorites….

When an agave flowers is largely dependent on the species.  Some only take 8 years, while others can wait up to 25 years before they flower.
Some people inadvertently hasten the flowering process by over watering and fertilizing their agave.


 Not all agave flower at the same time.  Some start in the spring while others begin in the fall.


 Contrary to popular opinion, removing the flowering stalk, will not keep your agave alive.  
In fact, you are interfering with the agave’s crowning glory – their life’s work by removing their flower.
It is fascinating to see how the stalk begins to rapidly grow and then transforms as you can see from the following photos of an Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana).
The stalk begins to appear.
It is so interesting to view up close.
The flowering stalk has reached its full height.
Small Octopus Agave that are just waiting to fall and root.  Or you can pull them off and plant them yourself.
The entire flowering process can take months and in many cases, the flowering stalk is quite beautiful and is highly prized.
You can even keep it after it has dried out.  Believe it or not, people pay money for dried agave stalks.
In my own landscape, I have 4 different types of agave and I am always thrilled when I see the flower stalk appear and can witness the strange and beautiful flowering process.
The flower of Agave desmettiana
So, how about you?  Have you witnessed an agave flowering?
Agave macroacantha with ‘Firesticks’
 Succulents are some of my favorite types of plants. I especially like the smaller agave species such as Agave parryi, Agave victoria-reginae, and Agave bovicornuta to name a few.

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.

‘Baby Rita’

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.