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Somedays, it hardly seems like work when I find myself in the middle of the beautiful desert assisting other people with their landscapes.

It’s times like these that I am reminded of the beauty of the desert we live in.

I have a love affair with trees.


It’s true.  I love their beautiful branch architecture, foliage and the dappled shade that they provide.  Living in the desert Southwest, shade is a valuable commodity with the relief it offers from the intense sun and cool temperatures it offers.



For all these reasons and more, I can’t fathom why people would prune their trees like this, stripping them of all their beauty and much of their function.


The phrase that comes to mind when seeing something like this is badly pruned trees or how ‘not’ to prune trees.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many trees in this parking lot that have fallen prey to terrible pruning practices.

As a certified arborist, I see many bad examples of pruning, but I can honestly say that the trees in this parking lot are the worst.

Years ago, my husband and I used to live next to the area in Scottsdale and the appalling pruning that was done to the trees was well known by me.  

 On this lovely day, the kids and I were on our way home from the Desert Botanical Garden when we drove past this shopping plaza.  I quickly made a detour to see if anything had changed.  

Sadly, they hadn’t.  So, I took out my camera and started taking photos.

See if you can guess what each badly tree is:


#1


#2


#3


#4

Feel free to leave your answers in the comments section.  After guessing, click here for the answers with examples of what the trees should look like when properly maintained.  

Needless to say, you don’t need to know what type of trees they are to realize that they have been ‘butchered’.

I recently shared some examples of ‘butchered’ trees and asked you to try to identify what each tree was.  You can take the quiz here, if you like before seeing the answers, below.


As promised, here the photos of badly pruned trees and what they should look like:


#1 – Desert Fern (Lysiloma watsonii)



#2 Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)



#3 Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)



#4 Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)

‘Topping’ of trees is not only unsightly, it is also unhealthy – leaving trees susceptible to biological and environmental stresses and actually makes them grow faster and use more water.

For more information on why ‘topping’ is bad for trees, click here.

I am always on the lookout for beautiful landscapes that are well-designed and need minimal care.  I like to call them sustainable or ‘fuss-free’ landscapes.


A week ago, my friend and fellow-blogger, Pam Penick came into town on a quest to see examples of gardens that use little water.  So, I was more then happy to spend a day with her looking at some great examples of gardens around the greater Phoenix area.


The first part of our journey began with a visit to the beautifully-designed Arizona State Polytechnic Campus, which included cisterns, man-made arroyos and creative uses for urbanite.  If you missed it, you can read about our visit, here.


The second leg of our tour took us to a butterfly/hummingbird demonstration garden along a golf course and a well-designed parking lot (yes, I said a parking lot).


First, was our visit to a butterfly/hummingbird demonstration garden.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

I must admit that I was excited about seeing this garden, which is near and dear to my heart because I designed it.


In the beginning, this landscape area was rather unremarkable   There were a number of foothill palo verdes, cascalote and ironwood trees in this area and a few over-pruned Valentine shrubs.

Pink Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

The golf course community wanted to create a demonstration garden to show residents how they can have a beautiful landscape that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds that consists entirely of drought-tolerant plants.

Coral Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua ‘Coral’)

I want to showcase drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials that provided overlapping seasons of color.

Firecracker Penstemon, Purple Trailing Lantana and Damianita.

Paths were created by using stabilized DG that blended seamlessly with regular DG placed around the plants.


While walking through the garden, we saw hummingbirds enjoying the flowers.

White Globe Mallow

The plants in this garden aren’t only drought-tolerant – they don’t require any supplemental fertilizer, soil amendments and need pruning once a year or less.

It doesn’t get much better then that, does it?

Our next stop was a park in the mountains of Scottsdale, called Cavalierre Park.  

I must admit that I was surprised that my favorite thing about the park was its parking lot.

I realize that that may sound strange, BUT have you seen how ugly most parking lots are?


The majority of parking lot islands are over-planted and over-pruned.  In addition, trees seldom thrive in the small islands in the midst of hot, reflected heat.

So, as we drove up to Cavalierre park, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no asphalt in sight.


Believe it or not, these parking lot islands get no supplemental irrigation and need little, if any pruning.

Each island was edged with rusted steel edging and filled with native rock from the site.  

The fact that there is not a traditional asphalt parking lot reduces the amount of runoff from rainfall.  This non-traditional parking lot created from stabilized DG (decomposed granite) doesn’t heat up, thereby keeping the area a bit cooler since it doesn’t contribute to the ‘heat-island’ effect that asphalt does.


During construction cacti and trees were salvaged from the site and replanted onsite once it was finished.  

Trees too large to be removed were incorporated into the design with steel edging preserving their original grade.


This raised planter keeps the existing mesquite tree and saguaro cactus at their original grade while creating a beautiful, focal planting near the entrance of the park.


I am constantly amazed at how beautiful sustainable landscapes can be simply by using good design and arid-adapted plants that are maintained correctly.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather enjoy a parking lot like this instead of one surrounded by asphalt and over-pruned shrubs, wouldn’t you?

I hope you have enjoyed this second installment of our tour of sustainable landscapes in the Phoenix area.

Be sure to come back for our last installment – I have saved the best for last…

Can you tell what is wrong with this Mesquite tree?


This tree has mistletoe growing in it.

Can you see it?

It is hard to spot mistletoe when it first infects a tree.  I can spot it right away, but it takes some time to recognize it when it is small.

Here is a closer look…


Look for green growth that has a slightly different shape and texture then the tree leaves.

Here is a close up photo…


You can see where the mistletoe has attached to the tree branch.

Mistletoe is easier to spot in the winter, when many of the trees are leafless.

The types of trees that I see with mistletoe are mesquite, palo verde and sweet acacia.

Because mistletoe is a natural part of the desert ecosystem, there is debate about whether or not to remove it from trees.

Mistletoe does not kill your tree, but it can stress them because it steals nutrients from the tree.  This can leave the tree open to additional stresses that can kill it.

Mesquite tree heavily infested with mistletoe.

As a Certified Arborist, I recommend removing mistletoe infestations from trees in landscape settings.  You may not mind the mistletoe, but it is spread by birds and your neighbors may not be too happy when their trees start sprouting mistletoe.

In the natural desert, I would leave mistletoe alone because it is part of the natural ecosystem and its berries are a food source for birds.

This small mistletoe growing on a palo verde tree trunk cannot be completely removed.  But, you can break off the mistletoe easily and keep it from becoming more established as long as you remove any new growth as it occurs.

For more information on when it is possible to remove mistletoe completely, you can read my previous post – “Got Mistletoe?”

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Thank you all for your supportive comments regarding my son Kai and his recovery from his sixth hip surgery.

His recovery has been harder this time with the pain.  Also, he is a lot heavier then he was the last time.  We have to carry him from his bed to his wheelchair to the toilet.

Kai is know finished with his prescription meds which has helped ‘clear his head’ a little bit.  Ibuprofen is not as effective with the pain, but it is manageable.

This week, instead of our weekly dinner at the family farm – they came over to our house because it is hard to transport Kai.


It was fun seeing his young cousins play army men with Kai using his wheelchair as a battlefield.

Kai is enclosed in a ‘cloverleaf’ brace that covers his torso and both legs, which helps to immobilize his hip.  The blue braces on his lower legs are his AFO’s which he has to wear all the time.  They add strength to his lower legs and keep his feet straight (he has had surgeries on these areas as well in the past).

We are slowly settling into our new routine with caring for Kai while getting our other tasks done, like blogging 😉

I stepped outside, early this morning, and did a little pruning to our palo verde tree that was hanging too far over our front entry pathway.  It felt great just doing something normal.

I hope your summer is off to a good start and you are finding ways to keep cool 🙂


Last Saturday was a day that we had long prepared for.


My husband and I had spent countless hours sitting alongside my youngest daughter, Gracie, helping her practice for her piano recital.


She was nervous, but looked so cute in her new dress and shoes.  



The recital was held at the Mesa Arts Center and Gracie was playing along with her entire class.

As we were waiting for our turn to go inside, I saw something rather unusual in the distance.

The Mesquite trees looked rather colorful.  So, I walked a bit closer….


No, my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  These trees had knit scarves covering parts of their trunks.


Now, I like to knit scarves for loved ones – but this was the first time that I had ever seen them on trees.


Even the Pine trees had colorful, knit scarves.

I couldn’t imagine why anyone would spend so much time knitting scarves and then ‘sewing’ them around tree trunks.

The trees don’t need protection from the cold.

I needed some answers, because I was pretty sure that they didn’t cover this in my Trees class in college or when I took my Certified Arborist exam.

I spotted a security guard walking nearby and asked him why the trees had knit scarves.  He explained that the trees were the focus of a group to beautify the urban landscape.  

What they did is referred to as ‘Yarn Bombing‘, which is described as “The Art of Knit Graffiti.”  

‘Yarn Bombing’ is occurring in urban areas throughout North America in an effort to add beauty to urban areas.

Well, I must admit that I thought the trees looked quite nice.


But, I think they might get a bit ‘warm’ as the temperatures begin to rise 😉

They will soon be taken down, so if you live nearby – stop by before the ‘knit graffiti’ is taken down.

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While we were at the recital, we got our first phone call from my daughter, Rachele, who is away at basic training for the Navy.

It was so good to hear her voice!

She is homesick and is trying hard not to be discouraged.  She has finished one week of basic training and is learning how to do things “the Navy way”.  

Rachele joined up with a division that had already been there a week before and needed a few more recruits.  So, she has less time to learn how to do things.

Learning how to make their beds and folding clothes a certain way is hard and they come around with a ruler and if you are 1 cm off, you get in trouble.  

I can see why this would be hard for her, since most of her clothes never made it into her dresser at home 😉

It has been cold there (outside Chicago) and they have three different jackets and knit caps that they wear when they have to march from building to building (2 miles).

She was given good advice before she left by her then boss, who is a retired Army colonel.  He said to do your best to blend in and don’t volunteer for anything.  It just makes basic training that much harder.

So far so good, she said.  Her RTC doesn’t know her name, which is supposed to be good.

She has passed her swimming test along with many of her other physical tests – so that is good news.

The recruits aren’t allowed to talk to each other.  But, some try to talk to each other at night after lights are out.  However, some get caught and have to do extra exercise.

We are doubling up on our letters to keep her spirits up.

From what we hear, everything she is experiencing is normal, including the homesickness.  It is supposed to get better around week 4, once they start to get used things.

As for me, I was a weepy mess after I spoke to her.  I do miss her so much.  But, I believe that she will make a wonderful sailor 🙂

The other day, I was driving home from a landscape consult and as usual – I was on the lookout for examples of good and bad landscaping.

This particular day, I saw some great examples that  I would love to share with you.  

First the good…

 Isn’t this landscape grouping, attractive?

There is great texture and color.

The Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) is one of my favorite flowering shrubs, which can be trained as small trees – I have 3 at home.

The spiky foliage of the Red Yucca help to provide contrast with the softer edges of the tree and Lantana.

Speaking of which, you cannot beat Lantana for summer color.

Here is another good example of landscaping…


Although, the Texas Sage, above, is planted a bit too close together, the homeowner has solved the problem by pruning them back severely to approximately 1 ft. using loppers.  Notice that they did NOT use hedge shears or trimmers, which is a good thing!

What this does is to keep the shrubs within bounds, but since they weren’t sheared, the flowers and natural shape of the shrubs can be enjoyed.

You can really tell the difference when you see the photo below from the house next door – which is a bad example by the way…

The same shrubs, planted too close together.  But, the homeowner elected to shear them back with hedge-trimmers.  
The flowers and absence of the shrubs natural shape make these look like green ‘cones’.
Finally, I saw this really bad example of landscaping… 

Isn’t this terrible?
Believe it or not, this is a Mesquite tree that has been ‘poodled’ – meaning sheared into a round shape.
Pruning trees this way is very unhealthy for them for many reasons:
– Shearing trees actually stimulates excess growth meaning that you will need to prune them more often then a properly pruned tree.
– Sunlight has difficulty penetrating the interior, which can lead to the eventual death of interior branches.
– New branches will grow at a ‘weak’ angle, which makes them more susceptible to breakage.
These are but a few of the reason of why not to ‘shear’ or ‘top’ trees.
**How about you?  What examples of good and bad landscaping have you seen this summer?
You can learn more about why it’s wrong to ‘top’ trees in this article from the International Society of Arboriculture.

I mentioned earlier this week about our beautiful Palo Verde tree that fell victim to the high winds of a monsoon storm.  As sad as I was for the loss of my tree, I began to realize that I would now have to choose a replacement.  Now I don’t know about you, but I just love it when I get to buy a new tree or plant.  My husband is not usually as excited as I am because he is usually the one digging the holes 😉


Faced with the wonderful dilemma of having to choosing what type of tree to plant, I have began to go through the list of candidates – listing their positives and sometimes the negatives.  In my last post, we looked at 12 different trees and today I would like to finish the list of prospective tree choices.

Texas Mountain Laurel
(Sophora secundiflora)

I think it is the purple flowers that show up in the springtime that make this one of my favorite small trees.  The flowers are not only beautiful, but they perfume the air with the fragrance of grape bubblegum.  


When not blooming, Texas Mountain Laurel makes an extremely attractive evergreen tree or large shrub, depending on how you prune (train) it.  At maturity, it can reach heights of 15 – 25 ft. high and up to 15 ft. wide.  I like how it grows in full sun as well as light shade.  The fact that it is thornless is a bonus.

Most people I have spoken to are not generally fans of seedpods and try to stay away from trees that produce them.  However, most do not mind the seedpods of the Texas Mountain Laurel, because they add an attractive element to the tree.  The seedpods contain bright red seeds that are poisonous, but are extremely hard.  As a result, experts say that the seeds would likely pass through the digestive tract, undigested.

*Caterpillars can become a problem during warm weather, but you can just ignore them and/or pick them off.  If you see loose webbing on the leaves, that is a sign that it is infected by caterpillars.  The damage caused from the caterpillars does not usually hurt the tree.  It helps if you detect the eggs before they hatch and remove them.  Since caterpillars usually infect the new growth, I just prune off the affected areas.

As much as I love this small tree, I will probably look for something that will grow a little taller.

 Willow Acacia
(Acacia salicina)
Another of my favorite imports from Australia, Willow Acacia offers beauty in narrower spaces.  I planted over 100 of these trees in golf courses.  Their relative low maintenance, lack of thorns, and graceful willow-like growth habit makes this tree an asset in many areas.  I also love that fact that they are evergreen.  You can see them growing in common areas, entry and patio gardens as well as golf courses.

Their mature size of approximately 40 ft high and 20 ft. wide make this a great selection to use in a narrow space such as a side yard.

 

In late summer and fall, cream colored, puffball flowers appear which have a pleasing, light fragrance.  

I may have to seriously consider planting a Willow Acacia….

Ironwood
(Olneya tesota)



A somewhat iconic desert tree is the Ironwood.  Native to the southwestern deserts, this tree is characterized by gray-green foliage, and extremely hard wood.  A slow growing tree, it can reach 30 ft. high and 25 ft. wide, although I have seen some specimens that are larger.  Almost evergreen, it loses it’s leaves just before flowering in late winter, although severe drought can also cause it to lose it’s leaves.


This beautiful tree does best in full sun and should be kept away from close proximity to pedestrian areas as the thorns can be troublesome.  In late winter, their flowers begin to appear.  The trees appear covered in a lavender mist.  The flowers are small but are incredibly breathtaking up close…. but you can easily miss them, so pay attention.

Ironwood trees are often found growing on golf courses in our area.  Usually, the golf course was built around certain specimen trees that were already present.  Ironwood trees do not fare very well over time when planted in grassy areas.  I have seen my share of stately Ironwood trees decline over time on golf courses until they had to be removed.

I do love this tree, but would like to keep away from having thorny trees in my back garden where my children play and would also like a tree that is somewhat faster growing.  **I am normally a proponent of purchasing trees in smaller containers such as a 15- gallon tree instead of a 24″ box tree because once in the ground, the 15-gallon tree will rapidly catch up in size to the planted 24″ box tree.  BUT when shopping for a tree that is known to be a slow-grower, then I do recommend buying the largest size you can afford.

Evergreen Elm
(Ulmus parvifolia)
 
Contrary to the common name, Evergreen Elm, this beautiful shade tree is NOT evergreen.  *I would really love to talk to the people who come up with these common names 😉  If you want a large shade tree, then this is a great selection.  Bright, light green leaves, smooth bark that chips off in the shape of puzzle pieces, thornless…..there is little not to love.  It does drop it’s leaves in winter and they do not change into pretty autumn colors before falling off.

When deciding where to plant, make sure to allow plenty of room for the roots of this 35 ft. x 35 ft. tree.  The dense shade it produces is a welcome respite from a hot, summer day.  But the shade makes it difficult for summer grass to grow underneath as well as many plants.

Personally, I would like to try to find an evergreen tree for my garden that does not produce dense shade because I do like to plant underneath my trees.

Jacaranda
(Jacaranda mimosifilia)
 
Growing up in Southern California, Jacaranda trees are quite familiar to me.  I love their tropical foliage and the flowers are just beautiful.  Many transplanted Californians now make their home in Arizona and as a result, like to plant many plants that remind them of home.

Jacaranda trees are actually native to Brazil, but are grown in tropical and semi-tropical regions around the world.  In their native, tropical climate, they can exceed heights of 50 ft. x 30 ft. wide.  In our semi-tropical, arid climate, they do not grow quite as large as those grown in areas with warmer winters, such as California.


The flowers are just lovely and when they fall, they create a carpet of purple underneath the tree….so don’t rush to rake up the fallen flowers.  

In areas with cooler winters, they do lose their leaves.  They can also be damaged by hard frosts which sometimes occur in our area, so I would recommend planting in an area that receives some protection from frost.

My parents had a Jacaranda tree in their San Pedro, CA garden and so did my father-in-law in his Scottsdale, AZ garden.  As a result, I was able to enjoy their beauty up close.  But, I would rather plant a tree that is more tolerant of the occasional hard frosts that my zone 8b garden receives.

Shoestring Acacia
(Acacia stenophylla)
 
Another import from Australia, Shoestring Acacia makes a wonderful addition to the residential landscape.  They are also found growing in parking lots, common areas and golf courses.

This is also a great tree for narrow areas.  Evergreen, thornless and long leaves that remind you of shoestrings, hence the common name.  At maturity, they can reach heights of 30 ft. high while only reaching 20 ft. wide.

Even if you aren’t a fan of seedpods, these pods look very cool, I think….


These seedpods make great Christmas decorations for the tree….they look like beads strung together.  One Christmas, I had a tree solely covered with seedpods from different trees.   My mother makes fantastic wreaths out of seedpods.  I will probably do a seedpod post soon.  

There really nothing negative about Shoestring Acacias, except that they can look somewhat scrawny when they are young.  I remember planting them in groups of three around golf courses when the superintendent (my boss) asked me if they would always look so scrawny.  I promised him that in 2 years, he would be thanking me for planting them….and he did 😉   Just be patient and you will be rewarded.

Shoestring Acacia is a tree that I may need to consider my garden. 
Mesquite
(Prosopis species)
Besides Palo Verde trees, Mesquites are probably the second most iconic tree of the desert southwest.  You may be surprised to find out that the Mesquite trees found in most landscapes are not the same ones found growing out in the desert, but rather imports from South America.

Mesquite trees are known for growing quickly and providing filtered shade.  There are many good reasons to include one in your garden as well as some negatives to be mindful of.  The most important consideration for most homeowners is whether the Mesquite they have chosen is a thornless species or not.

First the positives…..beautiful shade tree, moderate to fast growing, thornless varieties available, edible seedpods,  flowers attract bees which serve to pollinate other areas of the garden.

Now the negatives…..susceptible to damage from the wind, needs to be staked longer then some other types of trees, thorns (depending on variety), seedpod litter, invasive roots, susceptible to mistletoe infestation, pruning is often required more than once a year.

Here is a list of the most popular Mesquite species and their characteristics:

Argentine Mesquite (Prosopis alba)
20 – 40 ft. high and wide
Thorns
Mostly evergreen
Native to South America
Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)
30 ft. high and wide
Some types are thornless
Semi-deciduous (Loses most leaves in winter)
Native to South America
Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)
15 – 30 ft. high / 20 – 40 ft. wide
Thorns
Deciduous (loses leaves in winter)
Native to southwestern North America

Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina)
30 ft. high and wide
Thorns
Semi-evergreen
Native to southwestern North America 
     
I love the beauty of Mesquite trees and have grown many both professionally and in my own garden at one time.  But for me personally, the maintenance that they require is more than I want to do in my own garden.
 Brazilian Pepper Tree
(Schinus teribinthifolius)
 
This attractive tree has a multitude of uses in the landscape.  Brazilian Pepper trees can be found in parks, golf courses, along roadside plantings and residential landscapes.  It’s mature size of 15 – 30 ft. high and wide makes it suitable to be used as a patio tree.

In winter, it is evergreen and the female trees produce pretty red clusters of small berries.  The fact that it is also thornless makes it a welcome addition to the garden.

Although it is somewhat invasive in humid climates, that is not a problem in arid regions.  

I’m not sure about this one for my garden….maybe?

 Leatherleaf Acacia
(Acacia craspedocarpa)
This small tree can create great contrast in the landscape with it’s gray-green leaves.  I find it looks most attractive when planted in groups of 3 or 5, although it would make a great patio tree if planted alone.

Native to Australia, it’s relative small size of 10 – 15 ft. high and wide make it perfect for small areas.
Evergreen, thornless, extremely low-maintenance and interestingly shaped leaves make this tree an asset in the landscape.  The leaves are thick and somewhat leathery in texture, hence it’s common name.
 
I have not personally grown this tree, but would not hesitate too.  But in this case, I am looking for a larger tree.

Weeping Acacia
(Acacia pendula)


I love the botanical name for this Australian native as it so aptly describes the pendulous branches.  I really have a thing for trees that have a weeping type of growth.  I’m not sure why.

This tree grows up to 40 ft. high and 25 ft. wide.  The light gray-green color also contrasts nicely with darker green foliage in the landscape.  The rate of growth is rather slow, so I think I will not add this one to my list.

Well, I wish that I could say that I know exactly what type of tree I am going to plant, but I am honestly not sure.  I wrote these posts to help myself as well as those who may be considering some of these trees as well in order to help them with their choice.

I will probably hold off until October or November to make my final decision as they are the best months for planting in our area.

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Right now, my vegetable garden is calling to me to come out and plant some seeds.

I hope you are all having a great weekend!


Christmas in the desert is much the same as it is around the world.  Christmas lights adorn homes and trees, with a few notable exceptions.  This is the desert after all….we sometimes do things a little differently.

First of all, we have a town Christmas tree made entirely out of tumbleweed.  It is painted white and really looks quite beautiful at night when lit up.  We have a huge celebration each year when the  lights are lit for the first time.
 
See…. I told you it was made out of tumbleweed.  For those of you who do not know what tumbleweed is, it is the light brown, prickly, round shrub that you see rolling through the town when you watch old Western movies.
*Disclaimer – contrary to popular belief, it is rare to see tumbleweed rolling through the desert.
We desert dwellers also decorate our cactus whenever we get a chance.  Saguaro cactus is relatively easy to decorate.  There was a home we used to drive by that had 3 saguaro cacti and every year they would decorate them as the 3 wise men – they looked just great.

Water is a much celebrated natural resource and some landscapes have fake desert washes running through their front yard.  During Christmas, some decorate their washes with blue lights to signify water.
*Fake desert washes were extremely trendy, but are thankfully, on the decline.  I admit that I did design some for homeowners who insisted on having them, but I would use large boulders and embed them along the sides to imitate a natural creek bed.
Ocotillo make a great stand-in as a Christmas tree.  Just hang some ornaments and string the lights.  I may have to try this on my Ocotillo next year.
You know those nets of Christmas lights that you can spread over shrubs?  Look carefully, this homeowner spread his lights over his boulder.  I’m not sure where I stand on this one….
Agave americana all lit up.  I love how this looks.
Some people feel that they have to throw lights on everything in their front yard.  They just do not know when to stop.  I’m not sure the lights make this Prickly Pear cactus look any better.
The majority of homes in the desert are beautifully lit and look like many of the homes where you live.  This is one of my favorites.  The arborist in me just loves how the lights define the beautiful tree trunks of the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees.
*None of these pictures are from my home.  My husband is somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to decorating the outside of our home for Christmas…a string of lights around the house is as fancy as he gets.  But, I get to go crazy with decorations indoors.
I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of what Christmas in the desert looks like.   

What does Christmas look like where you live?

 
 There are some signs that summer is beginning to fade and that fall is around the corner.  The stress that the high temperatures of summer bring has caused many plants to slow down their growth.  
 
However, the slightly lower temperatures in September bring on a flush of new growth for many trees, shrubs, and succulents in the garden.  I enjoy being out in my garden this time of year and seeing many of my plants rejuvenated.
 

With the somewhat cooler temperatures, I am now seeing many gardeners venturing outside and taking stock of the condition of their landscape.  Fall is a busy time in the desert garden because it is the ideal time to install many types of plants, which will be discussed in a separate post in early October.

  
SHRUBS: I just finished lightly pruning my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae).  Summer flowering shrubs that are cold-hardy look their best when lightly pruned at this time to help reign in rangy, sprawling growth. This should be only done with hand pruners only.  Do not use a hedge trimmer and shear your shrubs.  They should have a pleasing natural shape when you are finished.  Do not prune back frost-sensitive plants at this time.
 
 ANNUALS:  Although the local nurseries are abundant with winter annuals, I don’t recommend planting them now.  The temperatures are still quite hot, and there is a good chance that they will not make it.  
 

In the past when mid-September came, I would load up the truck with 100+ flats of annuals to plant around the community where I worked as the horticulturist.   I would then spent the next four weeks making repeated trips to the nursery to replace dead plants that just could not handle the heat of early fall.  From then on I would wait until October to change out summer annuals and replace with winter annuals.  As a result, we suffered very little plant loss.

TREES:  Mesquite and Palo Verde trees that are overgrown can be lightly easily pruned back.  Resist the temptation to heavily prune at this time.  January and February is the time for heavy pruning to occur for these trees.
 
SUCCULENTS:  Cacti, agaves and other succulent plants do best when planted when soil temperatures are warm, which makes September a great time to install them before cooler temperatures arrive.   Prickly Pear cactus can be pruned back this month if needed.  Problems with agave may show up this time of year. 
 
If your agave suddenly collapses, there is a good chance that they have gotten an infection with agave snout weevil.  There is no cure and the agave should be removed, it will be smelly due to the decay the weevil causes – and not just a little stinky.
 
One of my (least) favorite memories happened years ago when I worked as a horticulturist on a golf course.  One year, we had to remove countless agaves throughout the landscapes due to a large infestation – the smell was awful.  If this happens to your agave, do not plant another agave in the area – use another type of plant instead.
 
ROSES:  Roses should be lightly pruned and fertilized this month (see earlier post for details).
 

CITRUS:  Make sure to fertilize your citrus trees if you have not already done so (see earlier post for details).

 
NEXT MONTH – get ready for planting and wildflower garden preparation!