Posts

Colorful containers at Civano Nursery, Tucson

Does your garden have a case of the ‘blahs’?  

One of the most frequent desires for homeowners that I meet with is more colorful interest for their outdoor spaces.  One of the easiest ways to add a splash of color to the garden is introducing brightly colored pots.

There are some situations where adding color using flowering plants is difficult, particularly when there is a lot of shade as most plants won’t bloom in heavy shade.  

My favorite solution for that problem is to plant a shade-loving succulent in a colorful pot such as elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra).

Adding a color element to a shady entry is just one of the many ways to use vibrant pots to add colorful interest year round.  In my latest Houzz article, I share a number of ways how you can utilize pots as a decorative element to the garden.

 

How do you add color to your outdoor spaces?

Have you ever thought of fruits, herbs or even vegetables as ornamental plants?  

Often the characteristics that make edible plants appeal to our appetite, can also add beauty to the garden making edible plants a great choice for the garden as they can do double duty as ornamentals.

I am always struck by how edible plants are increasingly used to create beautiful garden spaces.

I’ve recently shared several of my favorite examples from my own garden as well as in during garden travels for Houzz.

I hope you are inspired to look at edible plants in a new light.

Do you like cactus?


I find that even people who aren’t huge fans of cacti, tend to like make an exception for golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii).  


I think one of the reasons for its popularity is because of its globular shape and yellow spines.


Another reason may be that golden barrel cacti are extremely versatile in the landscape.  Whether you prefer a contemporary landscape with golden barrels planted in neat, orderly rows or in a more natural grouping – they can be used both ways.

I like to place golden barrel cacti next to boulders, where their round shapes and sunny color provide great contrast.


These popular cacti are native to the desert Southwest and can be grown outdoors in zones 9 and above.  However, larger specimens have been known to handle temperatures in the teens.

In colder regions, they can be planted in containers and brought inside in winter.


If you look closely at a golden barrel’s spines, you’ll notice how they criss-cross each other, forming an interesting geometric pattern.  

You can probably guess one of the spines purposes – to provide protection from predators who may want to eat them.

However, there is another, somewhat surprising way that the spines help the cactus, which you read here:

The care for golden barrels is quite simple.  They do best in well-drained, native desert soil in full sun to filtered shade.

Although they start out small, mature specimens can reach 3 feet tall and wide.  However, they can take years to reach that size, so they are often planted in much smaller areas and later replaced.

Now for the big question – how much water do they need?  Established golden barrels can get by with existing rainfall, but will grow faster and look their best with they recieve a deep watering once a month May through August.  The rest of the year, they should be fine with existing rainfall.

Earlier today, I mentioned on my azplantlady facebook page that I had seen golden barrel cacti growing in a very unusual place.


Well as promised, here is the answer:

I came across this cluster of golden barrel cacti growing in Michigan!

To be precise, they were located in a greenhouse at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, which I visited back in June.  I was looking forward to visiting these beautiful gardens and seeing examples of plants that grow in more temperate climates, so I was quite surprised to come across a plant from home.

So, even if you live in a climate that experiences frigid winter temperatures – you can grow golden barrels….inside.

How about you?  Do you have golden barrel cacti growing in your landscape?  Do you like seeing them in a more formal setting or a natural one such as when planted next to a boulder?


Do you have a list of favorite plants for your Southwestern garden?


I do.


Today, I’d like to share with you about one of my favorite shrubs, desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).


It has beautiful, light-green foliage and purple flowers that appear off an on throughout the year, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

Unlike its cousin (Ruellia brittoniana), desert ruellia does not take over the garden space.  

It needs little maintenance, and looks great with a variety of other flowering plants.

For more information on where this lovely shrub grows, how to plant it and how to use it in the landscape, check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.com

To see my other plant profiles for Houzz, click here.

I posted a photo of the uniquely-shaped pottery that I came across at a local nursery, yesterday on facebook and asked you to guess what they were used for.

This unglazed pottery was commonly used in arid regions long ago to store both food and water.  They are called ollas.  

Ollas are making a comeback in the garden – particularly in arid regions.  

Why?


Ollas are a great way to deep water plants.

They are buried so that only the top is exposed.  Water is added and slowly seeps through the walls of the olla, providing uniform moisture to plant’s roots.

The top of the soil remains dry, so that evaporation is limited and decreases problems with weeds because their roots can’t reach the moist soil underneath.

Ollas can be used in vegetable gardens, containers and among other plants in your garden that may not be attached to an irrigation system.

To use, simply take the lid off, and fill with water. Every few days, refill and then let the water slowly percolate into the soil.


There are companies now making ollas for the home gardener.  They are not cheap.  The ones above were going for $35.  
I would love to buy one, but they are not in my budget right now.  Maybe I can add one to my Christmas list?

You can make your own inexpensive olla using a plastic milk jug or 2-liter soda bottle, with small holes punched all around and then bury it.

OR, you can take two unglazed tera-cota pots and glue them together with silicone.  *Learn how to make both types of homemade versions, here.

I really like when the old-fashioned ways of doing things come back into style.  Technology is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean that the older ways of doing things is obsolete.

**For those of you who would like to purchase an olla, like the ones pictured above – they are available at local Summerwinds nurseries throughout the Phoenix area.

For those of you who live elsewhere, here is a link to the company who created the ollas in the photos above.

When you pair beauty and low-maintenance in a single type of plant – that is one that I highly recommend.

Earlier this week, I was doing a landscape consult with a client who had multiple Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) plants throughout his garden and I was reminded again, how much I enjoy this succulent plant.  

I’d love to share with you just a few of the many reasons to add red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) to your landscape…

 
First of all, its flowers are beautiful and appear May through September and hummingbirds find them irresistible. Red yucca isn’t only drought tolerant but is hardy to -20 degrees, making it suitable for planting in many different planting zones. Although it often referred to by the common name ‘yucca’ – it isn’t a yucca at all.
 
 
Even when not in flower, its grass-like succulent foliage add texture to the landscape. I really like how they look when planted in groups of three.
 
**When adding multiple plants of the same kind – focus on adding them in odd numbered groupings such as 3 or 5.  The reason is that odd numbered plant groupings are more pleasing to the eye.
 
 
In addition to the more traditional red/pink colored flowers, there is also a yellow variety available.  They are the same as red yucca with the flower color being the only difference.
 
Their requirements are few…. full sun, well-drained soil and periodic deep watering.
 
 

Red yucca plants are extremely low-maintenance. All you need to do is to prune off dead flower stalks in the fall.  

Don’t prune the foliage like the homeowner did in the photo above – why create more maintenance then is needed?  Especially when it results in turning an attractive plant ‘ugly’?

 

**You can read more about my past experience with this type of pruning to red yucca that was done by a member of my crew in a previous blog post:

“Do This, Not That”

 
 
Red or yellow yucca thrive in areas with reflected sun and heat.  They also do well around swimming pools and in pots.  
 
I love how this yellow yucca was placed between garage doors, don’t you?  It is almost impossible to find a plant that will do well in this unforgiving location.
 
Over time, red yucca can become overgrown.  The photo above are from my client’s front yard.  His red yucca aren’t quite overgrown yet, but will eventually get there in 2 – 3 years.
 
What I recommend is to simply take them out and replace them when that happens.  You don’t even have to buy a new red yucca to replace them with.  Simply separate a small section of the overgrown plant that you just removed and re-plant it.
 
 
What’s not to love about this fabulous plant? I hope you will decide to try red or yellow yucca in your landscape.  

Using soil amendments is one of the best ways to grow healthy flowers and vegetables.

There are different types of soil amendments that act in different ways.

In order to help explain which soil amendments to use in your garden – I was to do a “How-To” video about the subject.  I hope you find it helpful.
*I must admit that I’m not comfortable watching myself on video – but I just remind myself that it isn’t about how my hair looks or if I repeated the same word too often – as long as I am able to help someone learn about gardening 😉


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?