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I love springtime in the desert when it comes alive in shades of yellow, orange and pink.  

Beavertail prickly pear (Opuntia basilaris)

Last week, while I was driving through a residential area nestled in the desert mountains, I could hardly keep my eyes on the road.


Everywhere I turned, there were brightly colored cactus blooming.  It’s a small miracle that I didn’t crash into the curb as I drove closer.


Even though this is my 31st spring in the desert Southwest, watching prickly cactus transform into colorful accents never ceases to amaze me.

Claret Cup Cactus

Strawberry Hedgehog

I like to see smaller cacti such as claret cup and strawberry hedgehog planted alongside boulders for a mix of textures.  The cactus also like the opportunity for their roots to be shaded by the boulder.


The colors of flowering cacti range from shades of orange, pink, red and yellow.


There are so many different types of flowers that it can be hard to identify them all.  But, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying their pretty flowers.


The flower petals are somewhat waxy and sturdy.  Bees flock to the open blooms.


Prickly pear cacti are particularly spectacular this time of year, and their flower color varies depending on the species.


I can hardly wait to see all the blossoms begin to open.

Pincushion cactus (Mammillaria)

I must confess that I don’t have a lot of cactus in my garden – I am more of a flowering shrub and perennial gal.  But, I do have a few cactus tucked in here and there that I have obtained over the years.

My favorite it a small pincushion cactus, which produces rings of pink flowers off and on throughout spring and summer.  The small, native bees just love the flowers.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite flowering cactus?


If anyone asks me what is on my list of succulent favorites, Santa-rita prickly pear would be near the top.


Santa-rita prickly pear with new pads.

This beautiful prickly pear is also often referred to as ‘purple prickly pear’.  

I love how the its gray/blue pads become gradually tinged with purple as the temperatures get cold.

To learn more about this particular prickly pear and why you’ll want to plant one in your garden, check out my latest article for Houzz.com

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I hope you enjoy my latest plant article for Houzz.  I’ve been working on profiling plants that thrive in the desert southwest.


Stay tuned later this month for another great plant!


This past week, I have been sharing with you my latest landscape project that is located next to a golf course.


I shared with you the tree and shrubs that I had chosen and not it’s time to show you what perennials and succulents that will be going in.


*All the following perennials are drought tolerant and require full sun with well-drained soil.



Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) is a fabulous flowering ground cover.  

It thrives in locations with hot, reflected heat and handles cold temperatures (down to 0 degrees F) just as well.  

In spring and again in fall, masses of bright yellow flowers cover this low-growing perennial.  When not in bloom, it has dark green needle-like foliage.



Newly planted landscape with Purple Trailing Lantana, Parry’s Penstemon, Desert Spoon, Palo Blanco trees and Damianita.
I have used Damianita in other landscapes that I have designed in the past (shown above), with great results.  

*The trick to keeping Damianita looking great is to shear it back in late spring.


Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) is my favorite flowering perennial.  The one pictured above, is in my own garden.

I am often asked about this brilliantly colored plant in spring when it is in bloom.

One of the reasons that I love this Penstemon is that is begins flowering in winter, in zone 9b and continues on into spring.  In cooler zones, it begins flowering in spring and lasts into summer.  It handles cold temperatures easily and is hardy to zone 5.

Hummingbirds find the flowers irresistible.  To prolong bloom, prune off the flowering stalks once the flowers begin to fade and you will be rewarded with another flush of bloom.

Angelita Daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis formerly, Hymenoxys acaulis) are what you could call one of my ‘signature’ plants, because I use them often, like the landscape I designed, above.

I find them invaluable in the landscape because they flower off and on throughout the year, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

They easily handle full sun and reflected heat and look great in pots.  I like to plant them next to boulders in groups of 3 or 5 for best effect.   Cold temperatures are no problem either because they are hardy to zone 5.

Maintenance is easy – simply shear the flowers every 8 weeks or so. 

Now, so far I have shown you the trees, shrubs and perennials planned for this area.  But, I want to add succulent plants, which are also used as accent plants.  These types of plants add texture to the landscape because their unique shapes contrast well with the softer, more rounded shapes of the shrubs and perennials.


Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) is a large agave that can grow 5 to 6 ft. high and up to 8 ft. wide.

In large landscape areas, I don’t want to use small succulents because it will be hard to see them unless you mass a lot of them together.  My budget won’t allow for that with this project.

I love how this large agave can stand up on its own.  I like to plant flowering ground covers underneath them.

Plant in full sun or light shade.  Weber’s Agave is hardy to zone 7.  *Agave need supplemental water in our climate to look their best.  I recommend watering twice a month in summer and once a month in spring and fall.  


You can’t get much more unique in shape and coloring then Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita).  

I love the gray pads with shades of purple.  
The purple color deepens in cold temperatures or in times of drought.


In spring, yellow flowers cover this beautiful cactus.  

Hardy to zone 8, plant in full sun and well-drained soil.

**If you notice white cottony masses on your prickly pear, simply spray it off with a hose.  They are caused by an insect.

Okay, are you ready for my last plant selection for this new project?


It is hard to find a succulent that works harder then Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora).  Despite their common name, they aren’t a yucca.

The lower, succulent leaves resemble ornamental grasses.  In spring coral-colored flowers are borne above the grass-like foliage.


Hardy to zone 7, Red Yucca thrives in full sun.  While drought-tolerant, they do best with supplemental water.  

Maintenance is easy – just remove the flowering stalks as they begin to fade.  

*There is a common mistake that landscapers often make with this succulent plant.  To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, check out my previous post, “Do This NOT That”.

The last element for my newest project isn’t a plant at all, but it adds height and texture to the landscape without requiring any water or pruning…


Boulders!

I will use boulders interspersed throughout this flat area to add height.  The boulders will have either a succulent and/or flowering perennials planted next to them.

Well, I must say that I am excited to get started on this project.  We will wait until this fall for the planting.

I’ll be sure to take you all along as it progresses.

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7 days until my daughter, Rachele, comes home from the Navy!!!







Some daughter-in-law’s don’t have much in common with their father-in-law. 

In my case, when I married my husband 25 years ago, I wasn’t sure if I would have any shared interests with my father-in-law…..he was a dentist (I was deathly afraid of dentists), he ran 3 miles a day (I got a ‘stitch’ in my side if I tried running to the corner), he was very orderly and meticulous (I am neither of those things) and he was soft spoken (while I can be a bit loud).

I knew he loved me and I him, but sometimes conversation would lag because besides the kids and family, there wasn’t much else to talk about.

That is until I started to become interested in plants and landscaping.  You see, my father-in-law always had well-designed landscapes filled with beautiful plants.  As I decided to pursue a degree in Urban Horticulture, he was very supportive.

Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingi)      
Even better, we now had lots to talk about.  Our visits would often include visits into each others garden.
I would show him my newest plant acquisition and he would in turn, ask me questions about a few of his plant problems.
Red Yucca  (Hesperaloe parviflora)
 
A few years later, he and my mother-in-law made the trip up to my newest job location, took me out to lunch and asked me to show them around the landscape areas I was in charge of.

Blackfoot Daisy  (Melampodium leucanthum)

 When he retired, he asked me to design the landscape for their new home.  He had some ideas of what he wanted and then let me go at it.
Damianita  (Chrysactinia mexicana)
 I enjoyed working closely with him, in coming up with a design and the plants that he liked.

Purple Prickly Pear  (Opuntia violaceae)

While I enjoyed visiting and seeing his landscape mature, I didn’t always agree with the way he like to prune his shrubs…


 His style gardening was orderly and meticulous, like he was.
We would sometimes tease each other because our styles were vastly different.

‘Torch Glow’ Bougainvillea

But no matter our landscaping styles, we still enjoyed going out into the garden together. 

Last October, my father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  

Phoenix Bird-of-Paradise  (Caesalpinia pulcherrima ‘Phoenix’)

In a very short time, he was robbed of the ability to speak, swallow, eat and the use of his hands.
Now, unable to work in his garden himself, he had to rely on others.
I considered it a privilege to help him where I could.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’)

He endured this horrible disease with dignity, a sense of humor and through his faith.

Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)

This past Saturday, after 2 weeks in hospice care, he passed away.

We were all blessed to be by his side as he took his last, labored breath.

One of the last things he wrote was,

“My race is almost over.”


**********************
 I think it will be awhile before I can step into his garden without shedding tears.  
I will miss sharing our love for plants together…..

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)
Soft, pastel colored flowers ready for Easter.  But on a cactus?  

Absolutely!

 
Each year, an event occurs in the surrounding desert about the same time as Easter.  Beautiful spots of bright color start to appear on the hillsides of the desert.
Cacti everywhere are beginning to bloom.
Isn’t it amazing that such a tough, prickly plant produces such gorgeous flowers?
Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia violaceae santa-rita)
The flowers themselves are soft….unlike the cactus.

Every spring, I look forward to seeing the beautiful show that the cacti put on with their colorful blooms.  I have anxiously been waiting to share them with you and now they are beginning to bloom 🙂
  
I hope you have enjoyed these unusual, yet beautiful flowers.

Happy Easter!


Do you like prickly cactus?  

I have a few favorites, one being santa-rita prickly pear (Opuntia violaceae var. santa rita). The color contrast of their blue-grey pads and the shades of purple are so striking in the landscape.  

This cactus makes a beautiful accent plant for the landscape. Both the pads and fruit are edible, (but you might want to remove the spines first ;-). Cold temperature and drought intensify the purple color.

Santa-rita prickly pear is native to the Southwest regions of North America. They can grow as large as 6 ft. X 6 ft., but can be pruned to maintain a smaller size.  Pruning is done carefully, by making pruning cuts at the junction where the pads connect.


Lovely yellow flowers appear in spring followed by red fruit in the summer months.  Javelina, rabbits and pack rats will sometimes eat the pads. Pack rats use the pads to make their homes.

The pads of the prickly pear are covered with clusters of 2″ spines as well as tiny spines known as glochids. Glochids are incredibly irritating to the skin and detach from the pad very easily. Their tips have a small barb, which makes them difficult to remove from your skin.  If you need to handle them, use a few layers of newspaper or a piece of carpet. Do not make the mistake of touching the pads with gloves because the glochids will attach to your gloves and render them useless, (I ruined a perfectly good pair this way). 
 
 **There are different ways to remove these small spines, including applying Elmer’s glue (letting it dry and then pulling them off), but many people have reported greater success using duct tape. 

 

 
USES: In addition to serving as an accent plant in the landscape, this prickly pear species can also be used as a screen. Some may be surprised to learn that they also make excellent container plants, just make sure they are not near any foot traffic areas. They do well in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.
 
MAINTENANCE: Prickly pear is very low-maintenance plants. I always use tongs to pick up the pads that I have pruned, or you can use newspaper.  
 
Although they are incredibly drought-tolerant, watering once a month during the hot summer months, in the absence of rain, will be appreciated and will improve the appearance of your prickly pear. Shriveled pads indicate acute drought-stress.
 
 

Many people believe that the appearance of white, cotton-like areas on the pads is a sign of a fungal infection. However, it is caused by a small insect that secretes the white cottony mass, called cochineal scale.  Control is straightforward – simply spray off it with a strong jet of water from the hose – that’s it!

 
PROPAGATION: Prickly pear can be planted from seed, but there is a much easier way. Just cut off a pad that is at least 6 inches tall. Put the pad upright, in a shady, dry place for at least about two weeks. This allows a callus to form at the bottom.  
 
Plant with the cut end down, do not water for the first month because the bottom is susceptible to fungal infections. After the first month, water every 2 – 3 weeks until established.  If planted in the summer, provide shade until established (about three months). *I generally do not recommend planting in the winter but encourage waiting until spring when the soil warms up. 
 
If you have a large prickly pear, you can prune it, or you can start over by taking it out and cutting off some of the pads and plant them in the same place. Many of my clients have done this and been happy with the results.
 
INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACT: The Aztecs would cultivate prickly pear cactus infected with cochineal scale because the insects secrete a dark red dye with crushed. This was used to dye cloth. The Spanish exported this dye from Mexico back to Europe where it was used to dye royal garments and British military uniforms. The dye was highly valued by the Spanish, next to gold and silver. It takes 70,000 insects to produce 1 pound of dye.
 
*This is but one of many beautiful prickly pear species available to the home gardener.   Do you have a favorite species of prickly pear cactus?