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Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

Most of us are familiar with the idea of using ground covers in the landscape and how they can add a welcome carpet of color.  

Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)

But, you may be surprised to find that they serve another purpose that is especially appreciated in hot climates.  Ground covers help to reduce the heat from the sun.  They do this by preventing the sun from heating up the ground that they cover.  When the ground heats up, it absorbs heat only to re-radiate it outward.  So, using ground covers is just one way to help cool down the landscape by a degree or two. 

I recently shared my favorite 10 native Southwestern ground covers in my latest article for Houzz.
What is your favorite ground cover? 
Earlier this week, I mentioned I was being interviewed about drought tolerant gardening for several radio stations throughout the country.  

This morning, I am doing a live interview for the public radio station, KERA in Dallas, Texas.  I will be taking viewer questions throughout the program.  
*You can listen to it here, if you like. 

I must admit to being a little nervous, but am mostly excited to talk about a subject that I am passionate about and have a lot of experience with having lived in California and now Arizona.


 In my last post I talked to you about 10 steps toward a drought tolerant garden.

As I promised, it is time to decide what to plant in your water wise garden.

Today, let’s talk about one of my favorite group of plants – perennials. 

The perennials I am sharing with you can grow in a variety of climates throughout the United States and I will note their USDA planting zones.

*For best results, the following guidelines should be followed when planting these or any drought tolerant plants:

– Plant in well-drained soil.
-Amend the existing soil with compost at a ration of 1:1.
– The planting hole should be 3X as wide as the root ball to allow the roots to grow outward more easily and the plant to establish more quickly.

White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

White gaura has a central place in my drought tolerant landscape.  I have three growing underneath my front window where I can enjoy their delicate, butterfly-shaped flowers that appear in spring and fall where I live in the low desert.

In cooler locations, it blooms spring through summer. This white-flowering native grows approximately 2 ft. tall and wide.

Hardy to zone 7 – 10, plant gaura in well-drained soil.

Penstemon species
The arrival of spring is heralded by the flowering spikes of penstemon.  There are many different species of native penstemon and all have a place in a drought tolerant garden. 

Hummingbirds will flock to your garden to enjoy the nectar from its blooms.  The base rosette of penstemons are approximately 1 foot high and 1 – 2 feet wide when not in flower.

The species you choose depends on your region and their cold hardiness ranges from zone 4 – 10.  Plant in full sun to filtered shade in well drained soil.

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

If you like white daisies, than this is a drought tolerant perennial that deserves a place in your garden.

Blackfoot daisies are a native, mounding plant that grow 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide.  Don’t let their straggly appearance fool you when you see them at the nursery – once they are planted and have a chance to grow roots, they will fill in and look great.

I like to plant blackfoot daisies next to boulders where their soft texture provides beautiful contrast.

Plant in full sun, well-drained soil.  Hardy to zone 5 – 10.

Angelita Daisy / Perky Sue (Tetraneuris acaulis – formerly Hymenoxys)

Here is one of my all time favorite perennials.  I use it often in my designs and landscapes that I have managed in the past.

Angelita daisies are native to the United States, which add a welcome spot of color to the garden.  Don’t let their delicate appearance fool you – they are very tough.

Plant them in groups of 3 or 5 for best effect in areas with full, (even reflected) sun to filtered shade.  Gardeners in zones 5 – 10, can grow this pretty little perennial that reaches 1 foot high and tall.

In zone 8 gardens, it is evergreen and will flower throughout the year.  For those who live in zones 5 – 7, it can die back to the ground, but will quickly grow back in spring and provide yellow blooms throughout the summer into early fall.

In zones 4 and below, angelita daisy is often grown as an annual.

Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)

The flowers of tufted evening primrose open at night where their white blooms illuminate the garden.  As flowers fade, they turn pink.

Plant this native alongside boulders or at the base of spiky plants such as sotol (desert spoon) where you can show off the contrast in textures.

Plant in full sun to filtered shade in well-drained soil for best results.  Hardy to zones 8 – 10.

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

It’s hard to find a native plant that can compete with the golden yellow blooms of damianita.  

This shrubby perennial grows 1 foot high and 2 feet wide.  Masses of yellow flowers appear in spring and fall covering the bright green needle-like foliage.

Hardy to zones 7 – 10, damianita needs full sun and well-drained soil.  Prune back to 6 inches in spring after flowering has finished to keep it compact and reduce woody growth.

Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

While not a native, trailing lantana is a plant that is well adapted to arid climates and is a popular choice for drought tolerant gardens.  It also is a butterfly magnet.
*Lantana can be invasive in warm, humid climates but in arid regions, this is not a problem.

Trailing lantana grows up to 1 foot high and 3 feet wide.  Plant in full sun or filtered shade.  

Although lantana is not cold hardy (it grows in zones 8 – 10), it is often grown as an annual in colder climates.  Flowers appear quickly after the danger of frost has passed that last until the first frost in fall / winter.  Shear back to 6 inches in spring once the freezing temperatures have ended.

Any of these beautiful perennials will add beauty to your drought tolerant garden.  

Yellow is a great color to include in the garden.  


Why?


Yellow-flowering plants will help the other colors in your garden to ‘pop’ visually because it provides great color contrast.


Damainita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

One of my favorite yellow-flowering plants is damianita, which blooms in spring and again in fall.



It thrives in hot, sunny, desert gardens, is drought-tolerant and is almost maintenance-free.

I love how it looks like ‘yellow clouds’ sitting on the ground when in bloom.  

For more information on damianita as well as a few other desert perennials that I like to use in desert landscapes, click here.

Do you like spending hours pruning and fertilizing your plants?  Or maybe you are tired of having to spend money on monthly visits from your landscaper.



I have been asked to show some ‘fuss free’ plants for fall planting on Sonoran Living, which is a local lifestyle show on our local Phoenix ABC network. The show will air on September 10th at 9:00. (I must admit that I am a little nervous.  I am off to my favorite nurseries to select some plants for the taping this Sunday, after church).

So, enough about my nerves….

What if you could have a landscape full of beautiful plants that only need pruning once a year and little to no fertilizer? 

Now you may be thinking that I am talking about a landscape full of cactus, like the photo below – but I’m not.  

The key to selecting ‘fuss free’ plants is to choose plants that are adapted to our arid climate.

Here are a few of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants that need pruning once a year or less…

Firecracker Penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) is great addition to any desert landscape.  It’s orange/red flowers appear in late winter and last through the spring.  Hummingbirds find them irresistible.  

Maintenance: Prune off the dead flower spikes in spring.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun.

Damianita

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) is a low-growing groundcover that is covered with tiny green leaves.  Masses of golden yellow flowers appear in spring and again in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6″ in late February.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun.  Damianita looks great next to boulders or lining a pathway.

Gulf Muhly ‘Regal Mist’

Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) is a fabulous choice for the landscape.  This ornamental grass is green in spring and then covered in burgundy plumes in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6 inches in late winter.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 to 5.  Gulf Muhly also looks great when planted next to large boulders or around trees.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is the perfect plant for areas with filtered shade.  Tubular orange flowers appear off an on throughout the year that attract hummingbirds.

Maintenance: Little to no pruning required.  Prune if needed, in late winter.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in filtered shade such as that provided by Palo Verde or Mesquite trees.  Add Purple Trailing Lantana in the front for a beautiful color contrast.

Baja Fairy Duster

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) has truly unique flowers that are shaped like small feather dusters.  The red flowers appear spring through fall and occasionally in winter.

Maintenance: Prune back by 1/2 in late winter, removing any frost damage.  Avoid pruning into ’round’ shapes.  Baja Fairy Duster has a lovely vase-shape when allowed to grow into its natural shape.

Hardy to 20 degrees.

Plant in full sun against a wall.  Baja Fairy Duster can handle locations with hot, reflected heat.

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis formerly, Hymenoxys acaulis) is a little powerhouse in the garden.  Bright yellow flowers appear throughout the entire year.

Maintenance: Clip off the spent flowers every 3 months.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 around boulders.  Pair with Firecracker Penstemon for color contrast.  Thrives along walkways in narrow areas that receive full, reflected sun.
These are just a few ‘fuss free’ plants that you can add to your landscape this fall, which is the best time of year to add plants in the Desert Southwest.

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So, I will be heading to the television studio early Tuesday morning with my sister, who will help me set up and take photos of the whole experience.  I promise to share the video link for those of you who would like to watch it 🙂

**For more of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants, check out my latest post.

This past week, I have been sharing with you my latest landscape project that is located next to a golf course.


I shared with you the tree and shrubs that I had chosen and not it’s time to show you what perennials and succulents that will be going in.


*All the following perennials are drought tolerant and require full sun with well-drained soil.



Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) is a fabulous flowering ground cover.  

It thrives in locations with hot, reflected heat and handles cold temperatures (down to 0 degrees F) just as well.  

In spring and again in fall, masses of bright yellow flowers cover this low-growing perennial.  When not in bloom, it has dark green needle-like foliage.



Newly planted landscape with Purple Trailing Lantana, Parry’s Penstemon, Desert Spoon, Palo Blanco trees and Damianita.
I have used Damianita in other landscapes that I have designed in the past (shown above), with great results.  

*The trick to keeping Damianita looking great is to shear it back in late spring.


Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) is my favorite flowering perennial.  The one pictured above, is in my own garden.

I am often asked about this brilliantly colored plant in spring when it is in bloom.

One of the reasons that I love this Penstemon is that is begins flowering in winter, in zone 9b and continues on into spring.  In cooler zones, it begins flowering in spring and lasts into summer.  It handles cold temperatures easily and is hardy to zone 5.

Hummingbirds find the flowers irresistible.  To prolong bloom, prune off the flowering stalks once the flowers begin to fade and you will be rewarded with another flush of bloom.

Angelita Daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis formerly, Hymenoxys acaulis) are what you could call one of my ‘signature’ plants, because I use them often, like the landscape I designed, above.

I find them invaluable in the landscape because they flower off and on throughout the year, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

They easily handle full sun and reflected heat and look great in pots.  I like to plant them next to boulders in groups of 3 or 5 for best effect.   Cold temperatures are no problem either because they are hardy to zone 5.

Maintenance is easy – simply shear the flowers every 8 weeks or so. 

Now, so far I have shown you the trees, shrubs and perennials planned for this area.  But, I want to add succulent plants, which are also used as accent plants.  These types of plants add texture to the landscape because their unique shapes contrast well with the softer, more rounded shapes of the shrubs and perennials.


Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) is a large agave that can grow 5 to 6 ft. high and up to 8 ft. wide.

In large landscape areas, I don’t want to use small succulents because it will be hard to see them unless you mass a lot of them together.  My budget won’t allow for that with this project.

I love how this large agave can stand up on its own.  I like to plant flowering ground covers underneath them.

Plant in full sun or light shade.  Weber’s Agave is hardy to zone 7.  *Agave need supplemental water in our climate to look their best.  I recommend watering twice a month in summer and once a month in spring and fall.  


You can’t get much more unique in shape and coloring then Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita).  

I love the gray pads with shades of purple.  
The purple color deepens in cold temperatures or in times of drought.


In spring, yellow flowers cover this beautiful cactus.  

Hardy to zone 8, plant in full sun and well-drained soil.

**If you notice white cottony masses on your prickly pear, simply spray it off with a hose.  They are caused by an insect.

Okay, are you ready for my last plant selection for this new project?


It is hard to find a succulent that works harder then Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora).  Despite their common name, they aren’t a yucca.

The lower, succulent leaves resemble ornamental grasses.  In spring coral-colored flowers are borne above the grass-like foliage.


Hardy to zone 7, Red Yucca thrives in full sun.  While drought-tolerant, they do best with supplemental water.  

Maintenance is easy – just remove the flowering stalks as they begin to fade.  

*There is a common mistake that landscapers often make with this succulent plant.  To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, check out my previous post, “Do This NOT That”.

The last element for my newest project isn’t a plant at all, but it adds height and texture to the landscape without requiring any water or pruning…


Boulders!

I will use boulders interspersed throughout this flat area to add height.  The boulders will have either a succulent and/or flowering perennials planted next to them.

Well, I must say that I am excited to get started on this project.  We will wait until this fall for the planting.

I’ll be sure to take you all along as it progresses.

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7 days until my daughter, Rachele, comes home from the Navy!!!







Last time we ‘talked’, I was showing you a Butterfly / Hummingbird Garden that I was asked to work on.


“Creating a Butterfly / Hummingbird Garden”


As I promised, here is the photo of the finished project…


 Although the new plants are somewhat small and scraggly-looking, they will soon grow and produce many flowers.



We created a pathway throughout the garden and groups of plants will visually guide visitors along the curved path.

The pathway was made of 1/4″ stabilized decomposed granite, which is essentially decomposed granite that has been mixed with a stabilizer.  This creates a natural pathway that has a hard surface.

As I promised last time, here is a list of butterfly / hummingbird reflecting plants that we included:

Autumn Sage  (Salvia greggii)
Butterfly & Hummingbird

  Baja Ruellia  (Ruellia peninsularis)
Hummingbird

Black Dalea  (Dalea frutescens)

Butterfly / Hummingbird

Damianita  (Chrysactinia mexicana) 
 

Firecracker Penstemon  (Penstemon eatonii)
Butterfly / Hummingbird

Globe Mallow  (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Butterflies 

Lantana (all species)
Butterfly / Hummingbird

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
Butterfly / Hummingbird


Red Fairy Duster  (Calliandra californica)
Butterflies / Hummingbirds 

These are but a few of the plants that will attract butterflies and/or hummingbirds.  So how about including some in your garden? 
 

Some daughter-in-law’s don’t have much in common with their father-in-law. 

In my case, when I married my husband 25 years ago, I wasn’t sure if I would have any shared interests with my father-in-law…..he was a dentist (I was deathly afraid of dentists), he ran 3 miles a day (I got a ‘stitch’ in my side if I tried running to the corner), he was very orderly and meticulous (I am neither of those things) and he was soft spoken (while I can be a bit loud).

I knew he loved me and I him, but sometimes conversation would lag because besides the kids and family, there wasn’t much else to talk about.

That is until I started to become interested in plants and landscaping.  You see, my father-in-law always had well-designed landscapes filled with beautiful plants.  As I decided to pursue a degree in Urban Horticulture, he was very supportive.

Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingi)      
Even better, we now had lots to talk about.  Our visits would often include visits into each others garden.
I would show him my newest plant acquisition and he would in turn, ask me questions about a few of his plant problems.
Red Yucca  (Hesperaloe parviflora)
 
A few years later, he and my mother-in-law made the trip up to my newest job location, took me out to lunch and asked me to show them around the landscape areas I was in charge of.

Blackfoot Daisy  (Melampodium leucanthum)

 When he retired, he asked me to design the landscape for their new home.  He had some ideas of what he wanted and then let me go at it.
Damianita  (Chrysactinia mexicana)
 I enjoyed working closely with him, in coming up with a design and the plants that he liked.

Purple Prickly Pear  (Opuntia violaceae)

While I enjoyed visiting and seeing his landscape mature, I didn’t always agree with the way he like to prune his shrubs…


 His style gardening was orderly and meticulous, like he was.
We would sometimes tease each other because our styles were vastly different.

‘Torch Glow’ Bougainvillea

But no matter our landscaping styles, we still enjoyed going out into the garden together. 

Last October, my father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  

Phoenix Bird-of-Paradise  (Caesalpinia pulcherrima ‘Phoenix’)

In a very short time, he was robbed of the ability to speak, swallow, eat and the use of his hands.
Now, unable to work in his garden himself, he had to rely on others.
I considered it a privilege to help him where I could.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’)

He endured this horrible disease with dignity, a sense of humor and through his faith.

Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)

This past Saturday, after 2 weeks in hospice care, he passed away.

We were all blessed to be by his side as he took his last, labored breath.

One of the last things he wrote was,

“My race is almost over.”


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 I think it will be awhile before I can step into his garden without shedding tears.  
I will miss sharing our love for plants together…..

One of the many blessings of living in the desert is that you can garden all year.  That means that you can have beautiful color all year, even in the winter (above).

Drive down the street during the summer, and you will see flowering plants in the common areas and gracing the front yards of everywhere you look.  Texas Sage, Bougainvillea, Lantana, and Tecoma species dot the landscape.

 

Why then do people not include plants that will provide color in the winter?  You can take the same drive as you did in the summer and see nothing but green blobs and nothing else (below).  The landscape below is an unfortunate victim of ‘poodle’ pruning.  We are so fortunate to live in an area with relatively mild winters, so why not take advantage of that fact in your garden?

 

I mean, who thinks that this looks nice?  Countless times, when I am meeting with clients, they ask, “My landscape is so boring.  What can I do to make it look better?”  The majority of the time, I hear this from winter residents.  Their landscape is a riot of color in the summer when they are gone.  But, in the winter when they are there, they have green blobs and little else.

The landscape (above) has potential.  The solution to a somewhat boring landscape is easy.  Add winter-flowering plants to the landscape.

 
When I create a landscape design for a brand new landscape, I make sure to include a variety of plants that flower at a different time of the year.  This ensures year-round color.  If you have an established landscape, add a few winter-flowering plants.  That is all it takes.
 
For beautiful winter color,  I recommend trying the following:
 
Valentine (Eremophila ‘Valentine)
Valentine flowers beginning in December, around Christmas 
 
 
Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)
Flowers in February, absolutely stunning flowers 
Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
Formerly Hymenoxys acaulis 
Flowers all year 
 
Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
 
Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
Desert Senna (Senna artemisiodes ssp. sturtii)
Formerly (Cassia sturtii)
  
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
Flowers all year
Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
 
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
Mine is beginning to bloom now
 
Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

 As you can tell, there are countless plants that you can use for winter color.  If you are only a winter-resident, then you may choose only to have plants that flower in winter.  As for me, I love lots of color year-round.  My favorites are Purple Lilac Vine, Firecracker Penstemon, Valentine, and Angelita Daisy.

 
Whether you live in the Tropics or Canada, this same principle is true for any climate you live in – make sure your garden provides color for you when you are there.