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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.

nursery container

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.

 little leaf cordia

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!

 little leaf cordia

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.  

Great Design Plant: Little-Leaf Cordia Handles Desert Extremes

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

Downsizing Is A Good Thing – But Not Always….

Do you like using fresh herbs when you cook?

I do.  But, I don’t like buying herbs from the store because they can be expensive and often aren’t very fresh looking.

Purple basil and chives

Photo: Purple basil and chives

I enjoy growing herbs outdoors in my garden, but I also grow herbs indoors on my kitchen windowsill.  

Whether you have a garden, a balcony or a windowsill, you can grow herbs inside.

own fresh herbs

Many people grow herbs indoors during the winter time, but you can grow them inside all year long.  

So, are you ready to grow your own fresh herbs? Let’s get started…  

1. Select a place to put your potted herbs that has a sunny window. – 
A window that faces south is best, but east facing will also work.  West facing windows may be too hot in if you live in the desert, but you can experiment with it.   Herbs need at least 4 – 5 hours of sun.

It’s important to note that herbs grown indoors won’t look as compact or lush as those grown outdoors, which is due to the fact that they don’t get as much sun indoors.  

2. Choose plastic or glazed containers with holes for drainage.

It’s best to avoid terra-cotta pots, which can dry out – especially during the winter when the air in our homes can be dry from heating. 

growing herbs indoors

growing herbs indoors

You can also use cans as recycled containers.  I have grown herbs in tomato cans as well as coffee cans.    

A row of cans with their labels removed, filled with herbs would add a real contemporary look to the kitchen, don’t you think?  

growing herbs

3. Use potting or planting mix.  
Avoid using potting soil, which is not formulated for containers and can become soggy.  

4. Select what herbs you want to grow.

There are many different herbs that will grow well indoors, which include basil, chives, lemon balm, mint, parsley, sage and thyme.   

You can buy herb transplants from your favorite nursery or sometimes at the grocery store.

growing herbs indoors

growing herbs indoors

Another way to grow certain herbs is to start them from cuttings.

I ran out to the garden to grab two types of basil and some apple mint to show you how to do this.  
Basil and mint are both easy to start from cuttings.

Remove the leaves from the bottom as shown, above.  Place the cuttings in a glass of water so that most of the stem is submerged in water, but take care that no leaves are in the water.

growing herbs indoors

growing herbs indoors

Place in a window with bright, indirect sun.  Change the water every other day and watch for roots to develop.  Once roots have grown 1/2 – 1 inch, transplant each cutting into a container filled with potting mix and your are done!

I told you it was easy.

growing herbs

5. Water your potted herbs when the top of the soil feels dry.

Herbs don’t like soggy soil, so it’s best to allow the top of the soil to dry out before watering deeply until the water runs out the bottom.    

An easy to tell when it’s time to water is to stick your finger into the soil till you reach your first knuckle – slightly less than an inch.  If it feels barely moist, then it is time to water again.  

6. Fertilize your herbs.

When plants are grown in pots, they need to be fertilized and herbs are no different.  You can apply organic fertilizer granules and work into the top inch of soil OR you can use an organic liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion.    

Follow directions on the granular fertilizer package when applying and guidelines for frequency.  In general, liquid fertilizer can be applied every 2 weeks.

growing herbs

Soon you will have fresh herbs close at hand and ready to use in your favorite dishes.I recently made herbs salts from my herbs, which is fun and easy to do.  The flavor that they add to food is just delicious!

Click the links below to learn how to make:

Basil Salt

Herb Salt

For more information on how to grow herbs and how to preserve them, click on the following links:

Preserve Herbs By Freezing Them Into Ice Cubes

Preserve Herbs By Drying Them

Drought Tolerant Garden

Earlier this week, I mentioned I was being interviewed about drought tolerant gardening for several radio stations throughout the country.    

This morning, I am doing a live interview for the public radio station, KERA in Dallas, Texas.  I will be taking viewer questions throughout the program.   *You can listen to it here, if you like.   

I must admit to being a little nervous, but am mostly excited to talk about a subject that I am passionate about and have a lot of experience with having lived in California and now Arizona.

Drought Tolerant Garden

In my last post I talked to you about 10 steps toward a drought tolerant garden.  

As I promised, it is time to decide what to plant in your water wise garden.  

Today, let’s talk about one of my favorite group of plants – perennials.   

The perennials I am sharing with you can grow in a variety of climates throughout the United States and I will note their USDA planting zones.  

*For best results, the following guidelines should be followed when planting these or any drought tolerant plants:  

– Plant in well-drained soil.

-Amend the existing soil with compost at a ration of 1:1.

– The planting hole should be 3X as wide as the root ball to allow the roots to grow outward more easily and the plant to establish more quickly.

White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

Photo: White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

White gaura has a central place in my drought tolerant landscape.  I have three growing underneath my front window where I can enjoy their delicate, butterfly-shaped flowers that appear in spring and fall where I live in the low desert.  

In cooler locations, it blooms spring through summer. This white-flowering native grows approximately 2 ft. tall and wide.  

Hardy to zone 7 – 10, plant gaura in well-drained soil.

Penstemon species

Photo: Penstemon species

The arrival of spring is heralded by the flowering spikes of penstemon.  There are many different species of native penstemon and all have a place in a drought tolerant garden.   

Hummingbirds will flock to your garden to enjoy the nectar from its blooms.  The base rosette of penstemons are approximately 1 foot high and 1 – 2 feet wide when not in flower.  

The species you choose depends on your region and their cold hardiness ranges from zone 4 – 10.  Plant in full sun to filtered shade in well drained soil.

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

Photo: Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

If you like white daisies, than this is a drought tolerant perennial that deserves a place in your garden.  

Blackfoot daisies are a native, mounding plant that grow 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide.  Don’t let their straggly appearance fool you when you see them at the nursery – once they are planted and have a chance to grow roots, they will fill in and look great.  

I like to plant blackfoot daisies next to boulders where their soft texture provides beautiful contrast.  

Plant in full sun, well-drained soil.  Hardy to zone 5 – 10.

Angelita Daisy / Perky Sue (Tetraneuris acaulis - formerly Hymenoxys)

Angelita Daisy / Perky Sue (Tetraneuris acaulis – formerly Hymenoxys)

Here is one of my all time favorite perennials.  I use it often in my designs and landscapes that I have managed in the past.  

Angelita daisies are native to the United States, which add a welcome spot of color to the garden.  Don’t let their delicate appearance fool you – they are very tough.  

Plant them in groups of 3 or 5 for best effect in areas with full, (even reflected) sun to filtered shade.  Gardeners in zones 5 – 10, can grow this pretty little perennial that reaches 1 foot high and tall.  

In zone 8 gardens, it is evergreen and will flower throughout the year.  For those who live in zones 5 – 7, it can die back to the ground, but will quickly grow back in spring and provide yellow blooms throughout the summer into early fall.  

In zones 4 and below, angelita daisy is often grown as an annual.

Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)

Photo: Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)

The flowers of tufted evening primrose open at night where their white blooms illuminate the garden.  

As flowers fade, they turn pink.   Plant this native alongside boulders or at the base of spiky plants such as sotol (desert spoon) where you can show off the contrast in textures.  

Plant in full sun to filtered shade in well-drained soil for best results.  Hardy to zones 8 – 10.

amianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

Photo: Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

It’s hard to find a native plant that can compete with the golden yellow blooms of damianita.    

This shrubby perennial grows 1 foot high and 2 feet wide.  Masses of yellow flowers appear in spring and fall covering the bright green needle-like foliage.  

Hardy to zones 7 – 10, damianita needs full sun and well-drained soil.  Prune back to 6 inches in spring after flowering has finished to keep it compact and reduce woody growth.

Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Photo: Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

While not a native, trailing lantana is a plant that is well adapted to arid climates and is a popular choice for drought tolerant gardens.  It also is a butterfly magnet.

*Lantana can be invasive in warm, humid climates but in arid regions, this is not a problem.  

Trailing lantana grows up to 1 foot high and 3 feet wide.  Plant in full sun or filtered shade.    

Although lantana is not cold hardy (it grows in zones 8 – 10), it is often grown as an annual in colder climates.  Flowers appear quickly after the danger of frost has passed that last until the first frost in fall / winter.  Shear back to 6 inches in spring once the freezing temperatures have ended.  

Any of these beautiful perennials will add beauty to your drought tolerant garden.  

Do you live in an area that has been affected by drought?  

You may be surprised at the answer.  Periods of drought aren’t uncommon for those of us who live in the Western United States, but more recently drought has expanded to some other areas that may surprise you.

10 Tips for Drought Tolerant Gardening

Drought tolerant gardening is rapidly becoming a very popular way to garden.  Contrary to what some people may think, drought tolerant gardens are low-maintenance, easy to care for, use far less resources and can be beautiful.

Agave, mesquite and salvias

Photo: Agave, mesquite and salvias.

Drought tolerant gardens are a great choice for any landscape because they are much more self-sufficient and sustainable than other landscapes. Even if drought has not affected your area, that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.   

drought tolerant gardening

*This week, I will be doing a series of radio interviews about drought tolerant gardening for radio stations in Oregon, Texas and Alabama. 

I must admit to being a little nervous since I have not done a radio interview before and I have four to do this week.  I think that it should be easier than being on TV since I don’t have to worry about what I’m wearing or if my hair is messed up 😉

Agave, saguaro, wildflowers and yucca

Photo: Agave, saguaro, wildflowers and yucca.

No matter if you live in California where many areas are experiencing exceptional drought, the Southwest or wherever you live, the principles of drought tolerant gardening are the same.

Landscape filled with drought tolerant plants and limited amount of grass.

Photo: Landscape filled with drought tolerant plants and limited amount of grass.

I recently shared 10 tips for drought tolerant gardens in an article for Birds & Blooms where I serve as the garden blogger, which you can read here.

Whether you implement 1 or all of the 10 tips, you will be increasing the sustainability of your landscape.

drought tolerant gardening

I encourage you to take a little time to read the 10 tips and then come back later this week, when I will share with some of my favorite drought tolerant plants.

Wish me luck on my first radio interview tomorrow.  I’ll let you know how it goes…    

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For more information on drought tolerant gardening, click here.

Have you ever seen shrubs that have been planted too closely together?

overcrowded shrubs

At first glance, it looks like the new plants in the landscape above fit just fine into this area.  

But, what if I told you that those small shrubs grow 6 feet high and wide at maturity?

overcrowded shrubs

As they grow, out come the hedge trimmers and over pruned, ugly shrubs are the result.  

Unfortunately, this is a problem that has reached almost epidemic proportions in areas throughout the Southwest.  

Why else would people prune beautiful flowering shrubs into something that resembles anonymous, green blobs?  

The good news is that you can avoid this from happening in your landscape.  Even if you currently have overcrowded shrubs, you can solve the problem.

I recently wrote an article for Houzz.com on how to avoid overcrowded and the resulting overpruning…  

How to Avoid Overcrowded, Overpruned Shrubs

I hope that you find this article helpful – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Do you enjoy going out into the garden in summer?

I don’t!

I admit to sometimes neglecting my garden when the temperatures go above the century mark.  My aversion to gardening in a furnace is one of the reasons that I like to use desert-adapted plants that don’t need much attention.

fuss-free plant chuparosa

One of my favorite fuss-free plants is chuparosa (Justicia californica).

It has beautiful red, tubular flowers that decorate the garden in late winter into spring and sporadically throughout the year.  Hummingbirds can’t resist it AND it is drought-tolerant and low-maintenance.

Want to learn more?  Here is my latest plant profile for Houzz:

 

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

I do.

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

desert ruellia

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

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

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

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

 

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

Have you ever taken out an area of grass and added plants in its place?

I have – numerous times.

My past was filled with grass – acres and acres of it, when I worked as a horticulturist for golf courses.  Nothing made me happier then when areas of grass were being removed and I was able to design a new landscape area.

golf courses

It’s been 8 years since I worked as a staff horticulturist for golf courses, but the past few weeks have found me spending a lot of time back on the golf course.

Earlier this week, I told you about my most recent project – creating landscape designs for up to 30 acres of former grass area.  Two golf courses, that I have worked with in the past, are removing large areas of turf in favor of a more natural, desert-scape.

The plants that I have chosen are extremely drought-tolerant, need very little maintenance and are native to the deserts of North America.

Another important criteria for my choices of plants was that I have to had experience growing them myself, either in my own garden or professionally in landscape areas that I have managed.

Here are the plants that I am using in this first area:

Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis) 

Desert Ruellia is a favorite shrub of mine.  It is incredibly drought-tolerant.  I like to use it as a smaller substitute for Texas sage.

In this first landscape area, I wanted a shrub that could survive with intermittent deep-watering, limited maintenance while still looking attractive.  The purple flowers that appear spring through fall will add color to the area.

golf courses

Chuparosa (Justicia californica) 

This flowering native, will find a place underneath the filtered shade of the large mesquite tree already present.  

Chuparosa explodes with color off an on throughout the year, attracting every hummingbird in the neighborhood.  It does well in full sun or filtered shade.  

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeler)

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeler) 

Succulents are a vital part of the plant palette for all of these new areas.  Their unique colors and shapes add texture to the landscape and contrast well with the more softly-shaped plants.

Desert spoon will be interspersed throughout this first area where its gray color will contrast with the darker greens of the shrubs.

Santa-Rita Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita)

Santa-Rita Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita) 

Santa-rita purple prickly pear is also high on my list of favorites.  You just can’t beat the purple coloring that appears toward the tips of gray/blue pads.

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata) 

Often grown as a annual, Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that flowers throughout the year.

Cold and lack of water don’t bother these tough little perennials.  They require little to no maintenance – but I cut them back severely to 3 inches once a year to improve their appearance and promote more flowering, although you don’t have too.

Whether you or not you are a fan of yellow – it is an important color to include in the garden because the color yellow helps the other colors in the landscape to ‘pop’ and stand out more vividly.

Although short-lived, desert marigold self-seeds, ensuring that they remain a presence wherever they are planted.

golf courses

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) 

If you are a fan of penstemons, this is one to consider adding to your list.  Firecracker penstemon has a long bloom period in the low-desert.  It starts blooming in late December and continues into spring.

You can often prolong the bloom period by removing spent flowering stalks, which will promote a second flush of bloom.  I have several of these growing in my own garden – some are 15 years old and still going strong – although that is uncommon.  

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)

Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) 

I’ll be the first one to admit that this low-growing shrub is not exciting – one may even call it ‘boring’.

But, bursage is seen carpeting the ground throughout the Arizona portion of the Sonoran desert.  Its gray/green foliage serves as an understory plant that helps to tie the separate elements of this ‘natural landscape’ together.  

Example of bursage use in a natural desert landscape planting

Example of bursage use in a natural desert landscape planting. 

The key to keeping bursage attractive is to prune it back severely to 6″ tall and wide every 2 – 3 years in early spring.

So, this is the plant palette for the first of many ‘natural desert landscape areas’.  I do have a few more plants that I will show you as I create designs for the other areas on the golf courses.

Do you grow any of these plants in your garden?  

Last week was a busy one for me.  I had several appointments scheduled, and then I got the ‘mother’ of all colds.  

I don’t get sick colds very often. So, that is probably why when I do get them every few years – I get a severe one.  

My constant companions the past week

My constant companions the past week. 

I am finally among the living after a week of fighting through all that this cold could throw at me, and I feel weak and drained – BUT, I can now walk through the house without carrying a box of tissues.  *Being able to breathe through your nose is so delightful when it has been stopped up for a week (cold medicine just doesn’t seem to work all that well for me).

Despite this terrible cold, I was able to make it through my appointments, although I prayed that my nose wouldn’t start dripping in front of my clients. Whenever I started to feel weak or faint, I would come up with an excuse to sit for a minute or two by saying, “Let’s sit for a minute and see what the view of the landscape looks like from this perspective.”

I promise that I used a lot of hand-sanitizer before shaking hands with everyone 😉

Alright, enough complaining about my cold.  I am excited to show you my latest project.

drought-tolerant landscape

Okay, I admit that it doesn’t look too exciting right now.

As you can see, the project is on a golf course.  This particular course is removing 50 acres of turf and planting drought-tolerant landscapes in their place in their attempt to save water.   The area pictured above is just one of many that I will be working on throughout the summer.

drought-tolerant landscape

As part of the turf removal, the golf course will be re-designing its entire irrigation system. (It hasn’t happened yet in this area, which is why it is wet.)

drought-tolerant landscape

Along the entire length of this area, will run a river-rock lined wash, which will help to channel stormwater.

I have been working on a plant palette that includes native, drought-tolerant succulents, shrubs, and groundcovers that will require minimal water once established.

Railroad ties, that separate homeowner properties will be removed to help the transition toward the golf course landscape visually.  To that end, I will include a few of the same plants already present in the adjoining properties to create the illusion of a seamless landscape.

The goal is to create a beautiful landscape area that has minimal water and maintenance requirements.  To say that I am excited about working on this project is an understatement.

Interestingly, my first job out of college was working as a horticulturist for a golf course.  Although I had unlimited opportunities to golf for free – I never did. Other than indulging in an occasional round of miniature golf – I don’t play golf at all.

I may not play golf or completely understand the passion for the game – I have come to know the unique challenges that landscaping around golf courses entail – overspray from sprinklers, carts driving through landscape areas when they aren’t allowed, knowing what plants to use in areas that are in play, etc.

Next time, I will share with the plant palette of drought-tolerant natives that will be used in these areas.  Who knows?  You may be inspired to use some of these plants in your landscape!    

Tips to Save Money When Shopping for Succulents

I am busy putting the finishing touches on my presentation for an upcoming speaking engagement this Monday evening…

low-maintenance garden

The women’s ministry at Cornerstone Church in Chandler, AZ asked me to speak about desert gardening.

Now, I love talking about how easy it is to have a beautiful and low-maintenance garden in the desert – yes, I said easy.

We are the ones that make our landscapes high-maintenance by making the following mistakes:

– Not allowing plants enough room to grow, which leads to over-pruning.

– Pruning plants more often then they need it.

– Selecting plants that aren’t well-adapted to our climate.

– Using fertilizer on plants that almost never need to be fertilized.

desert gardening

The event begins at 7:00 with the main speaker and afterward, attendees are given the choice of going to one of several ‘labs’ being offered at 8:00 pm.

I will be heading up the lab, “Creating a Beautiful, Fuss-Free Garden”.

low-maintenance garden

The main speaker, is Lysa TerKeurst, who is fabulous.

And, did I mention that the entire event is FREE???  There is no need to register.  Just show up.  Here is a link for more information.

I’d love to those of you who live in the greater Phoenix area!

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On another note, I have been talking about attending plant sales and sharing with you about new varieties of some popular plants available along with a few of the newest plant introductions.

I had mentioned that I had come away with 3 new plants from the Desert Botanical Garden’s Spring Plant Sale.

So today, I thought that I would share with you the plants I chose and why…

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephla)

1. The first plant I chose is one that I have never grown before – Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephla).  As indicated on the plant sign, it is new to the market.

It is related to Red & Pink Fairy Duster shrubs, (which are great plants for the desert landscape, by the way).

I was entranced by the photo of large, puff-ball flowers.  I also liked that I could grow it as a small tree, if I wanted too.  

low-maintenance garden

I like that is hardy to 20 degrees, which should make the occasional dips into the low 20’s in my garden no problem.

I planted it along the eastern side of my backyard, against a patio pillar.  It will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Growing to its right is a 15 ft. tall Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) that I’ve pruned into a tree form. So, I think that they will look great next to each other.  

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)

The next plant I chose is Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha).

Years ago, I planted this shrubby perennial in a parking lot of a golf course I worked at.  It did beautifully and attracted hummingbirds.  It would die back to the ground every winter, but quickly grew back in spring.

I have also seen Mexican Bush Sage grown in a variety of other areas during my travels, including Santa Barbara, CA and Miami, FL where it is grown as a perennial.

During a tour of the White House in Washington DC, I saw it grown there as well, where it is treated as an annual.

As much as I have liked this plant, I’ve never grown it in my own garden.

I planted it against the outside of one of my vegetable gardens where it will get morning and early afternoon sun.  Two other factors were important in choosing this area for my new Mexican Bush Sage – I didn’t have to add drip irrigation for it because it will get residual moisture from the vegetable garden AND it will also attract pollinators to my vegetable garden.

Purple Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Purple')

The last plant that I chose is one that many of you may be familiar with, just with a different flower-color.

Purple Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Purple’) was evidently a very popular plant at the sale because there was only one left, which went home with me.  

low-maintenance garden

It will grow much like the red variety, pictured above, enjoying filtered shade or afternoon shade.

Flowers will appear in fall, winter and spring in low-desert gardens.

Other varieties of Autumn Sage are available with different-colored flowers like white, pink and salmon.

My new Purple Autumn Sage is also happy in its new home outside the vegetable garden where it will receive afternoon shade.

I will keep you updated on how well they grow in my garden.