Posts

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus),

Does the idea of having to venture outside, when temperatures are above 100 degrees, to care for your garden have you thinking twice? I must admit that there have been times when I have let the plants in my landscape fend for themselves in summer after setting the irrigation controller. But, there is often a price to pay afterward when you have to play catch up with extra pruning and other maintenance.

There are however many different plants that thrive in summer with little fuss allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your air-conditioned home while viewing your beautiful garden through the windows. Here are some of my favorite fuss-free plants for the summer garden.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican honeysuckle has lush green foliage and produces tubular orange flowers throughout the entire year. They do best in filtered shade and attract hummingbirds. I like to plant them underneath trees such as mesquite or palo verde.

Learn more about Mexican honeysuckle.

Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata‘)

Artichoke agave is highly prized for its rosette shape, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The blue-gray color and maroon edges add great color contrast to the garden when it is placed alongside plants with dark and light-green foliage.

Of course, these are but one species of agave that would make a delightful, fuss-free addition to the summer garden. I also recommend cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta), smooth-edge agave (Agave desmettiana), and Victoria agave (Agave victoriareginae) to name a few.

‘Summertime Blue’ (Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’)

‘Summertime Blue’ is a delightful shrub that needs next to no maintenance throughout the year and decorates the garden with its bright green foliage and violet-blue flowers that appear spring through fall. It grows slowly but will reach approximately 6 feet tall and wide. If given enough room, it can go a year (or two) before needing pruning. While you may have to look around for a nursery that carries it, it’s well worth the effort. It is also usually found at the Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales.

Lady’s Slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

Lady’s Slipper is a uniquely shaped succulent with thornless stems that have a ‘Medusa-like’ growth habit that is more pronounced in light shade. The upright stems add a welcome vertical element to the landscape, and small orange flowers are produced off and on through spring and fall. They can be grown in containers or planted in the ground and do well in full sun or light shade.

Bush Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Radiation’)

Bush lantana is a familiar sight to many who live in arid climates like ours. This species of lantana is slightly different than the trailing gold and purple lantana. It has larger leaves, grows taller, and has multi-colored flowers that vary according to the variety. Bush lantana is a great choice for a colorful summer garden as they are seemingly heat-proof.

Totem Pole ‘Monstrosus’ (Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrosus’)

Totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ has become quite a popular addition to the desert garden and it’s easy to see why with its knobby shape. Another bonus is that they are almost always thornless, which makes them suitable for areas near entries or patios where a prickly cactus aren’t welcome. Plant in full sun in a row for a contemporary look or place next to a boulder for a more natural appearance. 

Learn more about totem pole cactus.

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Heavenly Cloud’)          

‘Heavenly Cloud’ Texas sage is well worth adding to your landscape for its lovely purple blossoms that appear off and on throughout the warm season, often in response to increased humidity. All species of Texas sage do well in summer and can be nearly maintenance-free if allowed enough room to reach their 8 foot tall and wide size as well as left to grow into their natural shape. This particular species blooms more than the more common ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage.   

       Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Golden barrel cactus are wildly popular, and it is easy to see why with the globular shapes and yellow coloring. This cactus is quite versatile, able to grow in both sun and light shade. I like to use it in groups of three next to boulders or in a row. They also do well in containers planted singly or along with other succulents.

Learn more about golden barrel cactus.

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Red bird-of-paradise is one of the most iconic flowering shrubs in the low desert regions of Arizona. Also known as mexican bird-of-paradise and royal poinciana, visitors marvel at their beautiful flowers in shades of orange, yellow, and red. The striking blossoms appear in late spring and last into early fall much to the delight of hummingbirds. There is nothing to do to care for them in summer other than to marvel at their beauty.
Learn more about red bird-of-paradise.

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red yucca has the appearance of an ornamental grass, but its leaves are succulent. Coral-colored flowers are borne aloft on tall stalks off and on spring through fall – there is also a yellow variety as well. They look great all year, even when not in flower and are well worth adding to your outdoor space.

Learn more about red yucca.

So if you are tired of having to prune and fertilize plants through summer, I invite you to try one of these 10 fuss-free summer plants.                          **Do you have a favorite fuss-free plant for summer?

Last time we ‘talked’, I was showing you a Butterfly / Hummingbird Garden that I was asked to work on.


“Creating a Butterfly / Hummingbird Garden”


As I promised, here is the photo of the finished project…


 Although the new plants are somewhat small and scraggly-looking, they will soon grow and produce many flowers.



We created a pathway throughout the garden and groups of plants will visually guide visitors along the curved path.

The pathway was made of 1/4″ stabilized decomposed granite, which is essentially decomposed granite that has been mixed with a stabilizer.  This creates a natural pathway that has a hard surface.

As I promised last time, here is a list of butterfly / hummingbird reflecting plants that we included:

Autumn Sage  (Salvia greggii)
Butterfly & Hummingbird

  Baja Ruellia  (Ruellia peninsularis)
Hummingbird

Black Dalea  (Dalea frutescens)

Butterfly / Hummingbird

Damianita  (Chrysactinia mexicana) 
 

Firecracker Penstemon  (Penstemon eatonii)
Butterfly / Hummingbird

Globe Mallow  (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Butterflies 

Lantana (all species)
Butterfly / Hummingbird

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
Butterfly / Hummingbird


Red Fairy Duster  (Calliandra californica)
Butterflies / Hummingbirds 

These are but a few of the plants that will attract butterflies and/or hummingbirds.  So how about including some in your garden? 
 

Many people tell me that they are tired of their boring, round green shrubs.  Often, they are surprised when I tell them that those ‘boring’ green balls would actually flower if given a chance.

So, how do you take those boring green balls and turn them into beautiful, flowering shrubs?  

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage shrubs

 

The first step is to rejuvenate your green ‘balls’ by severely pruning them back.  
 
Now I warn you, this is an ugly stage.  Your shrubs will look like a bunch of sticks poking out of the ground.
Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs, newly pruned.
This is best done at certain times of the year, depending on what type of flowering shrub you have.  For example, if you severely prune summer-flowering shrubs back in December, you will have to wait a long time for them to leaf out, once the weather warms.
 
I pruned the ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrub below in March and by early April, it had already begun to produce new branches.
‘Rio Bravo’ Sage, 1 month after severely pruning.
So, when should you prune your shrubs?
 
Here is a list of some of the most common shrubs in the low desert and when they should be pruned.
(If you live in the high desert, you can adjust the timing by a month or so later.)
Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea species) – March
Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) – March
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) – March
Cassia species (Senna species) – May (once flowering is finished)
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) – June
Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) – May
Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species) – March
Oleander (Nerium oleander) – May or June
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) – March
Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) – March or April
 
If you look closely at the list above, you can see that in most cases these shrubs are either pruned once they have finished flowering OR just after the danger of frost is over in the spring.
 
The reward for your efforts is a beautiful, flowering shrub like the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage, below.
‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage
 
If your shrub is getting a bit large later in the year, you can prune it using hand pruners and removing no more then 1/3 of the growth.  Just be careful not to use hedge-trimmers.
 
So, do you have to prune your flowering shrubs severely every year?  
Absolutely not.  
 
As long as your shrub is attractive and not outgrowing its space, you can save severe pruning for every 3 years or so, which will remove older branches and cause new ones to grow in their place.  This is what I do in my own garden.
Want to learn about pruning flowering shrubs the right way? I invite you to check out my popular online pruning workshop. I’ll teach you how to maintain beautiful flowering shrubs by pruning twice a year or less.

The leaves are beginning to turn and air is finally becoming cool and crisp.  I always look forward to fall as it is my favorite time of year, full of holidays.

My entry for this month’s Monthly Garden Bouquet (MGB) consists of a simple, but beautiful bouquet of some of my favorite flowers.


Now, as I ventured out into my garden to cut the blooms, the rain that had been falling had stopped.  But wouldn’t you know it…..after I made the trek to my side garden, the heavens opened up and I was caught in a torrential downpour.  


I didn’t want to be a ‘sissy’ and decided to cut the blooms as quickly as I could and then run inside.  Well you guessed it….I was completely soaked when I came inside.  But, I was successful and had a bunch of blooms from my single plant.


After drying my hair, I placed the blooms in my vase….



I realize that I could have put maybe one or two more flowers, but I was NOT going out to venture out into the rain again because first, my hair was finally dry and second, there was lightning and I am paranoid about getting struck by lightning.
I got out my trusty SLR camera and started clicking away.  When I went to download them onto my computer….my camera started to have issues and my photos were lost.  So I had to resort to my small Sony Cybershot camera.  Under the circumstances, I think it did a pretty good job.
The beautiful flowers of the Red Bird-of-Paradise also known as Royal Poinciana (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), do not need any other types of flowers or fillers.  They are so striking on their own.  

Newcomers to our area often comment on the beautiful shrubs and their bright summer flowers.  I have two by my kitchen window and I love viewing their blooms close up and the hummingbirds who come to drink their nectar.

If you would like to participate in this month’s Monthly Garden Bouquet (and I hope you do), here are the guidelines.

1. MGB begins on the 21st of each month and runs until the end of each month. Bouquets can be submitted during this time (or even later 🙂 
2. Create your own garden bouquet as fancy or simple as you like.  **You can also create an autumn bouquet with fall colored foliage.**
3. I would appreciate it if you would provide a link back to my post inside of your MGB post, but it is not required 🙂 
4. Add your link to Mr. Linky below and that’s it! 


Have a great week!

It may seem odd to refer to colorful flowers as friends, but that is what I think of the blooms of my red bird-of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) shrubs.

They are located beneath my kitchen window and this time of year, the blooms have just begun to reach up to the window.  What is even better is that the first blooms of the season are just beginning to open.

 
The bright yellow, orange and red flowers brighten up my day as I work in the kitchen.
 
Many visitors and new residents ask me about this beautiful shrub.  It really is stunning in the summer landscape.
Native to tropical America, Red Bird-of-Paradise is grown throughout southern areas of the United States, the Caribbean and has been brought to India and the Philippines.  It thrives in areas with heat and sun.
 
Depending on where you live, this is one shrub that has a multitude of common names….
 
Pride of Barbados
Dwarf Poinciana
Red Bird-of-Paradise
Mexican Bird-of-Paradise
Peacock Flower
 
In areas with warm winters, this shrub is evergreen.  However, during the winter in my zone 8b garden, my shrubs go dormant and are cut back to 1ft. from the ground.  This may seem somewhat like severe pruning when it is done each year, but it ensures beautiful shrubs in late spring.  Cold hardy to zone 8a, they can be killed to the ground when temperatures fall into the teens.
 The foliage is also quite beautiful and grows back very quickly in the spring after pruning.
 
Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to the beautiful flowers.  I have seen some shrubs absolutely covered with butterflies in September.
 
 
 Plant in full sun or filtered shade.  Shrubs planted in the shade will have reduced flowering and sparser foliage and so I recommend planting in full sun.
 
Their size varies from 3 ft. by 3 ft. all the way to 10 ft. to 10 ft., so make sure you have room for it to grow.  In desert gardens, they do require regular irrigation.  
 
I have planted many of these shrubs in both commercial and residential landscapes with great results.  They are not fussy in the least.  My shrubs are now 11 years old and have never been fertilized or the soil amended.
 
There is another variety is called ‘Phoenix Bird’, which has distinct yellow flowers (not to be confused with Caesalpinia mexicana).  I used this variety when I designed the landscape for my in-laws.
 
 
 Whatever you decide to call this beautiful shrub, it is just perfect for me…..it is beautiful and does not require a lot of work to make it look that way.
 
 
 I am so happy that my summer friends have returned 🙂
 
 

Do you ever wonder what plants look good together?  Below are pictures of some of my favorite plant combinations along with some general guidelines that I follow when designing a garden.

Sometimes red and pink colors always compliment each other.  Introducing yellow flowering plants provide a high color contrast that brings out the red and pink colors.  Above is a golf course landscape that I planted with Valentine shrub (Eremophila ‘Valentine’), Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) against the backdrop of foothill palo verde trees.

 

Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) with purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Also, succulents paired with perennials almost always compliment each other with their contrasting shades of green and textures.  Other recommended succulent and perennial pairings include desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) alongside black dalea (Dalea frutescens), prickly pear species with penstemon or try octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) with purple or white trailing lantana.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’)
   
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

I use plants with white flowers as a backdrop for plants with red, pink and purple flowers; I like the way the white flowers emphasize the other colors.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae) & Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Most of the time the pairing of purple flowering plants with those that have orange flowers always looks great.  When deciding what colors look good when paired together, it helps to look at a color wheel.  In general, the colors that are opposite each other look great when paired together because their colors contrast so well.  Other orange, purple plant combinations to try are cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) with (Leucophyllum species), or  Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) with purple lantana. 

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) and parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
 

Also, I believe that any garden looks better with some yellow flowering plants.  As I mentioned earlier, the color yellow makes the other plants look better, (think of the color wheel).   I have had clients that have said they do not like yellow until I show them how much better their other plants look when we introduce just a few yellow flowering plants to their landscape and they quickly change their mind.

 
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)
Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’
 

I often recommend the following for those who are looking for large shrub combinations.  Okay, I realize that many people either love or hate bougainvillea. Personally, I love them.  I have two bougainvilleas and since I don’t have a swimming pool, so I am not bothered by their litter. Their beautiful and vibrant colors are amazing.

I pair my bougainvillea with yellow bell shrubs.  Their colors contrast nicely, and they screen out the back wall of my garden.  I give them plenty of room to grow, and they produce beautiful flowers spring through fall.  If you do have a swimming pool and don’t like bougainvillea, how about trying orange jubilee (Tecoma hybrid ‘Orange Jubilee’) and Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) together?
 
Weber’s agave (Agave weberi) and purple trailing lantana
 
I have just one more tip –  if you want to pair flowering plants together to enjoy the contrasting colors, make sure that they bloom at the same time of year.  It is so easy to visit the plant nursery and see the pretty photos of flowers on the different plants and pick what ones you think will look great together only to discover later that one flower in the fall while the other blooms in spring and so you never see their flowers at the same time.
 
So, visit your local nursery and try some of the suggested plant combinations or see what beautiful plant pairings you come up with for your garden.

The blooming of my desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis), is beginning to slow down.  The leaves will fall in December.  However, there were a few lovely pink flowers left.

Also, the recent monsoon storms have caused my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, (Leucophyllum langmaniae), to burst out in flower.

Beautiful, magenta brachts surrounding the tiny, cream-colored flowers on my single bougainvillea shrub.

I also love the multi-colored blooms of my lantana ‘Patriot Desert Sunset.’  They will soon stop blooming for the winter.

The vibrant colors of my red bird-of-paradise, (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) add vibrant color to my garden and nectar for hummingbirds.  


In another month, many of these flowers will no longer be flowering, but until then, I’ll enjoy the view.

 

 
Late August to early September is 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 helps to promote additional flowers in early October.

The keyword 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.

If you’d like to learn more about pruning shrubs in the desert garden, I invite you to learn more about my popular online pruning workshop. I’ve helped countless people just like you learn how to maintain beautiful, flowering shrubs with pruning twice a year or less!