CVIndependent

Sat05252019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. The Potted Desert Garden now appears monthly. Below: Texas mountain laurel with snapdragons.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

When it comes to boosting the curb appeal of your midcentury modern home, the rule of “less is more” is key.

Of course, Palm Springs has one of the greatest concentrations of midcentury homes around. These homes lend themselves beautifully to minimalist gardens, with clean lines and room to breathe between each landscape component.

I love large picture windows that look out on front and back yards. With these windows, you are sure to bring the outdoors inside by capitalizing on the view.

When you are designing with pots, replicate the lines of the midcentury home by thinking about the flow from one garden element to another. Use a simple repetition of plantings along with square and round pots with simple lines, and avoid a strong singular focal point. In the concrete planters with pedilanthus shown to the right, a little cleanup of the plants’ wayward branches will give a strong vertical element, as dictated by this period.

Your pot selection can include vase-shaped or cylindrical containers; if desired, add a punch of color.

Plants reminiscent of this time include hybrid tea roses; strong erect grass shapes, accomplished with flax, phormium and cordyline; succulents, including agaves (choose slow growing varieties), giant hesperaloe and pedilanthus; and water plants like the horsetail reed.

Flowers should have large blooms or a structure that creates the appearance of large blooms; pentas, calendula, dahlia, marigolds and geraniums all can be used well. In the picture at the top of this column, even large leafed greens are included—to add to your dinner salads!

Yes, less is truly more. This philosophy will keep both budgets and water consumption low—a plus for anyone who is a believer in sustainability.

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

One might think a pot is a pot is a pot. This is not true when it comes to planting larger plants in containers. We all recognize that plants do grow and eventually they will outsize the pot—and with an uninformed pot selection, removing the plant from the pot can become a challenge. For example, the Mexican lime tree shown in this picture above will be very difficult to remove from this pot.

Start big in selecting a pot: Go for a 28-to-32-inch interior diameter for all citrus trees except kumquats. This pot above is about 22 inches. By the size of the trunk, you can tell that the tree is getting big. The inward shape of the pot toward the top will make it almost impossible to remove the tree without breaking the pot or killing the tree.

Therefore, when you select a pot, size does matter—but so does shape. You want a pot with a vase-shape opening. But be careful: A tall plant in a pot like the one to the left can lead to a high tipping risk. As we all know, our desert homes have major wind storms and wind tunnels winding their way through our patios and balconies. A pot with a narrow base has a huge risk of falling over. For example, the citrus pot shown at the right may be a better choice.

A tree will tell you that it is becoming root-bound when leaves remain curled after watering. If you chose the right size pot, and the tree becomes root-bound (which it will in two to three years), you can remove the tree from the pot; trim back the roots by up to a third; and replant it into the same pot.

This can be done in mid to late February. Lay the pot on its side, and gently remove the entire root ball. You may have to run a saw around the soil/pot edge to free it.

Marylee is the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Yes, you can have citrus trees in your potted desert gardens. Not only will they provide you with fruit, but they will add to your ambience if planted in the correct size pot and one that complements your décor.

Use smaller sized trees (i.e., trees with smaller fruit) and trees that do not grow as fast.

Suggested citrus includes oranges, clementines, tangerines, Mexican limes and kumquats.

Not recommended: Grapefruit (with their huge fruit and leaves, grapefruit trees don’t work well in the restrictive size of a pot, and will look out of proportion) and lemon (these grow very fast, and you will have a root-bound tree quickly).

Pots ranging in size from 18 to 24 inches.Pots for citrus: In order to be able to keep your citrus tree in the same pot for several years, you need to start big. I recommend a pot with a 28-to-32-inch interior diameter for all citrus except kumquats.

Kumquats are slower growers and tend to stay small, so these can go into 20-to-24-inch pots.

Planting citrus trees: Since temperatures are warming up in the CoachellaValley now, it should be safe to plant citrus trees at the end of the month. You will want to watch for an errant freeze in March and plan to cover them with sheets or frost cloths, but the risk is low.

Choose a spot that gets full morning sun and afternoon shade (by 1 or 2 p.m.)

Use a good-quality potting soil (evident by a rich smell and color, and a lack of woody parts) and plant the tree to the same depth as it is in the nursery can.

Add time-release fertilizer as per the directions on the label. I do not recommend fertilizer spikes.

Once planted, water thoroughly and then water every three to four days.

Next week: Caring for potted citrus trees and making them a larger part of your desert potted garden.

Marylee is the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Potted Desert Garden