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Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale
 
I enjoy attending plant sales hosted by botanical gardens.  
 
Here in the southwest, you can often find the newest succulents including those that are hard to find as well as old favorites.
 
There are a few tips that I’d like to share with you the next time you are buying a succulent whether at a plant sale or your local nursery that can save you money.
 
 
1. Avoid purchasing agave in 15-gallon containers or larger.  
 
Why?  Well, almost all species of agave will flower toward the end of their life and then die.  That is what agave do.  
 
Flowering is triggered by the age of the agave.  Different species live for differing lengths of time – some live less then 10 years. If you buy a 15-gallon or larger boxed agave – it is safe to assume that they are much older then those in smaller pots and will flower and die much sooner.
 
So my advice is to purchase agave in 1 or 5-gallon sizes – they will last much longer and you’ll save a lot of money.
*Sometimes, you can find more then one agave growing in the same nursery container – that’s like getting 2 for the price of 1!
 
 
Better yet, ask a friend or neighbor for a volunteer (pup) from their agave.  Many agave species produce volunteers that can be transplanted.  To learn how, click here.
 
My husband and daughter checking out the young saguaro cacti.
 
2. Buy smaller cacti rather then larger.
 
Columnar cacti are beautiful, but expensive.  The price is usually based on the height of the cactus.  Saguaro cacti are priced based on each foot in height plus arms.
 
The price for a 1 ft. high Totem Pole cactus was $48.
 
The reason that I recommend starting out with a smaller columnar cactus such as Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marinatus) or Totem Pole (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’) is that they will begin to grow at a faster rate once planted in the ground.  
 
In fact, smaller plants have an easier time becoming established then larger ones.
 
Many columnar types of cacti grow faster in the landscape then in the wild due to the presence of water – that includes saguaro cacti as well.
 
 
Like agave, you can start some species of columnar cacti from cuttings.
 
I planted this Mexican Fence Post cactus in my garden 11 years ago.  It started out as a 2 foot cutting given to me by a client from their large cactus.
 
Look how much it has grown!
 
You may notice on the lower right side that there has been a section cut off.  Soon, I’ll show you how to take a cutting from an existing cactus to create a new one!
 
 
3. Have a plan in place for planting your new cactus/succulent.
 
If you hadn’t noticed, many succulents are prickly.   So, it is a good idea to plan on how you are going to plant it.  Decide whether you can do it yourself or if you will need to hire someone to plant it for you.
 
For small cacti, you can use a towel to help you plant them without getting pricked.  See how here.
 
For larger cacti, you can use pieces of carpet or rubber straps.  But when in doubt about whether you can plant it yourself, hire an expert.
 
 
*As a golf course horticulturist, I used to transplant Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii) from areas that were to be built upon.  I would use rubber straps to carry the cholla and regular kitchen tongs to pick up the pieces that dropped off.  I would then plant them elsewhere.
 
 
4. Keep an eye out for discounted plants.
 
Often, not all plants will meet the high standards of the nursery.  Sometimes, this can be mostly cosmetic damage, but occasionally you will see a succulent that has not been watered correctly or placed in too much or too little sun.
 
This can be a great way to save money and provide a little TLC to new succulents.  Research online how to care for that particular plant and soon you will have a healthy succulent growing in your garden that cost you a lot less.
 
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I hope that these tips will be helpful to you the next time you are shopping for succulents.
There is little that can compare to the dramatic silhouette that Ocotillo add to the landscape.

I have been fascinated by these plants ever since I moved to the desert, over 27 years ago.

Since then, I have planted Ocotillo in landscapes around golf courses and even have one of my own, which was a gift for Mother’s Day years ago.

If you would like to learn more about Ocotillo including the fact that they are actually shrubs and not cactus, like many people assume – please check out my latest article for Houzz.com

Architecture, interior design, and more ∨

Hire residential landscape architects to help with all aspects of landscape design, from selecting or designing garden furniture, to siting a detached garage or pergola.
As you get ready to host an event, be sure you have enough dining benches and dishes for dinner guests, as well as enough bakeware and kitchen knives sets for food preparation.

**I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and that your refrigerator is filled with delicious leftovers 🙂

Now on to Christmas, my FAVORITE time of year!

Yesterday evening, we enjoyed dinner at Double S Farms.  My mother hosts the family every week and we not only get to enjoy her delicious food, but we also get a night off of cooking.


We ate outside and the chickens surrounded us, hoping that for any food scraps. 


My mother’s vegetable gardens are doing so well and are full of lettuce, beans, artichoke and so much more.


I was so happy to see that her fruit trees are laden with little green fruit that will soon ripen this summer.  Peach, plum, apple and for the first time…..


She has two apricot trees that my siblings and I gave to her for Christmas 2010.  You can read more about our gift and how to plant fruit trees here.
 
One apricot tree has 4 little fruits and the other has a single apricot.
 
When you plant a fruit tree, the first fruit that appears is a reason to celebrate….even if there are only five of them 😉
 
How about you?  
 
Do you remember the first fruits that appeared on your fruit trees?
 
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I can hardly wait until early June to start making peach jam!
 
 

A few months ago, I was asked to help re-design part of our church’s parking lot landscape.  There was nothing really wrong with it except for some old plants and some dying Chinese Elm trees.

So, I created a design that switched out the dying Chinese Elm trees, which don’t do all that well in parking lots, with Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo) trees.  I also switched out some of the missing Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) shrubs as well.

I ordered the trees and shrubs and we were all prepared for an all-church work day.  I showed up bright and early (I think 8:00 is early for a Saturday, don’t you?), and met up with a 16-year old boy scout, who was earning community hours for his badge.


He was a very nice boy and we started placing all of the trees and shrubs.  Then we started digging….


Yes, I dug holes too….although it has been awhile since I’ve had to dig so many.

We worked on digging holes for the shrubs.  My ‘helper’ had never planted a shrub or a tree before and he watched and listened as I showed him how to do it.

I realize that most of you may know how to do this, but just in case, here is what we did.  He took pictures for me (I knew I would blog about this) – you can see his shadow in most of the photos…

First, I hit the sides of the container, to loosen the root ball from the container.

Then I spread my palm out so that I held the shrub between my thumb and fingers and then flipped the container and plant over.  I carefully pulled off the container.

The root ball was pretty healthy, it was not root bound.

I placed the shrub in our already dug hole.  **An easy tip for figuring out how deep the hole should be, is to put the entire container in the hole you have dug and see if the soil line of the plant is level with the sides of the hole (NOT the sides of the container).  You don’t want to plant too deep or too shallowly.  

My Boy Scout assistant finished planting the shrub, taking care not to pile up extra soil around the shrub.

After planting this shrub, we went on to plant more.  We took turns digging holes, but I must admit that he did more digging then I did.

I enjoyed working with him and explaining how to plant trees and shrubs.  After we had worked together for quite a few hours, he asked me, “Are you a teacher or something like that?”

I told him that I ‘teach’ people how to take care of plants.

I hope this was helpful to some of you.  I will share my tips for planting trees (we planted 6 of them), next time.

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On a personal note, I have been stuck at home the past few days.  My daughter, Gracie, is sick with an extremely contagious virus.  The sickness itself isn’t that bad, but the fact that it is easily spread is the problem.  She has to miss a week of school and will thankfully, go back on Monday.

However, I am going nowhere…..my son now has it.

So, I am spending my time writing gardening articles, knitting, blogging and doing a little gardening.  It really doesn’t sound all that bad when you think about, does it?

Tuesday was a beautiful, sunny day and the kids were home on spring break.  It was a perfect time to go outside and plant three new plants that I purchased from the amazing nursery at “The Living Desert“.  Did you really think I could leave that wonderful place and NOT buy any plants?

I had just the place to put them.  It was a rather bare area between my Desert Museum Palo Verde tree and my Bougainvillea, which has just been pruned back.

 My daughter is proudly displaying our new plants, below.

We are planting a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) and 2 Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’).  
Warm days make my son eager to take his shirt off whenever possible, although it was only in the low 70’s.
The first step was to rake back the gravel (rock) with enough room to place the dirt pile on top of the bare dirt and not mix it up with the gravel.  Then we started digging.
*We bought a set of kid-sized gardening tools over 16 years ago when my oldest daughter was 10 years old.  They have lasted a long time and now our youngest children are using them.  I recommend kid-sized tools for your kids to use which will make gardening much easier for them and increase their enjoyment.

Look what we dug up….

Many people are surprised that not all deserts are made up of sand.  I know I was when I first moved here.  We actually have clay soil in our area while the deserts in California are mostly sand.

Okay, back to planting – I taught my son how to check that the hole is at the proper depth by putting the plant, (while still in the pot), into the prepared hole.  The top of the pot should reach the the top of the hole.  Take the pot back out and adjust the hole if needed.
He placed his hand around the plant and carefully turned it upside down over the hole and worked off the container with his free hand – I helped him with this part.
He placed the plant in the hole and filled it in with the remaining soil.
*I typically do not amend the soil for desert-adapted shrubs because they are well adapted to soils with little organic matter.  But you can always add compost if you like.


Press the soil around the new plant and then recover with the gravel if needed.
Plants grow very quickly in our climate, so tiny, straggly looking plants will not look that way for long.  
   Note about the small clumps of dirt in the photo above – I’m not the neatest gardener and seldom create a large enough gravel-free area in which to dig a hole, so there is always some mixing of the soil and gravel.
We had two more plants to install and my older daughter decided to help us out.

Okay, the following is what NOT to do, but I confess that I often do.

To save your back, do not use a child’s shovel.  It was convenient and so I used it, but a larger shovel is much more comfortable to use.
I didn’t realize how color coordinated I was with the shovel, which was totally unintentional – I am not a slave to fashion to that degree 😉
When you dig holes and carefully press the soil around newly installed plants….it is best not to wear flip-flops.  I don’t have much of a defense for this one but here it is – I am from California and grew up going barefoot or wearing sandals for much of the year.  I don’t wear them in the winter because my feet get really cold.   I was so excited to be able to wear them this week and did not want to take them off to put on my gardening boots.  
If you look closely, I have a ladybug painted on my toes to celebrate the coming of spring, which really has nothing to do with this post 😉
**By the way, a kind reader pointed out that I did not state if we watered the plants in afterward.  Probably one of the most important part about planting and I left it out of my post.  We did water the plants well after planting.  Thank you Edith for bringing it to my attention.

The time has finally arrived!  Summer temperatures are but a memory and fall is here! 

Every year we wait for the end of summer so we can start adding plants in the garden. The only question is what plants will I add?

The possibilities are endless…    
                                                                                                                           

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The signs that fall in the desert may not be as evident as in other parts of the county, yet they are here.  Elongating shadows, cooler evening temperatures along with increased plant growth and flowering are clear signs that the heat of summer is fading and cooler temperatures are on their way.

Blackfoot Daisy  (Melampodium leucanthum)

October and November are the best months in which to plant most types of plants in the desert.  The reason for this is that plants use the cooler weather in which to grow a healthy root system so that by the time that the summer arrives, they are ready to handle the stress of the intense heat. 

Parry’s Penstemon  (Penstemon parryi)
Most trees, shrubs, perennials, and succulents can be planted now.  Stay away from planting palms, bougainvillea, lantana and other plants that suffer frost damage during the winter months.  They do best when planted in the spring.
 
Chaparral Sage   (Salvia clevelandii)
As in all climates, be sure to plant correctly.  Dig a hole three times as wide as the root ball but no more profound than the root ball.  This will allow the roots to grow outwards more quickly.  
 
When growing native plants, you do not need to add any amendments to the hole as this can cause the roots to just stay in place, enjoying the nutrient-rich soil, instead of venturing out into the regular soil.  If you do decide to add amendments to the soil, be sure to incorporate them well with the existing soil.   
 
Newly installed plants will initially require more water than established plants, so be sure to adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
 
Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides)

 So visit your local nursery and get planting! 



Do you like prickly cactus?  

I have a few favorites, one being santa-rita prickly pear (Opuntia violaceae var. santa rita). The color contrast of their blue-grey pads and the shades of purple are so striking in the landscape.  

This cactus makes a beautiful accent plant for the landscape. Both the pads and fruit are edible, (but you might want to remove the spines first ;-). Cold temperature and drought intensify the purple color.

Santa-rita prickly pear is native to the Southwest regions of North America. They can grow as large as 6 ft. X 6 ft., but can be pruned to maintain a smaller size.  Pruning is done carefully, by making pruning cuts at the junction where the pads connect.


Lovely yellow flowers appear in spring followed by red fruit in the summer months.  Javelina, rabbits and pack rats will sometimes eat the pads. Pack rats use the pads to make their homes.

The pads of the prickly pear are covered with clusters of 2″ spines as well as tiny spines known as glochids. Glochids are incredibly irritating to the skin and detach from the pad very easily. Their tips have a small barb, which makes them difficult to remove from your skin.  If you need to handle them, use a few layers of newspaper or a piece of carpet. Do not make the mistake of touching the pads with gloves because the glochids will attach to your gloves and render them useless, (I ruined a perfectly good pair this way). 
 
 **There are different ways to remove these small spines, including applying Elmer’s glue (letting it dry and then pulling them off), but many people have reported greater success using duct tape. 

 

 
USES: In addition to serving as an accent plant in the landscape, this prickly pear species can also be used as a screen. Some may be surprised to learn that they also make excellent container plants, just make sure they are not near any foot traffic areas. They do well in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.
 
MAINTENANCE: Prickly pear is very low-maintenance plants. I always use tongs to pick up the pads that I have pruned, or you can use newspaper.  
 
Although they are incredibly drought-tolerant, watering once a month during the hot summer months, in the absence of rain, will be appreciated and will improve the appearance of your prickly pear. Shriveled pads indicate acute drought-stress.
 
 

Many people believe that the appearance of white, cotton-like areas on the pads is a sign of a fungal infection. However, it is caused by a small insect that secretes the white cottony mass, called cochineal scale.  Control is straightforward – simply spray off it with a strong jet of water from the hose – that’s it!

 
PROPAGATION: Prickly pear can be planted from seed, but there is a much easier way. Just cut off a pad that is at least 6 inches tall. Put the pad upright, in a shady, dry place for at least about two weeks. This allows a callus to form at the bottom.  
 
Plant with the cut end down, do not water for the first month because the bottom is susceptible to fungal infections. After the first month, water every 2 – 3 weeks until established.  If planted in the summer, provide shade until established (about three months). *I generally do not recommend planting in the winter but encourage waiting until spring when the soil warms up. 
 
If you have a large prickly pear, you can prune it, or you can start over by taking it out and cutting off some of the pads and plant them in the same place. Many of my clients have done this and been happy with the results.
 
INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACT: The Aztecs would cultivate prickly pear cactus infected with cochineal scale because the insects secrete a dark red dye with crushed. This was used to dye cloth. The Spanish exported this dye from Mexico back to Europe where it was used to dye royal garments and British military uniforms. The dye was highly valued by the Spanish, next to gold and silver. It takes 70,000 insects to produce 1 pound of dye.
 
*This is but one of many beautiful prickly pear species available to the home gardener.   Do you have a favorite species of prickly pear cactus?
Agave macroacantha with ‘Firesticks’
 Succulents are some of my favorite types of plants. I especially like the smaller agave species such as Agave parryi, Agave victoria-reginae, and Agave bovicornuta to name a few.

Let’s talk a little about how to care for cacti and succulents. 

Silver Spurge (Gopher Plant)

Agave, cactus, yuccas, as well as other succulent plants, can continue to be planted during this month. Warm soil temperatures are necessary for succulents to grow and they do best when planted during the warm season.

‘Baby Rita’

Contrary to popular opinion, newly planted succulent plants need to be watered in order to become established and grow a healthy root system.

Established cacti appreciate some supplemental water during the summer months, (especially this summer with our non-existent monsoon). I typically water large cacti with a garden hose about once a month in the summer unless we have had a lot of rain.

Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’

Some cacti and agave plants may show signs of yellowing in the summer. This is usually due to high temperatures. Be sure to give them some supplemental water if you notice the yellowing. Usually, the yellow color disappears once temperatures cool down in the fall.