Posts

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.

SaveSave

harvested-peaches

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-peach-tree
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
 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. 
Roughly chop the peaches into 1-inch sections. Plan on using 2 – 3 peaches per pint-sized jar.
Add the chopped peaches and pour white wine vinegar over them until it reaches the top of your jar.
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.
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.
Strain the peach vinegar needs through a coffee filter (or paper towel) to remove the remaining peach solids.
*I’ve found that paper towels work better than coffee filters.
 
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!

 

creating edible container garden

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!

Read more

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

SaveSave

*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. 

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.

‘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.

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. 

Have you pruned your roses back yet?

*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.

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 bulb. 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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Do you grow herbs? I do. 

Herbs are easy to grow and thrive in arid climates and shrug off the heat. I’m the first to admit that I don’t like messing around with fussy plants and so herbs fit right in with my gardening style.

Toward the end of summer, my garden is overflowing with herbs – especially basil. I certainly have more than I can use right now, so I like to preserve my herbs in a variety of ways so that I can enjoy the fresh flavor of summer throughout the winter months.

One of the easiest ways to store herbs is by freezing them using olive oil or water. You can see my post on how to freeze herbs here

Herb salts are a newer way to keep the fresh flavor of herbs alive. The ingredients are simple, and they are a unique way to add a delicious taste to your favorite recipes. See how easy they are to make in this blog post

Finally, the most popular method for preserving herbs is to dry them. Some types of herbs are easier to dry than others, and there are different methods for drying herbs. I invite you to read my latest article for Houzz.com where it’s all you need to know about drying herbs. I hope you enjoy it!


Do you dry or freeze your herbs? Which herbs work best for you?

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.
 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Do you like houseplants? Many people do and I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert on growing plants indoors, so I’ve invited Lucy of Garden Ambition to share her tips for growing houseplants. I’m inspired to add a few more houseplants, and I’m sure you will too!

*****************************************************

Most indoor house plants are planted in greenhouses where conditions and the care they receive are ideal. The challenge here for you is to provide the same care and encourage them to adjust well to their new environment. New to indoor houseplants? Here’s everything you need to know:

  Indoor plants can really add character to a room.

Low-Maintenance Indoor Houseplants

If you haven’t cared for indoor houseplants before, you may want to start with the more low-maintenance ones. Not all houseplants require daily care. Believe it or not, there are indoor houseplants that can live with some neglect. These are perfect for homeowners who are always on the go and may not have all the time in the world to care for their plants. We’ve gathered five low-maintenance plants that offer a lot of benefits and more importantly, won’t die on you.

The jade or money tree has color-changing properties that provide visual appeal to any room.

  1. Jade/Money Tree

Jade belongs to the succulent family, which requires very little water. This plant bears small white and pink flowers and can turn bright red when exposed to sunlight. In the Summer, watering it once a week is enough to keep the plant healthy. Meanwhile, twice a week in the Winter is ideal.

  1. Philodendron

With a name that literally means “tree lover,” philodendron vines grow to be tree climbers in the wild. However, there are several varieties that you can choose from and take home. Philodendrons don’t need a lot of water to grow. In fact, they grow better with dryer environments in between watering schedules.

  1. ZZ Plant

A perennial from the eastern part of Asia, the ZZ plant is known for its glossy and sturdy leaves. What makes it very easy to care for is the fact that it prefers low light and dryer environments. Dry soil is recommended before you water these plants.

The aloe plant offers a ton of benefits to health and skin care among many others.

  1. Aloe

Aloe is known for its treating properties, among many other benefits. It’s a comfort to know that these plants are very low-maintenance too. Simply place it in a brightly-lit room and water bi-monthly.

  1. Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

The snake plant is for homeowners who want to add a bit of height and character to any space. It has dense leaves in lovely shades of green. The trick to caring for this plant is to simply water along its edges and not in the middle. Only do this when the soil is dry.

Indoor plants come with different watering requirements that you should know about.

Growing Houseplants: Watering Tips

Indoor houseplants come with different watering requirements. Most indoor houseplants should have moist potting soil. In this matter, the distinction between moist and wet soil should be clear. Some indoor houseplants, on the other hand, prefer dry soil before watering. Such is the case of some thick-leafed plants and succulents, requiring water either once a week or twice a month. Here are some ways to gauge when your plant needs watering:

  • Check your potting soil. If the color has gone lighter or it shows a few cracks here and there, it’s time for it to drink up.
  • Pick your plant up and check if the weight is not normal. You’ll be able to master this technique after some practice.
  • Stick your finger in the soil just below the surface and determine if it’s moist or dry. This is especially ideal for large plants.

A small bonsai tree is kept on the window sill for natural lighting.

Growing Houseplants: Lighting Tips

Indoor houseplants still require some form of lighting to thrive. Light gives plants, both indoor and outdoor, the energy to produce their own food and maintain their health. Lighting for indoor plants, it’s best to keep them in well-lit rooms and windows. Artificial lighting is also available for plants that are kept in dimly lit rooms. If these lights are not sufficient for your plant, you can make use of reflectors to enhance the effect of the lighting. Insufficient lighting for indoor plants can keep the plant from growing, so you really want to stock up on valuable information about this aspect of indoor houseplant care.

Misting the leaves of the plants daily is a solution for low-humidity indoor environments.

Growing Houseplants: Humidity Tips

Most indoor houseplants enjoy high humidity. This is rather difficult to achieve indoors, especially in the Winter as heating systems are powered. Solutions to this would be using a humidifier to increase the moisture content in the air or misting the plant’s leaves daily. For indoor houseplants that require a lot more humidity than usual, keeping them in the kitchen or bathroom is ideal. Such is the case of orchids and gardenias.

Growing Houseplants: Temperature Tips

Lastly, we have temperature as a contributing factor in an indoor plant’s growth. Ideal temperatures for indoor houseplants are within the range of 64- 75 degrees during the day and 55-60 degrees at night.

Conclusion

Indoor houseplants are a great way to bring color and warmth into one’s home. Adding a piece of nature indoors can also be great for one’s health. These improve the quality of the air and can transform any indoor area into a relaxing sanctuary. But in order to reap these benefits, you must give them some appropriate TLC.

 

Hi there! I’m Lucy – founder of GardenAmbition.com and I’m a self-confessed garden fanatic. Gardening has always been a passion of mine and will always be my favorite pastime. Now that I am married and have one adorable son, I have the time to write and share my personal experiences with other garden enthusiasts like me.

Books for Waterwise Gardening

Gardening in a dry climate comes with unique challenges where water is viewed as a precious resource and needs to be used wisely.  Does that mean that you cannot have a beautiful garden?  Absolutely not!  You can have an attractive outdoor space filled with beautiful plants and a vegetable plot as well with proper planning with help from these water-wise books.

Today, I would like to share my final installment for gifts for the gardener by sharing not one, but two books that are worth adding to your gardening library.  

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

If you are looking to create a drought tolerant landscape but are in need of ideas and guidance, look no further than The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick.  

The book opens with a chapter dedicated to inspiration with several types of water wise gardens highlighted to help the reader determine which one is right for them.  Lovely, color photos of landscapes display the incredible beauty of gardens that conserve water.

Designing a water-saving garden entails including several elements such as contouring, permeable building materials, and more to help conserve water and Pam does a great job of talking about each type and how to incorporate into the landscape.

Plants that are native or adapted to survive on little water are the backbone of the water-saving landscape, and most are surprisingly attractive.  A substantial list of drought tolerant plants will have you imagining how they will look decorating your outdoor space.  Helpful tips for when to plant as well as alternative locations for growing plants are included within the pages of this book, and the author doesn’t stop there – she has an entire section of how to incorporate water or the appearance of water in the landscape with water features and plants.  

The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water is a book that will help readers create a water-wise landscape filled with beauty and would make a wonderful gift for the gardener in your life or yourself.  

Pam has another book, Lawn Gone, which I bought a few years ago, and it sits in a prominent place in my garden library.  It’s filled with inspiration and guidelines for a grass-free landscape.

I enjoy my edible gardens very much and so I was excited when Sasquatch Books provided me with a free copy of Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert & Dry Times: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening without Wasting Water.  I certainly wish this book had been around when I first started.  Vegetable gardening comes with its set of challenges like watering efficiently and creating a micro-climate that is favorable to growing vegetables.  This book addresses these issues and more.

Whether you are a beginner or have grown vegetables in a different climate, this book is a must have for those who find themselves living in an arid region.

Location, location, location is perhaps the most important part of a successful vegetable garden.  Of course, not everyone has the best location and the book talks about what to take into consideration when deciding where to grow your vegetables in addition to ways to modify the dry climate to make it easier for them to grow in a dry climate.

Guidelines for growing vegetables in raised beds and even containers are provided along with how to amend the desert soil so it can sustain vegetables.  Perhaps the most informative chapters for desert gardeners are those addressing several ways to irrigate as well as a list of the best varieties of vegetables for arid climates.  Additional chapters teach how to control harmful pests and solve common problems.  

If you or someone on your gift list is new to the desert or simply want to begin gardening, both of these books are filled with inspiration and guidance.