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Sometimes, one area that many homeowners struggle with is what to plant in their side yards. It can be an awkward place with little sun and not much room for plants to grow. Most of these narrow spaces along the side of our home are little more than “yards,” but there is potential to turn them into “gardens.” On a visit to a client’s house, I saw a great example of this, where the homeowner had created side gardens.

 
First, her first side garden was planted with upright Bougainvillea shrubs against the wall with Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) planted in between. I liked the symmetry of the alternating plants and how they covered the wall so well – I’m not a fan of a view of a bare wall outside my window.

Most of the time the star jasmine produces small white fragrant flowers in spring, and the bougainvillea produces vibrant blooms spring through fall. Also it’s neat about this plant combination is that the base of the wall in a narrow side garden rarely gets much sun, and star jasmine does well in the shade. After all, bougainvillea does best in sunny spots, and the top part of them gets just enough sun to promote blooms.

 
 
In the other side of the garden, Yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana) trees grew along the wall toward the back and ‘Orange Jubilee’ (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’) shrubs covered the wall closer up creating a lush green backdrop.

I did make two suggestions in regards to this side garden. Remove the ‘Orange Jubilee’ shrubs growing in-between the yellow oleander trees. Right now, they make that area look overcrowded, and you cannot see the beauty and symmetry of the tree trunks against the wall.

Also, If you never see your side garden or it serves as your utility area, understandably, you may not want to spend time and money on adding plants. However, I do recommend focusing on placing plants directly across from any windows that face into that area, because who wants to look out onto a bare wall?

What do you have growing in your side garden?  

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When trying to decide what to fill our containers with, most people gravitate toward colorful, flowering annuals. For those of us who live in the Southwest, we are equally likely to fill our pots with cacti or succulents, which thrive in our dry climate.

However, did you know that plants aren’t the only thing that looks great in containers?  In fact, what many people would consider ‘trash’ can actually transform the look of a container and your outdoor space.

Dried plant material can add a unique and striking look to the landscape when showcased in a pot.

Besides decorating your outdoor space, they aren’t particular about sun, shade and are perfectly happy without any water or fertilizer.

In this particular case, I had a lovely blue container in my front entry that had stood empty for longer than I would care to admit to.  The opening was too small for most plants and it sat in the shade for most of the day making it difficult to grow colorful annuals.

On a recent visit to a client whose home was surrounded by the natural desert, I found some dried plant material that would soon find its way to my house.

Among a pile of yard debris mixed in with cut tree branches and branch clippings were several dried yucca flowering stalks that had been pruned away and were waiting to be put in the trash.

Now most people would probably walk right by this pile of discarded plant material and understandably so.  But, I was on the lookout for items that the homeowner could use for a walled in patio, which was quite bare and received hot, reflected sun for most of the day.

My thought was to add colorful, glazed containers in order to bring welcome color to this space and fill them with cacti.

However, once I saw the dried yucca stalks, I decided that they would make a striking filler for a container.

The homeowner, who enjoys designing the interior of her home, saw the potential right away and selected three stalks.

The flowering stalks came from a magnificent soaptree yucca (Yucca elata) that they had growing in their front yard.

The homeowners graciously offered to give me a few of the stalks to take home.

I knew that my empty blue container would make the perfect home for dried yucca stalks.

While I love my new dried yucca stalks – they are just a few natural items that can be used in containers.

This large, dried flowering stalk from an agave would look fabulous in a container and displayed in the corner of an entry or patio.

Discarded canes from an ocotillo that would otherwise be headed toward the landfill can find new purpose as a filler for containers.

A saguaro skeleton would make a dramatic statement if ‘planted’ in a large container.

On my recommendation, this client gave up trying to grow flowering annuals in her shady entry and add colorful containers with bamboo poles.

Do you have a location where you’d like to have containers, but whatever you plant there dies?

Do any of the following situations where you’d like to have containers apply to you?

– Too much shade or sun

– Access to irrigation is limited

– You are gone for long lengths of time and can’t care for container plants

– Worried about staining the concrete or tile underneath the container from mineral buildup from watering

– You tend to kill anything you plant

If you are dealing with one or more these situations you may want to look at adding dried plant material to your containers for a unique and fuss-free look that will add beauty to your outdoor space.

Where do your plants get their water from?  

If you are like most people who live in the desert Southwest, your answer may be drip irrigation, a rain barrel and/or rainfall.  

But, what if you didn’t have drip irrigation or don’t want to install one?  Is it possible to have an attractive, established landscape that can survive on only regular rainfall in the desert?  

The answer is yes!

Last week, I was asked to help a client with her landscape.    

Now unlike most of my clients, she had no irrigation.  Any new plants had to be able to survive on the average 9 inches of rain that fall each year.  

Her existing landscape receives no supplemental irrigation and is filled with succulent plants such as agave, desert spoon, golden barrel cacti, mesquite, Mexican fence post cacti, ocotillo, prickly pear and red yucca.

Native desert shrubs like brittlebush, bursage and creosote filled out the rest of the landscape.  

My client was happy with how her front yard looked, but wanted some help with the backyard.  

The backyard was filled with cholla and saguaro.  

My goal was to add a few of the client’s favorite desert plants as well as include a few more for a welcome splash of green and colorful flowers.

I added some Argentine giant(Echinopsis candicans) cacti, which she loved.  

In addition, I also included chuparosa(Justicia californica) in areas that received filtered shade where their blooms will add welcome color.  Pink fairy duster(Calliandra eriophylla) was suggested for bare areas, intermixed with brittlebush(Encelia farinosa) for late winter to early spring color.  

I also recommended that the volunteers from several agave growing in front including cuttings from her prickly pear be utilized in the backyard as well.

All of these plants can survive on regular rainfall once established.  

Note the two underlined words above, which are important.  If rainfall amounts are lower than average, plants may need supplemental irrigation.

In addition, many of the new plants will need irrigation until they become established and grow a sufficient root system – this can take a year or even two.    

It should also be stated at this point, that fall is the best time to plant so that the new plants have time to establish a good root system before the heat arrives the following year.  

So, how often do you need to water new plants until they become established?  

If planted in fall, water native, desert shrubs deeply (1 1/2 ft.) every week for the first month.  Then every 2 weeks for the rest of the first year.   

For the cacti and succulents, water once a month for the first year, skipping the winter months.     

Thereafter, both types of plants, including other desert natives, should be able to survive on natural rainfall.  

If rainfall is absent, water once a month.   So, you may be wondering what is the best way to water without a drip irrigation system. Here is an easy way to water your plants by creating a DIY drip irrigation system.

Yes, that is a milk jug.  You can use them to create portable drip irrigation that you can move from plant to plant.  The water is released slowly allowing it to permeate deep into the soil.  

You can learn how to make your own here.  

The time has finally arrived!  Summer temperatures are but a memory and fall is here! 

Every year we wait for the end of summer so we can start adding plants in the garden. The only question is what plants will I add?

The possibilities are endless…    
                                                                                                                           

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The signs that fall in the desert may not be as evident as in other parts of the county, yet they are here.  Elongating shadows, cooler evening temperatures along with increased plant growth and flowering are clear signs that the heat of summer is fading and cooler temperatures are on their way.

Blackfoot Daisy  (Melampodium leucanthum)

October and November are the best months in which to plant most types of plants in the desert.  The reason for this is that plants use the cooler weather in which to grow a healthy root system so that by the time that the summer arrives, they are ready to handle the stress of the intense heat. 

Parry’s Penstemon  (Penstemon parryi)
Most trees, shrubs, perennials, and succulents can be planted now.  Stay away from planting palms, bougainvillea, lantana and other plants that suffer frost damage during the winter months.  They do best when planted in the spring.
 
Chaparral Sage   (Salvia clevelandii)
As in all climates, be sure to plant correctly.  Dig a hole three times as wide as the root ball but no more profound than the root ball.  This will allow the roots to grow outwards more quickly.  
 
When growing native plants, you do not need to add any amendments to the hole as this can cause the roots to just stay in place, enjoying the nutrient-rich soil, instead of venturing out into the regular soil.  If you do decide to add amendments to the soil, be sure to incorporate them well with the existing soil.   
 
Newly installed plants will initially require more water than established plants, so be sure to adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
 
Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides)

 So visit your local nursery and get planting!