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What do your plants look like in the middle of summer?  Do they thrive despite the hot temperatures?  


Or do they look more like this?

 
Throw in a heatwave, and your lovely, attractive plants may be suddenly struggling to survive.
 
Whether you live in the desert Southwest or more temperate climates, this can happen to you if your garden is not prepared for the heat of summer.
 
So, how do you know if your plants are handling the summer heat?  
 
Take a walk through your garden during the hottest part of the day and look for signs of wilting leaves as well as yellow or browning leaves.  All of these can indicate heat stress.
 
The good news is that you can heatproof your landscape and enjoy a garden filled with attractive plants that thrive despite the hot temperatures that summer dishes out.
 
Here are 5 tips to help you heatproof your garden:
 

#1. Use native or plants adapted to your climate.

 
 
This is perhaps the most important tip for having an attractive, low-maintenance landscape filled with beauty that thrives throughout the entire year.
 
Native (or adapted) plants have unique characteristics that help them to handle the local climate, including the heat of summer AND the cold of winter.
 
All too often, we find ourselves with landscapes filled with plants (often with large leaves) that struggle to survive the hot, summer months.  This results in unattractive plants that we work hard to help sustain them until cooler temperatures arrive.  Usually, these plants are best meant to grow in climates with less extreme heat.
 
Langman’s Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae)
 
Let’s look at an example of an adaptation that this Langman’s sage has that enables it to handle full sun and 110+ temperatures without undue stress.
 
Notice that the flowers have small hairs.  So do the leaves, giving them a slightly grayish cast.  These tiny hairs help to reflect the sun’s rays, which lowers the temperature of the leaves and flowers.
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and Shrubby Germander ‘Azurea’ (Teucrium fruticans ‘Azurea’)
 
Another way that plants have to handle the heat is by having small leaves, which limits the amount of water lost, which helps them to deal with hot, dry temperatures.
 
Here in the desert Southwest, there are many native plants that are used as well as plants from Australia and other arid regions, which have similar climates.
 
To find out what types of plants are best adapted to your area, check your local cooperative extension office for a list of plants.  A visit to your local botanical garden can also be helpful.
 

#2. Provide shade

 
 
Adding shade to the garden can provide relief from the hot sun as well as cooling air temperatures.  The shade benefits plants and can provide cooling to the house as well.
 
*It is important to note that it can be hard to grow many plants in dense shade – especially flowering ones.  However, using trees that provide filtered shade provide just enough shade while allowing enough sun through for plants.
 

#3 Water deeply and infrequently

 
 
Plants need water to survive, and not surprisingly, they need the most in the summer.  However, we often water them too often and shallowly for it to do much good.
 
Shallow watering keeps roots close to the surface of the soil, where the soil temperatures are hot, and the water dries up quickly.
 
Deep watering is the proper method for irrigating plants because encourages deep root growth where the soil is cooler and stays moister for longer.  As a result, you do not need to water as often.
 
“Plants that are watered deeply and infrequently are better able to withstand the heat.”
 
Shrubs should be watered to a depth of 2 feet and perennials and groundcovers to 18 inches.  You can determine how deeply you are watering by inserting a piece of rebar down into the soil (right after you have finished watering) to see how long you need to irrigate.  On average, 2 hours is the length of time to irrigate to the desired depth.  
 
Almost as important as watering deeply is the time of day that you water. The best time to water is early in the morning.  Watering plants in the afternoon is not as useful since plants allocate their resources at that time toward surviving the stresses of the heat and so they do not take up water as efficiently.  
 
Click here for watering guidelines for the Phoenix metro area.
 

#4 Mulch around your plants

 
 
Not surprisingly, mulch has a variety of benefits and not just in regards to heat proofing your garden.
 
Mulch serves to help cool soil temperatures in summer while helping to conserve moisture – all important in helping plants thrive despite hot temperatures.
 
A bonus is that they also help to prevent weeds from taking root.
 
 
Let’s take a minute to rethink our definition of what makes an excellent mulch.  
 
While shredded bark and wood chips may come to mind, did you know that fallen leaves, pine needles and even fallen flowers can also serve as a mulch?  That is how nature does it.
 
So, the next time you are tempted to whip out your leaf blower, how about directing it toward the base of your plants where the leaves and flowers can serve as a mulch?  They will also help to improve the soil around your plants as they decay.
 

#5 Ditch flowers in favor of succulents in containers

 
While growing pretty flowers in containers are relatively simple in fall, winter and spring-summer can be another matter entirely.  Often, it can be hard to grow flowering annuals in pots throughout the hot summer.
 
The reasons for this is that the soil around the roots of container plants is hotter than if grown in the ground.  This is especially true for the outer 6 inches of soil which heats up in response to air temperatures and the hot container.  As a result, annuals can wilt and struggle to produce flowers in summer.
 
Succulents are a great way to enjoy attractive container plantings throughout the year, not just in summer.  Their ability to store water is what makes them an excellent choice for containers.
 
 
If you want to grow something else besides succulents, how about trying heat-tolerant shrubs? Bougainvillea does great in pots as does lantana.
 
 
Another tip for containers is to leave them empty in the summer months and wait until fall to plant them.  
 
When thinking in terms of growing plants in containers in hot climates, bigger is better – at least 2 feet wide at the top.  The larger the pot, the more soil and therefore, more insulation for the roots from the hot outer zone.
 
 
**So what can you do if you do have plants that are struggling in the heat – particularly during a heatwave?  Other than replacing them, you can provide them with temporary shade such as a patio chair strategically placed so that it protects it against the afternoon sun.  A light spraying of water over the plant and surrounding area in the evening can help reduce the temperature – don’t do this when the sun is out, or you may burn the foliage.

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Do you love the beauty of bougainvillea? Many of us will agree that bougainvillea is beautiful, but many homeowners hesitate to grow them for a variety of reasons. The most common that I hear is that they get too big and as a result, too messy.
 
While both statements are certainly true, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the beauty of bougainvillea while minimizing its size and messiness?
 
 
Growing bougainvillea in pots limits their overall size, and with smaller shrubs, there is less mess. It also makes it easier to protect them from frost damage in winter by moving the container to a sheltered location, such as underneath a patio or covering them with a sheet.
 
 
Bougainvillea make excellent container plants. In fact, many gardeners who live in cold climates, only grow them in pots so that they can bring them indoors when frigid winter temperatures arrive. Earlier this year, I met a gardener in Austin, Texas who treats bougainvillea like an annual plant, planting a new one every year to replace the old one lost to winter cold.
 
 
Growing bougainvillea in pots is easy to do. Select a location in full sun where it will promote the most bloom. Bougainvillea is one of the few flowering plants that can handle the intense heat and reflected sun in west-facing exposures. 
 
 
Provide support for them to grow upward if desired. You can also grow bougainvillea as more of a compact shrub form if you wish, and eliminate the support.
Water deeply and allow the top 2 inches to dry out before watering again. Bougainvillea does best when the soil is allowed to dry out between watering.
 
 
Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring, after the danger of frost is passed and reapply every three months, with the last application occurring in early September.
 
Growing bougainvillea in pots keeps them small enough to make it feasible to cover them when freezing temperatures occur.  
 
So, would you consider growing bougainvillea in pots?  I’d love to hear whether or not you would and the reasons why.
 

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Do you love hummingbirds?  Maybe a better question would be, who doesn’t?

Hummingbird feeding from an ocotillo flower.
Attracting hummingbirds to your garden isn’t hard to do by simply adding flowering plants, rich in nectar that they are attracted to.
 
Female Anna’s hummingbird at my feeder.
 
But, what if your garden space is small or non-existent?  Is a hanging a hummingbird feeder your only option?
 
 
Well, I’m here to tell you that space needn’t keep you from having your own hummingbird garden – all you have to do is to downsize it creating one in a container.
 
If you have a small patio, stoop or even a balcony, you can create your own mini-hummingbird garden in a container.
 
 
For those of you who have think you have no space at all, look up!  
 
 
Hanging containers or window boxes are a great option for those short on garden space.
 
Whether you have small garden space or simply want to increase the amount of hummingbirds visiting your existing garden – creating a mini-hummingbird garden in a container is a great way to do it.
 
Let’s get started.
 
Here are the elements of a hummingbird container garden:
 
LOCATION:
 
 
– Select a location that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day.  
 
Group containers together for greater color impact, which increases the chances of hummingbird visits.
 

– Place containers in areas where you can view the visiting hummingbirds such as an entry, near a window or a back patio.

– Make sure that the containers are visible and allow easy access for hummingbirds to fly in and out.

 
CONTAINERS:
 
 
– The type of container isn’t important – but drainage is.  Make sure pots have holes for drainage.
 

– Select colorful pots for a welcome splash of color (optional).

– Larger pots will stay moister longer, therefore needing to be water less frequently.

 
SOIL:
 
 
– Use a planting mix (not potting soil), which is specially formulated for container plants since it holds onto just the right amount of moisture without becoming soggy like potting soil can.
 
 
– For large containers, save money on expensive planting mix (soil) by filling the bottom third of the container with recycled plastic water bottles and/or milk jugs.
 
WHAT PLANT WHERE?
 
 
While hummingbirds don’t care how you arrange plants in your mini-hummingbird garden – you can certainly arrange plants.
– Place the tallest plant in the center, surrounded with medium-sized filler plants interspersed with trailing ground covers. 
 
 
This planter has the tallest plant (Salvia) located in the center with mid-sized purple coneflower  next to it with ‘Wave’ petunias spilling over the outside.
 

COLOR:

A hummingbird’s favorite color is red, although they will visit flowers of all colors as long as they are rich in nectar.

However, let’s explore color in regards to creating a beautiful container and figuring out what color combos look best.



To this, we will need to visit our friend, the color wheel.

– To achieve a soft blending of colors, select plants with flower colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.

– For a striking contrast, pair flowers with colors that occur on opposite ends of the color wheel.

HUMMINGBIRD ATTRACTING PLANTS:

Salvia coccinea

– Hummingbirds are drawn to flowers that have a tubular shape.

Hummingbird feeding from the yellow flower of aloe vera.

– The color red is their favorite, but as stated earlier, they will visit flowers of all colors.

Young hummingbird feeding from a lantana flower.

– They tend to prefer flowers with little to no fragrance since their sense of smell is poor.

– Plants belonging to the Salvia genus are all very popular with hummingbirds and are a safe choice when creating a hummingbird container garden. 

Soap aloe flowers.

– Flowering succulents are also often visited by hummingbirds as well.

Rufous hummingbird feeding from the flower of a red hot poker plant.

– There are helpful online resources with lists of plants that attract hummingbirds.  Here are two helpful ones:

The Hummingbird Society’s Favorite Hummingbird Flowers

Top 10 Hummingbird Flowers and Plants from Birds & Blooms Magazine

– Other helpful resources are your local botanical garden, master gardener or nursery professional.

Another bonus to planting hummingbird attracting plants is that many of the same flowers attract butterflies too.

CARE:

The key to maintaining healthy container plants lies in proper watering and fertilizing.

Let’s look at watering first:

– Water containers when the top 2 inches of soil are barely moist.  You can stick your finger into the soil to determine how dry the soil is.  

– Water until the water flows out the bottom of the container.

– The frequency of watering will vary seasonally.

Fertilizing is important for container plants – even plants that don’t normally require fertilizer when planted in the ground will need it if in a container.

– Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer, which lasts 3 months.

– Supplement, if desired, with a liquid fertilizer monthly.

– For succulents, use a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 strength every other month spring through early fall.

UNIQUE TWISTS FOR CREATING HUMMINGBIRD CONTAINERS:

Don’t be afraid to look outside the box when it comes to what can be used as a container.

An old wheelbarrow makes a great container after a making a few holes in the bottom for drainage. *While marigolds don’t attract hummingbirds, there are a few dianthus in this planter that do.
Hummingbirds love water!

Add a water feature in a container that will surely attract nearby hummingbirds.

Add places for hummingbirds to perch nearby or within the container itself.  

This little black-chinned hummingbird was perfectly at home perching on a lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) stem that was growing in a container.

You can always add a small, dead tree branch within the container itself for a convenient perching spot.

As you can see, the amount (or lack of) garden space doesn’t need to limit your ability to attract hummingbirds using beautiful, flowering plants.

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I spoke about small space gardening at the Hummingbird Festival 2015, and it was an unforgettable experience, filled with educational talks, beautiful gardens and observing hummingbirds up close – I even got to hold one!  To read more about my adventures with hummingbirds, click here.

I hope that you are inspired to create your own mini-hummingbird habitat in a container.

**Do you have a favorite plant that attracts lots of hummingbirds?  Please share them in the comments section.

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*Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the book, “Beautiful, Desert Pots” in return for my honest review.

In the desert, we are fortunate to be able to grow plants in containers throughout the entire year.

 

 

Of course, living in the desert does bring along its special challenges when it comes to gardening and growing plants in pots is no exception.
 
 
However, with the right pot, location, planting mix and plants – it is possible to grow a perfectly lovely container filled with thriving plants.
 
 
I like to think of potted plants as a way to decorate your outdoor space with both color and texture.  They also offer the flexibility to change out plants easily for a different look as well as the ability to move the pots around to new locations.
 
 
A pot filled with plants is nothing short of a miniature garden in a confined space.
I hope that these photos of lovely potted gardens help to inspire you to get out there and create your own.
 
 
To help get you started, I highly recommend the book, “Getting Potted in the Desert”, written by Marylee Pangman, Tucson resident who has over 20 years of experience growing potted plants in the desert.  She is a certified Master Gardener and ran her own company, “The Contained Gardener”, where she designed and maintained container gardens for clients for years.
 
**Now it’s time to announce the winner of our giveaway for a free copy of “Getting Potted in the Desert”**
 
Susan aka ‘Gardening Granny’, you are the winner of this fabulous book!
 
Congratulations!
 
Thank all of you who entered and let us know what you like to grow in containers.
 
If you didn’t win, you can still order a copy of this book for yourself or a friend who loves to garden.
Click here to be directed to the ordering page.

Imagine a garden with containers filled with a variety of colorful flowers, herbs, ornamental grasses, succulents and even vegetables.



Wouldn’t you love to have pots that look like this, overflowing with beautiful plants?

But, what if you live in the desert?  Can you grow plants in pots that aren’t just beautiful but that can thrive in our hot, dry climate?  

Believe it or not, you can.  Whether your container garden is limited to one pot or several – you can grow plants in pots in the desert garden.


Now before you say, “I’ve got a black thumb…everything I plant in pots die”, I have a great resource for you.  

“Getting Potted In The Desert” is a wonderful resource that shows you step-by-step instructions on how to create beautiful potted gardens that will thrive in our desert climate.


While you can find other books that offer helpful advice on how to create potted gardens, “Getting Potted In The Desert” speaks specifically to those of us who live and garden in the desert Southwest where our hot, dry summers bring about special challenges.

Beyond the helpful advice on selecting containers and the right location, the book also talks about plant choices including flowering annuals, perennials, grasses, herbs, succulents and vegetables.


Clear and easy to understand guidelines are given on how to water, fertilize and how to adjust to changing weather conditions including freezing temperatures.  

What’s even better, the guidelines are broken up into monthly guides, making growing plants in pots, easy.

Lists of plants that do well in the desert container garden are also given along with lovely photographs of pots filled with plants, which will inspire you.

Herb Container Garden

The author, Marylee Pangman, has over 20 years of experience growing potted plants in the desert.  In fact, she is a certified Master Gardener and had her own company, “The Contained Gardener”, where she designed and maintained container gardens for clients.

In addition, she has taught numerous classes on growing potted gardens that can withstand hot summers and desert winters.

Flower and Vegetable Container Garden

As a horticulturist who has planted and maintained container gardens over the years, I can tell you that Marylee’s book is a godsend for those who love container gardening and need practical guidance.  

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So, now for the giveaway…

Marylee has graciously offered to send a free copy of “Getting Potted in the Desert” to the winner of this giveaway.

1. To enter, simply leave me a comment about what plant you would like to grow in pots or what you like about container gardening.  
(Be sure to leave your email address if it’s not on your profile, or I won’t have any way to contact you.)

2. For a bonus entry, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter – (be sure to let me know in your comment).

Let your friends know about this great giveaway and I will pick a random winner on October 5th.

You can also order your own copy of “Getting Potted In The Desert” and find out more about Marylee at  www.potteddesert.com


*I was provided with a free copy of this book for my honest review.

I am always on the lookout for new ways to display annual flowers.  I’ll do anything from transforming old, antiques into planters to using brightly-colored containers.


On a recent visit to the Green Bay Botanical Gardens in Wisconsin, I saw this creative use of an old, decaying tree trunk…


What a great example of a sustainable flower ‘pot’.  

The depression within the tree trunk held just enough potting soil for the flowers to grow in.  

Seeing this made me wonder what other items that we find in nature that we can use as planters.

Any ideas?