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A few weeks ago, I was asked by one of my editors to come up with a list of the top 10 plants that every resident of the Southwest should consider adding to their landscape.


I must admit that the task was a bit daunting at first – not because I couldn’t think of enough plants.  The problem was that my list was much larger.


I had to pare my list down and decided to focus on plants that would grow in zones 7 – 10, which cover much of the desert Southwest.  In addition, they had to be low-maintenance, native, beautiful and easy to grow.

After considering all of the criteria, I still had about 20 plants.  So, I added one other criteria of my own – how easy is it to find at your local nursery?

 
At the end, I had 10 plants that I was very happy with – but I could have easily added a lot more 😉
 
I hope you enjoy reading through this list of 10 essential plants for the desert Southwest.  

 
*I’d love to hear what plants you would include in your list of 10 favorites.
 

*Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.you have a narrow strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb? 

Do you have a narrow strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb? Many people do.

 
Have you ever looked at this area as an extension of your garden?  Oftentimes people ignore this strip of land that is often planted with a struggling lawn, overgrown tree or nothing at all.
 
 
What if people could see this often ignored area as an opportunity to increase curb appeal by adding attractive plants.  
 
Landscaping this area would also help your property to look larger.
 
 
This curbside bed was planted with a combination of edible and ornamental plants, which I think looked just lovely with the contrasting shapes and shades.
 
It was an unexpected sight in an area where there would usually be a patch of grass growing instead.
 
This is just one example of what you could plant in the area between the sidewalk and curb – referred to as a “hellstrip” by Evelyn Hadden, the author of “Hellstrip Gardening”.
 
 
As a child, I remember the beautiful roses we had growing in our hellstrip in front of our California home.  My dad was so proud of his roses and we would often cut off the perfect bloom to give to our teacher. 
 
I have been wanting to get my hands of Evelyn’s new book for a while now and was so excited to get the opportunity to review it.
 
The book is filled with beautiful illustrations and great ideas for creating beauty through plants in this strip of land that many of us have.
 
From edible gardens, perennial beds, pollination & hummingbird gardens – the possibilities are endless.  Suggestions for ground covers, trees as well as simply stunning creations using only 2 different types of plants make me wish that I had a hellstrip in front of my house.
 
In addition to examples of existing hellstrip gardens, the author also talks about certain challenges to growing plants in this area that is so close to the curb including utilities, easements, HOA’s, de-icing salts and more.
 
“Hellstrip Gardening” doesn’t restrict itself to the narrow strips of land between the sidewalk and curb, it also inspires the reader with ideas of landscaping similar areas around our homes and businesses.
 
Even if you do not have a hellstrip, you will get a lot out of reading this book.  I plan on using some of the ideas when I redesign our back garden this winter.
 
 
Timber Press, is hosting a Hellstrip Contest where you can win a $250 nursery gift card and a copy of the book.
 
Click here to enter for your chance to win.  
The contest closes July 6th.
 
**It gets even better!  The publishers from Timber Press will give away a copy of “Hellstrip Gardening” to one of my readers.
 
All you need to do is leave a comment – that’s it!
I’ll reveal the winner on July 10th.
 
Good Luck!


*I was provided a copy of this book free of charge for my honest review.

Which type of shrub would you prefer in your garden?


This one?


Or, this one?

Believe it or not, these are the same type of shrub. 
Did you know that over-pruning causes a lot of problems in the landscape that affect the shrub, water usage and your wallet?

I was recently asked to write an article for the folks at Water Use It Wisely, which is a water conservation campaign created by cities in the greater Phoenix metro area.   

The article I wrote talks about the specific problems that over-pruning causes along with ways to avoid over-pruning.


You can read the article by clicking, here

I hope you find it informative.  **If you have a friend or neighbor who has an over-pruned landscape, you may want to forward the link to them 🙂
A sustainable, low-maintenance landscape is not only beautiful, it can save the use of unneeded resources such as maintenance, time and money.

To date, our series on sustainable landscaping has talked about what is a sustainable landscape.  Next, we talked about what often goes wrong in the landscape that causes us to use unneeded resources.  


In our quest toward a more sustainable landscape, we started to discuss small steps that you can take towards a more sustainable garden.  In part one, we covered plant selection and what types of plants to avoid as our journey toward a sustainable landscape progresses.

Today, we will finish up our series on sustainable landscaping with additional steps you can implement in your garden right now.


Reduce over-crowded landscapes by removing excess plants.



As you can see, there are far too many shrubs in this area, which helps to contribute to over-pruning.


To help solve this problem, simply remove the excess shrubs.  How can you tell which ones to remove?  First, find out what type of shrubs they are – in this case they are ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’).


Then use one of the resources I gave you last time to research the plant, which would tell you that this type of shrub will grow about 6 feet high and wide.  So, the shrubs should be placed at least 6 feet apart.  


Using the photo above as an example, start out with the first shrub on the left, measure out to the next shrub that is at least 6 feet away.  Any shrubs between these two shrubs need to be taken out.  Repeat the process until the remaining shrubs are at least 6 feet apart.


Stop unnecessary pruning.




These shrubs have plenty of room to grow in the landscape, yet they are pruned every couple of months.


This type of pruning is called ‘poodle’ or ‘cupcake’ pruning.


It is really quite amazing how much more work over-pruning causes and in ways you may be surprised to discover, click here to learn more. To reduce the amount of resources (green waste, water, plant replacement, and maintenance bills) wasted on unneeded pruning.


So declare your landscape a ‘poodle’ and ‘cupcake’-free zone.  Believe me, your plants will thank you for it and your plants will look much nicer.


Allow shrubs to grow to their natural size.




When you allow enough room for plants to grow, the temptation to over-prune is greatly lessened.


Plants have a lovely shape that we frequently ruin, by making them into ‘balls’ or other unnatural shapes.  This does not only affect the health of the plant, it can also remove flowers.


Note: I am not saying that all pruning is harmful.  Pruning done properly can be beneficial for plants.


So, what if you have a landscape filled with over-pruned shrubs.  What can you do to transform them into more naturally-shaped shrubs that are more sustainable? 


The answer is relatively simple and it does involve pruning…




This over-pruned shrub is located in my neighborhood.  I cringe whenever I walk by it while walking our dogs.


It is seldom allowed to grow any leaves before the landscapers come just about every leaf off.  Frequent over-pruning has led to old, woody growth that is unproductive.  


The solution to transforming this shrub is called rejuvenation pruning, which entails pruning the shrub all the way back to 1 1/2 feet.  In most cases, this will stimulate attractive, new growth that you can allow to grow into their natural shape.


*I mention ‘in most cases’ because there is always a chance that the shrub will not recover from this type of pruning.  However when this happens, it is usually an indicator that the shrub was already declining and would not have lived long regardless of whether it was severely pruned or not.


Below, is an example from my own garden…




On the left, you can see a sage shrub that has been allowed to grow into its natural shape, which is more sustainable then over-pruning.  In addition, I also get a lot of beautiful flowers.


Every 3 years of so, when the branches become woody and unproductive, I prune it back severely (in spring) and within 4 – 6 weeks, it is already growing new branches filled with attractive foliage.


Water your plants deeply and infrequently.




Would you be surprised to discover that 80% of your water bill is used outdoors?  It’s true.


Would you also be shocked to discover that most of us over-water our plants?  In fact, more plant problems are caused by over-watering then under-watering.


So, why waste water, which is a precious resource in the western United States needlessly?


While you can have a landscape filled with desert-adapted plants that need no water, after established – your plants will look better if given some supplemental water.


For my own landscape – I water my shrubs and perennials once every 3 weeks in the winter months and it looks beautiful.


In the summer, I water every 7 – 10 days.  


The key is to water shrubs to a depth of 2 feet, perennials/groundcovers to 1 foot and trees to 3 feet.


So, how do you know how often to water?


There is excellent information available for the Phoenix metro area that you can access here.


For those of you who in other arid climates – check with your local extension office for watering guidelines.  


However, if that seems rather complicated, there is a new irrigation controller that does all the work for you.  All you have to do is enter your zip code, once the controller is installed and it will keep track of your local weather and water your plants only when they need it.  You can find out more about this Smart Irrigation Controller, here.


*For those of you who would like more information, I have written more extensively on landscape watering for desert gardens that you can access here.


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I hope you have found these posts helpful toward your goal of creating a more sustainable landscape.


Our last post will cover the last small steps that you can do to achieve a sustainable garden, so please check back.






Have you ever given much thought about how sustainable your landscape is?

I must confess that I have been giving it a lot of thought lately.  

I am busy putting the final touches on a presentation that I am giving tomorrow on “New Ideas for Sustainable Landscaping”.


The community where I am giving this talk, asked me to speak on this subject in their continuing efforts to become an Audubon International Sustainable Community.

There will be other experts on hand to discuss other ways that people and communities can become sustainable.

My talk will focus on three ways to create a more sustainable landscape:

– Maximize the use of arid-adapted plants.

– Utilize a good, functional design that is environmentally-friendly.

– Appropriate maintenance is practiced.


Next week, I will write a series of blog posts that will focus on these three ideas.

My hope is that you will be able to implement some of these things in your own landscape.

In the meantime, please wish me luck for my talk tomorrow!

When you envision a drought-tolerant landscape, does a landscape covered in colored gravel with a cactus or two come to mind?



Believe it or not, this type of landscape style was popular back in the 70’s and some people have never moved beyond this outdated trend.

Well, let us fast-forward to present day when a drought-tolerant landscape can look like this…


I drove by this beautiful landscape, filled with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants on a recent trip to Santa Barbara, CA.

I love the magenta-colored brachts of the Bougainvillea, the green spiky Spanish Bayonet Yucca (Yucca Aloifolia) along with the gray/blue of Century Plant (Agave americana).

The orange flowers of Aloe arborescens are also a favorite of mine.  I also like how the blue/gray leaves of the ‘Blue Chalk Sticks’ variety of Ice Plant (Senecio mandraliscae) provides a cool color contrast.  

You may be surprised to discover that this beautiful, drought-tolerant landscape is part of an entry to a large estate and that there is another side filled with drought-tolerant plants.


On this side, you can see Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officials ‘Prostratus’) spilling over the front with Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) right behind.  

A low-growing pink Bougainvillea shows off its bright colors along with the spiky orange flowers of the Aloe nearby.

Look closely, and you can see the paddles of a Prickly Pear cactus (not sure what species) and the variegated spikes of Agave americana ‘Variegata’.


In this last view of this spectacular garden, we see a California Pepper tree (Schinus molle), which is quite familiar to Californians.  (We had these trees lining our neighborhood street where I grew up in Southern California.)  They are found in the low-desert areas of Arizona, but it is rare to see them.

In the background, you can see two very different types of palm trees.  The large one is a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) while the skinny one is a Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia mexicana).

If you look closely, you can see the flowering stalk of an agave as well as the upright columns of a Cereus cactus.

To the left of the mailbox, there is a Jade plant growing, a flowering Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia millii), which I also have growing in my garden.

So, if you think that having a drought-tolerant landscape means looking like this…


It doesn’t!

The majority of plants in the lovely garden in California, can be grown in desert climates.

So, which drought-tolerant landscape would you prefer – a colorful one or one that is boring?

Earlier this week, I was stopped at an intersection when I noticed the sad plants on the corner.

I apologize for the poor-quality photo, but I only had a few seconds to take a picture with my phone through the window.

What was so sad about these plants was that they were mere shadows of themselves.

Many people would be hard pressed to recognize the over-pruned specimens above to what they look like when allowed to grow into their more natural shapes.

Here are photos of the same type of tree, taller shrub and cupcake shape shrub growing in happier  circumstances…


The small mushroom-topped tree is actually a Palo Brea tree (Parkinsonia praecox), which has a beautiful shape.  The trunk is beautiful as it twists upward.

Unfortunately, the flowering shrubs underneath it have fallen victim to over-pruning.


The taller shrub from the ‘sad’ plant photo is a Yellow (Mexican) Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana).  

It can be grown as a small tree or tall shrub.  


Yellow flowers appear off and on throughout the year.  However, I doubt that the over-pruned Yellow Bird-of-Paradise is ever able to produce a single flower before it is pruned off.


Can you believe that the cupcake-shaped shrub in the first photo is actually the same kind as this gorgeous flowering shrub?

Perhaps more then any other type of desert shrub, those that belong to the family Leucophyllum (often referred to as Texas Ranger or Sage) are pruned into balls, squares, cupcakes and even disks.

Unfortunately, due to a badly designed landscape, the lower shrubs don’t have enough room to grow. A single tree would have plenty of room to be able to grow, but not two.

A better plan would have been for there to be a single Palo Brea tree with 3 Texas Sage shrubs along the wall.  The groundcover, Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum) works okay in this area.

**You know what is interesting about this small piece of landscape and countless others?  It would cost so much less if people would allow enough room for plants to grow to their full size, not to mention much more attractive.

There would be FEWER PLANTS to purchase, LESS WATER needed and far LESS MAINTENANCE required.

It makes you think about why people over-plant and over-prune, doesn’t it?

For more information on how to properly prune shrubs, check out my previous post, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

If you would like to see more badly pruned trees along with a link to how to properly prune trees, check out “Scary Pruning Practices and the Unfortunate Results.”