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flowering perennial firecracker penstemon
flowering perennial firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Have you ever noticed that spring has a way of surprising you in the garden? That is indeed the thought that I had earlier this week as I walked through my front landscape.

After spending a week visiting my daughter in cold, wintery Michigan, I was anxious to return home and see what effects that a week of warm temperatures had done – I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to take you on a tour of my spring garden. Are you ready?

pink blooming Parry's penstemon

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Penstemons play a large part in late winter and spring interest in the desert landscape, and I look forward to their flowering spikes.

flowering echinopsis Ember

Echinopsis hybrid ‘Ember’

One of the most dramatic blooms that grace my front garden are those of my Echinopsis hybrid cactuses. I have a variety of different types, each with their flower color. This year, ‘Ember’ was the first one to flower and there are several more buds on it.

blue flowering shrubby gerrymander

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)

Moving to the backyard, the gray-blue foliage of the shrubby germander is transformed by the electric blue shade of the flowers. This smaller shrub began blooming in the middle of winter and will through spring.

Calliandra red powder puff shrub

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala)

This unique shrub was a purchase that I made several years ago at the Desert Botanical Garden‘s spring plant sale. If you are looking for unusual plants that aren’t often found at your local nursery, this is the place to go. This is a lush green, tropical shrub that is related to the more common Baja Fairy Duster. However, it only flowers in spring and has sizeable red puff-ball flowers. It does best in east-facing exposures.

flowering annuals Callibrochoa

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

I am trialing a new self-watering hanging container that was sent to me free of charge by H20 Labor Saver for my honest review. I must say that I am very impressed. Growing plants in hanging containers is difficult in the desert garden as they dry out very quickly. But, this is a self-watering container, which has a reservoir that you fill, allowing me to have to water it much less often.

In the container, I have Million Bells growing, which are like miniature petunias. They are cool-season annuals that grow fall, winter, and spring in the desert garden.

severely pruned yellow bells

Yellow Bells recently pruned

Not all of my plants are flowering. My yellow bells shrubs have been pruned back severely, which I do every year, and are now growing again. This type of severe pruning keeps them lush and compact, and they will grow up to 6-feet tall within a few months.

onions arizona vegetable garden

Onions growing in my vegetable garden

This past fall, my daughters took over the vegetable garden. I must admit that it was fun to watch them decide what to grow and guide them in learning how to grow vegetables. They are already enjoying the fruits of their labor and onions will soon be ready to be harvested.

blossom of meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon blossom

My Meyer lemon tree hasn’t performed very well for me and has produced very little fruit in the four years since I planted it. I realized that it wasn’t getting enough water, so I corrected that problem, and it is covered in blossoms – I am so excited!

fragrant chocolate flower

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Moving to the side garden, chocolate flower adds delicious fragrance at the entry to my cut flower garden. It does well in full sun and flowers off and on throughout the warm season.

purple flowering verbena

Verbena in bloom

In the cut flower garden, my roses are growing back from their severe winter pruning. Although the roses aren’t in bloom yet, my California native verbena is. This is a plant that I bought at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden – I don’t remember the exact name, but it does great in my garden.

ripening peaches

Young peaches

I have some fruit trees growing in the side garden including peaches! I can just imagine how delicious these will taste in May once they are ripe!

flowers of apple tree

Apple tree blossoms

While the peaches are already forming, my apple trees are a few weeks behind and are still flowering. It surprises people that you can grow apple trees in the desert garden and they will ripen in June – apple pie, anyone?

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of my spring garden. All of these plants are bringing me joy.

*What is growing in your garden this spring that brings you joy?

It never ceases to amaze me how that despite how busy your calendar, everything grinds to a halt when you get sick.  Oh, I realize that there are certain types of sickness that you can press on through like a cold or even a small fever.  But, when the stomach flu hits, you are powerless to do anything.


What makes it worse is when everyone in your household gets it as well.  So, we have been spending quality time together nursing our sore stomachs and anxiously awaiting the time until our appetites return.


In the meantime, the garden is undergoing some contruction.


Irrigation trenches are criss-crossing our landscape as we are having new drip irrigation installed.  Our current system was first installed when we built our home 18 years ago and was having problems with numerous leaks.  Considering that the typical lifespan of a drip irrigation system is 10 – 15 years, we were long overdue to have ours replaced.

While it may not seem very exciting, I am looking forward to having separate drip lines for my fruit trees, shrubs/perennials and vegetable garden.

Many plants in my garden are beginning to bloom adn I thought I would give you a peek.


I spread a variety of flowers seeds in my side garden and some have already begun to bloom.


I planted toadflax seeds, which came in a variety of different colors.


I have white, pink and purple varieties adding welcome color to this area of the garden.


The seeds are from Botanical Interests and are called ‘Fairy Bouquet’ toadflax.


Another plant that has started blooming is from Renee’s Garden seed company and is called ‘Vanilla Berry’.

So far, these are the only two types of plants flowering in this garden, but the California poppies are getting ready to burst forth in different colors including white, purple, pink and of course, orange.


Citrus trees are also in full bloom perfuming the air with their intoxicating fragrance.  I am hopeful that my young Meyer’s lemon tree will produce its first lemons.


The peach trees bloomed earlier this year and are now filled with immature peach fruit – I can almost taste the peach jam that I will make from them this May.

Lobelia

The cool-season annuals that I planted in the fall are still going strong.  Even though they look great right now, I will replace them later this month with warm-season annuals in order to allow them time to grow a good root system before the heat of sumemr arrives.


Late winter and spring is also when my autumn sage (Salvia greggii) is also in flower.  I received several different varieties, straight from the grower, to try out in my garden, which were planted last fall.  They are doing great in their current location where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

On another note, we have been anxiously awaiting the re-emergence of our desert tortoise, Aesop.


We last saw him in late October before he went into his hole to hibernate.  Since then, we’ve periodically checked on him and today, we moved slightly.  So, I can’t wait to see him begin to walking out in the garden.

I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

How is your garden looking?  Is anything blooming yet?
The other day, I was walking through my edible garden, admiring the ripening peaches on my tree, which I looked down and saw an unwelcome sight…


Suckers!

So, what are suckers and why are they bad for fruit trees?

Most fruit trees consist of two parts: the scion (the top part) and the rootstock (the bottom).

Fruit trees are grafted onto rootstock.  Occasionally, the rootstock decides to send up its own branches, which literally ‘suck’ up nutrients from the tree – hence the name ‘suckers’.

It is usually easy to identify suckers because the originate toward the bottom of the tree, below the bud union (where the tree connects to the rootstock).  The bud union usually looks like a slightly swollen spot on the trunk.

Okay, so now we know what suckers are.  Now how do we get rid of them?


Pull the suckers away from the tree trunk and use a sharp hand shovel or regular shovel to cut them from the tree.  

Be sure to remove the entire sucker at the point where it attaches to the tree trunk, or it may grow back.

Note the slightly swollen part above the suckers – that is the bud union.  Any branches that grow below this point should be removed.


Once the suckers are removed, simply throw them on your compost pile or in the trash.

The solution to suckers is a very simple one.  Wouldn’t it be nice if every garden problem were this easy to take care of ?

In the past, I have shown parts of my garden, but never a comprehensive look.  So, I thought I would share with you a more comprehensive look at my garden.


First, I’d like to show you my newest part of my garden, which is located on the side of my house – just outside of my kitchen window.  


This part of the garden is looking remarkably good considering that it is still winter.  For those of us who are fortunate to live in the Southwest, we didn’t really experience much of a winter this year.
In fact, I recall only 1 week of freezing temps and that happened back in December.




This is the largest of my three vegetable gardens.  It is hard to believe that it didn’t exist 2 years ago.

I had always dreamed of having a nice side garden and because ours is rather large, there were many possibilities.  So, we decided to create an edible garden in this area.
You can read our planting journey, here. 

This year, I planted Swiss chard for the first time and don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner – I love this plant!

Well, I don’t really like it cooked (but I’m weird that way).  I do like to use it in salads along with leaf lettuce.  My kids even eat it!

I think it also looks really pretty too with its brightly-colored stems.

In the corner, is my single artichoke plant.


It was about 6 inches high when I planted it last fall.  Needless to say, it has grown so fast.  I can’t wait to see the artichoke buds (the part you eat) begin to form.

I will harvest some of the artichokes, but also plan to allow some to turn into flowers, which are beautiful and fragrant.

I like the idea of using artichokes as ornamental plants as well as for eating.


In the center of this vegetable garden sits a stump from a eucalyptus tree that we had to cut down to make space for this particular garden.

An old watering can sits onto of the stump and I fill it with cool-season annuals.  This year it is purple violas and alyssum.

In summer, the watering can sits empty, because it is too hot for plants to grow in it.  Roots will literally ‘cook’ in small containers during the summer.  I think it looks just fine without plants for part of the year.


The second crop of radishes of the season are just beginning to come up.  There is still time to plant radishes before it gets too hot.


Behind the vegetable garden are two apple trees.  They are growing so well during their first year.  I will have to wait a couple more years before I get any apples, so I’m trying to be patient.

I planted garlic around the base, in order to help keep borers away.

Not shown – behind the apple trees are blackberry bushes.  I had a great crop of last spring.  I plan on making blackberry jam this year!


Along the garden wall is one of my favorite shrubs called ‘Pink Beauty’ (Eremophila laanii), which is evergreen in my zone 9a garden and has pink flowers in winter and spring.  

It rarely needs pruning as long as it has enough room to grow – mine stands at 9 feet tall.

Next to is Pink Trumpet Vine and Yellow Bells shrubs, which serve two purposes.  The first, is that the cover up an ugly, bare wall.  Second, they help to cool the garden down because the shrubs keep the wall from re-radiating heat that it absorbs in the day.


The buds on my peach tree have not begun to swell yet, but it is just a matter of time.


My other peach tree is covered in blossoms.  Planted just last winter, it produced 19 peaches for me last year.


My herb container sits in front of the vegetable garden and is filled with lovely, purple petunias.  I like to add flowers to my herb pots for an extra splash of color.


I hope you enjoyed the tour of my side garden.

Next time, I will show you the main part of my backyard and maybe a peek at the ‘other’ side yard, which I never show anyone.

What is growing in your garden this February?  
I’d love to hear about it.

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Easter day.

Our family gathered at Double S Farms, which is where my mother, sister and her family reside.

We had delicious lasagna (courtesy of Costco), herb corn, artisan bread, salad and of course, dessert.  I love to make dessert, so I brought over a Lemon Trifle (made with crushed lemon sandwich cookies, lemon pudding, cream cheese, sugar and whipped topping).  I also made Easter nests filled with M&M’s (the nests were made from rice krispy treats and formed into a cupcake liner).

I had a great time with my mom, sisters, brother, kids, nieces and nephews.  We also spent the day with my cousin and her family.

Here is part of our day in pictures:

The men in the family typically hide the Easter eggs.
My husband puts out some eggs that will be easy to find for the younger kids.
My sister, Jennifer, is in charge of the hunt and checks to see where the eggs are being hid.
I love my sister.  We are only 16 months apart in age and she just moved down the street from us!
The peach trees make a great hiding place, as my brother-in-law discovered.
A peek over the backyard fence shows my mother’s two vegetable gardens.
For some reason, the women joined in hiding the Easter eggs this year.  Maybe the guys were taking too long?  The kids were having a hard time being patient.
Some of the hiding places were pretty ingenious.
The plum tree also makes a great hiding place.
My other brother-in-law decided to make it hard for the older kids.
My sisters, Jennifer and Grace.  Grace is a great photographer and blogs at FinleyandOliver.com  
My cousin, Laurena, and her family came.  Laurena and I grew up together in California.  She lived only 1 hour away when we were kids.  Now, we only live about 40 minutes apart in AZ.
A rose bush also makes a great hiding place.  This is the rose that I pruned back heavily a few years ago and blogged about it in “A Neglected, Overgrown Rose”
My sisters and I
Now the kids finally get to come and start the Easter egg hunt.  My nephews, Finley and Oliver are among the first out the door.
My mother, my son-in-law, daughter and granddaughter.  Next year, she will be old enough to participate in the hunt.
Some of the eggs were really hidden high up.  But that didn’t stop my cousin’s son.
Sometimes when you run very fast to find eggs; you fall – as my son Kai discovered.

Lily wouldn’t look up for the picture because she was interested in her egg.
My nephew, Finley, found a lot of eggs.
Linnea and Camille are my cousin’s twin daughters.
One of the last eggs, was found high up in the plum tree.
My mother, my son-in-law and my granddaughter, Lily.
Isn’t she simply darling?
My twin nephews also were ready to enjoy the Easter egg hunt.  This is Danny – doesn’t he look ‘spiffy’ in his Easter vest?
Here is the other twin, Dean.  He preferred to sit and enjoy his eggs.
It is so fun to see the older cousins take care of their younger cousins.
Cousins, Danny and Oliver, checking out what is in their eggs.
I hope you enjoyed the photos of part of our Easter day.
I hope your week is off to a great start!

This is the conclusion to a story that I wrote back in January about a dog and her battle with ‘forbidden fruit’.


Sodapop, who belongs to my youngest sister, Chicken Farmer, and her family – is the main character of this story.  Sodapop is the daughter of my dog, Missy (that really has nothing to do with the story, however).  


The ‘forbidden fruit’ for Sodapop was an apple.  However, it was not your ordinary apple….it was an old, shriveled up apple hanging on the top of an apple tree.




We weren’t sure what it is about this shriveled apple that made her want it so badly.  But most likely, it probably because it was out of her reach and that is what drove her crazy….

 

She was sorely tempted by the sight of the dried up apple and she did her best to reach it, jumping as high as she could, breaking small branches in the process.



As if one forbidden fruit was not enough….there were more hanging in the tree, taunting her.




But try as she might, all she ended up with were small apple branches for all her troubles.

 
It was small compensation for a lot of work….




*FAST FORWARD TO SUMMERTIME*


Now it is summer and the apple trees are now laden with delicious apples.  Now Sodapop has more apples then she knows what to do with.  First, she enjoyed eating the apples hanging on the lower branches of the apple trees.



However, now that most of the lower apples have either been eaten by her or picked by the residents of Double S Farms, Sodapop has had to content herself with eating the apples that have fallen from the tree….



I wonder if ‘forbidden’ apples taste better then ‘unforbidden’ apples?


**UPDATE – We recently learned that eating too many apples can be dangerous for dogs because their seeds contain small amounts of cyanide.  So, the apple trees will soon be fenced off to keep the dogs out.**


I hope you are all having a great week so far.  We are hoping for a start to our summer rainy season later this week and are keeping our fingers crossed 🙂

A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law asked me to come out to the family farm (Double S Farms) asked me to come over and help him to prune their numerous fruit trees.  I had been wanting to work on them because they had been sorely neglected by the previous owners of the farm.
These three peach trees produced a large amount of fruit that we all enjoyed last summer.  However, they had been badly pruned over the years and their branches reached so high into the sky, that it was impossible to reach all of the fruit.

Why did we decide to prune them you may ask?  Well, besides the fact that they had been disfigured by bad pruning, the other benefits would be numerous.  There would be increased fruit production, strengthened trees, earlier fruit production and easier  maintenance.
 
Our tools – Loppers, Pruning Saw, Hand Pruners and Pole Saw.
The two types of pruning cuts that we used were thinning and heading cuts.  The first type – thinning cuts, removes branches back to the larger branch they are growing from.  So, we concentrated on removing all crossing branches and those growing into the center of the tree.  We did this because peach and plum trees should have an open center.

The second type of cut we used – heading back, removes part of the branch, pruning back to a outward facing bud.  So we made sure that our cuts, were pruned back to an outside facing bud and cut at a 45 degree angle.
 
 Farmer Dad, working hard making a thinning cut with a pruning saw.

Pruning should be done while the trees are still dormant, which is January here in the desert.  

Since dwarf forms of peach trees do not exist, pruning is the only way to shorten the tree in order to reach the fruit and also to be able to fit a net over the tree to protect them from the birds eating the fruit.  Unfortunately, a lot of fruit was lost to the birds last year.
 
  
As we pruned, evidence of bad pruning was evident.  The photo above shows an incorrect pruning cut, while the bottom one is the right way to prune.  You want to prune back to the trunk to the branch collar.  

Peach and plum trees can take heavy pruning, but we removed only 20% of the trees branches.  Next year, we may do more if needed.  We felt that is was better not over-prune and stress the trees.
 
You can tell why it is important to prune back to the branch when you see how the cut branch above died back because it was not pruned close enough to the branch it came from.
Once we were finished with the peach trees, we started on the two apple trees in the backyard.  Both of these trees were better maintained and so we removed a few of the lower branches and made some heading cuts.

 
Pruning cuts back to the trunk.  You can see the branch collar, which is a specialized area that surrounds branches.  Do not cut the branch collar, but make your pruning cut just before.
 
Making heading cuts to the apple tree.
Apple trees only require light pruning.  They have a different shape then peach trees and do not have an open shape.  Rather, they should have many interior branches.  So, the majority of pruning we did were some heading cuts and just a few thinning cuts.

You know, there is just something so fulfilling after spending the day pruning and seeing the instant results of your work.  A couple of weeks later, I took the following pictures of the now flowering trees we had pruned.

Peach blossoms reach towards the sky.
 
The apple trees are now covered in blossoms.

Next year, we will probably do some additional corrective pruning for the peach trees in order to further fix the damage done by the previous owners.  But for now, we are sitting back and enjoying their beauty and looking forward to peach jam and apple butter this summer.

Yesterday was a glorious winter day accompanied with warmer then usual temperatures; 68 degrees F.  I went over to Double S Farms to help my brother-in-law (Farmer Dad), prune the fruit trees – (the fruit trees had sadly been neglected and mistreated by the previous owners, so we had to quite a bit of corrective pruning).

I brought along, my now repaired camera, intending to take pictures of how to prune fruit trees for a later post.  Once I arrived, I was so happy to see early signs of spring all around me….

A single peach bud, just beginning to show a flash of pink.
Snap Peas beginning to grow in the vegetable garden.
 
The grapefruit tree is heavily laden with delicious fruit.
The “Formerly Overgrown, Neglected Rose – Glamis Castle” beginning to leaf out.
 
The apple trees were full of buds and I was able to find this glimpse the pink petals impatiently waiting to burst out.
 
Double S Farms resident Costa’s Hummingbird, was happily perched on top of the almond tree watching over our activities.