Category Archives: Potted Desert Blog

Why the Number 3 is Perfect for Desert Container Gardens

 

Does your designer often specify grouping objects in three’s even in your desert container gardens?  

Do you ever ask yourself why?  

It really comes down to our brain. We like to pair things up. When we look at a several items, we rationally try to put them together in two’s. When we create a group of three, the eye is trying to find the pair so it keeps moving. This movement creates a flow and continual motion of our designs. Hence in a garden where our ‘art’ is living and breathing, we want to enhance that movement. Creating an odd number of pots in a group does the trick! 

Two Pots Can Create a formal look at an entry to your home

Pots Have Their Place in your Desert Container Gardens

If we want a more formal or contemporary look, we will want to design in a symmetrical fashion. Even numbers, arranged as pairs will form the structure that comes across more strongly. Two pots placed on opposite sides of a front gate or entry will create the intent that you want of your guest focusing on the entrance rather than passing it by. 

How does the odd number of pots help in our desert landscape design? Long walls and square pots add to the linear look of a back yard wall.

These pots to the left are filled with a single Yellow Daisy Bush (Euryops) and Red Geraniums. The planting is very mature. The Daisy was planted in the fall and the geraniums in the early spring in Oro Valley Arizona. The Geraniums will ‘peter’ out in the heat of the summer and be replaced with true summer annual flowers. ~ Marylee

Two Pots Are out

Where 2 Does Not Cut It

These two pots obviously are just not right against this wall. They stop us dead in our tracks. By adding a third pot—round in shape—and twisting the squares to change the angles, the result is much more appealing. Now you see the garden rather than the wall. 

Your First Step 

When you are ready to redesign an area and want to decide about adding some pots, place some large objects out where you think you might like to position the pots. Trash cans, propane tanks and buckets will serve you well without breaking your back to get an idea of what you like. Once you think you have it, go pot shopping with my mantra –‘ bigger is better!’  If your pots are going to be in full desert summer sun, choose pots that are at least 22” in diameter. These pots are larger than they appear on this long wall. The homeowner is just getting started with a desert container garden and wanted to start small. My Motto is you can always add more!

3 Pots break up the long wall

3 Pots break up the long wall

Same Pots after 3 weeks of growing

Same Pots 3 Weeks Later

 

 

 

 

 

 

The larger pots of this trio have pale yellow Petunias, a dot of red from a Pacifica Vinca and chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine. The shorter pot has red and white Vinca, purple Summer Snaps (Angelonia and Convolvulus (a type of Morning Glory) trailing in the front. This was planted in the late summer when flower choices become more difficult in the desert heat. However, all the plants will do well through the fall until temperatures go below 45. The Sweet Potato Vine will be the first to succumb to the cold. ~ Marylee

 

 

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May 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.

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

Thanks for reading! Happy Potting!

Marylee

 

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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!

Marylee

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Dramatic Seasonal Changes with Just 3 Pots… even in the desert

 

Would you believe something as simple as three pots could make a remarkable story in your desert garden?

And that you can change on a whim?
Now is a perfect time to plan for your living color garden in your hot, dry climate.
Start with just three pots and have 365 days of color.

 

Pictured here is a blank slate of a common, albeit boring fence in a desert backyard. It borders a grassy area adjacent to a rocked space that is the view from the back door and kitchen crying for the ‘right something’ to be added.

Enter – a collection of three pots and two perpetual kids playing. This combination quickly became a fun garden ‘play area’ and a view from the house and the outdoor garden room.

If you look behind the pots, there is a lower level room that will look up to the massive display of color!

This winter combination includes complementary colors of yellow, blue and burgundy, planted merely with Pansies and two varieties of Lobelia.

Next, we come to summer – desert style! As you can see from this picture, the trees on the east side of the pots now provide some intermittent shade to the pots.

The Vinca, Salvia and Chartreuse and Blackie Sweet Potato Vine (SPV) are all sun-loving plants, but anything will do better with some respite from the intense summer sun.

Notice our ballplayers tucked in the leaves of the two shades of the SPV. It seems as though they have not given up their game as they know to stay in the shade!

 

 

Back to another winter season and the out-of-the-picture eastern tree has grown to provide even more shade for the pots. A long-living perennial (Butterfly Iris) and a shrub, Golden Euonymus have been added as permanent stature plants in the back two pots. The front pot is filled with cold-loving Cyclamen that will survive most desert frosts.

 

This last picture brings us back the full circle to another summer. You can now see the golden colors of the Euonymus as it reflects the early morning sun.

Since the pots are continuing to be protected from the sun by the mature tree, more shade plants have been added including Begonia, Bacopa, and Geraniums.

The hottest pot is the back yellow pot where Calibrachoa and Dusty Miller are added for some bold contrasting shades. The back two pots will also shade the front pot in the later afternoon sun.

You can find ways to create shade by calculated alignment of the pots in relation to the movement of the sun.

Just as our two kids playing ball have their own story to tell, as you start out with just three pots,
be part of creating your memories in your garden.

 

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Bringing the Tropics Home to Your Desert Oasis

January is the perfect time to start planning a desert oasis in a new area of your  container garden. The ideas listed below will also work in areas of dry climates, reasonably mild winters and hot, dry summers. What better way to create an oasis garden than to look at our patios for the magical setting for morning coffee or afternoon cocktails.

With freezing nights typical during desert winters, we can stretch our plant choices a little further, if we provide most of the plants with heavily filtered sun, afternoon shade and cold protection starting at 45 degrees.

Many plants that we have come to know as ‘house plants” are actually tropical plants that cannot survive the cold temperatures that most of the United States experiences. We are familiar with names like Pothos, Dracaena, Crotons, Philodendrum and other common house plants. In full shade and with cold protection if the temperatures go below 40, these are tropical wonders for our patio oasis.

Pictured below are a Multi-Trunked Draceana, a Golden Xanadu and a Fiddle Leaf Ficus. All of these plants need good cold weather protection with more than just frost cloths. Heat lamps, moving into a garage, an Arizona room or even into the house for the winter will help protect these tropical plants.

Read More…

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Low Water Desert Color – It Works!

Planning for a garden of color in dry and hot climates can be challenging. Especially if you prefer not being wedded to your container garden and the garden hose. Choosing low water bloomersDry Pot in Summer Desert Heat will not only provide you with an easier solution other than cactus but will give you that desired living color focal point in your desert landscape all summer long.

Choose low water plants that require similar light and water and those that will do well in your hot climate.

  1. Use quality potting soil that retains moisture AND drains well – I know it sounds like an oxymoron but it is true!
  2. For a combination plantings, plan to use plants that grow into three different heights – tall, mid-range and trailing.
  3. Plant early in the day and water your pot thoroughly after planting.
  4. Keep the pot moist until you see new growth. Then you will want to water the pot every two to three days. Water until you see water coming out the bottom of the pot. Test the moisture level at the root level which with these plants should be down about 6-8 inches.

Be mindful of the moisture in the pot throughout the summer as the heat escalates.

Plants used in this combination include: (Clockwise from Back Left)

Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida)

Blood Flower (Asclepias currasavica) Of the Milkweed family, Monarch butterflies need to feed on milkweed plants as caterpillars and so do not be surprised if you find a Monarch chrysalis on this plant

Parrot’s Beak (Lotus berthelotii)

Lantana (Lantana camara)

Note – except for the Parrot’s Beak, the plants in this pot are critter resistant!

Favorite Desert Color Works in Pots Too

We see Bougainvillea all over our desert landscapes. With a larger number of patio homes, these large plants are often too unwieldy to support in the patio landscape. Desert Dwellers often ask about planting Bougainvillea in pots so they can enjoy them year-round in hot climates. However, Bougainvillea are seriously particular, so follow these tips to increase your chances of success!

  1. Choose the right sized container. You need one at least 22” in height and diameter and one that is heavy with a wide bottom to reduce the risk of tipping. Be sure there are drainage holes in the pot.
  2. Give bougainvillea plants well-drained soil. Bougainvillea does not require high quality soils. Use a garden soil that is coarser with organic material and even gravely as potting soil is too rich for these plants.
  3. Do not disturb the roots when removing from the nursery can. Handle carefully, cutting the can away from the root ball rather than pulling the plant from the can.
  4. Position the bougainvillea plant in the best place. Bougainvillea is a sun-lover and it will grow best in a full sun position, in the open, facing due south. Heat is not an issue for bougainvillea.
  5. Water sparingly. Bougainvillea plants weaken with too much watering, ending up with heavy leaf growth in place of flowers
  6. Prune. Bougainvillea plants are prolific growers and need good pruning to force blooming:
  7. Wait for the first colorful bracts to form and fall off in spring
  8. Once they fall, prune excess growth
  9. Fertilize with a high phosphate fertilizer. This will cause new bloom on the shorter flowering spurs
  10. Repeat during the flowering season as needed.
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4 Tips to a Stunning Winter Container Garden

 Are your winter desert gardens giving you a showcase?

As the desert moves into the second half of winter, your pots should be starting to really show off. In spite of the cold temperatures over the holidays, February’s potential warming will spur your seasonal annuals to bloom beautifully for you!

You may have heard me say this before  New desert gardeners often say, “You can’t have flowers in the winter!” I always felt that statement was from their experience back home in cold winter country. I would also discover that they were trying to grow annuals that are not our winter flowers.

By the way, if you are looking for lists of flowers that do work in the harsh desert climate, check out my book, Getting Potted in the Desert.

Follow these tips to have a gorgeous riot of color the rest of the winter.

  1. Cover your pots when there are forecasts for below freezing temperatures. You need to know your micro climates around your home. If you are in a cold pocket, you will need to cover even when the forecast is above 32.
  2. Not sure of your temps? Pick up a digital thermometer with a readout memory at your local hardware store.
  3. Be sure that the soil of ornamentals is damp before going into a freeze. Do not water succulents however.
  4. Cover the plants/pots with frost cloth or blankets. Do not use towels or other materials that will become laden with water if it rains. Certainly, do not use plastic.
  5. Remove cloths after temps rise above 40.
  6. Fertilize your potted flowers and ornamentals every two weeks with a water soluble fertilizer dissolved in water. Spray both the plants and the soil with the nutrient rich mixture. Water with this deeply.
  7. Deadhead spent flowers all the way back to the originating stem regularly.
  8. Be sure your pots have enough water but are not saturated continually. Soil drying rates depend on:
    • The size of your pots
    • How much sun they receive
    • Day and night temperatures
    • Shade provided by the plants themselves keeping the soil cooler
    • Windy days

You might need to monitor this on a regular basis. But if your pots are doing well with an abundance of flowers, just keep doing what you are doing.

Have realistic expectations. You need to be using the best plants and flowers for your climate and conditions.

  1. Don’t expect plants like Vinca and Tomatoes to survive a cold winter.
  2. Snapdragons and Petunias will stop blooming when it is really chilly.
  3. Annuals considered to be hot climate winter performers may still freeze succumbing to the cold. Lobelia and Geraniums will be the first to go.

Take some time to devise the methods you need for your garden to become the envy of your neighbors.

 

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Save Money with these 6 Tips for your Container Gardening Shopping

Do you have a plan before you go flower shopping for your pots?

Marylee choosing flowers for her container gardens

  1. Know your pots. (Sizes, color and sun/shade)
  2. Know your desired color scheme
  3. Grab a cart at the nursery and an empty flat or carton.
  4. Place your selections on the flat and then step back and look at it.
  5. Stare at it hard and long and be sure it sits right with you.
  6. If something seems just not right, take out one plant. Look at color combinations, textures, and heights. Often you have too many small flowered plants with small leaves and that can complicate the arrangement.

A 24” pot with one central planting will need approximately fourteen (14) “4” inch” plants. If you select any gallon plants, they can replace 3-4 smaller ones. I urge you to use 4” plants and not six-packs. (Ask me why!)

Important: When you go shopping and bring your plants home, water them in well and plant as soon as possible – as in the same day. If you have to wait until the next morning, place them in the shade to rest until the morning.


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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