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With the imminent arrival of fall, I can’t wait to get to the nursery to choose plants for some empty spots in my landscape. Each year, I do an inventory or audit of my garden and look at plants that are struggling or just not adding much to my outdoor space.

If you are like me, you may be thinking of adding plants this fall too. 
 
 
In my career as a horticulturist, I’ve designed, planted and overseen the installation of thousands of plants over the years.  
 
As you can imagine, I have accrued tips along the way of how-to and how NOT to select the best plants for the landscape.
 
Plant nursery at The Living Desert Museum in Palm Desert, CA
 
In my online course, Desert Gardening 101, one of the very first sections deals with how to best choose plants from the nursery. Today, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite tips on how to select the best plants at the nursery that will save you money and future problems.
 
Earlier this month, I wrote about how important it is to research plants before buying. This is a crucial step to make sure that you are select a plant that will thrive in your climate.  
 
I encourage you to take a few minutes to read these tips, which could save you from buyer’s remorse and a dead plant.
 
Foxglove for sale in front of an Arizona big box store nursery.  This lovely perennial is not the easiest plant to grow in the desert garden.
 

1. Avoid impulse buys.

 
Believe it or not, some nurseries carry plants that will NOT grow well in your area. There are many times I have seen hydrangeas offered at my local big box store. While I would LOVE to be able to grow hydrangea in my Southwest garden, I know that within a few weeks of planting – it will soon languish and die.
 
Don’t assume that just because your local nursery sells a certain type of plant, that it will grow in your climate. Sadly, this is particularly true of big box stores.
 
Why do the stores stock plants that won’t grow in the local climate? The answer is simple – most people are drawn to these plants because they are colorful and beautiful.  So, they inevitably purchase them assuming that they will grow in their garden. A few weeks later, they are dismayed when their new plant becomes sickly and dies. This leads to many people believing that they have a black thumb.
 
 

2. Smaller sizes can be better.

In many cases, skipping over the larger-sized plant in favor of one in a smaller-sized container is the better choice.
 
Of course, there is the amount of money you will save, but did you know that the smaller plants have an easier time becoming established? 
 
Smaller plants are younger and are better able to handle the shock of being transplanted than older plants. In addition, they have less upper growth (branches, leaves & stems) to support, so they can focus on growing roots, which is vital to its growth rate. 
 
Bigger and older plants aren’t as adaptable and take an extended length of time to grow.
 
Planting smaller plants works best with those that have a moderate to fast growth rate. For plants that take have a slow rate of growth, you may want to select a larger plant size.
 
Another bonus is that in addition to saving money, you don’t have to dig as large a hole!
 
Root-bound plant

3. Avoid plants that have been in their containers too long.

 
Sometimes, nurseries don’t sell plants as quickly as they’d like. So what happens when a plant sits in a container too long?
 
The roots start growing around and around each other causing the plant to become root-bound. Once roots grow this way, they have a hard time growing outward into the soil as they should. Eventually, the plant will can decline and even die.
 
How can you tell if a plant has been in its container too long?
 
– Look for signs such as weeds growing in the pot, which indicates that it may have been in the nursery for a while.
 
– Are there any dead leaves inside the pot? This is also an indicator that it may have been sitting in the nursery for a long time.
 
– See if roots are growing through the drainage holes – if so, that is a clear indication of a plant that has been its container too long.
 
This blog post contains affiliate links.
 
If you have brought a plant that turns out to be root bound, you can help it out. Take a box cutter or ‘hori-hori’ garden knife which is a soil knife that is useful for cutting and digging. I use it to make a series of vertical cuts around the root ball so that you are cutting through the circled roots. Do this on the bottom too.
 
By cutting the roots, you are disrupting the circular growth pattern, and they should be able to grow out into the surrounding soil.
 

4. Select healthy plants.

 
While most plants at the nursery are usually healthy and in good shape, this isn’t always the case.
 
Avoid plants with yellow leaves, which can be a sign of incorrect watering. Look for signs of any yellow or brown spots on the leaves as well, which can be a sign of disease. Also, check for signs of disease such as insects or the presence of webs or chewed leaves.  
 
Bringing any plants home with a disease or damaging insects can inadvertently infect your existing plants.
Check the soil in the pot and if appears overly moist or has a funny odor, walk away. Overwatered plants rarely do well.
 
 

5. Select plants that are grown locally whenever possible.

 
In Arizona, where I live, many plants found in our nurseries are grown in California. (I don’t have anything against things from California – I grew up there 😉
 
However, plants that are grown in a different climate and then brought over to another one can have a tough time adapting to the new climate unless they have had time to ‘harden off’ and adjust to the weather conditions.
 
When possible, choose plants grown by local growers. Not only will the plants have an easier time becoming established, but you will also be supporting your local economy.
Do you have any plant-buying tips? Please share them in the comments.
 

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What does your garden look like in early spring?  Does it somewhat boring?  How about adding some color and interest to your garden by adding some water-wise flowering plants?



This week, I had a fun project to work on – in partnership with Monrovia, I was asked to select two types water-wise plants for the landscape. So, I headed out to my local nursery with a mission to select from the different water-wise Monrovia plants available.


Once I arrived at the nursery, I was faced with a number of different Monrovia plant choices from succulents, cacti, shrubs and perennials.  After a some time going back and forth, I narrowed my choices down to these two water-wise, flowering beauties.

Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) has long been a favorite perennial of mine.  I love the ‘cottage-garden’ look it provides with its pink spikes that appear in late winter and on into spring.


It is quite versatile in the landscape where it can be used in wildflower gardens, planted in a perennial bed or simply placed next to a boulder.
My next plant choice was a flowering succulent. 

Blue Elf aloe (Aloe ‘Blue Elf’) is a newer aloe species that is perfect for small spaces.  It thrives in hot, reflected heat and flowers in late winter on into spring.  



I have been using this small aloe a lot in recent landscape designs (like the one above) including in narrow planting beds, in entries and also in pots.



Both of these flowering plants are water-wise choices and perfect for the drought tolerant garden.


I loaded my new Monrovia plants up and started home.


On the drive home, I could see the flowers from my new plants in my rearview mirror and I couldn’t wait to find new homes for them in my garden.


I played with a number of potential locations in the garden for my new parry’s penstemon, but decided on planting it next to a boulder.  Plants like this penstemon look great next to boulders where their different textures provide great contrast.


I didn’t have to try different spots for my new Blue Elf aloe – I knew that I wanted it for one of my containers in the front entry.  This area gets blasted with hot, afternoon sun, which this pretty little aloe can handle with no problem.

Monrovia plants can be found at Lowe’s garden centers as well as at many local nurseries, which is where I found mine.  You can also order Monrovia plants online.  The quality of their plants is excellent and the only problem you’ll have is choosing from the large variety available.


*This post is sponsored by Monrovia, but my plant choices and opinions are my own.  Visit their website for more water-wise plant choices for your drought tolerant garden.

Have you ever come upon an unexpected discovery?


I did.


Last week, my husband and I flew to Southern California for a visit with our second-oldest daughter, Rachele, who is stationed at a Navy base there.


The purpose for our trip was to be there when she got her 20-week ultrasound to see what sex her baby was (more about that later).



Of course, a trip to California wasn’t complete without visiting some of the places I grew up in.  We decided to take a trip up north to the small beach town of Carpinteria, which has a fun and funky downtown area.  


My family and I used to camp there every fall next to the beach and it was and still is one of my favorite places to visit.


Every time we visit Carpinteria, we have to stop by our favorite cupcake place – CrushCakes.
Can you tell that my husband is excited about our new grand baby?

My favorite cupcake is Vividly Vanilla and I have it every time we visit.  I should branch out and try the other flavors, but I have never gotten past this one 😉

After we had eaten our cupcakes, we ventured out and past not one but two plant nurseries.  Talk about good fortune!

I am always on the lookout for new plants, unique gardening ideas as well as photographs to share with you and also in articles I write.

While I didn’t have my regular camera, I did have my phone and was eager to discover what the first nursery had to see.

Butterflies were flying from flower to flower and the nursery was awash in beautifully blooming plants.


While walking through the nursery, my attention was caught by a lovely flowering perennials including Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) and Echinacea (purple coneflower).

Rudbeckia

Echinacea purpurea 

For those of you familiar with both of these plants – what do you think a ‘baby’ from these two plants would look like?

Well, wonder no more.  Let me introduce a new perennial that is garnering a lot of attention – ‘Echibeckia’

Echibeckia

What do you think?

Aren’t they gorgeous?


As you can see, they have golden yellow petals with orange centers.  Once the flowers begin to age, the petals turn to a darker orange.

The flowers last 2 – 3 months and make great cut flowers.  Echibeckia is hardy to zones 6 and up and would make a great addition for any perennial garden.

Echibeckia along with its parents.

I have purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan growing in my desert vegetable garden where they enjoy the fertile soil and regular water.  I may need to try Echibeckia too!

I toured through the rest of the nursery and took lots of great photos and then stopped at the nursery next door, which was very unique.  I’ll share more of my nursery visits next time.

But, back to the real purpose of my visit to California.  


We came to visit our daughter and to be there when she found out whether she was having a little boy or girl.

The ultrasound technician was showing us the baby’s heart, head and spine, which all looked great.  But, when he started to concentrate on the legs and arms – I was frankly, dying for him to get to the big question we all had – boy or girl???


I was expecting him to build up to the announcement or at least say, “Do you want to know what it is?”  But no – there was no build-up to his announcement.  In the middle of talking about the arms and how much the baby was moving he casually said, “By the way it’s a boy.”

I was looking at my daughter at that moment and she was so happy to finally know what she was having.  None of us had a preference besides a healthy baby, but it is so nice to be able to know the sex.

After the ultrasound, we drove to the nearest Target store and I helped her with deciding what items to add to her baby registry.

It never ceases to amaze me how interesting things like bottles, cribs, high chairs, mobiles and strollers suddenly become once you are expecting.

Our grandson is due in January and we couldn’t be happier.  Now our granddaughter, will have a little cousin to play with 🙂

Have you ever paused to think about the events of the previous month?


I seldom do, but the other day I was going through my recent photos and was surprised at how busy the past month of September was.  

Here are a few snapshots from September…

My daughter, Rachele, graduated from her Navy Seabee School and was able to come home for 2 weeks after being gone for 5 months.

The newest addition to our family, Penny is continuing to learn what is okay to chew and what is NOT okay to chew on.
I did quite a few different gardening projects for my contributions to the Birds & Blooms blog

Freezing mint into ice cubes.
Starting lettuce seeds indoors using recycled plastic containers.

Many of the events this month, were celebrations…

My friend and I gave a baby shower to the youth pastor and his wife at our church.  I made the cupcakes and she made the cookies.
My nephews, Dean & Danny, turned 3-years-old and the party was held at our house.

I made some new discoveries while doing landscape consults…

I love this Adenium that a client of mine had.  This plant is native to Africa, but she obtained this plant from a nursery in Tucson.  I think I may have to get one for my patio.
I was asked to consult on the landscape of a fellow blogger, Diana Elizabeth, who is a fabulous photographer by the way.  I loved this unusual combination of Mexican Honeysuckle, Pink ‘Katie’ Ruellia and Liriope along her front walk.
After spending some quality time at home with her dad, fixing her 1970 VW Bug, my daughter left for combat school in Mississippi.  Soon she will be permanently stationed in Southern California.

While my son, Kai, playing football in the backyard isn’t an unusual event – it was extra special this month because he has finally recovered from his hip surgery in early June and has ditched his wheelchair and walker.
I made my first television appearance, showcasing fuss-free plants for fall.  I was nervous, but in the end, I enjoyed it.
Last Saturday, I was asked by Wendy, the ‘Cupcake Queen’ if ‘AZ Plant Lady’ would make an appearance at our local cupcake shop.  So, I showed up with my husband and granddaughter in tow and we all enjoyed the delicious sampling of Gigi’s delicious cupcakes.


The month of September ended with a visit to our local nursery to buy some vegetable transplants for my edible gardens.  My granddaughter, Lily wasn’t too excited about the vegetables.  Instead, she wanted to stop and smell every flower she saw 🙂



Well, that is September in a nutshell.  This month promises to be a busy month in the garden.  Did you know that October is the best time of year to add most ornamental trees and shrubs to your garden?


So, get up and go outside where the weather is finally cooling down and start planting.

Do you suffer from temptation when you visit your local plant nursery?

I certainly did during my last visit.  I had such a great time and took quite a few photos, so I had to split them up into two separate posts.
(You can read the first post here if you like).

I have saved my two most tempting moments for this post, so I guess we should get on with it…

Sage shrubs (Leucophyllum species) are available in many different species.  ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) is perhaps the most popular and I have two growing in my front garden.

However, I must admit that my favorites are ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), which grows in my back garden and the other is called ‘Thunder Cloud’ Sage (Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’).
This shrub has silver gray leaves and blooms off and on spring through fall.
The flowers contrast so beautifully with the silvery foliage.
I must confess, that I don’t have any in my garden – but I may need to find a space for these beautiful shrubs.


On nursery visits, I frequently take the opportunity to take pictures of plants such as this Arborvitae.  They aren’t favorite plants of mine, but that really doesn’t mean anything – it is just a matter of personal preference.
Many nurseries showcase ways to combine plants.

I am frequently inspired during my nursery visits by some of their ideas like this Sweet Potato Vine among Sago Palms and Umbrella Plant.


Can you guess what plant was used to create this dense shrub?

Believe it or not, it is Pyracantha.
Usually, you find it growing along the walls….
You can frequently find new uses for plants at your local nursery.


I found a bunch of Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) in full bloom.  I like to use these as groundcovers in areas with light shade.


There were many different types of succulents available like this Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’.
If you tend to accidentally kill your plants, you can always buy this reproduction of an agave…
I guarantee, you won’t kill this one.  I have seen these beautiful plant sculptures ‘planted’ in pots with gravel or small pebbles instead of potting soil.
Well, my visit was drawing to an end, when I saw two plants that I was sorely tempted to buy….
I love Autumn Sage.  Usually you see them in red, hot pink, peach and even white.  But I saw these Autumn Sage with light pink flowers called (Salvia greggii ‘Heatwave Glitter’).
In my garden, I love to use cool colors like pink.  I wanted to buy one of these plants so badly, but I couldn’t think of where I would put it.

My last temptation of the day was a plant that I have seen occasionally in landscapes, but rarely in the nursery.


At first glance, this may look like Purple Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis), but look closer.

Can you see white flowers mixed in with the purple?

Believe it or not, this Lantana has both purple and white flowers.  It is called ‘Lavender Swirl’.

I love this look of both flowers together.  

Now, if you cannot find this type of Lantana, there is a solution….

Simply plant a White Trailing and Purple Trailing Lantana in the same hole.  As they grow, their stems and flowers will intermingle together.

I really could have bought this plant, but I already duplicated their appearance already by planting White and Purple Lantana together in my front garden.

And so, I left the nursery, only purchasing the plants that my mother-in-law needed.

When I got home, my husband couldn’t believe that I hadn’t bought any plants for myself.  Normally, he has the shovel ready before I even get home from the nursery because he knows me so well 😉