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As summer begins to slowly fade and the heat begins to dissipate, the Southwestern garden comes alive.

"Second Spring" in the Southwest Garden

Plants perk up in the absence of 100+ degree temperatures and people begin to venture outdoors  (without their hats!) to enjoy their beautiful surroundings.

When people talk about their favorite season, many will tell you that spring is the time that they enjoy the most as their gardens come alive, spring forth with new green growth and colorful blooms.  

Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

While spring is a glorious time in the desert landscape with winter blooms overlapping with spring flowering plants along with cactus flowers – it isn’t the only ‘spring’ that the desert experiences.

"second spring" in the desert Southwest

Fall is often referred to as the “second spring” in the desert southwest as plants take on a refreshed appearance due to the cooler temperatures with many still producing flowers.  Many birds, butterflies and other wildlife reappear during the daytime hours in autumn.

Desert residents often find themselves making excuses to spend more time outdoors whether it’s taking a longer walk or bringing their laptop outdoors where they can enjoy the comfortable temperatures and surrounding beauty of the landscape.

"second spring" in the desert Southwest

Fall is also a time where we take a look around our own garden setting and decide to make some changes whether it is taking out thirsty, old plants replacing them with attractive, drought tolerant plants or creating an outdoor room by expanding a patio or perhaps adding a pergola.

Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii)

Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii) 

No matter what garden region you live in – fall is the best time of year to add new plants to the landscape as it provides plants with three seasons in which to grow a good root system before the heat of the next summer arrives.

**Thinking of making some changes to your landscape?  Click here for a list my favorite drought tolerant plants that provide fall blooms.  

April in the desert garden is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful time of year.  Winter and spring-flowering plants (Damianita, Penstemon and ‘Valentine’ Emu Bush) are just beginning to fade and summer blooms are beginning to appear (Coral Fountain, Lantana, and Yellow Bells).   

But perhaps, the most colorful event in this month  is the flowering of palo verde trees.  

Did you know that each species of palo verde has a different shade of yellow?  

It’s true. The differences may not be obvious unless you see them next to each other, but I’ll make it easier for you and show you some examples below.

Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

Photo: Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

Foothills (Littleaf) Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)

Photo: Foothills (Littleaf) Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)

'Desert Museum' Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid 'Desert Museum')

Photo: ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’)

Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)

Photo: Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)

Every year, the arrival of the yellow flowers are met with delight by many and to the dismay of others.  Those that like clean, pristine landscapes, without a stray leaf or fallen flower, don’t like the flowers that they leave behind.  

As for me, I like things mostly natural and the golden carpet that my ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees leave behind, area welcome sight.  

A few years ago, I drove by this lovely landscape along with my husband – he stopped the car and patiently waited while I took a few photos – this tends to happen often, so he is used to it.

summer blooms are beginning to appear

While I liked the contemporary entry to the front flanked by desert spoon and with the columnar cardon cacti (no, they aren’t saguaros) surrounded by golden barrels, it was the majestic ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees that caught my eye.

summer blooms are beginning to appear

The plant palette was limited, which works well with contemporary design.  The flowers from the palo verde trees along the street decorated the grass and sidewalk, (although they were pruned up to high).

summer blooms are beginning to appear

While my personal style is more informal, I do appreciate good, contemporary design and I really liked this pathway, although I believe a better species of agave that can handle full, reflected heat without growing too large would have been better – maybe Twin-Flower Agave (Agave geminiflora) or Artichoke Agave (Agave parrying var. truncata)?  

I’m still loving the flowers.

Victoria agave

My favorite picture is this one of the entryway which is covered with a solid carpet of golden yellow flowers, which contrast beautifully with the gray-blue walls and red door.  

How about you?  Do you like the way flowers look on the ground once they have fallen?  Or do you feel the overwhelming impulse to blow them away?  

I have had a love affair with roses for over 26 years.

William Shakespeare rose sign

It all began when we bought our first house. I was a young mother with two girls who was giddy with the possibilities of having her very own spot of garden to grow roses in.

local rose garden

We would take our girls around to the local rose gardens where so could see what types of roses to pick for our new rose garden.

The rose garden was located in the front yard along the side of the driveway.  At the time, money was tight so we ended up purchasing twenty different ‘grade 1 1/2’ roses for $3 each at Home Depot.

‘Grade 1’ roses are considered to be the cream of the crop and the best type to purchase based on the their size and number of canes (stems).

A few months later, my roses were in full bloom and the talk of the neighborhood (we definitely stuck out from the surrounding neighbors since we had taken out a large chunk of lawn to grow a LOT of roses).

rose garden

Many people ask if I had a favorite hybrid tea rose and the answer is “yes”.  Mr. Lincoln with its deep red blossoms which were incredibly fragrant always stands out in my memory of our first rose garden. At one time, it reached almost 6 ft. tall and had over 30 blossoms covering it.

Three years later, I had gone from 20 rose bushes to 40 – all a different type of hybrid tea or shrub rose.  I realize that I maybe went a little overboard, but I loved growing roses – no two roses were the same.

Whenever we were traveling, if there was a rose garden nearby – we would visit it…

The rose garden at Kilkenny Castle in Ireland

The rose garden at Kilkenny Castle in Ireland.

That's me posing by the roses and the castle.

That’s me posing by the roses and the castle in 2003.

Santa Barbara Mission rose garden in California

Santa Barbara Mission rose garden in California

After we sold our home in Phoenix, we moved out to the suburbs to be closer to my husband’s job. As we built our new home, I knew that I did want room for a few roses.

Love Affair With Roses: Looking Forward and Back

After adopting our three youngest kids, I was eager to share my love for roses with them.  They each picked out their own rose from a rose catalog and helped plant them.  It was a fun experience, complete with finding earthworms in the soil and more.

While their roses did grow, they didn’t have the best location, which was rather shady and so they turned out rather straggly.  Needless to say, they were pulled out a couple of years later.

Even though I didn’t have roses growing in my garden, I still went out of my way to enjoy them whenever I found myself on the road.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon in 2015.

Stopping to smell the roses in Santa Barbara, CA.

Stopping to smell the roses in Santa Barbara, CA in 2016.

A few years ago, I realized that my love affair with roses never ended and that it was time to think seriously about growing a few again.

Surprisingly, not a single one is a hybrid tea rose. In fact, all are David Austin shrub roses.

Shrub roses are easier to grow, more resistant to disease and insect pests and smell amazing!

One of the cool aspects of being a local garden expert is the the folks at David Austin send me free roses to test in my garden. In return, I tell them how they do in the desert climate and share my findings with you too!

‘Olivia Rose’ David Austin Shrub Rose

My favorites for the desert garden are ‘Ancient Mariner’, ‘Darcey Bussell’, ‘Lady of Sharlott” and ‘Olivia Rose’. All of these are available through mail order via this link.

I am so happy that I have returned to growing the plant that inspired my passion for gardening years ago.

Winter is the best time to add new bare root roses to the desert garden. I invite you to consider adding some to your garden.

**Have you ever grown roses?  Do you have a favorite type? If you find yourself overwhelmed by the different types of roses there are to pick from, I have written an article for Houzz, which looks closer at several of the most popular roses in order to help people select the best type of rose for their garden.

What Kind of Roses Should You Grow?

newly-planted landscape

Have you ever driven by a newly-planted landscape?  If so, you probably noticed that many of the plants were quite small.  

I like to joke that sometimes you need a magnifying glass just to see the new plants. But as small as they are, within a short amount of time, those plants start to grow.  

overgrown plants are unattractive.

Look at the same landscape three years later. The plants are well-established and look great.  

Fast forward eight-ten years, and you may start to see signs of some plants becoming overgrown and unattractive.

When this happens to shrubs, we can often push a ‘restart button’ (for most types of shrubs) and prune them back severely in spring using a good pair of loppers, which reduces their size. I use my Corona loppers to do major pruning of my shrubs.

However, there are some plants where this approach doesn’t work.

Let’s identify a few of these plants and how to deal with them once they outgrow their allotted space or become filled with old, woody growth.

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

Desert spoon is one of my favorite plants.  I love how its blue-gray, spiky leaves add texture to the garden and contrast with plants that have darker green foliage.  

Old, Overgrown Plants

After ten years or more in the landscape, desert spoon can start to take on a ragged, rather unattractive appearance, as well as grow quite large.

When this happens, I recommend that they be removed and a new one planted in its place.  

Now, some of you may think that may seem wasteful, but I invite you to take another look at your landscape and the plants within it.

Your outdoor space isn’t static and unchanging. Its appearance changes with the seasons with plants blooming at different times. Trees gradually extend the amount of shade they provide and plants change in size.  

A newly planted garden doesn’t look the same through the years, it changes.  

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus')

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’)

Rosemary is a good choice for those who want rich, dark green color in the garden. Bees love the light blue flowers that appear in late winter and spring, and the aromatic foliage can be used to flavor your favorite dishes.  

Old, Overgrown Plants

But, as time passes, it does get bigger, outgrowing its original space.  

Old, Overgrown Plants

When this happens, people start to shear their rosemary, which is stressful for the plant and contributes to sections of branches dying.

For those who don’t like the formal look, pruning rosemary back severely would be your first impulse. But, the problem with rosemary is that they don’t respond well to severe pruning.

So again, in this case, it’s best to pull out the old rosemary and add a new one, which will provide beauty for several years.

 Rosemary hedge

Rosemary hedge

To avoid having to remove and replace rosemary too often, allow them plenty of room to grow to their mature size.

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red yucca is prized for its succulent, green leaves that resemble an ornamental grass and its coral flowers, which appear spring through fall.

red yucca Overgrown Plant

Once it has been growing seven years or more, red yucca may overwhelm the landscape visually. This is particularly true if the area it’s growing in isn’t very big.

Occasionally, some people will try to remove the outer leaves at the base. However, this is laborious and only serves to stimulate red yucca to grow back faster.

In those situations, I tell people that their plant has had a nice life, but it’s time to start over.

Newly-planted red yucca

Newly-planted red yucca

You may be thinking, why use plants that you’ll only have to replace after seven to ten years?

Well, all three of these plants add beauty to the landscape and are low-maintenance.

Another way to think of it is to compare your landscape with the interior of your home.  Do you make small changes to the decor of your home every few years to keep it looking fresh and attractive? The same should be true of the outside.

Replacing a few plants after seven years or more isn’t expensive. Don’t you think that the beauty these plants offer to your outdoor space makes them worth it?

What have you replaced in your garden recently?

Got Old, Overgrown Plants? Know When to Prune or Replace

Portable Drip Irrigation With a Recycled Milk Jug

Do you have plants that need extra water this summer? 

Many of us have a few plants that aren’t connected to an irrigation system. Some people don’t have an irrigation system and use a hose to water plants, which is time-consuming and inefficient.

While you can certainly haul out your hose and water each of your thirsty plants, it is not the best way. The main problem is the hose puts out water quickly and the soil can’t absorb it fast enough. As a result, much of the water runs off and doesn’t benefit the plant as much as it should.

So, if the time-consuming task of watering plants by hand isn’t your cup of tea, I’m here for you. You can make life easier by creating your own portable drip irrigation system with a recycled milk jug

This solution is very easy and will have you digging through your recycle bin collecting your used milk jugs.

To get started, you will need an empty plastic milk jug and a nail.

1. Heat the nail using a lighter or stove burner. Then use the nail to pierce 3 – 4 small holes in the bottom of the milk jug.

Portable Drip Irrigation With a Recycled Milk Jug

2. Fill the milk jug up with water, put the cap on and carry it upside down to the plant. Turn it right side up and set it down to the plant that needs irrigation. *You can also set the empty milk jug(s) next to your plants, bring the hose to them and fill with water that way.

Portable Drip Irrigation With a Recycled Milk Jug

3. Slightly loosen the cap, which will allow the water to drip out of the holes at the bottom – this allows the water to penetrate the soil slowly, instead of running off.

Once the water has drained out of the bottom of the jug, pick up your milk jug and move it to the next plant. After you are done, bring the empty jugs inside and store until the next time you need them.

If you live in a windy area and worry the milk jug will blow away, weigh them down with an inch of small rocks in the bottom of the jug – the rocks won’t interfere with the water dripping out.

Portable Drip Irrigation With a Recycled Milk Jug

I usually recommend this method of irrigating cacti monthly in summer.

This portable drip irrigation system is a great aid for those who live in areas that are suffering from drought or where an irrigation system may not exist.

**A semi-permanent variation of this method is to create holes along the sides instead of on the bottom. Then bury the entire jug next to the plant, leaving just the top exposed. To water plants, remove the milk cap and fill with water and replace the cap.

I hope you find this DIY garden project helpful. Please feel free to share it with your friends by clicking the “Share” button below. 

How To Grow Tomatoes in the Desert

Fall Blooming Shrubs, Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)

Fall Blooming Shrubs, Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)

Summer temperatures are fading and it’s time to get back outdoors and enjoy the beauty surrounding our homes.  When many plants begin to slow down blooming, there are some that are just getting started including these fall-blooming shrubs.

This time of year is very busy for me as many of my clients are ready to focus on their garden.  However, as busy as I get, I try to find some time to sit outside and enjoy the colorful plants in my own garden.

Mt. Lemmon Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii)

Mt. Lemmon Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii)

Fall is the best time for adding new plants to the landscape, so this is a great time to take a look at your garden and see where you would like to see some welcome autumn color.

If you are ready to add more color to your outdoor space this autumn, I invite you to read my latest article for Houzz where I list my favorite flowering shrubs in the fall garden.

10 Fall-Blooming Shrubs for Southwest Gardens

Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Do you love purple flowers? Check out my blog post

where I feature autumn bloomers with purple flowers.

What is your favorite flowering plant for fall?

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

I am always on the lookout for great examples of plants in the desert landscape. In my work as a landscape consultant, I drive through countless neighborhoods, which allows me to see lots of ideas.

A few years ago, I drove by a house that had a beautiful Hop Bush shrub (Dodonaea viscosa).  

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

This evergreen, drought tolerant shrub does wonderfully in our southwestern climate, and it is a frequent addition to landscapes I design. 

It’s versatility is one of the reasons it is near the top of my favorite shrub list.

  • Hop Bush is a great substitute for Oleander shrubs.
  • They can grow up to 12 feet tall or be maintained at a shorter height – basically you can decide how large it gets.
  • Their height makes them a great choice to screen out an unattractive view in spaces where a tree won’t fit while providing shade for for windows.
  • Hop Bush can be allowed to grow into their natural shape or pruned more formally.
Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

Native to the Southwest, Hop Bush is quite versatile and relatively fuss-free, especially if maintained by pruning every 6 months or so, as shown above. Here is another example of a hop bush shrub that has been pruned more formally, which it handles well.

Beautiful Hop Bush Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

 Of course, you can always let it grow into its more natural form as a large shrub.

For more information on hop bush including what its flowers look like and why it’s becoming a popular substitute for oleanders, you can read my earlier blog post – “Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Hopbush the Alternative to Oleanders.”

There are many flowering perennials that I can think of that only flower once a year and many people think that the lovely blooms of penstemon count among them.

penstemon

Photo: Parry’s Penstemon

But, did you know that if you prune the flowers just as they begin to fade that you can stimulate another flush of colorful blooms?

Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and Parry's Agave (Agave parryi)

Photo: Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and Parry’s Agave (Agave parryi)

I’ve grown penstemon for years and recently planted a Parry’s penstemon in my front yard. I enjoyed seeing its pink blossoms waving in the breeze and the hummingbirds who stopped by for a drink of nectar.

Parry's penstemon

The individual flowers began to fall, leaving only a few behind, which is the best time to prune the flowering stalks back.

Timely Pruning Produces Second Round of Flowers

If you wait too long, the chances are that you will lose your window of stimulating your penstemon to produce more flowers. It’s best to do this when there are a couple of blossoms left on the plant.

young penstemon

young penstemon

This is what my young penstemon looks like right now, but within a couple of weeks, new flowering spikes will begin growing.

The reason that pruning off the first set of flowers stimulates a second bloom period is that the penstemon’s goal is to produce seeds. To do that, they produce flowers to attract pollinators and once pollinated, the flowers drop and the seed develops. However, when by pruning off the flowering spikes when there are a few flowers left, we disrupt the cycle and the plant will produce another set of flowers for the purpose of producing seeds.

second bloom for several penstemon species

Photo: Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Doing so will promote a second bloom for several penstemon species including firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) and Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi).

Pruning and Blooms in the Spring Garden

Agave are my favorite succulent of mine in my own garden and also finds itself a prominent addition to many of my landscape designs.

There is so much to love about agave, from the unique, rosette pattern of their succulent leaves to the dramatic flowering stalk that they send up toward the end of their lives.

whale tongue

whale’s tongue agave

While I have several species of agave, whale’s tongue is one of my favorites.

This agave first drew my attention when my friend and fellow blogger, Pam Penick, wrote about the one growing in her garden, where it takes center stage in her backyard.

Since then, I have seen several throughout the greater Phoenix landscape as well.  

whale tongue agave

There is so much to like about this agave including how its blue-green color adds great color contrast to the landscape.

whale tongue agave

I also happen to like the unique shape of its leaves, that really do resemble a whale’s tongue.

Do you think this lovely agave deserves a place in your landscape?

Learn more about how and where to plant this agave as well as what plants to pair it with for maximum impact in my latest Houzz plant profile.  

 

Have you ever seen this agave in the landscape?  What would you plant alongside it?

A Welcome Gift From an Agave and a Friend

I love flowers.  In fact, it was my love affair with flowers that inspired me to get my degree in horticulture.  I figured that life is too short to not do what you love, so working as a horticulturist allows me to be around blooming plants throughout much of the year.

As the weather begins to cool, blossoms begin to lessen, but one of the many benefits of living in the Southwest is that there are always some plants showing off their flowers.

Today, I’d like to share with you just a few of the flowering plants that I saw during the past couple of weeks, which are decorating the fall landscape.

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla) flowers in spring and fall, is extremely drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 10 degrees F. Still in bloom in November

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla) flowers in spring and fall, is extremely drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 10 degrees F.

Creeping Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii) is a groundcover, which flowers in spring and fall, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 10 degrees F. Still in bloom in November

Creeping Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii) is a groundcover, which flowers in spring and fall, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 10 degrees F.

The Cascalote tree (Caesalpinia cacalaco) flowers in fall and on into early winter, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 20 degrees F.  While thorny, there is a new variety with a smooth trunk, called 'Smoothie'.  Still in bloom in November

The Cascalote tree (Caesalpinia cacalaco) flowers in fall and on into early winter, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun and is hardy to 20 degrees F.  While thorny, there is a new variety with a smooth trunk, called ‘Smoothie’.

 Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is an ornamental grass that flowers in fall, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun to filtered shade and is hardy to 0 degrees F. Still in bloom in November

Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is an ornamental grass that flowers in fall, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun to filtered shade and is hardy to 0 degrees F.

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) flowers all year long, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun to filtered shade and is hardy to 17 degrees F. Still in bloom in November

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) flowers all year long, is drought tolerant, thrives in full sun to filtered shade and is hardy to 17 degrees F. Still in bloom in November

These are but a few plants that are still in bloom in November in my zone 9 climate.

How about you?  What is blooming in your garden or neighborhood?

A Beautiful Centerpiece for November’s MGB