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How would like gorgeous red, tubular flowers blooming at Christmas time and lasting past Valentine’s Day, all packaged up in an attractive, low-maintenance shrub?  Believe it or not, such a shrub exists.  Let me introduce you to ‘Valentine Bush‘ (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’). 

My first experience with this colorful shrub occurred in 2000 when  I was offered two free Valentine shrubs to test out on the golf course where I was working. Never one to pass up free plants, I was more than happy to try these new shrubs out. 

Young Valentine, six months after planting, next to Trailing Rosemary.
 
Those new shrubs did so well that a couple of years later, I had planted over fifty of them planted all around the golf course. I love their cool-season blooms, which add a welcome splash of color when many plants aren’t blooming, and the dark green foliage continues to add beauty to the landscape even when their flowers fade.
 

Nowadays, you will find Valentine in both commercial and residential landscapes.  An interesting fact that many may not know is that many of the arid-adapted plants that thrive here are native to Australia, including the species Eremophila

USES:  Valentine provides much need color in the landscape during the winter months and will bloom through early spring.  Red is often a color missing in the desert plant color palette which this shrub provides.  Valentine grows at a moderate rate and will reach a mature size of 3-4 feet high and 4 feet wide.  

I pair it with groundcovers such as blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) or trailing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and perennials such as Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Valentine when not in flower.
When not in flower, Valentine is still very attractive and is hardy to 15 degrees F.  It does best when planted in full and reflected the sun.  Their leaves turn maroon at the tips during the winter adding some fall color to the landscape.

MAINTENANCE:  Valentine does best with regular irrigation and soils with good drainage.  If planted in areas with wetter soils, let the soil dry out between watering to prevent root rot.  
 

You will probably not believe this, especially coming from me – the person who rants and raves about beautiful shrubs that have been incorrectly pruned by being sheared, but here it is:  Valentine shrubs should be sheared.  That’s right, I said they should be sheared.  

Believe it or not, there are some types of shrubs where shearing is the best way to prune them, and this is true for Valentine.  They should be pruned ONCE a year, once they have finished blooming in the spring.  DO NOT prune later in the year as this will remove the branches that will produce the flowers later in the year.

 
Here is the first bloom of this season on my Valentine shrub.
 
Well, would any of you be surprised to know that Valentine is my favorite shrub?  I mean, what is there not to love?  It has everything – low-maintenance, attractive foliage, thrives in the heat and sun and most importantly, gorgeous winter color.
 
In this landscape area, I designed, you can see Valentine in the background paired with Parry’s Penstemon and Desert Marigold.
 
So run, don’t walk, and go and add Valentine to your landscape.

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While fall color may be somewhat lacking in the Southwest landscape in comparison to areas with brilliant fall foliage, we do have several plants that wait until fall to begin to color the landscape with their blooms.



Turpentine bush (Ericameria laricifolia) is a desert native that has lovely, dark green foliage year round.  With the arrival of fall, they are transformed by the appearance of golden yellow flowers.

It’s hard to find a plant that needs less attention than this drought tolerant beauty – pruning every 3 years and monthly watering in summer is all it needs.

Learn more about why you should add turpentine bush to your landscape including how to use it for greatest effect and what plants to pair it with in my latest article for Houzz.com


Do you like plants that flower throughout most of the year?


How about a plant with foliage that is evergreen throughout the year in zone 9-11 gardens?


Would you prefer a plant that requires very little pruning?


If you answered “yes” to these questions, than Texas olive may deserve a spot in your garden.


This beautiful southwestern native deserves a spot in our ‘Drought Tolerant & Fuss Free’ category.


Despite its common name, this is not an olive tree.  However, it can be trained into a small tree or large shrub depending on your preference.

In my opinion, it deserves to be seen more often in the landscape with all of its outstanding qualities mentioned earlier.

My favorite characteristics are its large, dark green leaves and white flowers that decorate the landscape.

Want to learn more about Texas olive and how you can use it in your landscape?

Check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.

If you want more ideas of great plants to add to your drought tolerant landscape, you can check out my other plant profiles here.



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As you can see, it’s back to regular blog posts after my Northwestern road trip posts.  I hope you enjoyed them and were able to share in our adventures.

However, I still have more to share with you about the some very special gardens we visited. I promise to share with you soon!

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.

There are some plants in the landscape that are underused through not fault of their own.


This can be for a number of reasons, one of which, is that it isn’t stocked at local nurseries.  Customers often walk into their local nursery without any specific plant in mind and choose from what is in stock.



Another reason is that many southwestern natives aren’t all that impressive looking in their nursery container, where their root growth is restricted.  
However once they are planted and roots begin growing, they really take off and transform into a beautiful plant.


One underused plant in the southwest garden is little leaf cordia (Cordia parvifolia).

There are so many reasons to love this underused, native shrub…

– it is evergreen in zones 8 and above
– thrives in areas with full, reflected sun
– is drought tolerant
– needs no fertilizer
– rarely needs to be pruned
– and perhaps most importantly, it has beautiful, white flowers!


I recently wrote about little leaf cordia for Houzz.com and how to grow and use it in the landscape.

My hope that this underused shrub will soon become a much-used shrub in the southwestern landscape.

**Is there a plant that you think deserves a more prominent place in the southwestern landscape?  Please share it in the comments below!

I have been dreaming of converting our backyard into a beautiful, low-maintenance desert landscape.


Right now, it has a large area of grass surrounded by large, flowering shrubs against the wall.  I would have loved to have taken out the grass years ago, but my husband and son protested since they would throw the football back and forth each evening before dinner.

But, now my son is almost 12 and often throws the football over the wall, so now I have been give permission to at least start thinking of converting the backyard.

Often, on my way home from a landscape consult, I will mentally design my new backyard garden.  I have some concrete ideas, but there is still a lot to be decided.

Whenever I see a landscape area that I like, I stop to take a picture.  I have quite a few pictures that I have taken of landscapes that inspire me.

Here are just a few…

Red flowering Chuparosa, growing underneath native mesquite and foothills palo verde trees.  A hedgehog cactus grows by a large boulder.  Mexican bird-of-paradise, trained as trees are growing in the background.

Goodding’s verbena, chuparosa and brittlebush blooming with creosote bush in the background.

Desert ruellia provides an attractive background for golden barrel cacti.  This area needs to be pruned once every 2 years.

Young palo verde tree with potted artichoke agave.

I am still in the “designing inside my mind” stage, but will soon need to put things down on paper.  I have my drafting supplies ready to go once I am.

Of course, the entire project hinges on having enough money for large containers, big boulders, trees, plants, dirt for mounds and paying someone to rip out our grass.

I would hope to be able to do this next winter, but we will see…

Which one of the landscape areas above do you like best?

*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.
Do you have a sustainable landscape?
 
One that does not require excessive amounts of fertilizer, water, pruning, gasoline or time?
 
Over the past week, we have been talking about what a sustainable landscape is.  We learned about the definition of sustainable landscaping and saw examples of both good and bad landscapes in the post, “What Is a Sustainable Landscape.”  
 
In the latest post, we talked about four mistakes that people make that keep their landscape from being sustainable such as over-pruning.  If you missed it, you could see what the other three common mistakes are  – “What Keeps a Landscape From Being Sustainable?”
 
If your landscape falls short of being sustainable, or you want to decrease some resources that you use, there are small steps that you can start to take today toward a beautiful, sustainable landscape.
 
Step 1: Reduce the number of high-maintenance plants in your landscape.
 
 
Isn’t this hibiscus beautiful?
 
However, if you are growing it in the desert southwest with our nutrient-poor soils and dry, hot climate – it takes a lot of fertilizer and water to keep it looking like this.  

In addition to needing fertilizer and more water, pests can often bother hibiscus, which is then treated with insecticides as well.
 
 
As popular as queen palms are, they are not well-adapted to our climate and soils.  So, frequent applications of palm fertilizer are required throughout the warm months of the year.
 
 
Can you tell what this plant is?
 
It is a severely chlorotic and unhappy gardenia.  These plants like acidic soil.  The problem is, we have alkaline soil in the southwest. 



Okay, before I get any rose-lovers angry at me – let me first say that I love roses and have three of them in my backyard garden.


Yes, roses do need extra attention in the form of fertilizer, water, and pest control.  But if you look back at step #1, you will notice that it says to decrease the number of high-maintenance plants.


Yes, our gardens would be more sustainable if we had none of these plants that require extra resources in our landscapes, but gardening is also about pleasure and enjoyment.  So, including a few of your favorite higher-maintenance plants doesn’t make you a bad person 😉


**I use an organic fertilizer for my roses and plant garlic around my rose bushes that help keep aphids away.  

Step 2: Reduce the amount of frost-tender plants.

Frost-damaged bush lantana
Frost-damaged natal plum.



While many frost-tender plants such as bougainvillea, lantana, natal plum (Carissa microcarpa), yellow bells (Tecoma stans) and others thrive in our climate spring through fall – once temperatures dip below freezing, they suffer frost damage.


Once spring rolls around, homeowners and landscapers are hard at work pruning back all of the brown, crispy foliage which contributes to green waste (branches, etc.) that often ends up in landfills.  Also, gasoline is a resource used to deliver our garden debris to the landfill and powers some of our pruning equipment.



Before we leave the subject of reducing the amount of frost-damaged plants – let me say a word about ficus trees.


They are lush, green and beautiful.  However, they are also sensitive to temps below freezing.  


During a mild winter, your ficus may not suffer any frost damage.  But, every few years, we do go through a cold spell when temperatures dip into the 20’s, and severe damage is done to the outer leaves and branches.


Homeowners are then faced with severely pruning back their ficus trees, which causes them to look somewhat ugly while they slowly recover.


To learn more about ficus trees and other trees better suited for the landscape, click here.


Step 3: Use plants adapted for your climate.

This is perhaps the most obvious step toward a more sustainable landscape.


In the desert southwest, plants that are adapted to our hot, arid climate are crucial to a sustainable landscape.


Arid-adapted plants have a special characteristic that helps them to thrive in the blistering heat of summer while not requiring large amounts of water.


Notice the flowering of ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), pictured above.  Do you see the tiny hairs that cover the flowers?  There are even smaller hairs that cover the leaves, which give them a grayish color.


These tiny hairs help to reduce the amount of water lost to the atmosphere (evaporation) and also reflect the sun’s rays away from the plant.

This Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana) tree has different characteristics that helps it to survive our desert climate.  


It has tiny leaflets, which limit the amount of water lost to evaporation.  But, it also goes even further – in times of drought, the tiny leaflets will fall off, which further decreases the amount of water lost to the atmosphere.  This type of trait is known as ‘drought deciduous.’

Succulent plants such as cacti and agave handle arid regions by storing water inside.

Step 4: Research plants before purchasing.

Have you ever been tempted by a beautiful, flowering plant and not knowing anything else about it?
If you have, you aren’t alone.
But, you will be saving yourself a lot of time, money and more if you do a little research before you buy a new plant.


When deciding what type of plant to add to your landscape, ask yourself the following questions:


– How large will the plant grow?
– What exposure does it need – full sun, filtered shade or full shade?
– Is the plant drought-tolerant, or does it require large amounts of water?
– Will it require regular applications of fertilizer?
– Is it prone to pests or other problems?

Those are basic questions that you should know before you even dig a hole for a new plant.


So, if you don’t have a bookcase or two filled with plant books (like I do) – where can you go to research plants?


Here are a few online resources to get you started researching plants for the southwestern climate:

 

I do have a few favorite books that are invaluable as well…

Landscape Plants For Dry Regions: More Than 600 Species From Around The World

Arizona Gardener’s Guide (Gardener’s Guides
Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes

Month-By-Month Gardening in the Deserts of Arizona: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year

 

 

Silver Spurge (Euphorbia rigida)



I like to use plants that I call ‘fuss free’.  They are all drought-tolerant, most are cold-hardy in zone 9a, don’t require supplemental fertilizer, need pruning once a year or less and most of all – they are beautiful.


A FEW FAVORITE ‘FUSS-FREE’ PLANTS

Texas Ebony

Trees:


Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco)
Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)
Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)
Texas Ebony (Ebanopsis ebano)

Baja Fairy Duster

Shrubs:


Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)
Valentine  (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

Damianita

Groundcovers:


Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum)
Daminaita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Soap Aloe

Succulents:


Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris)
Silver Spurge (Euphorbia rigida)
Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata)
Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)

Pink Muhly

Ornamental Grasses:


Bear Grass (Nolina microcarpa)
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)


Of course, these are but a very sampling of arid-adapted plants that add beauty and sustainability to your landscape.


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I hope you have found these first steps toward a more sustainable landscape helpful.


Next time, we will discuss how to care for your plants and avoid unnecessary maintenance. In most cases, if you choose the arid-adapted plants, they will need very little maintenance.

What if you could have a landscape filled with beautiful, flowering plants that needed pruning only once a year?




Better yet, what if these beautiful plants needed little to no fertilizer and thrived in our desert climate?  

Would you want to include some of these plants in your garden?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by the producers of Sonoran Living, a locally produced lifestyle show, to show some ‘fuss free’ plants suitable for fall planting.  

I shared a few of my favorites in my previous post, “Fuss Free Plants for Fall Planting”.

Today, I would like to show you the plants that I profiled on the show



Coral Fountain

Coral Fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) has a lovely cascading form and produces vibrant red flowers spring through fall.

Maintenance: Prune back in March, removing frost-damaged growth.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in full sun or in light shade.

Desert Ruellia

Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis) is a medium-sized shrub with light green foliage and purple flowers that appear spring through fall.  This shrub is a great alternative for Texas Sage because it does not grow as large.

Maintenance: Prune back to 1 1/2 ft. in early March.  Avoid repeated pruning during the year.  Allow it to grow into its natural shape.

Hardy to 25 degrees.

Plant in full sun and allow room for it to grow to its mature size of 4 feet wide.

‘Phoenix’ Bird-of-Paradise

Phoenix Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima ‘Phoenix Bird’) is the yellow form of Red or Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima).  Gorgeous yellow flowers appear all summer long on these tropical shrubs.

Maintenance: Prune back to 1 ft. in winter.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in full sun, along a bare wall.

Blue Bells

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana ‘Blue Bells’) is a relatively new plant introduction.  Gray foliage is covered with blue/purple flowers off and on throughout the year.


Maintenance: Little to no pruning required.


Hardy to 17 degrees.


Plant in full sun and pair with shrubs with dark green foliage such as Valentine (shown below).



Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is a superstar in the landscape.  The reason for this is its red flowers that appear all winter long and into spring.  Better yet, the foliage is evergreen.


Maintenance: Prune back to 1 1/2 ft. high and wide in late spring, after flowering finishes.  Don’t prune more then this or flowering will be reduced later in the year.


Hardy to 15 degrees.


Plant in full sun in groups of 3 to 5 for best effect.  Pair with yellow flowering plants such as Angelita Daisy or Brittlebush.



Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigid) is a uniquely shaped succulent that produces chartreuse flowers in spring.



Maintenance: Prune back flowers after they dry in late spring.


Hardy to -20 degrees.


Plant in groups of 3 around boulders.


I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants.  


What are some of your favorite low-maintenance plants?

Do you like spending hours pruning and fertilizing your plants?  Or maybe you are tired of having to spend money on monthly visits from your landscaper.



I have been asked to show some ‘fuss free’ plants for fall planting on Sonoran Living, which is a local lifestyle show on our local Phoenix ABC network. The show will air on September 10th at 9:00. (I must admit that I am a little nervous.  I am off to my favorite nurseries to select some plants for the taping this Sunday, after church).

So, enough about my nerves….

What if you could have a landscape full of beautiful plants that only need pruning once a year and little to no fertilizer? 

Now you may be thinking that I am talking about a landscape full of cactus, like the photo below – but I’m not.  

The key to selecting ‘fuss free’ plants is to choose plants that are adapted to our arid climate.

Here are a few of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants that need pruning once a year or less…

Firecracker Penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) is great addition to any desert landscape.  It’s orange/red flowers appear in late winter and last through the spring.  Hummingbirds find them irresistible.  

Maintenance: Prune off the dead flower spikes in spring.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun.

Damianita

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) is a low-growing groundcover that is covered with tiny green leaves.  Masses of golden yellow flowers appear in spring and again in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6″ in late February.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun.  Damianita looks great next to boulders or lining a pathway.

Gulf Muhly ‘Regal Mist’

Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) is a fabulous choice for the landscape.  This ornamental grass is green in spring and then covered in burgundy plumes in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6 inches in late winter.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 to 5.  Gulf Muhly also looks great when planted next to large boulders or around trees.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is the perfect plant for areas with filtered shade.  Tubular orange flowers appear off an on throughout the year that attract hummingbirds.

Maintenance: Little to no pruning required.  Prune if needed, in late winter.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in filtered shade such as that provided by Palo Verde or Mesquite trees.  Add Purple Trailing Lantana in the front for a beautiful color contrast.

Baja Fairy Duster

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) has truly unique flowers that are shaped like small feather dusters.  The red flowers appear spring through fall and occasionally in winter.

Maintenance: Prune back by 1/2 in late winter, removing any frost damage.  Avoid pruning into ’round’ shapes.  Baja Fairy Duster has a lovely vase-shape when allowed to grow into its natural shape.

Hardy to 20 degrees.

Plant in full sun against a wall.  Baja Fairy Duster can handle locations with hot, reflected heat.

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis formerly, Hymenoxys acaulis) is a little powerhouse in the garden.  Bright yellow flowers appear throughout the entire year.

Maintenance: Clip off the spent flowers every 3 months.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 around boulders.  Pair with Firecracker Penstemon for color contrast.  Thrives along walkways in narrow areas that receive full, reflected sun.
These are just a few ‘fuss free’ plants that you can add to your landscape this fall, which is the best time of year to add plants in the Desert Southwest.

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So, I will be heading to the television studio early Tuesday morning with my sister, who will help me set up and take photos of the whole experience.  I promise to share the video link for those of you who would like to watch it 🙂

**For more of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants, check out my latest post.

Okay, you were probably thinking that I meant the ‘other’ type of grass.  But the type of grass I am referring to cannot be smoked, (at least I don’t think it can).  ‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’), is a beautiful ornamental grass to include in your landscape.  It is low-maintenance, thrives almost anywhere and has stunning burgundy foliage in late summer and early fall.

 

USES:  This Texas native looks best when planted in groups of at least 3, but I think groups of 5 or 7 are better.  This ornamental grass grows to approximately 3 ft. High and wide.  However, when flowering, add 1 – 2 ft. to their total height.  They can be planted in full sun, areas with reflected heat and even in areas with partial shade.  

 
 

This ornamental grass is tolerant of most soils.  Regal Mist is a great choice for planting around pools, boulders and in front of walls.  I have planted them around golf courses, and many people would ask me, “What is that plant?  It is beautiful.”  It is evergreen in areas with mild winters, but it is hardy to -10 degrees F (Zone 6).  Frost will turn them light tan in color. 

 
Regal Mist when not in flower

MAINTENANCE:  You can hardly get more low-maintenance then this – prune back severely in the winter, almost to the ground, to remove old foliage and spent flowers.  I do not fertilize Regal Mist, and they look just great.  Although drought tolerant once established, supplemental water is necessary for them is needed for them to look their best and to flower.  Self-seeding is not usually a problem when they are irrigated with drip-irrigation.

 

So, for those of you who are frequently asking me for a beautiful, low-maintenance plant – this is it.  Include a few in your garden, and I promise you will have people asking you, “What is that beautiful grass?”