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The holidays are coming quickly: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s are all looming in the not-so-distant future. If you handle things properly now, your desert garden containers will be in illustrious bloom—and off your long holiday-prep to-do list—well before the festivities begin.

Think about your color scheme for your home and how you will add to it for the holidays. Do you go all-out in reds and glitter? Are you more subtle with whites, or do you enjoy delving into the romantic blues? Or are you all about color, with a desire to bedeck the halls with rainbows and bling?

Do the backbone planting now, and add fall colors into the pots temporarily with chrysanthemums. When those flowers are spent in late November, add your winter colors so they are in full bloom by mid-December. Thanks to our gentle early winter temperatures, your plants will grow and bloom quickly with appropriate water and fertilizer, making the rest of your job easy.

Holiday reds and whites are easily gained with geraniums in part sun, and cyclamens in full shade. Red flowers for full sun include dianthus and petunias. These two choices are available in white, too.

If you want a little blue in your holiday decor, look at pansies and violas. Blue is readily accessible in these flowers, but not in many of our other winter standbys, such as Petunias, calendula, stock and snap dragons. Petunias do have a deep purple available, which offers a nice contrast to the soft blue of the other flowers.

Dusty miller is a nice plant to mix in with any of these colors, as its sultry, powdery grey color will have the other shades popping. There are a couple of varieties to choose from that provide different leaf structures and surface areas. One of the most popular types of dusty miller is the “silver dust” (Senecio cineraria) variety. Another popular option is “silver lace,” which has a finer, fern-like leaf with the same silver color. There is another plant called “silver brocade,” which looks like a dusty miller but is actually a perennial in the Artemesia family. Its broad, flatter leaf provides a less complex texture to your floral arrangement.

Edge your pots with white alyssum, and not only will you have delicate white flowers trailing down your pot; the rich perfumed air will complement your entire patio or home’s entry.

Another trailing option for your shade pots is bacopa. This deep, green-leafed plant with small white flowers is great for early morning sun in your desert garden or shade areas. The variety “giant snowflake” is a wonderful choice because of its larger flowers. Check your local nursery to see if they carry it or can find it for you.

It’s a good idea to get to know your local resources. If you develop a relationship with the people who work at local nurseries, they will let you know what growers they are bringing in, and when certain plants will be available. Bring them pictures of the gardens you have created with your purchases, too!

Your November To-Do List

1. Plant to your heart’s content.

2. Deadhead weekly.

3. Use a water-soluble fertilizer bi-weekly.

4. Water daily early in the morning.

5. if night temps sink below 50 degrees, bring in tropicals and tender succulents.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

 

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Many of our homes have been built with a kiva—or fireplace—in the backyard.

This leads to a question: Why? For those long, cold winters? I think not! But we have them, so let’s put them to good use.

Fire or No Fire?

If you think you will use the fireplace in the winter, then you will want to place ceramic pots with low-water, high-heat-tolerant plants closest to the flames. Another option is to use a lightweight pot that can be moved when the heat is on. Either way, planning ahead will make life easier—and lessen the risk of losing plants to the fire’s heat.

Pots that are more distant from the fire can contain your favorite seasonal bouquets with annuals, as well as perennials, trees and shrubs. Use colors that coordinate with your kiva wall color and tiles. Keep it simple, as there is probably a lot already going on with the hardscape, seating areas and pots. Consider a white garden to reflect the firelight and moon light in the cool of the evening. (See an “after” pic above, with the “before” pic below.)

Prioritize your relaxation time

Crafting a small garden around your outdoor fireplace area will create another draw to get you out into your backyard. This is the No. 1 complaint that I hear from desert homeowners: Even with our wonderful, mild winters, they do not use their patios enough. We get caught up in the daily life of work, volunteering and our infamous to-do list. We forget to put some priority on motivating ourselves or even allowing ourselves time to spend outside, on the patio.

Well, with flowers and plants that need attention … we must go out to care for them. While we are there, let’s stay a while.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

The desert heat is finally subsiding a bit, so it is time to listen to the call of your backyard—and go out to smell the flowers.

Clean off that bench, and make sure it is positioned in a shady spot so you actually will go out and sit. Take out your coffee, tea, wine or cocktail, as well as a favorite book, to just sit and be.

The main goal is to make your bench more than utilitarian. If your bench is hanging out there with nothing to keep it in your focus as a place to stop for a while, add a large pot to each side to “bookend” it as a full vignette. Fill those pots with colorful fragrant flowers—and you won’t be able to stay away.

Some flowers that meet the requisites of color and fragrance that do well in our warm winters include:

  • Alyssum
  • Dianthus
  • Nasturtiums
  • Stock
  • Sweet peas

You can find additional winter plants listed in my newly published book, Getting Potted in the Desert.

If your bench is colorful as the one in the picture to the right, use a simpler planting such as the yellow bells shrub and coral fountain perennial.

You can also repeat the colors of your bench’s cushions in the flowers as pictured below, with the red crepe myrtle trees and red cushions of this iron bench.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

 

Published in Potted Desert Garden

A common architectural element of our desert dwellings is often an eyesore: The posts on the back patio which hold up the roof are necessary—while often ugly. Posts and pillars interrupt the flow of traffic, block your view and get in the way of your hose. There really is not much you can do—except make them disappear in your mind’s eye.

Patio pots are a perfect solution to this problem. Artfully arranged pots filled with abundant floral displays can detract from the not-so-pretty nature of the posts. Instead, you’ll primarily see the beautiful garden.

When placing pots around a post, you want to think of the viewpoints, i.e., the point from which you will be viewing the pots. You might see them from inside through a window, from the patio at your favorite chair, or farther out in the yard—either from your pool, your outdoor kitchen or a second seating area.

When designing most elements of your home, the rule of three is pretty standard: You can use three pots, or count the post as one element of the three. Your pots must be in proportion to the post. Your main pot, the largest of the three, should be at least 2 feet tall. When you add the plants, it will be 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall—a nice third of the height of the pillar. Don't make this into rocket science with the measurements; these are general guidelines for you to follow. Just avoid small, easy-to-carry, “cute” pots. These are much too small to minimize a post.

In the trio of pictures above, you see a large pillar at the end of the ramada. The group of three pots are only seen from the front of the column, so the grouping, including a trellised vine, faces the rest of the yard. One pot has a golden barrel cactus to remind us that we do live in the desert.

The photo below shows a standard 4-inch post in an upscale home. The concrete planters surround the post, as the potted collection is seen from all sides. With seasonal plantings, the homeowners enjoy the living color rather than a single post 365 days a year.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Anyone can throw a couple of pots together—but with some planning and a little open-mindedness, you can create a work of art with pot combinations and plantings.

The first thing I suggest you do is go out and get a sense of what’s available. Nurseries, pottery stores, home-furnishing establishments and botanical gardens all should have pots. See what colors and styles strike your fancy, and check prices to see what fits in your budget. Keep the decorating style and colors of your home in mind, especially the rooms that will have the focal points of your pots as you look out to your patio and yard. Remember, when it comes to pots here in the desert, bigger is better—larger than 18 inches, for sure. Actually, you will have much better success if you go for 22 inches and up! The bigger, the better.

In the photo above, you can see a grouping that’s definitely suited more to homes in the mid-century modern style. Of course, primary colors, as shown in the picture to the right, also work well in most mid-century modern homes. Bright and cheerful combinations will stand out in your yard and can bring a smile to your face each time you see them. The yellow pot pictured here holds a young bouquet of flowers, including profusion zinnias and pentas. This pot will need daily water during most of our year in the desert. However, the succulent planting next to it, in the orange 20-inch pot, requires only weekly water during our hottest months, and water every three to four weeks during the winter. The lady slipper (pedilanthus) is a great upright succulent which will flower with orange “lady slippers” that attract hummingbirds. The pot is “dressed” with Mexican river rock, which is used to retain moisture, keep water away from the base stem of the plant, and finish the look of the combination.

A more traditional-style home would be a perfect place for the combination shown in the first photo below, of burgundy and cream pots, with complementary color plants. Look carefully to see how the pot colors move from one to the other, starting with the 24-inch belly pot in Chinese red. This pot provides the foundation of the grouping. The taller cream-colored pot supports the tall burgundy plant (phormium) which will do well in the winter. The third pot ties it all together by uniting the red and cream of the larger pots with a coppery sheen that brings in the burgundy and the cream color.

Finally, the outdoor shower setting shown in the second photo below offers a perfect demonstration of matching colors. We were fortunate to find this trio of pots that united the shades of the shower, the side wall and even the honey-colored door. With the square vase-shaped lines of the pots, the contemporary theme holds true—and the simple low-water plantings will help keep the floor free of water buildup. A Texas mountain laurel tree is in the back pot. This slow-growing tree is perfect for pots, as it will not outgrow the pot for years. The low front pot includes a gopher plant, which in this partially shaded area will bloom in the spring. Succulents, including a health-conscious aloe, round out the plantings without a lot of fuss.

I mentioned open-mindedness at the beginning of this column. I say that, because you never know what pots and plants you will find when you go shopping. You might think you want a specific look, but the pots available might not fit your original vision. With an open mind, you may find something surprising that will totally satisfy you. Just have fun!

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Let’s go for succulents and cactus! They’re easy-care, low-water and beautiful for any landscape. Plus, succulents and their sub-families are wonderful in pots. When you are frustrated with the struggles of Palm Springs’ constant heat, it can be a relief to have a strong plant to count on in your garden.

The three pots above demonstrate a sun-and-shade combination. The tall euphorbia in the back requires shade with no reflected light and heat. The two plants in the front lower pots—ponytail palm and firesticks—can take the sun, but will do better with afternoon shade in the summer. All of these plants are frost-tender, but that is a rare concern here, as long as the plants are placed on a somewhat covered patio.

If you still are longing for some added color throughout the heat, the two black pots in the first photo below offer one example of a low-water solution. The coordinated golden color of the golden variegated yucca marginata and golden barrels are set off by the bright blue recycled glass. The glass, instead of landscape rock, is a nice alternative.

The Spanish dagger, in the second picture below, is a show-stopper in a pot with a strong presence on its own. In green or, as shown, in the variegated variety, the dagger will have guests asking you what is it—and where did you get it? The gracefully bending fronds give your home a tropical feel without the water needs of true tropical plants.

A little extra care that will ensure the overall health of the plant:

• Place the plant in a mostly shady area with good air circulation.

• At least once a week, jet-spray the leaves, being sure to get into the cups that are formed where the leaves originate from the stem. This is a safe-haven for pesky bugs—unless you insist on their discomfort.

As we approach the heat relief of October, now is the perfect time to plant some succulents in pots. Planting now will give your plants plenty of time to acclimate to their new location and prepare for next summer. But let’s not talk about that yet! Let’s enjoy our beautiful weather all winter long!

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

There is not a clear-cut answer to any question regarding gardening—or budgeting! Therefore, you know that when you’re making a budget for a garden, there are all sorts of possibilities.

However, one thing is clear cut: You do have control over how much you spend on a potted garden.

The biggest benefit of gardening in the desert is that your largest expense—pots—will not freeze, so you do not have to worry about replacing them during a hard winter. In fact, if you spend money on really good pots, you should never have to replace them.

I am going to lay this out as if you are shopping at a local nursery, as there, I know your money is being well spent. However, at discount stores, consignment shops and yard sales, you might find real bargains that will cut this budget significantly.

  • Pots: For each grouping of three pots (18”, 22”, 24” interior diameter)—$475
  • Potting soil: Three or four 2-cubic-foot bags—$120
  • Specialty plants for largest pot—$45
  • Flowers and perennials: 32 4-inch plants—$75
  • Fertilizer (time-release fertilizer)—$20
  • Total: $735 plus tax

More larger pots will increase the price proportionately. Be sure to never short-change the soil or fertilizer. Also, be sure the plants you buy are appropriate for our desert climate.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Water is a priority issue in this severe drought. You may wonder: Can we set up an oasis garden in our yard while restricting water usage?

You have choices. By using pots, you will use water more sparingly, as you are watering a very specific area. By being mindful about how much water you supply to your pots, you will average a gallon or two per day for each 20-to-24-inch pot with high water plants, such as flowers, planted in full sun. Medium-water thirsty plants will only need water every other day; low water plants need water every third day, perhaps even less often. Therefore, if you have 10 pots, the most water you use is 20 gallons a day—and that’s if all are planted with water-greedy plants in the full sun.

The average resident in the United States showers for eight minutes, using 17 gallons of water. If you consider some logic here, cutting your shower time in half will let you add four pots to your yard—and not use any more water!

As you would expect, the key to success in your hot desert pots is water. However, 95 percent of plant failures in the desert are caused by inappropriate watering. This includes TOO MUCH WATER! Don’t assume, as a newcomer to the desert that you have to water all of your pots all the time.

Where to Be Cautious With Water Use

Houseplants tend to be loved to death with water. In colder climates, even in the winter, you need to water indoor plants only weekly, and that’s due to dry heating systems. Most “houseplants” can be watered every three to four weeks.

Shaded patio plants also tend to be overwatered. Use a water meter to test how wet the soil is down in the root zone. Most homeowners use their finger to test the top inch, which may very well be dry. But the roots are 6-10 inches below the surface, and that area does not dry out as fast. The amount of wind the plants get will also dictate how fast the soil dries out. If the soil is damp, but the plant is struggling, try blasting the plant itself with water weekly, and misting the leaves now and then.

Potted succulents and cactuses during the hottest seasons may need water weekly; during the more pleasant months of the year, it’s every two weeks. I suggest you see how the plants do if you water even less often; after all, they are desert plants. Watch for wrinkling of the pads or stems to know if you need to increase water.

If you do have your potted plants on irrigation, watch out for plugged pots or errant emitters, as you may find your pot filled with water. If so, with a friend’s help, lean the pot over until you can stick a screwdriver up the drainage hole to relieve the block. The next time you are repotting, empty all of the soil out of that pot, and resolve the problem. It could be root growth from the plant, or a nearby ground plant with its roots growing up into the pot.

All pots do not have to be planted with high-water selections. Consider using plants from the Southwest, along with non-native but desert-friendly plants from the Mediterranean and Africa.

Blooming flowers from many of these plants will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, and grow together, creating lush landscapes that contradict stereotypes about the desert. Intermingle the occasional flowering annuals like those from “back home,” and regulate the water applied for each type of plants’ needs.

It is important to place plants with like needs together—both in respect to sun and water. Combining shade and sun plants in the same pot, and/or high- and low-water plants, will only result in disaster, perhaps leading you to become one of those newcomers who throws up your hands and says, “You cannot grow anything but cactus in the desert!” Not true—just look at the desert potted garden below.

If you water your pots with an irrigation system, set it to come on about 4 a.m., and water before the lines heat up in the sun. If you are watering by hand, water as close to sunrise as possible. Be sure the water coming out of the hose is not hot, and water pots until the water comes out of the drain hole.

However, only water your potted succulents and cacti when the soil is almost dry. Again, use a water meter to determine this.

Interested in being rewarded for reducing your grassy areas? The Desert Water Agency (DWA) has just relaunched its turf buy back program to encourage residents in the western valley to reduce the amount of living turf they have at homes and businesses. If you are interested in finding out more about this project, visit the DWA website.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

The high season, the off season, the “shoulder season”—there are many ways we talk about the seasons in the desert. With the sun shining 354 days a year on average, it can be a gardener’s delight.

The shoulder season for the hospitality industry is late April through the end of May, and then again in late September and October. Temperatures can still get high (80s and above) in these months, but the nights start to cool down to the mid-50s and 60s. (See the chart below.)

Our desert potted gardens are the most frustrating to deal with during the shoulder season, as noted in the chart above in green. As I’ve discussed all month, we may want to plant for the next season, but the flowers are not ready.

This is, however, a great time to plant some vegetables and herbs, as they do well in containers. Make sure your containers are large enough, i.e. with an interior diameter of at least 20 inches.

The more soil you have, the cooler you will keep the roots.

I suggest you buy 4-inch pots of plants at a nursery rather than a big-box store, and use plants, not seeds; it will be easier to get them going. Water in the morning, before 7 a.m., so the plants have water for the day. You can still plant sweet basil as well as parsley, chives, oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme. You can also get a jump start on young tomato plants—as long as you keep them in afternoon shade.

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. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. Get a free copy of Ten Top Tips to Desert Potted Garden Success by visiting www.potteddesert.com/m.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

This month, I have been talking about the upcoming “shoulder season” between summer and winter. This time period in other parts of the country is considered fall. Depending on our temperatures each year, we may or not have a fall.

This is the time of year when our summer flowers are failing, but it’s too warm to grow winter flowers yet. As I’ve discussed previously, my go-to list of shoulder-season annuals includes:

  • Alyssum
  • Dianthus
  • Dusty miller (complementary plant)
  • Geraniums (best in morning sun only; no sun in summer)
  • Marigolds
  • Osteospermum
  • Petunias
  • Snapdragons

When you get to the nursery in September or early October, there are a few other plants you might come across that will serve your decorative needs just fine until the temperatures mercifully drop below 70 degrees at night.

The first is the Mexican blanket, or gaillardia, as pictured above. Actually a perennial, this plant may survive all year long with a good pruning when it takes a break from blooming. The bright orange/red flower attracts butterflies and is a good cut flower to bring inside your home.

Another plant to add to this list is the ever-popular chrysanthemum. Another perennial, these plants can often be found in the early fall in nurseries. In kinder climates, “Mums” can be kept in pots or in the ground year-round but will only flower in the fall. If you are looking for a great plant with many color choices to spruce up your home before Thanksgiving, Chrysanthemums are a sure bet. However, unless you are a diehard “saver” of your plants, I would send it to the compost heap when it is done flowering. Being of the immediate (and continual) gratification generation, I don’t want to look at a green plant nine to 10 months of the year. I’d rather use that space in my pots for bloomers.

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. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. Get a free copy of Ten Top Tips to Desert Potted Garden Success by visiting www.potteddesert.com/m.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

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