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Firecracker Penstemon
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.


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!

Do you enjoy winter?


I do.  Surprisingly, the desert Southwest has definite seasons and winters can get cold with temps dipping into the 20’s.  

Frost-damaged natal plum


Unfortunately, the cold temperatures can wreak havoc on our frost tender plants such as bougainvillea, lantana and yellow bells – to name a few.

Let’s face it, no one likes the sight of brown, crispy, frost-damaged plants in the landscape.  Often, our first impulse is to prune off the ugly growth – but, did you know that you can actually do more damage by pruning it off too early?


Learn what plants are most commonly affected by frost damage, when to prune and how in my latest article for Houzz.com

I hope your week is off to a great start!


Do you like spending hours pruning and fertilizing your plants?  Or maybe you are tired of having to spend money on monthly visits from your landscaper.



I have been asked to show some ‘fuss free’ plants for fall planting on Sonoran Living, which is a local lifestyle show on our local Phoenix ABC network. The show will air on September 10th at 9:00. (I must admit that I am a little nervous.  I am off to my favorite nurseries to select some plants for the taping this Sunday, after church).

So, enough about my nerves….

What if you could have a landscape full of beautiful plants that only need pruning once a year and little to no fertilizer? 

Now you may be thinking that I am talking about a landscape full of cactus, like the photo below – but I’m not.  

The key to selecting ‘fuss free’ plants is to choose plants that are adapted to our arid climate.

Here are a few of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants that need pruning once a year or less…

Firecracker Penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) is great addition to any desert landscape.  It’s orange/red flowers appear in late winter and last through the spring.  Hummingbirds find them irresistible.  

Maintenance: Prune off the dead flower spikes in spring.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun.

Damianita

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) is a low-growing groundcover that is covered with tiny green leaves.  Masses of golden yellow flowers appear in spring and again in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6″ in late February.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun.  Damianita looks great next to boulders or lining a pathway.

Gulf Muhly ‘Regal Mist’

Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) is a fabulous choice for the landscape.  This ornamental grass is green in spring and then covered in burgundy plumes in the fall.

Maintenance: Prune back to 6 inches in late winter.

Hardy to 0 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 to 5.  Gulf Muhly also looks great when planted next to large boulders or around trees.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is the perfect plant for areas with filtered shade.  Tubular orange flowers appear off an on throughout the year that attract hummingbirds.

Maintenance: Little to no pruning required.  Prune if needed, in late winter.

Hardy to 15 degrees.

Plant in filtered shade such as that provided by Palo Verde or Mesquite trees.  Add Purple Trailing Lantana in the front for a beautiful color contrast.

Baja Fairy Duster

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) has truly unique flowers that are shaped like small feather dusters.  The red flowers appear spring through fall and occasionally in winter.

Maintenance: Prune back by 1/2 in late winter, removing any frost damage.  Avoid pruning into ’round’ shapes.  Baja Fairy Duster has a lovely vase-shape when allowed to grow into its natural shape.

Hardy to 20 degrees.

Plant in full sun against a wall.  Baja Fairy Duster can handle locations with hot, reflected heat.

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis formerly, Hymenoxys acaulis) is a little powerhouse in the garden.  Bright yellow flowers appear throughout the entire year.

Maintenance: Clip off the spent flowers every 3 months.

Hardy to -20 degrees.

Plant in full sun in groups of 3 around boulders.  Pair with Firecracker Penstemon for color contrast.  Thrives along walkways in narrow areas that receive full, reflected sun.
These are just a few ‘fuss free’ plants that you can add to your landscape this fall, which is the best time of year to add plants in the Desert Southwest.

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So, I will be heading to the television studio early Tuesday morning with my sister, who will help me set up and take photos of the whole experience.  I promise to share the video link for those of you who would like to watch it 🙂

**For more of my favorite ‘fuss free’ plants, check out my latest post.

The other evening, my husband and I got away for a few hours to go and see a movie.  On our way, we stopped by for dinner at El Pollo Loco.


As we were leaving, I looked toward the drive-thru and saw numerous Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs.

 
As you can see, the shrubs are planted very closely together, so they do not have room to grow to their natural size.
 
So, landscapers come in and prune away the attractive natural shape of these shrubs along with their colorful, winter flowers.
 
The problem with this area is over planting.
 
 
You can really see it on the other side of the drive-thru lane.
 
Often, landscape architects and designers add more plants then needed because when first planted, plants look scrawny and small.  Not necessarily something their client wants to see.  They want immediate impact from plants.
 
But, just 2 years later, you have unattractive green blobs because there just isn’t enough room for them to grow and they require frequent visits from the landscaper.
 
So, what can be done?  Well, if I were managing this property – I would pull out every other shrub in order to allow the remaining shrubs more room to grow.
 
 
This not only will create a more attractive landscape, but one that requires less maintenance, thereby saving money.
 
Valentine shrubs need to be pruned once a year in May.  
 
That’s it!
 
Prune them back to 1 – 2 ft. wide and tall and you are done for the year.
 
 
For more information on Valentine shrubs and why they are one of my favorite plants read:
 
I didn’t post a blog on Friday, but I had a very good excuse…
Frost-damaged Bougainvillea
It was time for my springtime annual pruning.
In my zone 9a garden, we do experience temperatures below freezing and as a result, some of my frost-tender plants always suffer some frost damage.
The best time to do this is once the danger of frost is over, which in my area is approximately March 1st.
Arizona Yellow Bells with frost damage.
I really don’t mind, because they look beautiful 9 months out of the year.
‘Rio Bravo’ Sage needing a trim.
This past Friday, I had no consults, the kids were at school and I wasn’t scheduled to babysit my granddaughter.
So, I put on my old gardening clothes, boots and gloves and headed out into my back garden.
Tobey came out to supervise.
My Bermuda grass is still dormant, but once nighttime temperatures stay above 55 degrees, it will start to green up fast.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, in the upper sixties.  I started first on my Orange Jubilee shrub and then moved on to my ‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage shrubs.
 
Every  2 – 3 years, I prune back my ‘Rio Bravo’ severely, which rejuvenates them.  Old wood doesn’t produce as much leaves or flowers and eventually dies.  Severe renewal pruning stimulates new growth and helps keep your shrubs from becoming too large.
To say that I am a bit passionate about pruning flowering shrubs the right way, is an understatement.
You can read more if you like in my previous post….
 I spent three hours pruning 10 large shrubs.  It was so nice to experience the outdoors with nothing to listen to except for the breeze and the birds.
There is something so satisfying about surveying how much work you have accomplished after you have finished pruning.
Of course, after I finished, I went inside and took 2 ibuprofen for my sore back.
I think I will let my husband put my pruned branches in the trash can 😉
How about you?  Are you ready to prune yet? 

I absolutely love this time of year.  The weather is gorgeous and everything is in bloom.  Although the afternoons can get a little hot, the mornings are still cool and a perfect time for a walk through the neighborhood.

Now before we leave on our walk, I almost always bring my camera with me, because you never know what you might see.  Today, along with my husband, I brought 2 special guests with me….


Meet my twin nephews, Dean and Danny. 
They are now over 7 months old and ready for an adventure.


So lets get started, shall we?
The first thing that I took a photo is of my neighbor’s frost-damaged Queen Palm.  With the deep freeze we experienced last winter, most of the Queen Palms in our area were hit hard.
Thankfully, my neighbor is not pruning off the frost damaged fronds yet.  You see, all palms need the ‘food’ that the fronds produce and the frost damaged fronds are still green at the base.  So, if yours look like this one, leave the frost-damaged fronds alone until they fall off naturally.
Bush Morning Glory
The beautiful gray foliage of Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum) make it a great groundcover.  Earlier in March they were all covered with bell-shaped blossoms.  There are just a few flowers left now…
Australian Bottle Tree
 We pass by an Australian Bottle tree (Brachychiton populneus) that is in full flower.
We had one of these beautiful trees in my front garden in Southern California, where I grew up.  I used to imagine that the flowers were fairy caps and that the fairies would hide during the daytime.
Although I live in the desert, there are not too many people who grow cactus in their front gardens in my neighborhood.
There is however, one house that has lots of it and my kids call it the “Cactus House”.  Their Prickly Pear cactus is in full bloom and bees can hardly get enough of the pollen.
Sadly, not all that we saw was beautiful.  Ficus trees are extremely popular in my neighborhood and they got hit hard by the frost.  Most of them are coming back though.
It is a good idea to wait until the end of May before pruning any remaining frost-damaged branches since they may still be alive.  At that time, if the branches have no green leaves, then it is probably dead and you can prune them back to live growth.
Okay, here is another rather ugly photo, but in just a couple of weeks, this pruned back Gold Lantana will be covered with green.
You can prune back most frost-damaged shrubs and perennials very far.  This Lantana is not even 6 inches tall.  At first glance, it may appear dead, but at the bottom of the picture, you can see tiny green leaves appearing.

I guess it the horticulturist in me, but along with the beautiful, I tend to look at the ugly as well.  Thankfully, with gardening ‘ugliness’ is usually short-lived.  I can’t wait until everything is in full bloom!

Come join us for ‘Part Two’ of our spring time walk later this week….




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It is so nice to be back home from my Midwest road trip.  My mother and I had a wonderful time, but it is so good to be home.  I think the best part was walking off the plane and seeing my husband waiting with a bouquet of flowers 🙂

 

 
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.