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Last week, as my husband and I were pulling out our local Home Depot when I saw what looked like mini Christmas trees throughout the parking lot islands.

mini Christmas trees

mini Christmas trees

I grabbed my cell phone and took a picture of these funny-shaped plants.

Do you want to know what they are?

No. They aren’t Christmas trees…

badly pruned

Those cone-shaped plants are in reality badly pruned Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grasses.

These are my favorite ornamental grasses for the desert climate and although they are badly pruned, they did get some things right.

– For one, Pink Muhly is a great plant for parking lot islands as they can handle full sun.

In addition, they were pruned at the right time of year.

Just not the right way…

Pink Muhly grasses should be pruned back to 3 inches in height, straight across when the last frost date has passed. In the Phoenix area, where I live, that is early March.

Believe it or not, pruning them the correct way is easier then making them cone-shaped and once the warmer temperatures of spring arrive, these beautiful ornamental grasses will leaf out again.

badly pruned

Once fall arrives, they produce lovely, burgundy plumes…

badly pruned

In winter, the plumes will fade and become straw colored, which adds a nice touch of wintery color.

badly pruned

The Pink Muhly grasses, below, weren’t pruned the right way either.

badly pruned

They resemble rounded balls and weren’t cut back enough.  But, they look much better then the mini Christmas tree shaped ones.  Don’t you think?

I love these grasses and have planted them in many areas, including along golf courses, churches and other common areas. And, I just recently planted them in my backyard around my flagstone seating area.

badly pruned
Roses Feeling The Heat

Photo: Roses Feeling The Heat , My Abraham Darby shrub rose and my little dog, Tobey.

If you live in a hot arid climate, chances are that your roses are feeling the heat and aren’t looking their best right now. While gardeners in cooler climates celebrate summer with beautiful rose blooms, the opposite is true for those of us who live in the desert.

Surprisingly, roses actually grow quite well in hot, southwestern zones, and even though mine look somewhat sunburned – I’m not worried because this is normal.  

You see, roses that are grown in the low desert regions, don’t like the intense sun and heat that summer brings. As a result, the flowers become smaller, and the petals burn in the sun and turn crispy.  By July, you are unlikely to see any new roses appearing until Fall.

Roses Feeling The Heat

The rose blooms aren’t the only parts of the roses affected by the summer heat – the leaves can become sunburn.  

The sight of brown crispy petals and leaves may make you want to prune them away, but don’t.    

Why?

Pruning will stimulate new growth that will be even more susceptible to sunburn damage.  Second, the older branches and leaves will help to shade the growth underneath the sun.  

I know that it is very hard not to prune away the brown leaves – I feel you. However, in September, pull out your pruning shears and prune back your rose bushes by 1/3. This removes the sun-damaged flowers and leaves, and stimulates new growth. 

Roses Feeling The Heat

If you lament the less than stellar appearance of your summer roses and feel that it’s easier to grow roses in other climates, you would be wrong. 

Oh, certainly, we have to deal with our roses not looking great in the summer.  But, compare that with gardeners in other regions who have to deal with the dreaded Japanese beetle that shows up every summer and eats their roses. Or, people who live in more humid climates and are having to deal with severe cases of blackspot or powdery mildew (white spots on the leaves).    

Lastly – we are fortunate to enjoy two separate bloom seasons for our roses.  In fall, when many other gardeners are putting their roses to bed for the winter, ours are getting ready to bloom a second time that year.

Roses Feeling The Heat

And so, I will ignore my less than beautiful roses this summer, because I know that they will look fantastic this fall 🙂

Two New Roses Find a Home in a Desert Garden

Let’s face it, a winter landscape filled with frost-damaged plants isn’t the most attractive. During this time of year, I often find myself itching to grab my pruners and get rid of the ugly, brown growth on my bougainvillea, lantanas and yellow bells shrubs. But before I do, I keep repeating to myself, just a few more weeks…

Perhaps you have a similar urge to prune away all the brown too early. What helps me to stop grabbing my pruners is remembering that the dead outer growth of my summer-flowering beauties is protecting the inner part of the plant AND the fact that freezing temperatures are still a distinct possibility.

winter-blooming-shrubs

Feathery cassia and Valentine bush

And so, I will focus my attention on the winter-flowering plants that are adding beauty to my cool-season garden for now. If you don’t have any, I recommend Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana), Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’), and Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni), and feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides).

If you would like more information on this subject, I invite you to read “Got Brown Crispy Plants?”

So, what are you dying to prune back in your winter garden?

September Gardening Tasks

September Gardening Tasks

After a seemingly endless summer, we have finally made it to the finish line.  This is the season where we experience a ‘second spring’ and venture out into the garden again.

citrus fertilized

Soil is ready to be amended, citrus fertilized, and some light pruning can be done.

 September Gardening Tasks, Un-pruned lantana on the left.  Two light pruned lantana are to the right with a pile of clippings

September Gardening Tasks, Un-pruned lantana on the left.  Two light pruned lantana are to the right with a pile of clippings.

September is the gateway to a busy time in the garden, but there are a few things that it is still too early to start on yet.

I’ve made a video of what you should do and shouldn’t do this month:

 
 
 

What is your favorite season of the year?

signs of our warm winter

signs of our warm winter

While much of the country is suffering from a truly awful winter season, those of us who live in the Southwest are having the exactly opposite problem.

This has been a very warm winter season, with the exception of a few freezing nights back in December.

With temps 10 – 15 degrees above normal, we have been enjoying temps in the 70’s.

I have seen some signs of our warm winter including the fact that I have ditched my slippers and am going barefoot every chance I get. Plants have begun to emerge from their winter dormancy and people are asking me if they can prune their frost-damage plants early.

In regards to the pruning question, there is still a chance of Southwestern residents getting a spell of freezing weather before we approach the average last frost date. So, pruning too early can actually hurt your plants if by some miracle temps dip below 32 degrees.

signs of our warm winter

But, that may not stop everyone from grabbing the pruners. If you happen to be one of these impatient pruners, make sure that you cover your recently pruned plants if temps dip into the low 30’s.

In the meantime, enjoy the glorious weather!

Trying New Things In My Winter Garden: ‘White Icicle’ Radishes & Swiss Chard

Have you ever had a ‘substitute’ teacher?  As most of you know, a substitute teacher doesn’t do things the same way our regular teacher does.

A few years ago, I was asked to step in as a ‘substitute’ gardener for my father-in-law’s landscape.

Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

Photo: Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

My father-in-law had always been a meticulous gardener and took a lot of pride in his landscape. Have you ever seen rounder shrubs?

A few years earlier, I had designed the landscape around his new home and tried to convince him to allow his plants to grow into their natural shapes. But as you can see from the photo above, he didn’t follow my advice.  

He eventually took out his backyard grass and replaced it with artificial turf and whenever flowers or leaves would fall on the grass, he would vacuum them up – I’m not kidding.  

We would often joke with each other about our very different styles of gardening – especially when he would come over to my house for a visit and see my plants growing “wild and free” as he would say.    

But despite our differences, we shared the same love for plants and the garden.  

Unfortunately, his gardening days were numbered and he asked me to come over and help him with the gardening tasks that he could no longer do.  

My father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in October 2010 and it progressed very rapidly.  

So, I became his ‘substitute gardener’ and I was happy to be able to help out so that he could still enjoy the beauty of his garden, even if he could not care for it himself.

gold lantana

In early August of 2011, I lightly pruned back his gold lantana.  At this point, my father-in-law spent most of his time indoors sitting down. But, as I was pruning, I saw him slowly make his way out, with his walker, so he could watch me prune his plants.  

At this point, he could no longer talk due to ALS and I’m certain that if he could have spoken, he might have asked me to make the lantana ’rounder’.

After this light pruning, the lantana would grow back to its original size before stopping during winter.  If they had not been pruned, they would have look quite overgrown for my father-in-law’s taste.  

Light pruning involves removing 1/3 or less.  The timing of this light pruning is crucial – prune too late and your plants will be extra susceptible to damage from frost.  Don’t prune after early August in zone 9 (July in zone 8) gardens. Pruning in fall should not be done for this very reason.

Substitute Gardener

Substitute Gardener

Another part of the garden that my father-in-law took a lot of pride in was his flowering annuals.  Every year, he would plant the same red geraniums and white-flowering bacopa in winter.  Once spring rolled around, he would plant red and white vinca. He never deviated by trying out newer colors or varieties.  

I found myself taking over this job as well and when I came home and see all there was to do in my neglected garden – I didn’t mind.  It felt so good to be able to control how his garden looked because ALS had taken control of everything else.  

My father-in-law died in September 2011, just 11 months after being diagnosed with ALS.    

It’s been almost 3 years since he passed away, but whenever August comes around and I find myself lightly pruning back my gold lantana – I enjoy the memory of one our last moments together in the garden as I pruned his lantana.

Pruning Flowering Shrubs in Late Summer

Yesterday, I asked you on my Facebook page, what was blooming in your garden right now?

March is a glorious time in the desert garden and also time for some needed garden maintenance. 

We don’t have a landscaper, so we gather our kids together for a day of yard work each spring.

My son helping me prune several years ago

My son helping me prune several years ago.

I can’t honestly say that working out in the garden is my kids favorite activity.  But, if you promise them their favorite dinner and dessert afterward, they usually don’t complain.

I started teaching them at a young age how to prune shrubs, using hand pruners.  My son is a lot taller then when this photo was taken.

Normally, I do the pruning using loppers and hand pruners.  The kids then carry the branches into a large pile on the driveway to be picked up later.

Branches and clippings from the late summer's pruning

Branches and clippings from the late summer’s pruning.

Once the danger of frost is passed, it is time to prune away all frost-damaged growth and see what else may need pruning.

Pruning Spring Garden

Pruning Spring Garden

Every few years, I prune my Texas Sage shrubs back severely.  This rejuvenates them and stimulates the formation of new branches and gets rid of old, woody unproductive branches.

I allow them to grow out naturally after pruning.  Of course, you can lightly shape them using hand pruners, if desired.

For more information on pruning flowering shrubs, click here.  

Pruning Spring Garden

Pruning Spring Garden

A few years ago, my Yellow Bells shrub died back to the ground during a severe frost.  I pruned back all of the frost-damaged growth and it soon grew back.

While most of the day was spent pruning, I did take some time to walk around and take pictures of what is currently blooming.

Pruning Spring Garden

I love my Hollyhocks.  This old-fashioned flower can grow in most climates and mine self-seed each year, giving me new plants!

Pruning Spring Garden

Normally this time of year, I am pruning away the frost damage from my Pink Trumpet Vines.  But, this year we had very little frost, so they are already flowering.

Globe Mallow

I have several colors of Globe Mallow growing in my garden.  I will soon be pruning them back severely once it has finished flowering.  Pruning keeps them from looking straggly and also helps keep too many seeds from coming up later.

Pruning Spring Garden

Like my Pink Trumpet Vine, my Purple and White Trailing Lantana did not get hit with much frost.  So, they look beautiful right now.  Normally, I prune them back to 6″ in March.

Pruning Spring Garden

The alyssum and violas are still happily blooming away in their old, rusted watering can.  In about a month, they will start to die once the temperatures begin to rise.

I leave my watering can empty in the summer because it gets too hot and other plants won’t survive if planted in it.

Pruning Spring Garden

My young apple trees are in bloom.  It takes a few years after planting for apple trees to produce apples.  We planted the trees last winter and I don’t really expect to see the blossoms turn into apples, but secretly I am hopeful!

Pruning Spring Garden

This is the first year that I have planted ‘Cherry Red’ nasturtiums.  I love their vibrant, red color!

Pruning Spring Garden

My vegetable garden is in transition this month.  Cool-season vegetables such as leaf lettuce, carrots and radishes are still growing.  I have planted warm-season vegetables such as bush beans, gourds and cucumbers already.

The garlic will soon be ready to harvest.  

younger leaf lettuce

Some of the leaf lettuce planted last fall has begun to ‘bolt’, but I have younger leaf lettuce still available to eat.

Pruning and Blooms in the Spring Garden

Fall is the best time to add new plants to the garden, but spring is the second-best time.

My husband and son are always so nice about planting things for me.  

*You can see our puppy ‘Penny’ sitting in the shade watching them.  She is now 8 months old and we just love her!  I’ll post an updated picture of her soon.

I will most likely have more for them to plant after I visit the Desert Botanical Garden’s plant sale this weekend (March 13 & 14th)

Well, this has been a small snapshot of what is going on in my garden.

What is happening in yours?

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients when I noticed that one of her citrus trees was showing signs of sunburn, which led to me explaining to her that even citrus trees need sunscreen to prevent sunburn in many cases.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

You can see the lighter-colored bark and some cracks as well along the branch. It turns out that citrus trees are very susceptible to sunburn.

So, why is a sunburned citrus tree something to be worried about?

Well, when a tree becomes sunburned, it often forms cracks in the bark and within these cracks, damaging insects or fungus can find a nice home.  Frost damage can also cause cracks in the bark.

In recent years, I have had to deliver bad news to people whose citrus trees became infected with sooty canker, which is a fungal disease that affects the branches and trunks, which takes root underneath the cracked, flaky bark.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

Several times, I have had to tell homeowners that their much-loved citrus tree was badly infected with sooty canker and had to be removed.  You can read more about the signs and treatment of sooty canker, here.

Thankfully, there are things we can do to reduce or eliminate the chance of sunburn to our citrus trees.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

1. Allow citrus trees to grow their lower branches. They will help to shade the trunk.  A bonus for citrus trees grown this way is that the most fruit is produced on the lower branches that also tastes sweeter.

Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen

2. Protect exposed trunks and branches by using citrus paint (available at your local nursery) or by simply mixing white latex paint water so that the resulting mixture is 1/2 paint and 1/2 water. You can also purchase tree wraps made from burlap, which can also help to protect them. Avoid using oil-based paint.

However, if you allow the lower branches of your citrus tree to grow and the trunk is shaded, than you don’t have to paint them. 

citrus trees

3. Don’t over-prune your citrus trees.  The photo above, is an EXTREME example of what not to do.

Citrus trees should be pruned in March, and concentrated on removing dead, diseased or crossing branches.  Avoid pruning more then 20% of its foliage in any given year.  *Remember, that the leaves make food for the tree, which will in turn, produce delicious fruit. If pruning leaves you with exposed branches, then coat them with citrus paint.

**See how to protect citrus from the damaging effects of a heat wave – here.

Even Citrus Trees Need Sunscreen to Prevent Sunburn

I always wear sunscreen whenever I venture outdoors.  Years spent in California at the beach as a teenager, trying to tan my fair skin did not work.  Now, I try very hard to protect my skin from the desert sun.  I do however, often forget to wear my hat as it does mess up my hair 😉

Which type of shrub would you prefer in your garden?

Over-Pruning and Ways to Avoid Them

This one?

Over-Pruning and Ways to Avoid Them

Or, this one?

Believe it or not, these are the same type of shrub.

Did you know that over-pruning causes a lot of problems in the landscape that affect the shrub, water usage and your wallet?

I was recently asked to write an article for the folks at Water Use It Wisely, which is a water conservation campaign created by cities in the greater Phoenix metro area.

The article I wrote talks about the specific problems that over-pruning causes along with ways to avoid over-pruning.  

Over-Pruning and Ways to Avoid Them

You can read the article by clicking, here.

I hope you find it informative.  **If you have a friend or neighbor who has an over-pruned landscape, you may want to forward the link to them 🙂  

Do you know what ‘sustainable landscaping’ is? 

Would you be able to identify a sustainable landscape if you saw one?

Last weekend, I spoke to a large group about “New Ideas for Sustainable Landscaping”.  The community that I spoke to are in the process of becoming an Audubon International Sustainable Community, which would make them the first one to do so, west of the Mississippi.

sustainable landscaping

There a lot of people who turned out to learn more about how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  I was thrilled to talk to them about what sustainable landscaping is and small steps that they can take toward that goal.

Maybe you are curious about sustainable landscaping and want to implement some strategies toward having a more sustainable landscape.

This is my first post talking about this important subject in the hopes that I can inspire you to take steps toward a more sustainable landscape.

WHAT IS A SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPE?

First, let’s look at an example of what I am NOT talking about in regards to a sustainable landscape…

sustainable landscaping

Do you remember when green gravel was in style in the 70’s?

sustainable landscaping

Or how about this one with the fancy gravel design and two lonely cacti?

Technically speaking, both of these landscapes are sustainable, but they are not the model of sustainability we are looking for.

sustainable landscaping

Here is a great example of a sustainable landscape.

sustainable landscaping

So is this one.

Both of these landscapes are planted with arid-adapted plants that thrive in our hot, dry climate with minimal care. What you may also notice is that they are not ugly – they are all quite beautiful.  

natural landscape

The next time you find yourself near the natural landscape, wherever you live – notice how nature does a great job creating and maintaining a beautiful landscape.

Nature does this without any help – no pruning, supplemental water, chemical fertilizers (nature does fine with natural sources of fertilizer) and pesticides. 

sustainable landscape

So, what exactly is a ‘sustainable landscape’?

“A SUSTAINABLE LANDCAPE IS ONE THAT IS IN BALANCE WITH THE CLIMATE, WHICH REQUIRES MINIMAL ‘INPUTS’.”

What are ‘inputs’?  They are resources that we use to create and maintain our landscapes such as fertilizer, supplemental water, pruning, gasoline and pesticides.

Would you like to decrease the amount of ‘inputs’ in your landscape, without having to sacrifice beauty?

Well you certainly can and it isn’t hard to do.  In fact, you can save yourself time and money in the process!

Next time, we will discuss what we are doing wrong in our current landscapes, which is important to know so that we can avoid these mistakes on our quest toward more sustainable landscapes.

What Keeps a Landscape From Being Sustainable?