Category Archives: Keeping Your Potted Desert Garden Alive

Rev Up Your Pots While It’s Still Hot

Massive Petunias Thrive While It's Still Hot

We plant summer flowers in our desert pots in late April. At least those of you who are willing to wait that long. Over the years I have harped on this. Wait! 

You are expecting the flowers you plant in the spring to last until late October, which is six months. Half a year is long for these plants to consistently to thrive and provide you with constant blooms. Their demise will make you crankier in the incessant heat of this hot and dry season.  

That is until the monsoons come. And with these unpredictable storms, comes humidity. Now, the northerners would say, “pish tosh, get over yourselves.” But the monsoon and accompanying humidity will jack up the temperatures even more. And when we’re accustomed to humidity levels under 15% eighty percent of the year, we struggle with the heavy air added to the relentless heat.  

L to R: Pot of Lettuce Yellow and Burgundy Pansies with a center Snapdragon, Grassy Sedge and Cordyline Burgundy Pansies, Dusty Miller and Heavenly Bamboo

If we’re feeling like this, don’t you think your plants have a similar experience?

Don’t wait for winter flowers 

During monsoon season, some of your plants take off while others are on their last hurrah. The perfect time to trim some things back is during monsoon season. Watch the forecast because pruning is best to do when you see you are going to have cloudy afternoons. If you look at the 10-day outlook and it shows another dry spell, hold off until the dewpoint rises and the clouds start to build again. 

If you have some plants that are dead, don’t hesitate to throw them into your compost pile. Unless they look sickly that is, rather than dead. If there is any chance they have a disease, throw them into the garbage. 

Enter Shoulder Season 

Hot and dry climates usually have two seasons, hot and chilly. Respectively, summer and winter. Tropical climates can only site one season unless you count warm, hot, cool. But don’t take me away from our discussion on the desert climate. 

There is a period between summer and winter and vice versa, where fall and spring come in. I don’t know where I first heard this, but I call these, Shoulder Seasons. They ride on the edges of summer and winter similar to the shoulder on the side of the road.  

Sometimes you blink and miss these lovely temperatures, but typically your plants see them as a full season of at least six weeks.

Nighttime temperatures dictate the length of fall and spring’s shoulder seasons.  

Hang On Now – this is important 

Nighttime temperatures – Summer into Winter

You want the night temps to get down into the ’50s before you plant winter flowers,  

Especially Pansies, Violas, Lobelia and Ornamental Kale. And, you want the night temperatures to stay low consistently. I mention these four annual flowers as the worse to plant early because the first three, Pansies, Violas and Lobelia will stretch and get leggy plus when the night temps don’t cool off the way they need, they get weak and spindly. Planting earlier than I recommend is not setting them up to thrive through a long and chilly winter in the desert.  

White and Red Ornamental Kale with Rose Pansies

Kale, planted in the heat, will bolt. Bolting means it sends up its flower long before it is time and once it does, you might as well toss it. Remember, plants bloom to create seed which creates flowers (the bolting ugliness in Kale.) Annuals are ‘done’ after they spread their seeds. They have completed their job.  Kale bolting at the end of the season

Don’t be lulled into thinking that you are out of the (hot) woods when you see a night or two forecasted at 59F. That’s not enough. I can guarantee in the middle desert, that Indian Summer will come with a vengeance and you will be back into the ’90s for 7 to 10 days. 

Therefore, I always recommend to homeowners to wait to plant your winter flowers in the last week of October or even in November.  

But I Can’t Wait Until October! 

I hear you! I often feel the same in August and September. And, when I go to the nursery, I find nothing. Very disappointing. As I list in my book, “Getting Potted in the Desert,” as soon as the growers have them ready, these flowers and more will be in delivered to the nurseries.

Want to know my three top picks for shoulder season plants? 

Garden View out French doors


Sign up for the Potted View and receive a personal email with my three favorite Shoulder Season Annuals.

Plus, I’ll send you my Top Ten Tips to Container Garden Success in the Desert. 




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Potted Plants Stay Healthy with this Surefire Method

Cozy Nook to enjoy a cup of tea

Helping potted plants stay healthy can be challenging in hot, dry climates.  I think I first learned this tip in the Master Gardeners program. I adopted it in my garden and then added this sage advice to our weekly routine in all of our clients’ gardens. Of course, you don’t need to stop at just one jet spray a week. Daily would be great, especially during hot months and monsoon season.

Do this one thing to help your potted plants stay healthy

Jet spray on hose blasting plantsJet Blast Your Plants!

People who hear me say this in my container gardening classes look at me with much skepticism. Thankfully, usually, there is at least one convert in the room that can testify to the positive effect jet blasting has had on their plants, in particular  – roses.

Why You Should Blast Your Plants

  1. Jet spraying your plants will aerate them, providing more oxygen, movement and air within the plants. Plant movement aids in stem or trunk strength.
  2. Assists in preventing powdery mildew.
  3. Removes pests such as aphids and spider mites.
  4. Assists in removing spent flowers in self-deadheading plants such as Vinca.
  5. Cools the plants in hot summer months.

How to Jet Blast Plants

Don’t start jetting off new plants until you see new growth on them. Typically about two weeks after planting is a good time to start. Follow these directions to blast your plants safely. Blasting works for all kinds of flowers, shrubs, perennials and even cactus.

  1. Set your hose nozzle to the jet spray setting.
  2. Be sure the water is not hot. In the summer, do this in the early morning hours.
  3. Stand about four (4) feet from the potted plants.
  4. Aim the hose at the plants, not at the soil. Think of spraying across the plants.
  5. Spray the plants from all directions possible, hitting the underside of the leaves, across the buds and flowers.
  6. Take about 15 seconds per pot to accomplish this task.
  7. Repeat daily or as often as possible.

Why People are Reluctant to Blast Their Plants

Everyone I have ever spoken with about blasting their plants has been afraid even to try it. They feel they will break the plant, remove all the flowers and buds and destroy the plant.

You can trust me, though. We have used this technique on 1,000’s of pots regularly and never had a problem.

What People Say

  • My roses have never looked this good. Usually, my roses were spindly and unhealthy.
  • I have struggled during monsoon season with powdery mildew. When I started blasting my plants, I never had a problem!
  • Since I started blasting my plants with my hose, the garden has looked more healthy, flowers bloom more profusely and everything is just happier!


Thank you for sharing on your social media! ~~~~~  Marylee

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To Drip or Not to Drip – Gain Time and Beauty in your Desert Potted Garden!

Homeowners do have the best intentions. We create beautiful container gardens and promise ourselves we will water our pride and joy faithfully. Living here in the desert can mean watering daily. And in the severe heat, we have much of the year, when we miss a day; it is likely that our beautiful flowers are toast. Needing consistent watering is where adding a drip irrigation line for your potted garden would be beneficial.

90% of Plant Failure in Hot and Dry Climates is Due to Inappropriate Watering

If this sounds like you and you continually have your potted gardens dying, the most reliable way to keep your pots healthy is to water them automatically with a dedicated irrigation valve and timer.   When I first added a drip irrigation system to my home pots, I began saving an hour a day not having to hand water!

Two Methods to Add Irrigation to your Pots

Method 1: Dedicated Line for Pots on your existing system

Preferred: You have two options for automatically watering your pots. The preferred method is through an existing irrigation system. If your  timer can accommodate a new valve and run times, you can use it.  Pots typically are watered five to ten minutes a day during the hot periods of the year. You do need to put in a dedicated valve for your pots.

Not Recommended: If you are tempted to hook your pots up to your landscape line, they will be getting one to two hours twice a week or so. A run-time of an hour or more is excessive water, and you risk losing your plants and the pots from the abundant water and “erratic” watering schedule. This may mean you have to have another valve put in at the expense of $500 – $1200 when installed by a professional but well worth it when you think of the value of your time and materials you buy for your gardens that potentially die quickly.

The beauty of a good timer is that you can change the run time in one-minute intervals. The timer can set for 5 minutes and then adjusted by one-minute increments until your pots are getting the right amount of water. Additionally, if the water is running through the pots too fast, you can run it for a shorter period and more often during the day.

Method 2: Battery-Operated Timer

If you are unable to put a potline into your landscaping system, an alternative is to add a y-valve to a hose bib near the location of the pots and connect them to a simple battery-operated timer.  These timers are inexpensive and typically allow for many start times. A good timer will cost between $30, and $50 and the rest of the parts will run less than $100 depending on how many pots you have.

What I mean by a good timer is one that can be set at one-minute increments. Some of the less expensive models only have a spin dial that is limited to five to 30 minutes increments. This will never do for container gardens.

A battery-operated system is an excellent solution for vacation time too! You can set something up for pots clustered in a part-sun area and ensure they receive adequate water while you are away. I still recommend that you have someone check on them to make sure nothing has gone awry.

Just be sure to change the batteries twice a year and do not wait for them to run out. Daylight savings time is an excellent way to remember – and while you are at it, change the batteries in your smoke detectors too!

Adjustable Emittor on Stake is great for pots

An Adjustable Emittor on a Stake works perfectly in your pots

Regardless of which method you use, you want to use the right emitters for your pots. An adjustable emitter on a stake is my preferred method. The outpInline emittor on laser 1/4" lineut of water is in patterned like wheel spokes and is adjustable from about 4” – 10”. In larger pots, you would use two or three emitters, each off their own ¼” line.

Another option is an in-line emitters spaced every 6” on a 1/4” line. These lines will need a longer run time to water your pots thoroughly, but they do work well with gardens that require a slower water delivery. Test your system by running it for 5 to 10 minutes. After watering, the soil should be thoroughly wet, with some water draining out through the container’s drainage hole. If water floods out, you have run it too long; if no water comes out and the soil isn’t thoroughly moist, you need to run the system longer or change to more emitters. Most controllers allow you to run the system several times a day, which is particularly useful in our hot climate.

The best bet is to give it a try and adjust the timer and emitters to provide your pots with consistent water. Get this done and enjoy your garden oasis with the newfound time you have gained!

There is much more to be written about irrigation and watering your container gardens. Stay tuned as I write more posts. However, if you have a question now, please email me right away or comment in the section below.

Pots with winter flowers in blues, white and yellow

The end of a great season – with Drip Irrigation for Pots!


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4 Ways to Prepare for Cooler Temperatures in Your Desert Garden

Late Summer Potted Garden with Crepe Myrtle

September brings more mornings with temperatures in the low seventies and a nice breeze to your desert garden. What a relief! This always entices me to do some work outside – not only in the garden but also in my swinging hammock chair on my iPad. Nice!!!

On one of these mornings, I thought about how we really don’t use our desert patios as much as we could. I think we get so caught up in the heat and “It’s just too hot!” and then the winter cold which does happen now and then. We don’t have a habit developed to go out and just be.

I created this list of ideas as your temperatures allow you to venture outside, at least in the early morning hours:

Cozy Nook to enjoy a cup of teaIdea #1: Drink your morning beverage outside and contemplate even cooler days to come. What are your plans? Is there anything different you want to do in your pots this winter?

How about an “at home” holiday?

Don’t have a place that is comfy and cozy to do this? Take a weekend to relax, turn off the phones, spend time in the pool or curl up with a good book – what you might do if you were at a resort. With a little imagination, creativity and a couple of comfortable chairs, you can create a wonderful cozy seating area without bricks and mortar to enjoy on your ‘staycation.”

But before you go outside, get some healthy air inside! This is Idea #2. There are many reasons to open the windows – first and foremost – it feels and smells good!! Here are some other reasons to get those windows open!

  • It will help rid your home of toxic fumes.
  • It’s free – turn off your air conditioning for a couple hours and let your home soak up those cool breezes.
  • Your indoor plants will love you for it!
  • You will hear the birds and other sounds of nature.
  • Experts say that opening windows will improve your overall health.

And while we are talking about feeling good, consider Idea #3

Messy Patio with out of date potsReducing some of the clutter that might have accumulated in your yard over the past year(s). If you are not using some pots – donate them to a community or school garden. Old soil and fertilizer, broken tools, things you have collected over time and are tired of or you just don’t want/need them anymore – find new homes for them by donating them and toss what is of no value. I promise you that if you clean out the clutter, it will have many of the same effects as opening your windows!

Finally. Idea #4 – consider adding a new accent pot or piece of art to your favorite area. A new, cooler season might inspire you to treat yourself to something bright and cheery.Accent Pot

Trust me – it will continue to cool down so that you want to spend more time outside. Now is the time to dream a little and make some fun decisions about what’s next for your garden.

Additional Tips for Your September Desert Garden

Capture Rainwater-

And use it to water plants under your covered areas. Micro nutrients in the rain are great for potted plants!

Speaking of rain, too often desert homeowners make the mistake in thinking that a monsoon storm means they can cut back on irrigation or hand watering for their pots, gardens and other plants.

Desert Rain – Points to consider:

  1. It has to rain at least one (1) inch in order to saturate the root ball of your plants (get yourself a rain gauge so you know how much rain your yard has received)
  2. Pots under a Ramada, tree or overhang do not receive enough. if any rain.
  3. A deep soaking rain (more than 1 inch) received over a long time period (several hours) will only replace one day’s worth of pot watering.
  4. Pots in full sun with flowers and other ‘soft’ plants are accustomed to daily watering.
  5. A missed watering can cause your plants to get stressed and this invites problems including pest invasion and disease.
  6. If you have not received much rain, water your potted cacti/succulents now ~ Deeply!

What to Plant when your pots are just ugly:

Nurseries will have a fresh selection of annuals to replace those that have petered out. Zinnias, Marigolds, Vinca, and even Snapdragons, Dianthus and Petunias are all good choices that will carry your through October and the later three, all the way through winter with the right care.

Rose September Cut Back: 

This applies to all Hybrid Teas, Mini’s and Floribunda’s.

  1. Remove the top 1/3 of your roses and dead canes
  2. Selectively prune your climbers doing a lesser cut back.
  3. Clean up all the dead/fallen leaves, old mulch and debris.
  4. Reapply bark mulch around the roses.

Fertilize Citrus: 

  1. Check to see if you have fertilizer for your citrus trees.
  2. Fertilize citrus according to the instructions on the package this month.
  3. Water in deeply.
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Late Spring Tips for a Successful Potted Garden

Windy City – No Not Chicago

     Tips to safeguard your HOT Potted Garden 

I love watching wind farms! There is something graceful and mesmerizing about them. They are indicative of the strong winds we consistently have in our communities. As weather systems come through bringing high winds, we find those areas of our homes that create a wind tunnel threatening our potted garden.


3 Ways to protect your pots from the winds tipping factor.

  1. A pot with a broad base is your best solution to pots blowing over in our high winds. Place vase-shaped containers in protected patio corners or near a protected front door. The pot pictures to the left is not safe in windy areas!
  2. Plant tall plants in well ‘seated’ pots. Pots, as described in #1 above are your best solution to any tree form, tall shrubs or grasses. Thick canopies of these types of plants will act as a sail in strong winds, so they are best suited to ‘grounded pots.”  This pot is 32″ wide with a broad base.
  3. If high winds are in the forecast, water your pots in well. The added water weight will give your pot much more ballast when challenged by windy conditions.

Worry-Free Summer Desert Pot Design – Just add water

Looking for a gorgeous, colorful flower pot for the long summer? Plant a healthy combination of heat-loving plants and enjoy it all summer long.

Here is a grouping that will stand up to a full summer of heat. The 28” pot pictured above shows off with overflowing Vinca in red and white, White Summer Snaps (Angelonia) with a Silver Queen Euonymus shrub planted as a permanent structure in the center of the pot.

If you one side of the pot faces east or north making it a little cooler, you can add a Million Bells (Calibrachoa) that as shown on the bottom right of the picture as a trailing plant. If you know your summers are scorching with weeks of 110+ degrees, they may be best suited to fall seasons or higher elevations.

This combination is simple to care for because it does not need much deadheading. The Vinca blooms will fall off on their own. A little pruning of the Summer Snaps encourages them to grow to their full maturation in monsoon season.

Above is another picture of the same planting from the opposite side giving you a good view of the Summer Snaps and Silver Queen.

Roses – Not to Worry

It’s getting hot, but it can be sweltering if you’re a rose bush.  Although roses grow beautifully in the desert, this heat takes its toll.  Don’t expect your roses to bloom in the middle of the summer and remember to cut the amount of fertilizer in half from June through August.  This practice allows your rose bushes to rest during the heat of the summer.

Here are a few hints to maintain beautiful rose plants over the next few months:

  • Water, water, water!!! Be sure the water gets down to the roots.  If possible, submerge the container in a bucket of water to saturate the soil. Once well-watered return the container to its original location.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!!!  Mulching with an organic mulch like straw, compost, chipped bark, western ground cedar, or pine needles helps keep the soil cool and retain moisture.
  • Use the hose on the gentle or mist spray nozzle setting to sprinkle your plants several times a day for added moisture and insect control.
  • Do not prune the leaves.  The leaves help shade the canes and hold moisture. Pack rats have been known to eat the new growth on your bushes, if this is the case, contact a pest control company.  Always remember to deadhead when necessary.
  • You might like to try shade cloth during the worst heat of the day.  The fabric keeps the sun off, the heat down, and the humidity up.

In September return to your regular amount of fertilizer and continue applying these nutrients until November.

Once the monsoon rains begin, your roses will respond to nature’s rain and humidity.

But September is a long ways off. Be mindful of your garden. Enjoy it in the early hours of the morning and again as the sun goes down.

Thanks for reading! Happy Potting!



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Five Tips for a Worry-Free Summer in your Desert Pots

We have had a hot start to the southwest U.S. desert this spring. Many of you might be saying, “What spring?” The entire southwest has been running 10 degrees above normal jumping us into an early period of the 90’s. I have heard too many people already complaining about the heat.

However, May is a good time to get your summer pots in good shape before the real saturating heat starts. Here are some tips to guide you along your way. Think about these this month before the intensity keeps you indoors.

It’s not too late you know – to plant your summer pots!

You can still plant summer flowers, shrubs, cactus and succulents this month. If there is an area that remains a blank slate, consider getting right out there with a few new jumbo-sized pots and some well-started summer plants. This one fix will make a major difference in your landscape before the intensity of the summer heat gets started. The most important things to keep in mind if you are going to create a new potted garden this month are:

  • Plant early in the morning.
  • Make sure your plants have healthy root system before purchasing.
  • Be sure your plant’s root balls are moist before planting.
  • Water the pots in fully when you finish with your planting. (except for cactus)
  • Keep a close eye on your pots the first two weeks of growth to make sure they are getting enough water.
  • You do not want your plants to dry out at all as they are getting established.
  • Once you see new growth on the plant, you know they are off to a good start and you can adjust your watering to once daily for most summer annuals.

Provide Shade Relief for Your Summer Pots

Because the desert summer sun is so intense, even your sun-loving plants prefer a little shade. Place pots under a lightly leafed tree such as a Mesquite tree for that dappled light.

Move some of your favorite pots and plantings onto the patio or entry. Relocating them to the shade and close to your living areas will provide them with the conditions they need for summer success. Furthermore, you will more likely keep an eye on them because they are close to where you see them every day.

Watering Summer Pots

As you would expect, the key to success in your hot desert pots is water; consistent, plentiful water. If you water your pots with irrigation, set it to come on about 4:00 am and water before the lines heat up in the sun.

If you are watering by hand, water as close to sunrise that you can. Both you and your pots will love you for it. Be sure the water coming out of the hose is not hot. Water pots until the water comes out of the drain hole.

Different Rules for Potted Succulents and Cacti

Water only when the soil is almost dry. I use a water meter for this to make sure I am not overwatering them. You can pick up a water meter in any of the nurseries or most big box stores.

If you do lose some plants to the heat, don’t leave the dead or dying plants in the pot. All that does is make you feel bad. It also can keep telling you to do more work and replace the plants. My motto has always been, Better Dirt Than Dead.

Like what you are reading? Get it all in your copy of “Getting Potted in the Desert”. Follow the link in the right column or below:

Copies are also available at Antigone Books and Tucson Botanical Gardens.

One more for the road: Rose Worries – Not to Worry!

It’s getting hot, but it can be exceptionally hot if you’re a rose bush.  Although roses grow beautifully in the desert, this heat takes its toll.  Don’t expect your roses to bloom in the middle of the summer, and remember to cut the amount of fertilizer in half from June through August.  This practice allows your rose bushes to rest during the heat of the summer
Here are a few hints to maintain lovely rose plants over the next few months:

  • Water, water, water!!! Be sure the water gets down to the roots.  If possible, submerge the container in a bucket of water to saturate the soil. Once well-watered return the container to its original location.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!!!  Mulching with an organic mulch like straw, compost, chipped bark, western ground cedar, or pine needles helps keep the soil cool and retain moisture.
  • Use the hose on the gentle spray nozzle setting to sprinkle your plants several times a day for added moisture and insect control.
  • Do not prune the leaves.  The leaves help shade the canes and hold moisture. Pack rats have been known to eat the new growth on your bushes, if this is the case, contact a pest control company.  Always remember to deadhead when necessary.
  • You might like to try shade cloth during the worst heat of the day.  The cloth keeps the sun off, the heat down, and the humidity up.
  • In September return to your regular amount of fertilizer and continue applying these nutrients until November.
  • Once the monsoon rains begin, your roses will respond to nature’s rain and humidity.

If you missed your Checklist for May, you can get it here.

Thanks for reading! Happy Potting!


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3 Conditions Where Hand Watering Your Hot Container Garden is the Right Choice

You decide to do a couple pots. You know we need the soil and pots and plants. As our excitement about our project escalates, do we think about how to water them once they are in place?
In many climates, water is not often an issue. In cities like Seattle where there are 340 days of rain, potted gardens only need occasional supplemental water. However, as our climates continue to change with more and more areas experiencing drought conditions, we do need to consider how we are going to get the water to our containers.
You might be thinking to just use a watering can or a hose or possibly your existing or new irrigation system. Now I am not going to get into irrigating your pots in this post. That is a much larger subject than I am willing to tackle today. But I will leave you with the knowledge that 90% of the time when using irrigation, you need a dedicated valve and line to water pots correctly.
You might also have recently seen olla’s or glass balls that distribute water as the soil dries. I don’t have much personal experience with these. Having lived in the middle desert for 20 years I am somewhat leery of possible solutions where I cannot be sure that the water or moisture will be distributed throughout the full body of soil. I understand that this method is based on old ways of ‘the early days’ of gardening for food.
Let’s move back to the original topic of when it is best to hand water.
Potted Desert Potted SucculentsCacti and Succulents
When you are potting up cactus and other succulents, hand watering is definitely the way to go. The frequency of water needed depends on the specific plant, the size of the pot and the amount of sun it receives every day. A basic guide is to water cacti and succulents monthly during the cooler seasons and bi-weekly in hot months. It is best to err on too little water, not over-watering.
Fountain Grass
Ornamental Plants
For ornamental shrubs, trees, vegetables, herbs and flowers, I recommend hose watering rather than using a bucket or watering can. A hose with a good nozzle can provide a rain shower that is not only gentle in its application but thorough in distributing water to the entire soil bed.
Hand watering recommended for Container Gardens
Preventative Care
A hose nozzle also provides a jet spray which will improve plant health when used daily during hot spells to aerate the plant and send off any pests that are lurking in the cool shade of the leaves. The mist setting on the nozzle will provide cooling respite for hot afternoons when the soil itself has not dried out enough to need to water.
Watch for next Friday’s blog where I will talk about placing your pots to make watering easier.

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Getting Potted In
The De
sert Book

Marylee Pangman shares her wealth of information gained from 20 + years creating successful Potted Gardens in the Desert