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Last week, as I walked out into the back garden, I noticed something that didn’t look right with my a few of my yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans)

The photo, above, shows how they should normally look, however, last week, they looked like this….

Definitely not normal looking and manyM of the outer leaves were skeletonized, and it got worse. All four of my yellow bell shrubs had the same symptoms.  So, did my orange jubilee shrubs, which are closely related.

To be honest, I was a bit stunned to see the damage.  You see, I had grown these beautiful shrubs for over 14 years and have never seen this before – not even in landscapes I managed or when consulting.

What was interesting is that other shrubs right next to my yellow bells and orange jubilee weren’t in the least bit affected. So, what is eating my leaves?

I looked at the symptoms – the skeletonized leaves, the fact that many of my leaves were ‘rolled’ and little black dots (insect poop) told me that my shrubs were suffering from ‘leaf rollers,’ which are tiny caterpillars that roll the leaf around them while they eat.  It is hard to spot the caterpillars themselves, but the damage they cause, usually makes it easy to diagnose.

Now that I noticed my yellow bells and orange jubilee shrubs being affected – I have noticed these same shrubs being affected in my neighborhood, along freeways and other areas.  I don’t know why leaf rollers are affecting these shrubs all of a sudden after all these years.  I suspect it is the higher than normal rainfall we experienced this summer, but I don’t know for certain.

Regardless of why leaf rollers are affecting these beautiful shrubs – there are ways to get rid of them. Here are a few different options:

1. Prune off the affected growth and dispose of the leave in the trash can (not in your compost pile).  

2. Treat your shrub using a biological pesticide that contains BT (Bacillus thuringiensis),  which is ingested by the caterpillars.  BT basically ‘eats’ its way from the caterpillar’s stomach outward. I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.

3. You can use an insecticide spray to kill the leaf rollers.

4. Lastly, there are systemic insecticides that are applied around the plant and are taken up by the roots – but, their use can lead to the build-up of resistant insects and can have other negative environmental effects.

**Whenever using any pesticide – follow directions carefully. For my shrubs, I will prune back the damaged growth and not apply pesticides. However, if the leaf rollers continue to attack, then I may decide to use a product with BT.

So, if you have yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs – check them to see if they are being affected by leaf rollers.


**If your bougainvillea leaves are showing signs of being chewed – they may have been visited by ‘bougainvillea looper caterpillars.’  For more information on how to recognize and treat these caterpillars, click here.
Thankfully, the rest of my garden is looking healthy 🙂

Some of you may recall me telling you about a young tree that had suffered terrible frost damage during the winter of 2011.

The tree was located at Double S Farms, which is where my mother, my sister and her family live.

This Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo) tree had turned brown and ‘crispy’.  We waited until June to see if there would be any green growth to show us that it was alive.
The entire tree died, except for a little ‘sucker’ that started growing up from the base.
I wrote about this back then in, “Second Chance for a Frost-Damaged Tree”

My brother-in-law and I cut off the dead tree (the entire part we are holding in our hands in the photo above) and staked up the tiny sucker, hoping that it would grow…


And now, just 14 months after we removed the frost-damaged tree, this is what the single sucker has grown up too…
Posing by the tree with my sister’s new 3-legged dog, Johnny.
It is hard to believe that just over a year ago, there was nothing but a single tiny branch growing from the base of the tree that had been killed by frost.
The majority of the time, people simply dig up their frost-damaged tree and start over with a new tree.
I recommend waiting a few months to see if there is any part of the tree that is still alive.  Often, they will grow a few small branches from the base, even if the rest of the tree is totally dead.
Select a single small branch and remove the dead tree and the other small branches – you want to concentrate your energy on a single branch (sucker) to grow into a new tree.
You may be wondering, isn’t it easier to just start over and plant a new tree?
The answer is “no” for a few reasons:
1. It is wasting your money buying a new tree that you may not need.
2. Save yourself the extra labor of having to dig up your old tree and plant a new one.
3. Your little branch (sucker) will grow faster then a new tree will.  The reason for this is that it already has a large established root system from the original tree. A new tree does not have a large root system and has to spend a lot of time to grow roots.  Until a tree has a good root system, the top will not grow as quickly as a tree that already has established roots.

**And so, next winter (I realize it is hard to think of winter in the middle of August), if your tree is unfortunate enough to suffer extensive frost damage – don’t remove it right away.  
You may be able to save it and have a beautiful “new” tree in its place.

My family has a tradition of gathering together at Costco (of all places) for dinner once a month. (For those of you who don’t know what Costco is – it is a lot like Sam’s Club).

You see, we all love Costco and their pizza is pretty good.  So, my mother, sisters, brother and their families all gather together with mine at Costco.  We take up about 3 – 4 tables in the eating area and eat our pizza, hot dogs or chicken rolls.  What makes it even more fun is that we find that our families intermix with each other.  I often find myself eating with one of my sisters, my niece or one of my nephews.  My kids take the opportunity to sit with their cousins, aunts and uncles.

After eating dinner, we all go shopping.  Costco has lots of things that we like, but my big weakness is the book section.  I absolutely love to read….especially fiction.  So, I always budget a little money for spending on books.

As we pulled into the Costco parking lot, I noticed a bunch of shrubs planted too close together.  Unfortunately, a very common occurrence – especially in parking lots.

 
The landscapers prune these Texas sage shrubs into ‘cupcake’ shapes’ to keep them from growing into each other.
You would have a hard time telling that these are actually flowering shrubs, wouldn’t you?
In a nearby parking lot island, there were other crowded shrubs….
These Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisoides) have been planted very closely together and the landscapers are doing their best to keep them pruned so that they don’t touch each other.
The problem is, is that it is ugly and isn’t all that healthy for the shrubs.
So, here is my solution….
How about letting the shrubs grow together and form an informal, flowering hedge?
That would mean less maintenance and more attractive shrubs.
**If you have a similar problem, try letting your shrubs grow together.  You’ll appreciate the lower maintenance and your shrubs will actually flower.
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Last night, I made 6 dozen Snickerdoodles using one of my favorite recipes.  I got the recipe for my wedding shower almost 26 years ago.  They are very easy to make and taste delicious.
I’m going to a cookie exchange party today and I can’t wait to see what types of cookies I come home with.  If I can keep my husband and kids from eating the Snickerdoodles first 😉
Here is my Snickerdoodle recipe:
1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream together the butter, sugar and eggs.
Add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt and mix well.
Roll the cookie dough into small balls, about 3/4″ and then dip into cinnamon sugar.  
Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 8- 10 minutes.
Makes 5 – 6 dozen.
I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I do 🙂  

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite communities visiting a client’s sick Hibiscus plant.

(I’m not kidding about making a ‘house call’ about a single, indoor plant.  I will tell you more about that story in another post).

So, I was finished with my visit and decided to drive around the neighborhood.  This particular community has many beautiful examples of landscape design and great opportunities for taking pictures of plants.

On the other hand, this same community has many examples of “What NOT to Do” to your plants and I like to capture photos of those things as well.


As I was driving, I saw the following example of improper pruning of shrubs.  But instead of round green balls, I saw this….


 At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Then I tried to figure out what the purpose of the unusual shapes were meant to be.

I slowly drove back so that I could take a picture.

Now, I have spoken at length about the unhealthy and sometimes unattractive results from pruning using hedge-trimmers for flowering shrubs.

But I must admit that if I had to choose between round, green balls or a “modern shrub sculpture”, that I would probably lean towards the “shrub sculpture” because it is way more interesting 😉
What do you think?  Would prefer ‘green balls’ or more of a ‘free-form shrub sculpture’?

This is what Red Yucca looks like when its flowering.
 
Every time I see a Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) in full bloom, I remember an incident that still makes me laugh and groan at the same time….

I was working as a horticulturist at a golf course and I was fortunate to have a wonderful crew of landscapers.  One of the landscaper’s was Abel.   He was in charge of maintaining the clubhouse landscape grounds.  One day, he came in to my office with a huge smile on his face and told me that in addition to the work that I had already assigned him, he had pruned some plants around the clubhouse and couldn’t wait to show me what a great job he did.

I went with him to see what he had done and when we got there, I just couldn’t believe it….. he had pruned off all the tops of the 30 Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) plants!!!  I was in complete shock and standing beside me was a smiling Abel, whose was so proud of his work and who honestly did not have a clue that he had done something wrong.
This is what was left of one of the Red Yucca plants.

Well, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that you never should prune the tops of Red Yucca leaves.  But, I did tell him that he needed to check with me before he pruned anything else around the clubhouse.


This story has a happy ending…..the Red Yucca eventually grew back and Abel continued to work for me about a year with no further pruning disasters.  He then left to go back to Mexico where he became mayor of his small town.

**So how should you prune Red Yucca?  Well, once the flowers have faded, just prune back the flowering stalks. That’s it.  It really couldn’t be more simple.  Red Yucca is a very low-maintenance plant, just take care not to prune the top of the plant 😉


So, have you seen any pruning disasters lately?  I seem to be seeing quite a few….

Do you ever use a search engine to find answers to your gardening questions?  I remember the old days, before search engines when I had to drive to my local library and look through gardening books and encyclopedias to find the answers to my non-gardening questions.


Okay, now that I have dated myself by admitting that I used to use encyclopedias, I must say that I am quite addicted to finding information in just a few seconds using search engines. 
 

Many people find my blog by entering a gardening question using a search engine.  I am able to see what questions that people type in the search window that leads them to my blog by using an application that tracks my stats.


Some of the searches are humorous while others are totally unrelated to gardening.  But, there are often the same type of questions asked.  So I thought that I would reveal the three most common questions for this month in hopes that it may help some of you as well.


Question #1:


“Can I prune my Texas Sage shrub when it is in flower?”



Answer:
“You could, but why would you want to remove the beautiful flowers?”


Please don’t participate in the epidemic of pruning shrubs into round shapes.  It is not healthy for most desert-adapted shrubs and strips them of much of their beauty.

You can read more about this in an earlier post,

Question #2:
“What is the white stuff on my prickly pear cactus and how do I get rid of it?”
Answer:
Many people assume that it is a fungus.  Well, it isn’t.  The ‘white stuff’ is actually produced by an insect called cochineal scale.  The insects produce the cottony stuff to protect themselves and their eggs while they suck upon the cactus.

The good news is that it is very easy to get rid of it.  A strong jet of water from the hose will remove both the insect and the ‘white stuff’.

There are actually some very interesting information about this insect and how native Americans would use them.  You can read more from this post “Purple Prickly Pear“.

Question #3:
“What plant smells like rain?”


Answer:
Creosote shrubs dot the desert from California to New Mexico.  They have small resinous leaves that smell like rain when wet or crushed.


One of my favorite things to do is to take a few leaves, crush them and then have people smell the intense fragrance that smells just like rain.  

You can read more about Creosote from this earlier post “A Desert Shrub That Smells Like Rain”.

So, what do you think?  I hope this has proved helpful to some of you.  I plan on doing more of this in the future.

Now, I have a question for you….

How many of you have used an encylopedia in the past?

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is a must-have for the desert garden.  There is so much to love about this shrub.  

 
My favorite attribute is that it flowers off and on all year.  Its red flowers are shaped like miniature feather dusters.  Also, this plant attracts hummingbirds, is low-maintenance, drought tolerant and great by swimming pools because of its low litter.
 
Baja fairy duster has a vibrant red flower, which is often a color missing in the desert plant palette.  The majority of flowering occurs spring through fall, but some flowering can occur in areas that experience mild winters.  
 
It is native to Baja California, Mexico and is also called red fairy duster by some.  It is evergreen to 20 degrees F.  During some unusually cold winters when temperatures dropped into the high teens, I have had some killed to the ground, but they quickly grew back from their roots. 
 

USES: This shrub grows to approximately 4 – 5 ft. High and wide, depending on how much you prune it, so allow plenty of room for it to develop.  

 
It makes a lovely screening shrub, either in front of a wall or blocking pool equipment, etc.  It also serves as a colorful background shrub for smaller perennials such as damianita, blackfoot daisy, Parry’s penstemon, gold or purple lantana and desert marigold.  
 
Baja fairy duster can take full sun and reflected heat but can also grow in light shade.  It is not particular about soil as long as it is well-drained.
  
 Baja fairy duster in the middle of a desert landscape, flanked by desert spoon to the left and ‘Torch Glow’ bougainvillea to the right.  Red yucca is in the foreground.
 
MAINTENANCE:  As I mentioned before, this is a very low-maintenance shrub.  Some people shear this shrub, which I DO NOT recommend.  This removes most of the flowers and takes away from the natural shape of this shrub.  However, it’s size can be controlled with proper pruning.  Pruning should be done in late spring and should be performed with hand-pruners, NOT hedge clippers.
 
Baja fairy duster does require regular irrigation until established but then is relatively drought-tolerant.  However, proper watering is needed for it to look its best and flower regularly, which is what I do.  


Other than adding compost to the planting hole, no other amendments or fertilizer is needed.  Most native desert plants have been adapted to growing in our nutrient deficient soils and do best when left alone in terms of fertilizing.  I tell my clients to fertilize only if the plant shows symptoms of a nutrient deficiency.
 
So, go to your local plant nursery and get some of these beautiful shrubs for your garden.  Then, while you sit and enjoy its beauty, you can debate what you love most about it….the beautiful year-round flowers, the hummingbirds it attracts, it’s low-maintenance, or come up with your reasons.

 

 
Late August is a time when I usually lightly prune a few of my summer flowering shrubs. 

I just finished pruning my Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), taking off about 1/3 of the height. This will help to promote additional flowers in early October.

The key word here is to prune lightly, not severely prune. By pruning carefully at this time, it will help your plants look better throughout the winter months instead of looking messy and overgrown. Light pruning will also enable your plants to produce some new growth before the weather cools down and most plants stop growing.

 

Another plant that this works well for is many of your Lantana species. Lantana often suffers frost damage in the winter (in zones 9 and below) and by pruning lightly, it will minimize the size of the unsightly frost damage in winter.

In general, this method of pruning works well for most summer-flowering shrubs and perennials.