Table of Contents

Heat-Loving Beauties For Your Desert Landscape

Beating the Heat with Portable Drip Irrigation

Do you have plants that need extra water this summer? I have the portable drip irrigation solution for you! Many of us have a few plants that aren’t connected to an irrigation system. Some people don’t have an irrigation system and use a hose to water plants, which is time-consuming and inefficient.

While you can certainly haul out your hose and water each of your thirsty plants, it is not the best way. The main problem is the hose puts out water quickly, and the soil can’t absorb it fast enough. As a result, much of the water runs off and doesn’t benefit the plant as much as it should.

So if the time-consuming task of watering plants by hand isn’t your cup of tea, I’m here for you. You can make life easier by creating your own portable drip irrigation system with a recycled milk jug. This solution is very easy and will have you digging through your recycle bin, collecting your used milk jugs.

To get started, you will need an empty plastic milk jug and a nail. Heat the nail using a lighter or stove burner. Then use the nail to pierce 3-4 small holes in the bottom of the milk jug. Fill the milk jug up with water, put the cap on, and carry it upside down to the plant. Turn it right side up and set it down next to the plant that needs irrigation.

You can also set the empty milk jugs next to your plants, bring the hose to them, and fill with water that way. Slightly loosen the cap, which will allow the water to drip out of the holes at the bottom – this allows the water to penetrate the soil slowly instead of running off. Once the water has drained out of the bottom of the jug, pick up your milk jug and move it to the next plant.

After you are done, bring the empty jugs inside and store them until the next time you need them. Special note: if you live in a windy area and worry the milk jug will blow away, weigh them down with an inch of small rocks in the bottom of the jug – the rocks won’t interfere with the water dripping out.

I usually recommend this method of irrigating cacti monthly in summer. This portable drip irrigation system is a great aid for those who live in areas that are suffering from drought or where an irrigation system may not exist. A semi-permanent variation of this method is to create holes along the sides instead of on the bottom, then bury the entire jug next to the plant, leaving just the top exposed. To water plants, remove the milk cap and fill with water and replace the cap.

I hope you find this DIY garden project helpful! Please feel free to share it with your friends by clicking the Share button below.

Overcoming Desert Color Blindness

Last month, I diagnosed my first-ever case of garden color blindness. Now, I realize that I am no doctor or medical authority. However, as a horticulturist, I am somewhat of an expert in the garden, which is where I made my unorthodox diagnosis.

Before I tell you more about my diagnosis, I invite you to look at this photo. It’s of a lovely low-desert landscape filled with a mixture of trees, shrubs, and cacti. Here is another lovely desert landscape with succulents, vines, and a flowering Parry’s Penstemon. My client has a garden much like those photographed above. It’s filled with a variety of flowering shrubs, agaves, cacti, and ground covers.

So, when he called me in a panic, telling me that the plants in his garden were doing poorly, I came ready to help him out. However, once I got there, I didn’t see any problems. His plants looked great. He told me that his plants did look fine before he left on vacation, but when he returned, they seemed less green and somewhat sickly.

It took me a while to assure him that his garden was healthy, and then we made small talk. I asked him where he went on vacation. His answer? Michigan. That was an AH-HA moment! I now knew what the problem was, and it wasn’t with his plants. It was his eyes and his perception of green.

Let me illustrate. Michigan is one of my favorite states to visit because my oldest daughter lives there with her family. It is a beautiful place to explore with lovely gardens. Visiting Michigan in summer is something that I look forward to every year. The gardens with their lush greens are a soothing balm when I’m tired of the hot, dry summer heat back home.

My client had an experience much like this, enjoying the saturated greens of a Midwest summer before he returned home to his garden. Now, take another look at the desert landscapes below. Do they look a little less colorful to you? Dare I say drab?

When we travel to regions outside of the desert, our eyes become accustomed to bright, saturated colors that are part of that landscape. Then, when we return home, the soft, subtle shades of green are less evident to us due to the “green overload” we are returning from.

As I explained this to my client, he finally understood that there was nothing wrong with his plants, just his eyes. The good news is that this is temporary color blindness, and that his garden will soon look as beautiful and vibrant as it did before he went on vacation.

Have you ever suffered from temporary color blindness in the garden? What type of plants comes to mind when you are planning what to plant in your containers? I’m willing to bet that purple hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) and bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) probably weren’t the first plants that came to mind.

Embracing Foliage in Containers

Admittedly, I tend to think of using plants known for their flowers or succulents in my containers. That is, until a trip to California that I took this past April. In the picturesque Napa Valley region of northern California sits Cornerstone Sonoma, which describes itself as a “wine country marketplace featuring a collection of world-class shopping, boutique wine rooms, artisanal foods, art-inspired gardens.” Believe me, it is all that and more.

Amidst all its offerings, it was the unconventional container plantings that captured my attention. Intriguingly, I discovered square steel containers filled with plants celebrated for their foliage – a departure from the typical container plantings I was accustomed to. These unique designs were creative and beautiful.

There were quite a few things about this type of container planting that appealed to me. First, it is low-maintenance – no deadheading required. Just some light pruning 2-3 times a year to control their size. Second, the plants are all drought-tolerant, with the exception of the violas. Lastly, I like seeing new ways of doing things, and using plants prized for their foliage in containers is something we don’t see too often.

Fast forward a few months, and I decided to rethink what to add to the large blue planter by my front entry. So I thought, why not try the same arrangement? Granted, the plants are smaller than those I saw in California, but given a few months, they should grow in nicely.

As you can see, my new plants are rather small. However, the purple hopbush will grow taller, and its evergreen foliage will add shades of purple and green to this space. Furthermore, this shrub is one of those highly-prized plants that do well in both sun and filtered shade.

The silvery-gray foliage of bush morning glory creates a great color contrast with the darker greens of the other plants. While it may not flower much in this semi-shady corner, I want it for its silvery foliage. In addition, I want to use a plant that has bright green foliage, so I have a single foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’) which will thrive in this semi-shady exposure.

Maintenance will be relatively simple, with periodic pruning to keep wayward branches in check. Fertilizing in spring and late summer with a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote will be all that’s needed to keep my container plants happy.

Do you have any plants with attractive foliage that you would use in containers?

Heatproof Your Garden for Summer

Have you ever wondered how your plants fare in the scorching heat of summer? Is your garden equipped to withstand the punishing temperatures that a heatwave can bring, whether you reside in the arid desert Southwest or more temperate regions? In this guide, we’ll explore how to create a heatproof garden that thrives even during the hottest days of summer.

What do your plants look like in the middle of summer? Do they thrive despite the hot temperatures? Or do they look more like this? Before we dive into our tips for heatproofing your garden, it’s crucial to understand how to recognize the signs of heat stress in your plants.

During the hottest part of the day, take a stroll through your garden and keep an eye out for wilting leaves, as well as leaves turning yellow or brown – all telltale signs of heat stress. Here are five essential strategies to help your garden not only survive but thrive in the face of scorching summer temperatures:

  1. Select Native or Climate-Adapted Plants: Selecting native or climate-adapted plants is a foundational step in creating an attractive, low-maintenance landscape that remains beautiful year-round. These plants possess unique characteristics that enable them to withstand local climate conditions, including extreme summer heat. Learn how plants like Langman’s Sage and Mexican Honeysuckle adapt to thrive in the heat.

  2. Provide Shade: Introducing shade into your garden offers respite from the relentless sun, benefiting both plants and your home’s overall cooling. Discover how to provide just the right amount of shade by strategically planting trees that offer filtered shade.

  3. Water Deeply and Infrequently: Plants need water to survive, and not surprisingly, they need the most in the summer. However, we often water them too often and shallowly for it to do much good. Learn why deep watering, encouraging deep root growth, is far more effective than shallow watering, and why early morning is the best time to hydrate your plants.

  4. Mulch Wisely: Mulch plays a crucial role in heatproofing your garden. It helps regulate soil temperatures, keeping them cooler during the summer while conserving moisture – essential for plant health. Explore unconventional mulch options, including fallen leaves, pine needles, and even fallen flowers, and learn how they can enhance your garden’s well-being.

  5. Rethink Container Plantings: While growing pretty flowers in containers is relatively simple in fall, winter, and spring, summer can be another matter entirely. Often, it can be hard to grow flowering annuals in pots throughout the hot summer. Discover why and learn which heat-tolerant plants thrive in containers.

By incorporating these strategies into your garden, you can create a lush, resilient oasis that weathers the summer heat with grace. Embrace the desert’s unique beauty and learn to work with nature, not against it, for a garden that flourishes even in the hottest months.

Watering Wisely in the Desert

How much water do my plants need? I am often asked this question by desert dwellers, and my answer is always, “That depends.” There are several variables that determine how much water plants need, along with the frequency of watering. Variables include:

  • Soil type: Clay soils hold onto water longer than sandy soil. They take longer for water to permeate to the recommended depth. The result? Clay soils need irrigation less often than sandy ones, but need to be watered for a longer length of time.
  • Plant type: Native or desert-adapted plants need less frequent irrigation versus those that come from tropical climates. Cacti and other succulents do well with infrequent irrigation.
  • Water depth: Trees need to be watered deeply, while ground covers and succulents do fine at a more shallow depth. Shrubs fall in between the two.
  • Desert region: Where you live in the desert matters when it comes to water and your plants. The differences include rainfall amounts, when the rain falls, high and low temps, and more. Residents of low-desert cities like Palm Springs and Phoenix need to add water to their plants more often than those who live in higher elevation regions such as Tucson.
  • Irrigation system: The older your irrigation system, the less efficient it is. This is due to mineral build-up within the system, which affects the amount of water that comes out. Also, old drip irrigation systems tend to accumulate leaks. The average lifespan for a drip irrigation system is 10-15 years.

Despite these differences, what is a shared characteristic is that the vast majority of desert residents water too often and not deeply enough. This is usually due to lack of knowledge and thinking the “more is better,” especially in the desert. Landscapers are generally not a reliable source when it comes to scheduling irrigation – most recommend irrigating far too often.

Thankfully, there is very useful information available for homeowners to help them figure out when and how much water their landscape needs. Major metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest have excellent watering guidelines available for residents. The guidelines include the regional variables we have discussed so far. Here are helpful links based on major desert cities – click the link for the city closest to you:

Las Vegas
Palm Springs

Watering guidelines are just that – guidelines. Circumstances may mean that you need to water more or less often, but these guides are a useful baseline to work from. One final note: before you implement a new irrigation schedule, it’s important to gradually wean your plants to the new one over several weeks. The reason for this is that it allows plants to become accustomed to the new schedule.

Yes, it does take a little work to figure out how much and often to water your plants, but these guides are incredibly helpful and will guide you along the way. Do you have citrus trees in your garden? Let’s explore how to care for them.

Caring for Citrus in the Desert

Do you have citrus trees in your garden? I do. I have two trees – a Meyer lemon and a brand new Trovita orange tree. I use the citrus in all kinds of fun ways, and the trees have become a family pleasure.

As a child in California, we always had citrus trees in our backyard. I would pick lemons from my favorite tree just off the back patio. Later, we moved to a larger ranch-style home that had several citrus. I honestly never paid much attention to them because, as a teenager, I had more important things to think about – like boys and how to get the perfect perm for my hair. It was the 80s, after all.

Now, as an adult with permed hair (thankfully) in my past, I do pay attention to my trees. Consequently, I look forward to the fragrant blossoms that cover citrus trees in mid-winter. As the blooms fade, tiny green fruit is left behind, which are baby citrus fruit.

When spring progresses, some of the small green fruit drop to the ground. Not surprisingly, this concerns gardeners who don’t understand why. Well, let me put all your worries to rest. This is a normal occurrence and not a citrus disease.

Citrus trees produce more blossoms than they can grow into mature fruit. They do this in order to attract the most pollinators, and after the flower petals drop, little green fruit is left behind, which ideally grow into large, delicious fruit ready to harvest in winter. However, the tree cannot support that much fruit, so the tree figures out how much fruit it can grow to maturity and then drops the rest.

For those of you who have young citrus trees, I want to warn you that most of the little green fruit will drop. Citrus trees need a large root system and a lot of leaves to support a good amount of fruit, and that only comes with age. So if you see tiny green citrus on the ground every spring, don’t panic. It is all part of the normal cycle of growing citrus.

Introducing a New Desert Beauty

I am always on the lookout for new plants to add to the desert plant palette. The desert plant palette is ever-evolving, with growers continually striving to introduce new varieties that boast exciting colors, sizes, and desirable characteristics.

I was able to visit Civano Nursery Farm, located in Sahuarita, 20 miles outside of Tucson, this fall. The goal was to introduce me to their new Tecoma shrub hybrid called Red Hot. This new plant is closely related to yellow and orange bells. Both are great plants to use when designing.

At the time of my visit, Red Hot was not yet available to the public. Still a test plant, it has been grown for testing throughout the Southwest. I met with Jackie Lyle, their Brand Development Manager. She plays an integral part in the introduction of new plants to the Southwest region.

Our tour began in the greenhouses, where we explored their state-of-the-art automated systems. There are massive amounts of plants in all stages of growth. I was in heaven. Although I’ve never worked in a nursery or for a grower, witnessing how they propagate

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