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desert-landscape

“How much water do my plants need?”

I am often asked this question by desert dwellers and my answer is always, “That depends.”

desert-landscape

There are several variables that determine how much water plants need, along with the frequency of watering.

Variables include:

  • Type of soil (clay, sand, combination)
  • What kind of plant (native plants, higher water use flowering shrubs and ground covers, succulents, etc.)
  • Recommended depth of water
  • Desert region (low-desert, mid-altitude, high desert)
  • Efficiency of irrigation system
  • Water pressure (can vary between neighborhoods)
As you can see, there is no universal watering guideline in regards to how long to water or how often.

Let’s look into the variables a little more closely to help you determine what yours are:

 

SoilClay soils hold onto water longer than sandy soil. They take longer for water to permeate to the recommended depth. The result? Clay soils need irrigation less often than sandy ones but need to be watered for a longer length of time. Phoenix area soil tends to have more clay in them while those in the Palm Springs area are sandy.

Plants – Native or desert-adapted plants need less frequent irrigation versus those that come from tropical climates. Cacti and other succulents do well with infrequent irrigation.

Water Depth – Trees need to be watered deeply while ground covers and succulents do fine at a more shallow depth – shrubs fall in between the two.

Desert Region – Where you live in the desert matters when it comes to water and your plants. The differences include rainfall amounts, when the rain falls, high and low temps, and more. Residents of low-desert cities like Palm Springs and Phoenix need to add water to their plants more often than those who live in higher elevation regions such as Tucson.

Irrigation System – The older your irrigation system, the less efficient it is. This is due to mineral build-up within the system, which affects the amount of water that comes out. Also, old drip irrigation systems tend to accumulate leaks. The average lifespan for a drip irrigation system is 10-15 years. 

Despite these differences, what is a shared characteristic is that the vast majority of desert residents water too often and not deeply enough. This is usually due to lack of knowledge and thinking the ‘more is better,’ especially in the desert.
Landscapers are generally not a reliable source when it comes to scheduling irrigation – most recommend irrigating far too often.
 
So what is a desert dweller to do?
Thankfully, there is very useful information available for homeowners to help them figure out when and how much water their landscape needs.
 
Major metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest have excellent watering guidelines available for residents. The guidelines include the regional variables we have discussed so far.
Here are helpful links based on major desert cities (click the link for the city closest to you):
Watering guidelines are just that – guidelines. Circumstances may mean that you need to water more or less often, but these guides are a useful baseline to work from.
*One final note – before you implement a new irrigation schedule, it’s important to gradually wean your plants to the new one over several weeks. The reason for this is that it allows plants to become accustomed to the new schedule.

Yes, it does take a little work to figure out how much and often to water your plants, but these guides are incredibly helpful and will guide you along the way.

Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Yesterday, I had a rather unexpected encounter with a javelina while taking pictures of a landscape. I think he was as surprised as I was to see him and he retreated back to his arroyo after a couple of minutes. That meeting inspired me to write this post and how they affect the desert garden – primarily what types of plants they like to eat.  

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

To state that I was surprised to come so close to a javelina is an understatement. In the over twenty years that I’ve worked in desert gardens, I seldom see these pig-like mammals as they usually sleep through the day underneath mesquite or other desert trees.

Often referred to as ‘wild pigs’ due to their resemblance to a boar, they aren’t pigs, but are a peccary, which is a medium-sized mammal with hooves. Javelina are found throughout the Southwest, but their range also extends to Central and South America. In urban settings, you’ll find them in more naturalized areas.

They frequently travel in herds, although I only saw these two adults on this day. While it can be enjoyable to view them from afar (don’t get too close as they can be dangerous), dealing with the damage that they cause to gardens isn’t fun.

 

Javelina love to eat the pretty things we plant in our desert landscapes such as flowering annuals, and they don’t stop there. The spines on your prized cactus won’t deter a hungry javelina – they go right in and munch on the base of a prized columnar cactus as well as the pads of prickly pear cactus.

When surveying the damage that they cause to the garden, what makes it worse, is that javelina frequently don’t eat what they dig up.

My relationship with javelina is a long one, which began by working to keep them away from the thirty-six tee boxes that I had to plant with flowering annuals seasonally. Not surprisingly, they were drawn to these colorful islands and would dislodge the plants by rooting them up with their snouts before eating them.

My crew and I had some mixed success with spraying squirrel repellent every few days on the petunias, but it was a lot of work and not foolproof.

Javelina will zero in on popular potted annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, which are like candy to them. While geraniums aren’t their favorite potted flower, they will eat them too if hungry enough.

If you want pretty containers filled with flowers and live in a neighborhood where javelina are present, you’ll need to place the pots in an enclosed area or courtyard where they can’t reach. 

Bacopa

 

Lavender

There are some flowering plants that they usually stay away from and these include Bacopa and Lavender, which can be used in containers.

 

Depending on the time of year, a javelina’s diet changes, based on what is available. In winter, citrus they will grab citrus fruit off of the tree.

In summer, mesquite seedpods are one of their favorite foods.

A Cereus peruvianus cactus that has some bites taken out of its base by javelina.

A fairly common sight is a columnar cactus with some bites taken out of its base, where javelina are present. In most cases, the damage is largely cosmetic and the cactus will be fine. However, to prevent further damage, you can surround the base of the cactus with a wire mesh cage.

While there is no guarantee that javelina won’t eat the plants in your desert garden from time to time, there are some plants that are less palatable to them than others. Here a helpful link for javelina resistant plants, but I must tell you that if a javelina is hungry enough, it will eat the plants on this list – I know this from personal experience. 

The only foolproof way to keep them away from eating your plants is to keep them out with a fence or wall.

Do you have javelina where you live? What type of plants do you notice them eating? Any plants that they seem to leave alone?

 

Do you grow garlic in your garden? If so, you know that it takes a long time to grow with planting in October and harvesting it in May.  During the long growing period, the leafy green tops of the garlic plant are all that is visible while the garlic bulb is growing below ground.

But, did you know that the garlic greens can be used in some of your favorite dishes? Here is how I use them…

It’s always fun to find new ways to enjoy the vegetables in your garden. Have you ever tried garlic greens or other non-traditional parts of vegetables?

For tips on how to grow your own garlic, click here.


After a seemingly endless summer, we have finally made it to the finish line.  This is the season where we experience a ‘second spring’ and venture out into the garden again.

Soil is ready to be amended, citrus fertilized, and some light pruning can be done.

Un-pruned lantana on the left.  Two light pruned lantana are to the right with a pile of clippings.
September is the gateway to a busy time in the garden, but there are a few things that it is still too early to start on yet.

I’ve made a video of what you should do and shouldn’t do this month:


What is your favorite season of the year?

It never ceases to amaze me how that despite how busy your calendar, everything grinds to a halt when you get sick.  Oh, I realize that there are certain types of sickness that you can press on through like a cold or even a small fever.  But, when the stomach flu hits, you are powerless to do anything.


What makes it worse is when everyone in your household gets it as well.  So, we have been spending quality time together nursing our sore stomachs and anxiously awaiting the time until our appetites return.


In the meantime, the garden is undergoing some contruction.


Irrigation trenches are criss-crossing our landscape as we are having new drip irrigation installed.  Our current system was first installed when we built our home 18 years ago and was having problems with numerous leaks.  Considering that the typical lifespan of a drip irrigation system is 10 – 15 years, we were long overdue to have ours replaced.

While it may not seem very exciting, I am looking forward to having separate drip lines for my fruit trees, shrubs/perennials and vegetable garden.

Many plants in my garden are beginning to bloom adn I thought I would give you a peek.


I spread a variety of flowers seeds in my side garden and some have already begun to bloom.


I planted toadflax seeds, which came in a variety of different colors.


I have white, pink and purple varieties adding welcome color to this area of the garden.


The seeds are from Botanical Interests and are called ‘Fairy Bouquet’ toadflax.


Another plant that has started blooming is from Renee’s Garden seed company and is called ‘Vanilla Berry’.

So far, these are the only two types of plants flowering in this garden, but the California poppies are getting ready to burst forth in different colors including white, purple, pink and of course, orange.


Citrus trees are also in full bloom perfuming the air with their intoxicating fragrance.  I am hopeful that my young Meyer’s lemon tree will produce its first lemons.


The peach trees bloomed earlier this year and are now filled with immature peach fruit – I can almost taste the peach jam that I will make from them this May.

Lobelia

The cool-season annuals that I planted in the fall are still going strong.  Even though they look great right now, I will replace them later this month with warm-season annuals in order to allow them time to grow a good root system before the heat of sumemr arrives.


Late winter and spring is also when my autumn sage (Salvia greggii) is also in flower.  I received several different varieties, straight from the grower, to try out in my garden, which were planted last fall.  They are doing great in their current location where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

On another note, we have been anxiously awaiting the re-emergence of our desert tortoise, Aesop.


We last saw him in late October before he went into his hole to hibernate.  Since then, we’ve periodically checked on him and today, we moved slightly.  So, I can’t wait to see him begin to walking out in the garden.

I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

How is your garden looking?  Is anything blooming yet?
January is off to a busy start.  We have gone from a house bursting at the seams to one that seems suddenly spacious after my two oldest daughters left for home with their children.  While I do miss them, I must admit that I never thought a house filled with 3 teenagers would seem quiet.

Enjoying last minute cuddle time with Lily before she flew back to Michigan.

As I drove my oldest daughter and her family to the airport, I felt that familiar tickle in my throat and knew that I was getting sick.  I wasn’t too surprised with all of the busyness of the holidays that my resistance was low.  

A few days later, I was due to make an appearance on the television show, Arizona Midday, which airs on our local NBC television station.  The topic was to be about winter gardening tasks.

While I have been on television a few times before, this was my first time on this particular program.  

As with the other times, I made a trip to the nursery for plants and other things for the television spot since the producers like a lot of props to make things look more interesting.

I came away with a bare root rose (my favorite Mr. Lincoln red rose), leaf lettuce and kale, parsley and cool season annuals for color.  Other props included different types of frost protection including frost cloth, old towels, and sheets.

Unfortunately, as the date of my television appearance neared, my cold got worse and evolved into a full-blown sinus infection.  


So on a brisk winter morning, loaded up with cold medicine and a pocket full of kleenex, I loaded up my plants and other props and headed to the TV station along with my mother who came with me to help me stage the table and provide moral support.  

We spent a delightful time waiting to be escorted to the studio in the green room with a pair of chili cooks who were talking about an upcoming chili cookoff.


Finally, it was time for the gardening segment, which went quite smoothly – I didn’t cough or sneeze once.  The host was kind, gracious and most importantly – laid back and relaxed.

After returning home, I got on my favorite pair of sweats and got back into bed.  I am determined to kick this cold!

If you would like to see the garden segment click here.

I hope that your January is off to a great start!

Apple harvest time starts early in the desert Southwest.  In my low desert garden, it arrives precisely in the first half of June.


As I mentioned in my earlier post, this year’s apple harvest was to be a special one because for the first time, my own apple trees would provide a sufficient harvest without us having to pick the trees on the family farm.



On a bright and sunny June morning, I headed out into the potager (my kitchen garden) along with four teenagers and a 3-year old to pick apples.

We harvested 4 large bags full of sweet, tart apples from my ‘Anna’ and ‘Dorsett Golden’ apple trees, which are the varities that do best in hot, desert climates.

So, what did we plan on doing with all these apples?

Well, besides eating them raw, the plan was to make an apple pie with a cinnamon sugar crust, apple chips and applesauce.


Now, you may think that making an apple pie would be the last thing that a teenager would want to do.  But, my kids along with my niece, look forward to this day every year.

I make one pie a year, so we make an occasion of it.

Before we get any further, I’d like to tell you about the participants in today’s apple adventure.

Ruthie – my 17-year old daughter
Gracie – my 13-year old daughter
Sofie – my 16-year old niece
Gracie C. – 17-year old friend of my daughter
Lily – my 3-year old granddaughter


While Ruthie and Sofie were peeling apples, Gracie C. worked on thinly slicing the apples.


Lily and Gracie had fun watching the peeling and slicing and were waiting patiently for their turn to help.


Lily’s job was to help mix the apple slices in a bowl filled with water with some lemon juice to keep the apples from browning.


Once the apples were ready, we made the pie crust.  I use a mixture of both butter and vegetable shortening in my pie crust.  


I taught the girls how to make a decorative pie crust edge using their fingers.


This may have been their favorite part.

To add an extra special touch to the pie, we brushed it with egg wash and then sprinkled cinnamon sugar on the top.


Here is the finished product, ready to bake in the oven.  
*I’d like to note that I do not claim to be a professional food photographer like my sister.  I use no special lighting and didn’t take the time to clean the counter before taking the photo 🙂

 The kids had so much fun making the pie and couldn’t wait to eat it once it we took it out of the oven, which explains why I have no ‘after’ photos of our pie!

Now that our annual pie was finished, we got to work on our second apple recipe – Cinnamon Sugar Apple Chips.


Apple chips are ridiculously easy to make and they are addictive!


All you need to do is to slice them very thinly – a mandolin works great, if you have one.  There is no need to peel or core the apples, which makes this an easy recipe – simply remove any stray seeds from the slices. 

Lay the apple slices on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.


Lily had fun with the apple slices with holes in the center.


We sprinkled the apples with cinnamon sugar, but this an optional step – you don’t have to add any cinnamon sugar.

Bake the apples in a 200 degree F oven for 1 hour and then turn the apple slices over and bake for another hour.

The apples should be crispy and melt in your mouth.  A word of caution – they won’t last long!

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While this photo protrays three normal teenage girls, their story is anything but average.

Their story together began years ago, before they were adopted and came to the U.S.

All of these girls grew up together in an orphanage in China.  They formed deep bonds with each other and became each other’s family in the absence of parents.  They often referred to themselves as “orphanage sisters”.

Unlike many adoptions, the girls waited until they were older to be adopted.  Sofie and Gracie C. were adopted in 2006 and Ruthie in 2007.

Along with several other “orphanage sisters”, who were also adopted, we had a reunion several years ago in Colorado and since then, both the parents and kids have stayed in touch.

Gracie C. flew into town to visit with Ruthie and Sofie and it was so wonderful seeing them together again!


**You can read about our adoption journey to get Ruthie, here.**

Do you love roses?


I do.



While most people will tell you that they love roses, they probably do not like the extra maintenance that they require with repeated fertilizing, deadheading, fighting damaging insects and fungal diseases.

Well, let me introduce you to a rose that is beautiful and low-maintenance.
Lady Banks rose may be well-known to a few of you and it is worth a second look for those of you who love roses but not the fuss.  

They are resistant to damaging bugs and most fungal diseases leave them alone.  However, unlike many modern roses, they flower once a year in spring, producing a glorious show.

Tombstone rose Lady Banks

If you’ve ever heard of the World’s Largest Rose Bush in Tombstone, Arizona – it may interest you to find out that it is a Lady Banks rose.
You can read more about my visit to this historic rose bush, here.

There is so much to enjoy with this beautiful, fuss-free rose.

I invite you to learn more in my latest article for Houzz.com

When you visit a nursery, do you wonder which plants are drought tolerant as opposed to those who will wilt if not given enough water?


There are a few different traits that many drought tolerant plants share.  For example, did you know that small leaves and gray foliage can be signs that a plant may be drought tolerant?  


I recently shared several traits to look for when shopping for drought tolerant plants for Houzz.com



I hope this article will help you to create a beautiful, drought tolerant garden!


I am excited to show you two pictures of one of my favorite perennials.


Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Isn’t this a cool picture of a bee, ready to pollinate the flowers of this penstemon?

I must confess that I did not take this photo (or the other one below).  My husband took both of these beautiful pictures.


This firecracker penstemon is happily growing in my garden and is now over 14 years old, which is rare.  

Every winter, it sends up spikes covered in red, tubular flowers, much to the delight of the resident hummingbirds.

The blooms last through spring in my desert garden.  In cooler climates, it will bloom in spring through early summer.

To learn more about this red beauty and how easy it is to grow in your garden, click here.


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I hope you have enjoyed my favorite flower photos.  Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting a series of my favorite DIY blog posts, so please come back for a visit!