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desert-landscape

“How much water do my plants need?”

I am often asked this question by desert dwellers and my answer is always, “That depends.”

desert-landscape

There are several variables that determine how much water plants need, along with the frequency of watering.

Variables include:

  • Type of soil (clay, sand, combination)
  • What kind of plant (native plants, higher water use flowering shrubs and ground covers, succulents, etc.)
  • Recommended depth of water
  • Desert region (low-desert, mid-altitude, high desert)
  • Efficiency of irrigation system
  • Water pressure (can vary between neighborhoods)
As you can see, there is no universal watering guideline in regards to how long to water or how often.

Let’s look into the variables a little more closely to help you determine what yours are:

 

SoilClay soils hold onto water longer than sandy soil. They take longer for water to permeate to the recommended depth. The result? Clay soils need irrigation less often than sandy ones but need to be watered for a longer length of time. Phoenix area soil tends to have more clay in them while those in the Palm Springs area are sandy.

Plants – Native or desert-adapted plants need less frequent irrigation versus those that come from tropical climates. Cacti and other succulents do well with infrequent irrigation.

Water Depth – Trees need to be watered deeply while ground covers and succulents do fine at a more shallow depth – shrubs fall in between the two.

Desert Region – Where you live in the desert matters when it comes to water and your plants. The differences include rainfall amounts, when the rain falls, high and low temps, and more. Residents of low-desert cities like Palm Springs and Phoenix need to add water to their plants more often than those who live in higher elevation regions such as Tucson.

Irrigation System – The older your irrigation system, the less efficient it is. This is due to mineral build-up within the system, which affects the amount of water that comes out. Also, old drip irrigation systems tend to accumulate leaks. The average lifespan for a drip irrigation system is 10-15 years. 

Despite these differences, what is a shared characteristic is that the vast majority of desert residents water too often and not deeply enough. This is usually due to lack of knowledge and thinking the ‘more is better,’ especially in the desert.
Landscapers are generally not a reliable source when it comes to scheduling irrigation – most recommend irrigating far too often.
 
So what is a desert dweller to do?
Thankfully, there is very useful information available for homeowners to help them figure out when and how much water their landscape needs.
 
Major metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest have excellent watering guidelines available for residents. The guidelines include the regional variables we have discussed so far.
Here are helpful links based on major desert cities (click the link for the city closest to you):
Watering guidelines are just that – guidelines. Circumstances may mean that you need to water more or less often, but these guides are a useful baseline to work from.
*One final note – before you implement a new irrigation schedule, it’s important to gradually wean your plants to the new one over several weeks. The reason for this is that it allows plants to become accustomed to the new schedule.

Yes, it does take a little work to figure out how much and often to water your plants, but these guides are incredibly helpful and will guide you along the way.

Do you love hummingbirds?  Maybe a better question would be, who doesn’t?

Hummingbird feeding from an ocotillo flower.
Attracting hummingbirds to your garden isn’t hard to do by simply adding flowering plants, rich in nectar that they are attracted to.
 
Female Anna’s hummingbird at my feeder.
 
But, what if your garden space is small or non-existent?  Is a hanging a hummingbird feeder your only option?
 
 
Well, I’m here to tell you that space needn’t keep you from having your own hummingbird garden – all you have to do is to downsize it creating one in a container.
 
If you have a small patio, stoop or even a balcony, you can create your own mini-hummingbird garden in a container.
 
 
For those of you who have think you have no space at all, look up!  
 
 
Hanging containers or window boxes are a great option for those short on garden space.
 
Whether you have small garden space or simply want to increase the amount of hummingbirds visiting your existing garden – creating a mini-hummingbird garden in a container is a great way to do it.
 
Let’s get started.
 
Here are the elements of a hummingbird container garden:
 
LOCATION:
 
 
– Select a location that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day.  
 
Group containers together for greater color impact, which increases the chances of hummingbird visits.
 

– Place containers in areas where you can view the visiting hummingbirds such as an entry, near a window or a back patio.

– Make sure that the containers are visible and allow easy access for hummingbirds to fly in and out.

 
CONTAINERS:
 
 
– The type of container isn’t important – but drainage is.  Make sure pots have holes for drainage.
 

– Select colorful pots for a welcome splash of color (optional).

– Larger pots will stay moister longer, therefore needing to be water less frequently.

 
SOIL:
 
 
– Use a planting mix (not potting soil), which is specially formulated for container plants since it holds onto just the right amount of moisture without becoming soggy like potting soil can.
 
 
– For large containers, save money on expensive planting mix (soil) by filling the bottom third of the container with recycled plastic water bottles and/or milk jugs.
 
WHAT PLANT WHERE?
 
 
While hummingbirds don’t care how you arrange plants in your mini-hummingbird garden – you can certainly arrange plants.
– Place the tallest plant in the center, surrounded with medium-sized filler plants interspersed with trailing ground covers. 
 
 
This planter has the tallest plant (Salvia) located in the center with mid-sized purple coneflower  next to it with ‘Wave’ petunias spilling over the outside.
 

COLOR:

A hummingbird’s favorite color is red, although they will visit flowers of all colors as long as they are rich in nectar.

However, let’s explore color in regards to creating a beautiful container and figuring out what color combos look best.



To this, we will need to visit our friend, the color wheel.

– To achieve a soft blending of colors, select plants with flower colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.

– For a striking contrast, pair flowers with colors that occur on opposite ends of the color wheel.

HUMMINGBIRD ATTRACTING PLANTS:

Salvia coccinea

– Hummingbirds are drawn to flowers that have a tubular shape.

Hummingbird feeding from the yellow flower of aloe vera.

– The color red is their favorite, but as stated earlier, they will visit flowers of all colors.

Young hummingbird feeding from a lantana flower.

– They tend to prefer flowers with little to no fragrance since their sense of smell is poor.

– Plants belonging to the Salvia genus are all very popular with hummingbirds and are a safe choice when creating a hummingbird container garden. 

Soap aloe flowers.

– Flowering succulents are also often visited by hummingbirds as well.

Rufous hummingbird feeding from the flower of a red hot poker plant.

– There are helpful online resources with lists of plants that attract hummingbirds.  Here are two helpful ones:

The Hummingbird Society’s Favorite Hummingbird Flowers

Top 10 Hummingbird Flowers and Plants from Birds & Blooms Magazine

– Other helpful resources are your local botanical garden, master gardener or nursery professional.

Another bonus to planting hummingbird attracting plants is that many of the same flowers attract butterflies too.

CARE:

The key to maintaining healthy container plants lies in proper watering and fertilizing.

Let’s look at watering first:

– Water containers when the top 2 inches of soil are barely moist.  You can stick your finger into the soil to determine how dry the soil is.  

– Water until the water flows out the bottom of the container.

– The frequency of watering will vary seasonally.

Fertilizing is important for container plants – even plants that don’t normally require fertilizer when planted in the ground will need it if in a container.

– Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer, which lasts 3 months.

– Supplement, if desired, with a liquid fertilizer monthly.

– For succulents, use a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 strength every other month spring through early fall.

UNIQUE TWISTS FOR CREATING HUMMINGBIRD CONTAINERS:

Don’t be afraid to look outside the box when it comes to what can be used as a container.

An old wheelbarrow makes a great container after a making a few holes in the bottom for drainage. *While marigolds don’t attract hummingbirds, there are a few dianthus in this planter that do.
Hummingbirds love water!

Add a water feature in a container that will surely attract nearby hummingbirds.

Add places for hummingbirds to perch nearby or within the container itself.  

This little black-chinned hummingbird was perfectly at home perching on a lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) stem that was growing in a container.

You can always add a small, dead tree branch within the container itself for a convenient perching spot.

As you can see, the amount (or lack of) garden space doesn’t need to limit your ability to attract hummingbirds using beautiful, flowering plants.

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I spoke about small space gardening at the Hummingbird Festival 2015, and it was an unforgettable experience, filled with educational talks, beautiful gardens and observing hummingbirds up close – I even got to hold one!  To read more about my adventures with hummingbirds, click here.

I hope that you are inspired to create your own mini-hummingbird habitat in a container.

**Do you have a favorite plant that attracts lots of hummingbirds?  Please share them in the comments section.

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Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

Most of us are familiar with the idea of using ground covers in the landscape and how they can add a welcome carpet of color.  

Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)

But, you may be surprised to find that they serve another purpose that is especially appreciated in hot climates.  Ground covers help to reduce the heat from the sun.  They do this by preventing the sun from heating up the ground that they cover.  When the ground heats up, it absorbs heat only to re-radiate it outward.  So, using ground covers is just one way to help cool down the landscape by a degree or two. 

I recently shared my favorite 10 native Southwestern ground covers in my latest article for Houzz.
What is your favorite ground cover? 

Most of the time when you walk through a parking lot, you are often greeted by the appearance of islands scattered throughout overplanted with badly maintained shrubs.

Last month, I drove into a parking lot that was quite unusual in that it was planted with attractive succulents and not ugly shrubs.



Instead of shrubs, the medians were planted with beautiful agave specimens.


In addition to different types of agave, were gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) succulents, which added a welcome respite to the crowded and over-pruned shrubs that usually characterize most parking lots.


In addition to the agave and other succulents were  flowering shrubs such as Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), which was allowed to grow into its natural shape.


This parking lot was located in front of a hospital where my husband had an appointment for a routine procedure.  Our walk through the parking lot took twice as long as it would normally take with me pausing every few seconds to take pictures of the plants.


It was so refreshing to see succulents such as these  in parking lot islands instead of struggling shrubs.  They thrive in the hot, reflected heat while needing very little water.

Maybe we should rethink what we plant in parking lot islands and ditch the high-maintenance, thirsty shrubs?

For those who live in the western half of the United States, water has always been seen as a precious resource – especially during recent years as long-term drought has made its impact felt with dwindling water supplies.  As a result, many of us find ourselves looking for ways to save water and as the largest user of residential water – the landscape is the first place to make significant changes. 


Let’s look at three different low water landscape options and how they can help you save water.  


Option #1: Drought Tolerant – This landscape is characterized by lush green, flowering plants such as bougainvillea, lantana, oleanders and yellow bells – all of which do well in hot, arid climates in zones 9 and above.  While most of these plants aren’t native to the Southwest, they are considered moderately drought tolerant and are suitable for those who want more a lush-appearing desert garden.  For best results, deep water once a week in summer and every 2 weeks in winter.

Option #2: Moderately Drought Tolerant – Native, flowering plants make up this type of landscape and include plants like chuparosa, damianita, penstemon, Texas sage and turpentine bush.  Because these plants are native to the Southwestern region, they need infrequent watering to look their best – a good guideline is to water deeply twice a month in summer and monthly in winter.


Option #3: Extremely Drought Tolerant – For a landscape that can exist on very little water, a collection of cacti and succulents are the way to go.  Columnar cacti such as Mexican fence post, organ pipe, saguaro and totem pole add height to the garden alongside lower growing succulents like agave, candelilla and desert milkweed, which can be used to create a landscape filled with texture and contrasts.  Golden barrel, hedgehog cacti and mammillaria fill in smaller spaces and look great next to boulders.  Once established, they can survive on natural rainfall, but will look best with deep monthly watering in summer when possible.

It’s important to note that plants should be watered deeply to a depth of 2 ft., which promotes deep root growth and the soil stays moister longer.  

Whichever option you select, creating an attractive water saving landscape is within your reach that will thrive in our drought-stricken region.

Do you think of yourself as a trendsetter?  How about being the first landscape in your neighborhood to have the newest plant varieties on display?


I am always on the lookout for new plants that give a unique and often unexpected look to outdoor spaces awash in a sometimes overwhelming sea of bougainvillea, lantana and oleanders.


Now, I would like to state at this point, that I have no problem with bougainvillea, lantana and oleanders as plants – they are beautiful plants that are easy to care for with little fuss.  However, because they are used so often, they lack the impact that we would like for our landscaped areas to make.  At the 2015 Garden Writers Conference that I attended, one of the speakers said this, “When things are expected, they become less powerful and impactful.”



The tradeshow associated with the conference had many vendors displaying the newest tools to make gardening easier, which I wrote about in a previous post.  There were also many growers present showcasing the newest plants on the market along with new varieties of well-known plants.


Walking through the booths filled with beautiful plants, I felt like a kid in a candy store.  Everywhere you looked, there was a new plant drawing me in closer to read its tag to see if it could be grown in a hot, arid climate.


Many of the growers handed out free plants to conference attendees so that they could try them out in their own gardens.

Like I said before….I was a kid in a candy store where everything was free!

Monrovia, a well known grower, had a large number of plants on display including this one that I found rather interesting…


This is a dwarf jacaranda, called ‘Bonsai Blue’, which grows 6 ft. tall and 5 ft. wide.  This would be a great option for someone who had limited space but who wants this tropical plant along with its purple flowers decorating their outdoor space.

I was excited to receive 3 ‘Brakelights’ red yucca (Hesperaloe parvifolia ‘Perpa’), which have darker red flowers than the traditional red yucca.


I headed out to the Southern Living Plant and Sunset Western Garden Collection booth in search of plants that would thrive in my neck of the woods.


Lovely varieties of autumn sage, nandina and other salvias were a feast for the eyes.  Many of the new nandina varieties are compact, reaching 2 ft. high and tall.


Many of the plants in their display were suitable for testing in my garden, so arrangements were made to send a variety to me to try out such as ‘Flirt’‘Lemon Lime’ and ‘Obsession’ varieties of nandina, which are more compact and offer a variety in foliar color. Another plant to look forward to receiving in the mail is ‘Little Kiss’ Salvia which has red and white bicolor flowers, much like ‘Hot Lips’ salvia, but is more compact in size, reaching 18 inches.   

In the meantime, I was given 2 ‘Meerlo’ lavender plants at the tradeshow, which have lovely variegated leaves giving an entirely new loook to lavender.


High Country Gardens, is a mail-order nursery that specializes in drought tolerant and native perennials.  I spoke to the owner, David Salmon  about their newest plant introductions including ‘Showy’ pink milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).


Salvias species such as autumn sage (Salvia greggii) and closely related, Salvia microphylla were on display.  In low desert gardens, they bloom fall, winter and spring and do best when planted in partial shade.
I picked up 3 varieties of Salvia microphylla from the of the Salvia Heatwave Collection to try in my home garden.  They are purported to be more compact than the closely related Salvia greggii, while also being great in containers.  


Roses were also on prominent display, including many types of low-maintenance, groundcover roses such as these ‘Drift’ roses distributed by Star Roses and Plants.  This new type of rose is a cross between groundcover roses and miniature roses making them perfect for the smaller garden.

I received a single ‘Drift’ rose at the tradeshow, which now is now planted in my side garden.

Other plants offered by this grower include the highly popular ‘Knockout’ roses as well as beautiful shrubs and perennials. 


A representative from my favorite grower of roses, David Austin Roses, was on hand, direct from England.  These are shrub roses with old-fashioned blooms that are highly fragrant.  I’ve grown several in my garden and was excited for the opportunity to try their newest rose introduction – ‘Olivia Rose Austin’, which isn’t available to the public yet.  They will be sending me one this winter to plant in my garden. 


Believe it or not, I did pass up the offer of some free plants.  Azaleas and gardenias would not grow well in the alkaline soils and while I wish that I could grow hydrangea – they do not like the dry, heat in the Southwest.


‘Wave’ petunias have taken the potted, flowering annual realm with their masses of blooms.  The petunia flowers are smaller than regular petunias, which allows for more of them to grow closely together creating a mass of welcome color.

Several varieties were on display including the newest variety ‘Burgundy Velour’ with its deep red flowers.

Petunias are my favorite cool-season flowering annual because they aren’t fussy and the newer ‘Wave’ varieties are simply stunning.  You can find them at most local nurseries.


It took me 2 afternoons to get through all the booths at the tradeshow and my bags were filled with plants as well as samples of the newest gardening tools and other items.

I could hardly wait to get my new plants home and into the garden.

So, how did I get them home on the airplane you may wonder?

I brought two suitcases with me and carefully wrapped each plant in newspaper and then a plastic bag.  I then used my dirty clothes to cushion the area around them in each suitcase. 

 They all made it home relatively unscathed and are now planted in my garden 🙂

*Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the book, “Beautiful, Desert Pots” in return for my honest review.

In the desert, we are fortunate to be able to grow plants in containers throughout the entire year.

 

 

Of course, living in the desert does bring along its special challenges when it comes to gardening and growing plants in pots is no exception.
 
 
However, with the right pot, location, planting mix and plants – it is possible to grow a perfectly lovely container filled with thriving plants.
 
 
I like to think of potted plants as a way to decorate your outdoor space with both color and texture.  They also offer the flexibility to change out plants easily for a different look as well as the ability to move the pots around to new locations.
 
 
A pot filled with plants is nothing short of a miniature garden in a confined space.
I hope that these photos of lovely potted gardens help to inspire you to get out there and create your own.
 
 
To help get you started, I highly recommend the book, “Getting Potted in the Desert”, written by Marylee Pangman, Tucson resident who has over 20 years of experience growing potted plants in the desert.  She is a certified Master Gardener and ran her own company, “The Contained Gardener”, where she designed and maintained container gardens for clients for years.
 
**Now it’s time to announce the winner of our giveaway for a free copy of “Getting Potted in the Desert”**
 
Susan aka ‘Gardening Granny’, you are the winner of this fabulous book!
 
Congratulations!
 
Thank all of you who entered and let us know what you like to grow in containers.
 
If you didn’t win, you can still order a copy of this book for yourself or a friend who loves to garden.
Click here to be directed to the ordering page.

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



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)

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.


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.


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) 

No matter where you live – the East Coast, Midwest, Northwest, etc., fall is the best time of year to add new plants to the landscape as it provides plants with 3 seasons in which to grow a good root system before the heat of the next summer arrives.

What do you enjoy most about fall?  

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

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.


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.

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. 


*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.
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.
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.


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.

What kind of containers do you have planted in your garden?


Are they terra-cotta, glazed or plastic?  

Do you have any unique containers?

I like seeing plants that have been planted in unusual containers.  So this week, I will be sharing with you some of my favorites that I have seen on my travels throughout the United States.

Today’s unique container comes from Tennessee.


Have you ever seen a trash can used as a container for plants?

On a visit to the University of Tennessee Gardens, I visited their wonderful kitchen garden, which was filled with surprises and I came away inspired.

You can read more about my visit to these gardens and see some more pictures of these ‘trashy’ containers, here.

See you again tomorrow, when I’ll show you another unique planter that has 4 sets of tires.