Posts

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take another photo of a landscape I passed by in a neighborhood where I had just finished up a landscape consultation.

Sadly, I often see examples of truly ‘interesting’ or should I say ‘bad’ pruning.  I drove by this landscape and then made a U-turn so that I could take a quick photo…

Shrub pruning

Shrub pruning

I don’t know about you, but these Texas sage shrubs look like mushrooms, don’t you think?

Sadly, pruning these beautiful flowering shrubs this way, robs them of their flowers, increases maintenance, creates dead wood and shortens their life.

While there are quite a few shrubs that take well to repeated formal pruning – doing this to flowering shrubs should be avoided.

I must admit that I have seen Texas sage and other flowering shrubs pruned into many different shapes…

But, let me be frank – shrubs aren’t meant to be cupcakes, frisbees or gumdrops

Here are just a few reasons why…

  • It removes the leaves needed for the shrub to make energy for itself
  • Excessive pruning actually makes your shrubs grow faster, which equals MORE maintenance
  • Shrubs pruned often require more water as they constantly work to replace foliage lost
  • Continued shearing will shorten the lifespan of your shrubs
  • Green ‘blobs’ are ugly compared to beautiful flowering shrubs

If you are tired of the time and money it takes to maintain flowering shrubs the ‘wrong’ way. I invite you to join me in my online shrub pruning workshop where I will teach you the right way to prune.

Imagine your outdoor space filled with beautiful, flowering shrubs instead of green ‘balls’. Believe it or not, the shrubs in the photo above are the SAME plant – they have just been maintained differently. The one on the left takes much more money and time and the other thrives with pruning once (or twice) a year.

In my online class, I show you how to work with your landscaper or how you can take care of your shrubs yourself. Got ‘green balls’ already in your landscape? I’ll teach you how to rejuvenate them and the best time of year to do it.

So, ditch the ‘green blobs’ in your yard and learn how to prune with confidence – it’s much easier than you think. Learn more here and what students have to say about the class.

Do you like to use fresh herbs when you cook?

What if you could just step outside your door and snip some herbs without having to go to the store? 

Have you seen how expensive fresh herbs are at the supermarket by the way? And, who want floppy herbs when they can have fresh ones?

I am often asked whether it is easy to grow herbs in the desert garden and I always answer, “yes!”

container herb garden

Herbs come from mostly arid regions and so they flourish in our climate. They also like sun, which we have plenty of.

One of my favorite ways to grow herbs in containers. In fact, they do extremely well in pots – especially when planted together. Imagine having a variety of herbs growing in a container near your kitchen door?

It’s easy to do and here is how:

1. Place your container in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun.

Basil, container herb garden

Basil

2.  Fill your container with planting mix, which is sterile, has a light texture and is specially formulated for container plants.  It retains just the right amount of moisture for plants. Potting soil can become soggy.

3. Add a slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, and work it into the top 2-inches of soil.

Oregano

Oregano

4. Plant your herbs. Oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme are easiest to grow when you start out with transplants. Basil grows easily from seed, but can you also use transplants.

Sage

Sage

5. Water deeply. Do not wet the foliage when you water them as they prefer to stay dry.

Thyme

Thyme

6. Herbs like to dry out between watering. To check when they need water, simply stick your finger down to 1-inch deep – if the soil is moist, don’t water. However, if it’s almost dry, then water deeply until water runs out the bottom drainage hole.

container herb garden

Purple Basil (Not the healthiest specimen, but it was the only one they had – it was over-watered at the nursery).

7.  Don’t add any additional fertilizer after planting.  Herbs don’t like extra fertilizer since it causes them to grow larger leaves with fewer oils, which is what gives them their flavor.

I like to place my herbs near my vegetable garden.

Here in the desert, we can grow herbs all year long. However, I do like to dry herbs like basil, which don’t live through our winters.

I encourage you to dip your toes into growing your own herbs. You can find transplants at your favorite nursery, so find a sunny spot and get started!

Click below for my container gardening tips…

Creative Container Gardening Tips

Many of us are familiar with how over-pruning can take away much of the beauty of flowering shrubs, in addition to contributing to their early death.

But, have you ever wondered what they look on the inside?

I found this ‘ugly’ example alongside the drive-thru of Taco Bell.

Over Pruned Shrubs

Over Pruned Shrubs

It isn’t pretty, is it?

The side of the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage was sheared away because it was growing over the curb.

The result of planting the shrub too close, OR the wrong plant in the wrong space .

You can see the thin layer of leaves that cover the shrub and the dark, interior where sunlight seldom reaches.

This isn’t healthy for your shrubs, shortens their lifespan, and increases the amount of water they require.

If this resembles your shrub(s), the good news is that you can often fix them.

Over Pruned Shrubs

Imagine going from the shrub on the left to the one on the right?

It is possible and often a certain type of pruning known as ‘rejuvenation pruning’ is the way to do this.

In my online shrub pruning workshop I love teaching my students how to rejuvenate their over-pruned shrubs.

It’s important to not that not all shrubs respond to rejuvenation pruning, but Cassia (Senna species), Sage (Leucophyllum species), Ruellia, Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and Lantana shrubs respond well as long as they aren’t too old and healthy.

I encourage you to declare your landscape free of shrubs pruned into balls, cupcakes, and squares and transform it into one filled with beauty 🙂

bougainvillea is beautiful

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?

Grow Bougainvillea in Pot

Let’s face it; summers in the desert can be brutal and bougainvillea are one of the lush green, flowering shrubs that thrive in intense heat and sun. So, why not consider adding one in a high-profile area where you can enjoy their beauty throughout the warm season?

Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

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.

container plants

Bougainvillea make excellent container plants. In fact, many gardeners who live in cold climates, only grow them in pots and move them indoors in winter. 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. Thankfully, we don’t need to do add a new one every year.

Growing bougainvillea in pots

Growing bougainvillea in pots is easy to do. Select a location in full sun where it will promote the most bloom. Bougainvillea are one of the few flowering plants that can handle west-facing exposures. 

grow bougainvillea

Provide support for them to grow upward if desired. You can also grow bougainvillea as more of a compact shrub form if you wish.

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.

container gardening

Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring, after the danger of frost is passed. You’ll want to reapply fertilizer every three months until September.

Growing bougainvillea in pots keeps them small enough to make it feasible to cover them when freezing temperatures occur.    

So, if you like container gardening, consider growing bougainvillea in a pot.

Creative Container Gardening Tips

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?

Heatproof Gardening tips

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.

Heatproof Gardening tips

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)

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')

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.

#2. Provide shade

Heatproof Gardening tips

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

Heatproof Gardening tips

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.  

In my online class, Desert Gardening 101, I teach my students that watering deeply is as important as 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.  

#4 Mulch around your plants

Heatproof Gardening tips

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.

Heatproof Gardening tips

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

Heatproof Gardening tips

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.

Heatproof Gardening tips

If you want to grow something else besides succulents, how about trying heat-tolerant shrubs? Bougainvillea does great in pots as does lantana.

Heatproof Gardening tips

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.

How to Help Your Plants Survive a Heatwave

harvested-peaches

I love peaches. Every year, I look forward to May when the peaches on my tree are ripe and ready. While May might seem a little early for peaches, in the low desert garden, this is when they are ready for being harvested. 

picking peaches from tree for Peach Vinegar

There are several things that I like to make with my peaches. Of course, peach jam, peach cobbler, and pie make the list, but also something a bit unusual.

A few years ago, I was inspired to make peach vinegar after I read the book, “The Backyard Homestead”.  So, you may be wondering why I would want to make homemade fruit vinegar? Fruit vinegars are one of my favorite ingredients in homemade salad dressing.

It is very easy to make fruit vinegar – especially when compared to making jam out of peaches.  

You will need the following:

Peaches

White wine vinegar

Glass jar with lid

Strainer

Paper towels

remove the skins from the peaches for Peach Vinegar

First, remove the skins from the peaches. If the peaches are very ripe, you can often peel them off in large sheets. Or, use a paring knife to peel them as you would an apple. 

chop the peaches for Peach Vinegar

Roughly chop the peaches into 1-inch sections. Plan on using 2 – 3 peaches per pint-sized jar.

chopped peaches and pour white wine vinegar

Add the chopped peaches and pour white wine vinegar over them until it reaches the top of your jar.

Peach Vinegar

Place the peach/vinegar mixture in a dark place for 4 weeks – I use my pantry. At least once a week, shake the jar to help mix the contents.

Peach Vinegar

After a month has passed, pour out the mixture over a strainer to remove the peaches. You can see that the white wine vinegar has taken on the beautiful color and flavor of the peaches.

Peach Vinegar

Strain the peach vinegar needs through a coffee filter (or paper towel) to remove the remaining peach solids.

Peach Vinegar

*I’ve found that paper towels work better than coffee filters.

peach vinegar pour into clean jars with lids

After straining the peach vinegar – pour into clean jars with lids. They can be stored in your pantry for 3 months.

Peach vinegar tastes wonderful when used on fruit salad and it makes a great pork glaze. It also makes a delicious vinaigrette and marinades. Some people even drizzle it over peach ice cream.

Don’t have a peach tree? No problem. You can use peaches from the grocery store or your farmers market. Just make sure they are ripe.

My favorite use for peach vinegar is for my grandmother’s famous salad dressing. This recipe has been in our family for years and I am going to break all the rules and risk being expelled from my family by sharing it with you. It’s easy to make and creates a sweet dressing that is popular with kids and adults alike.

Click the link below for the recipe. 

GRANDMA SMITH’S HOMEMADE SALAD DRESSING

I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does!

UPDATE: This blog post originally was published six-years-ago, and I still like to grow vegetables in pots. It’s hard to believe that my garden helper is now 16 years old and driving a car!

I hope you enjoy it!

I started growing vegetables in pots earlier this year, and it was so easy and the vegetables so delicious AND attractive that I had to do it again.

Last week, my mother took my youngest kids to the nursery and picked up some plants for me.

Grow Vegetables in Pots!

You know what?  This is one of the happiest sights in my world 😉

My son, Kai was anxious to pull out the existing plants from our pots.

Grow Vegetables in Pots!

All my summer vegetables had been pulled a while ago, and all that was left was the Vinca that I had planted.  I realize the vinca looks a bit yellow and I admit that I didn’t fertilize them enough (I kind of hibernated inside this summer.

Kai got to work at pulling out the flowers.

Grow Vegetables in Pots!

He used the hand shovel to loosen the roots so he could pull out the vinca.

Grow Vegetables in Pots!

Then he used the shovel to ‘bang’ the root ball to loosen the soil back into the pot.  You don’t want to ‘throw away’ good soil by leaving it around the roots of plants you are pulling out.

Grow Vegetables in Pots!

I think Kai did a good job getting all the soil out of the roots, don’t you?

**Vinca will over-winter in my zone 9 garden, but will not flower much.  I prefer to treat them as an annual.

Now for the fun part – planting!

I added some more potting mix (not potting soil, which can get soggy), mixed with some compost to each container.

Then each pot was planted with a combination of green leaf lettuce, purple leaf lettuce, garlic, spinach, dill, parsley, nasturtium seeds, and petunias.

Grow Vegetables in Pots!

In just a few weeks, the lettuce and spinach will be ready to start clipping the leaves for salads.  The garlic cloves that I planted will form whole heads of garlic, which will be ready in late spring.   

I will start snipping off dill and parsley soon as well.

creating edible container garden

Garlic, leaf lettuce, spinach, parsley, and petunias

Flowers look great when planted with vegetables, and I always include some.  Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed, and their leaves and flowers are edible.  Petunias (and nasturtiums) are great companion plants for vegetables because they help to control damaging insects from eating your vegetables.

Do you want to grow vegetables in containers?

Here is more information on how to do it…

“Vegetable and Flower Containers”

I hope you try growing vegetables in containers as much as I do!

hidden rose garden in the desert

I am a self-professed lover of roses and rejoice whenever I come across rose bushes that are thriving in our hot, arid climate and I also enjoy unexpected discoveries in the garden. On a recent visit to new client’s home, I came upon a hidden rose garden in the desert. 

hidden rose garden in the desert

As I walked up to the front door, I was preparing for my consultation with her and noted that her front landscape had a nice framework in place with mature plants.

palo verde trees and saguaro cacti

Upon walking into the backyard, I was greeted by expansive views of the desert, dotted with palo verde trees and saguaro cacti. Like the front, the landscape had good bones but, needed some attention to the subtler points, such as adding color.

A Hidden Rose Garden in the Desert

After discussing my recommendations for the backyard, we started toward the large side garden, when I caught a glimpse of the owner’s pride and joy – her rose garden.

A Hidden Rose Garden in the Desert

I experienced pure joy when I saw this lovely garden, filled with colorful roses that were happily growing in a desert landscape. Groups of roses were planted in beds, with amended soil and edged with rocks that created a natural look.

The owner inherited these roses, and she has put her green thumb to good use, but there are other factors that affect her success with roses. 

Tropicana Rose

Tropicana Rose

First, the roses are located in designated beds, with amended soil, such as compost and steer manure. Second, and perhaps most importantly for a desert garden, they are located in an area that has filtered sunlight. While roses can grow in full sun, they can struggle in the summer, and appreciate some relief. Third, she feeds her roses in spring and fall with a rose fertilizer.

A Hidden Rose Garden in the Desert

Although I lean toward using plants that look great with little fuss, I make an exception for roses. I have grown roses for over 25 years, and now I’m testing new roses for rose growers to see how they do in a low desert garden. 

I firmly believe that if a specific type of plant brings you joy, then it’s worth a bit of extra work, like roses.

A Hidden Rose Garden in the Desert

As I stood in my client’s rose garden, I looked out onto the saguaro forest that stood outside her backyard wall and was struck at how beautiful this colorful oasis stood in stark contrast with its surroundings.

Growing roses in the desert doesn’t have to be difficult, but there are factors that affect your success. I’ve compiled my rose-growing posts into a single list, which you can access here

Winter Rose Pruning

*This blog post contains an affiliate link. 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.*

January can be a difficult time for those of us who love to grow roses. Why may you ask? Because we have to prune them back, often when they are still blooming. Living in a mild winter climate means that roses continue to bloom and it is hard to go out and cut the bushes back to bare branches (canes). But, it must be done. 

Winter Rose Pruning

My ‘Olivia Rose’ David Austin shrub rose before pruning in January.

I am often asked why should we prune rose bushes back in winter, while they may still be blooming and there are several reasons why.

Winter pruning helps to keep roses healthy by removing old, unproductive canes (rose stems/branches), gets rid of disease and over-wintering insects that can cause damage. It also helps them to produce MORE flowers than if not pruned.

It’s this last fact that I repeat to myself over and over as I prune back my large, beautiful rose bushes in winter. Of course, I put any remaining blooms in a vase so I can enjoy them indoors.

Winter Rose Pruning

‘Olivia Rose’ after pruning.

Ugly isn’t it? But, the pruning has done a lot of good things –  I’ve gotten rid of small, twiggy growth as well as a few dead canes. I still need to clean up the fallen leaves, which is where fungal diseases like to lurk only to spread again when the weather warms again. Pruning also stimulates new growth that will produce lots of lovely roses in the coming months. I used my Corona hand pruners to prune back my roses.

Winter Rose Pruning

Before you know it, my ‘Olivia Rose’ bush, as well as my other roses, will be in full bloom again.

Pruning roses isn’t as hard as it looks and I encourage you not to be afraid of it and if you make a mistake, don’t worry, roses are awfully forgiving of bad pruning. I’ve written how to prune roses in an earlier post that you can read here

If you are interested in adding some new roses to your garden, winter is the best time to do that in the desert garden. I recently shared my favorite types of roses on my other blog Southwest Gardening. 

If you are interested in adding some new roses to your garden, winter is the best time to do that in the desert garden. I recently shared my favorite types of roses on my other blog Southwest Gardening. 

Have you pruned your roses back yet?

Grow Amaryllis Outdoors in the Desert Southwest

*This blog post contains affiliate links, to make it easier for you to order supplies for growing amaryllis outside. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). 

Have you ever wondered what to do with your amaryllis once the flowers have faded? Instead of throwing it out, you can plant it outdoors, where it will bloom year to year, even if you live in the Desert Southwest.

Grow Amaryllis Outdoors in the Desert Southwest

Around the holiday season, amaryllis bulbs can be purchased in most grocery stores, nurseries, or online.

I have been enjoying the beautiful blooms of my amaryllis this holiday season and am grateful for the vibrant splash of color on my kitchen windowsill. Soon, the flowers will fade, and I will get it ready to transplant outside. 

Here is how to do it:

1. Cut off the faded flower, but keep the stem and leaves, which will continue to produce food for the amaryllis bulbs. Don’t worry if the stem oozes sap after cutting, this is normal. Once the stem and leaves turn yellow and die, cut them off.

2. Select an area out in the garden for your amaryllis. They will require an area that gets filtered shade or a few hours of morning sun. It should have fertile garden soil, which can be provided by amending with potting soil.  If you have a flower bed or vegetable garden, you can plant the amaryllis in there, OR you can plant it in a container – I love this blue one.

3. Once the danger of freezing temperatures has passed, it’s time to plant. At the bottom of the planting hole, add some bulb fertilizer, following package directions. In desert climates, it’s important to bury the bulb to the top, so that only a 1/2 inch remains above the soil. New leaves will soon emerge that will add a pretty element to the garden.

4. Whenever leafy growth is present, water when the top inch of soil is dry and fertilize monthly using an all-purpose liquid fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength. 

5. Amaryllis typically bloom in spring when grown outdoors. After the blooms fade, remove them and allow the leaves to remain until they turn yellow and die. At this point, add a layer of mulch, leaving only a 1/2 inch peeking above the soil. Decrease the watering so that soil remains just slightly moist.

So, in a nutshell, water and fertilize when they are blooming, or leaves are growing, cut off leaves when they are dead – stop fertilizing and decrease watering.

It’s easy to see why amaryllis are a favorite flower when grown indoors and even more so if you plant them outdoors for those of us who live in the Desert Southwest.

Have you ever grown an amaryllis outside?

*Gardeners Supply provided with this amaryllis free of charge for my review.