Bountiful color or elegant statements? Whichever you choose, these three beautiful, perennial, evergreen plants take less work, less water and less summer aggravation than many other garden options.
The boxwood, Texas mountain laurel and ponytail palm each can serve as a focal point on their own, while the boxwood and laurel can be under-planted in the cooler winter months with colorful annuals. During the summer months, add water—and they’ll live on. No pruning is needed during those hot months, because every branch on the plant serves itself with shade. Add a little fertilizer monthly to keep the plants healthy during those long summer days, and they should remain in fine form.
Pots to fit the plant
Because these plants are slow-growing, the roots will not take over the pot quickly, so you can plan on leaving the plants in their new homes for several years. However, you need to be sure you are planting them in the correct size container to begin with.
Purchase a five gallon plant. Since these plants are slow-growing, you don’t want to start with a miniscule plant and be waiting until your kids or grandkids are grown for it to amount to anything. A reputable, local nursery should be able to give you a hand in picking out an attractive plant.
The boxwood can go into a 20-24 inch pot, while I would put the mountain laurel or ponytail palm in a 24-inch pot to start. The reason: You can trim the roots of the boxwood as it approaches being root-bound, whereas the ponytail palm will be most happy if left in the same pot for a very long time. You may find the Texas mountain laurel in shrub or tree form, and in either case, with its stature, it deserves a larger pot, such a 24-inch one. However, you can decide depending on the size of the tree.
If you’re not planning to plant any flowers in these pots, choose pots that add to the décor—make them as special as your plant selection. The boxwood has a deep green leaf and no substantial flowers, so your pot could be a brighter color that the green complements.
The laurel flowers for a couple of weeks in the spring with clusters of purple, grape-jelly-scented flowers that will remind you of Wisteria. Although short-lived, you will want to keep the color of the flowers in mind when selecting your pot.
The ponytail palm is a very stately plant that just asks to be showcased in a pot whose width supports the breadth of the canopy of the tree form.
Caring for the plants
Plant the boxwood and Texas mountain laurel using quality potting soil, and add some fertilizer to the mix. Use cactus soil for the ponytail palm.
Be sure to plant each of these plants at the same soil height they had in the nursery can. Keep the ponytail palm high in the pot so it is positioned like it is on a stage: Keep that bulbous stem up and out of the moist soil so it is supported. Add some stone to finish the look and provide added protection to the stem.
Press the soil down firmly as you add each 12 inches to remove air pockets and reduce the risk of the soil level dropping. Once planted, water thoroughly so that the entire volume of soil is wet.
During the warmer and hot months, blast the plants with the jet setting on your hose nozzle from about four feet away to rid the plant of dust and pests. Do this once a week or more as you walk around your yard. This is really important to deter spider mites during the hot months.
The boxwood and Texas mountain laurel respond well to pruning. However, don’t prune off the seed pods of the laurel, because they are next spring’s flowers. The plants should be kept moist; never allow the soil to completely dry out.
If the plant becomes root-bound—you will know this is the case if water runs right through the roots immediately, and the plant is starting to look sad—you can prune the roots by a third and put it back in the same pot with fresh potting soil. This is more likely to happen with the boxwood as opposed to the laurel.
The ponytail palm is actually neither a palm nor a tree, but a succulent in the agave family. This plant only needs water when almost completely dry, as it stores water in the “bulb.” If the bulb looks shriveled, then give it a solid, long drink. Test the soil down low in the pot with a piece of metal or a 1-inch-diameter pole to see if the soil is moist.
This month is a great time to plant any of these. The winter climate of Coachella Valley will not put them at serious risk of any frost damage. However, those living in higher elevations will want to protect the ponytail palm if the nighttime temperatures approach freezing.
Enjoy these plants for years to come in your desert potted garden!
Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. Marylee’s book, Getting Potted in the Desert, has just been released. Buy it online at potteddesert.com. Email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. The Potted Desert Garden now appears monthly. Below: Texas mountain laurel with snapdragons.