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palo verde tree bougainvillea backyard landscape

Do you have parts of your landscape that you would like to change? 

Perhaps you have areas you like, but there are plants you are tired of or are struggling with.

I want to show you what I did in my backyard, where I blended both old and new elements.

First, a little history:

I was fairly happy with with the areas bordering the walls of the backyard. They are filled with colorful shrubs such as Bougainvillea, Coral Fountain, and Yellow Bells.

However, the center of my backyard space was dominated by a large lawn, which we had removed last year.

The decision to replace the grass was made with a focus on plants that I love and would blend well with the existing plants.

The focal point is a new flagstone seating area with Adirondack chairs arranged around a portable firepit. Around this area, boulders add height and texture. Angelita Daisy, Artichoke Agave, Blackfoot Daisy, and Pink Muhly grasses surround the seating area, which adds year-round color and texture.

In another area, a gentle mound stands planted with a ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow tree. Purple Trailing Lantana grows around the tree and will soon cover the entire mound in a mass of purple blooms.

At this point, the new plants are still rather small. However, plants grow quickly in the desert climate and, in another year, will soon reach their mature size.

The result? A landscape where the new and old will blend seamlessly together.

I must admit that I am delighted with how it turned out. It took me a long time to decide what to do with this area – it is so much easier to design someone else’s yard than your own.

I look forward to seeing it evolve and promise to share it with you 🙂

The holiday season is a time where I try to balance out the preparations for Christmas with time to sit back and enjoy the particular elements that only occur this time of year. On that note, I’m happy to report that I’ve finished shopping for gifts, which are all neatly wrapped underneath the tree or on their way to recipients who live far away. I must admit that I have never finished this early before and it is a bit disconcerting as I keep feeling as if I’m forgetting something important.

Last weekend, my mother treated us to an outing to The Nutcracker, by Ballet Arizona and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. 

We arrived a bit early, which gave us the perfect excuse to walk through the downtown area. Years ago, I worked in a tall office building as a landscape designer, but it had been a long time since I had spent any time there.

I was delighted to discover a tall Christmas tree in the center of an ice-skating rink – yes, there is ice-skating in downtown Phoenix.

Walking further on, we saw a unique use of umbrellas as art.

My younger daughters couldn’t figure out why the umbrellas were hanging upside down, but I quite liked the artistic effect.

A row of yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans) added a welcome splash of lush green and yellow color. While you’ll see them grown as a shrub, here they are pruned into small trees. Underneath is the groundcover yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata).

Once inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall, we admired the colorful Christmas trees. It was all quite festive, and my daughters were excited to watch their first ballet performance.

My mother and daughter, Gracie. 

Although Gracie has autism, and many things cause her acute anxiety, she was doing very well as she had always wanted to see The Nutcracker.

My sister-in-law, daughters, and me! 

There is one thing about the performance that I haven’t mentioned yet. My cousin’s daughter is one of the dancers in this ballet. She is a ‘snowflake’ in Act 1, and a ‘wildflower’ in Act 2.

This is all I can show you of the stage as photos of the performance aren’t allowed.

It was marvelous, and everyone enjoyed themselves. After the performance, we met my cousin’s daughter at the stage door, (Gracie hoped that she would still have her costume on). She was so happy that we had come to see her performance and I was struck by the fact that all the dancing genes in the family went to her (as well as her mother) – I certainly didn’t get any 😉

On our way back to the car, we passed by a striking vertical garden, filled with chuparosa (Justicia californica), octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), and yucca. Even though the chuparosa was a bit too overgrown, the overall effect was lovely.

Back home, things are rather quiet in the garden, with one exception:

My Halloween pumpkins that I filled with birdseed are still creating quite a buzz with the neighborhood birds. We have had Alber’s towhees, curved bill thrashers, finches, Inca doves, and sparrows come for a visit. It’s been a real treat watching them out the kitchen window. The pumpkins will probably have to be thrown out in another week, but it’s been nice to find a way to reuse them.

Lastly, we’ve been busy baking cookies for upcoming holiday events as well as to give to friends and neighbors. Snickerdoodles are by far our favorite, and they are so easy to make with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.

The recipe I use is an old one. I received it at my wedding shower, back in 1986, from a college friend. It has never failed me and cookies are delicious. I’ve had many requests to share it, so here it is:

*Please feel free to print it out and start your own annual Snickerdoodle cookie tradition.

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans)

Do you have caterpillars lurking beneath the leaves of your shrubs?

If they look like the yellow bells shrub, pictured above, probably not.

But, if your leaves look as if a vampire came along and sucked them dry, then they are there, whether you can see them or not. Other telltale signs include little black pellets, which are caterpillar ‘poop’. 

Damaged bougainvillea leaves

Bougainvillea can also fall prey to hungry caterpillars, who leave behind ragged holes and edges.

So, what do you do?  Nothing?  Or should you pull out all the stops to get rid of them?

I address these questions and more in my latest video:

 
 
 

 

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.

Photo: 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!

The back wall along my backyard is covered in yellow blossoms spring through fall.

Every year, I find myself pleasantly surprised that such this lovely, yellow-flowering shrub is native to southwestern deserts on into Mexico.

Most of the flowering plants in my garden have a long flowering period.  I tend not to waste time on plants that flower for less then 2 months.  

My yellow bells (Tecoma stans) provides me with beautiful, yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers spring through fall.  

Hummingbirds love the flowers too!

Want to learn more about this lovely shrub?  I invite you to check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.com


What is your favorite yellow-flowering plant?

Freezing temperatures are coming tonight and forecast to last for the next several days.

Take a drive down the street in your neighborhood, you will probably see landscape plants covered with assorted sheets, towels or frost cloth.

Those that don’t protect their frost-sensitive plants such as lantana, bougainvillea, yellow bells, orange jubilee or hibiscus will soon have plants that look like this…

In most cases, you do not have to cover your frost-sensitive plants when temps dip into the lower 30’s.

There is nothing wrong with allowing the top growth of your ornamental plants to get frost damage.  You just prune it away in spring.

For those of you who don’t like the look of frost-damage, then you will need to protect your plants from the cold.

**If temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s – then I do recommend protecting them from frost because temps this cold can kill a plant.

I wrote a blog post earlier this year when temps hit the low 20’s.  It talks about how to protect plants from frost (and how NOT to) along with the types of plants to protect.

You can read it here…

“Prepping For Deep Freeze”

*******************

I hope you are having a great week.  I must confess to being a little behind on writing blog posts this month with all the Christmas goings on 🙂

 It’s about to get really cold…

Well, cold for this area of the Desert Southwest.  Temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s for a few days, which is quite cold for zone 9a.

As a result, I am being asked by quite a few people about what they should do to prepare their semi-tropical plants for the cold temperatures.

The best thing you can do is to cover your frost-tender plants.  Do this in the evening and don’t uncover them the following day until temperatures are 50 degrees or above.  Recover them later in the day if another freeze is expected.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how to protect your plants during a normal winter freeze (30 degrees and above).  You do have the choice to protect your plants or not.  I mentioned that I only protect my high-profile Lantana near my front entry.

BUT, when temperatures are forecast to fall into the 20’s for a few days, I start pulling out all my old linens, including my kid’s old character bed sheets…

I cover most of my semi-tropical plants including my other lantana, young citrus tree, yellow bells, bougainvillea and pink trumpet vine.

The reason for this is that I don’t want my plants killed to the ground by the frost, which can happen when temperatures dip into the 20’s for a few days.

You see, frost damage can be cumulative with each additional night of freezing temps, creating more damage to plants.

So, if you have frost cloth – use it.  If you don’t, then start raiding your linen closet and pull out towels, sheets, tablecloths, etc.  Believe it or not, even newspaper can provide some protection.  Just anchor it down with rocks to keep it from blowing away.  (I once used canned foods from my pantry to anchor frost blankets 😉

What you shouldn’t use is plastic.

Also, if you want to protect your plants – you have do better then this person did…

What they ended up with was plants with green areas, surrounded by brown, crispy frost-damaged growth.  You need to cover the entire plant with no gaps.

Watering you plants at dusk also helps because water releases heat into the night.

If you have columnar cacti, then protect the ends using styrofoam cups.

Young citrus trees should also be protected….  

So what do you do if you didn’t protect your plants and they look like this afterward?

Relax, first of all.  More then likely, it is still alive at the base and will grow back once spring arrives.

Whatever you do, DON’T prune them now!  That can damage or even kill your plant.  I know it is ugly, but it is only until spring when you can prune all the frost-damaged foliage away.

**Even if you protect your plants from frost, there can still be some frost damage that occurs.  It all depends on the severity and duration of the cold.  But, covering them increases the chance that they will recover once temperatures warm up in spring.

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….

Shrubs Aren’t Meant To Be Cupcakes

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? 

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.

This beautiful plant is one of my favorite shrubs in the garden – so much so, that I have three.  Yellow bells produce bell-shaped flowers beginning in spring and lasting through the fall months until the first frost.

 Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers.  The vibrant green foliage and colorful flowers make this shrub a welcome addition to any desert landscape. 

Yellow Bells is a large shrub that grows to a height of 4 – 8 ft. and spreads 3 – 8 ft. wide.  You can find its native habitat in the Americas.  There are two different types; Tecoma stans angustata and Tecoma stans stans.  Visually, the most significant difference is in the shape of the leaves.  Tecoma stans stans had a broader leaf and are pictured above and below.

USES:

Because of its size, this large shrub makes a great backdrop plant.  I have used it to screen fences, sheds and also planted it up against the house.  Yellow Bells works well as a tall, naturally-shaped hedge.  This shrub thrives in full sun to filtered shade.  They do best in warm-winter areas but can be successful as a summer annual in colder regions.

MAINTENANCE:

This shrub is relatively low-maintenance.  It will freeze back in the winter months when temperatures go below 28 degrees F.  Since it blooms on current season’s growth, all that is required is to prune back the frost damage in early spring.  Seed pods are produced and can be removed if desired, which will extend the bloom period and improve the appearance, (the seed pods do not bother me, and I do not remove mine).   After an initial application of slow-release fertilizer when planting Yellow Bells, I have not needed to fertilize further. 

**Occasionally, caterpillars will appear but can be easily removed by spraying some BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is an organic pesticide.

COMMON NAMES: 

There are many familiar names for these beautiful shrubs.  Tecoma stans angustata is native to the Southwestern US and northern Mexico and goes by the names Arizona yellow bells, yellow bells, and yellow trumpet bush. 

Tecoma stans stans are native to Florida, the Caribbean and parts of South America and also goes by the name of yellow bells and sometimes yellow elder.  Because of the overlap of familiar names, be sure to purchase plants based on their scientific name.