CVIndependent

Sat08172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The heat of the Coachella Valley will always hold its gardening challenges—but we’re not alone. Gardeners the world over are inspired to bend the rules and try to navigate uncharted waters, no matter where they live.

We have much more control over the environment around our desert homes when we garden in pots. We can use appropriate soils, provide targeted watering and give the plants the light—in other words, the sun—they need.

This winter is a great time to try different types of gardens, including some plants that might just make it all summer long. Remember as you read on to keep in mind the portability factor of pots. Use some of these ideas in pots that you can move to a shaded patio, under a tree or under a carport.

We can create small gardens or many things in miniature. We can create topiaries. We can even invite fairies into our gardens. For the most dedicated gardener, bonsai might be something worth playing with, although I am not sure that any bonsai enthusiast would ever use the word “play.”

I have always been drawn to small things—you know, kittens, puppies, dollhouses and model trains. There has been a growing interest and popularity in miniature or fairy gardens over the last four to five years.

I have always loved walking around a nursery and finding what may fit in the scale of a small garden. Many herbs will work. Thyme is great ground cover. There are a few basil varieties such as “windowbox” basil that have small leaves perfect for any small themed garden. Other good choices in greenery include Mexican heather and parlor palm (Neanthe bella)—a slow-growing upright palm. When purchased in a 3-4 inch pot, it is a very nice tropical addition to a miniature garden. You can often find other plants in small sizes that, if kept trimmed, will grow into nice shrubs or miniature trees.

Flowers including alyssum and lobelia can be added to the miniature garden during our winter months, while dianthus can be added pretty much year-round. Options for spring and summer include sea thrift, miniature daisies and Dahlberg daisies.

If you prefer the low-water route, there are many small-leafed succulents that can be used for a miniature garden. Rosettes of hens and chicks, small-leafed “shrubs” of elephant food, very young ponytail palms and many varieties of sedums and sempervivums are available in our desert nurseries.

Another fun garden technique to try in your desert container garden is the art of topiaries. Now, you don’t have to go crazy creating full-sized elephants, but choosing a nicely formed shrub to shape into a tree form or ball shape may just feed your creative soul. The simple repetition of potted topiaries, such as the privet pictured below, will also serve well in your midcentury modern design—perfect for Modernism Week!

If placed in a series of white columnar pots, perhaps along a walkway, they will provide a very nice accompaniment to your modern décor.

Monthly To-Do List:

1. Keep your eye on shallow-rooted, newly planted annuals, which dry out in early spring winds.

2. Deadhead faithfully and selectively prune longer branches, especially in petunias.

3. Use your water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks with a hose applicator.

4. Plant another set of greens for ongoing salads.

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, is now available. 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.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

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

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

Looking for a gorgeous, colorful flower pot for our extensive Coachella Valley summer?

Here is a combination that will stand up to a full summer of heat. The 28-inch pot pictured above is filled with overflowing vinca in red and white; white summer snaps (Angelonia); and a Silver Queen euonymus shrub, planted for permanent stature in the center of the pot.

If you have a cool side, you can add the Million Bells (Calibrachoa), shown on the bottom right of the picture. However, it may be best-suited to fall seasons or higher elevations.

To keep these plants happy, be sure to water twice a day for the first two weeks. As the plants grow large enough to shade the soil, you should be able to reduce your watering to once a day. Feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer, and jet-spray them off at least weekly in the early morning hours.

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.

Below is another picture of the same planting from the opposite side, giving you a good view of the summer snaps and Silver Queen.

Enjoy!

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

Our desert weather is very inviting now. Palm Springs streets are filled with snowbirds, and restaurants are booked to the max.

Why not take advantage of this chaos and stay home? Go out onto your patio for your morning brew, a casual lunch shared with a friend, or an evening barbecue. Now is the time to enjoy your desert home.

While you are at it, take some quiet time to sit and reflect on your successes (and challenges!) in your potted garden, and consider writing a garden journal.

If you are reading this column, you must have at least one green digit (aka thumb). You have poked around with different plants and flowers in an effort to create a beautiful garden in this challenging desert climate. Why not record what you have tried, making note of what has succeeded—and perhaps exceeded your expectations?

You can use a bound journal, your tablet, your computer or even a loose-leaf binder. It’s up to you—whatever tickles your fancy. Think about what will drive you to add entries each week. Do you want to add pictures of your successful pots? Some people tote around pictures of their grandchildren, so why not your garden?

Here are four ideas on how to use your garden journal.

We “transplants” from non-desert climates like to try plants that we grew “back home.” Your garden journal is a great place to record how each new plant did. Perhaps you want to make a page for each new plant and list the information from the plant tag. Record your memories of the plant, and document how it is doing in your desert garden.

Have a page just for the first and last frost dates in your yard. Even though you can find the first and last frost dates for your area, your particular yard has its own micro-climate, and various parts of your yard will have their own micro-climates. While you are at it, make notes of weather patterns—has this been an exceptionally wet or (more likely) dry season?

List the types of plants you’ve used, the combinations you’ve created, location/sun exposures, and the containers you’ve used. How did they do? Were there specific watering requirements? Be sure to take a picture of each.

Write about your failures. Did you try a new technique or plant that was a disaster? Write about your surprises and absolutely about your successes. This will be invaluable to use in your future gardens and to share information with your friends—especially when they come over to join you on your patio and enjoy your garden.

What to do in your desert potted garden this month:

Be sure to keep up with your fertilizing schedule in all floral pots. Use a water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks.

Keep up with your deadheading of spent flowers, and prune back to keep plants in a nice shape. Pay special attention to petunias, so you can keep them from getting leggy.

January is the month to do a full pruning of your roses. Cut back to a third, and trim out dead and crossing branches. Clean up all debris after deleafing the plants entirely.

If your yard did not get any substantial rain in December, water your potted succulents and cactus.

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.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

There is no such thing as small vegetation on Kauai.

I’m fortunate enough to be on vacation here in Hawaii. You know all those house plants I have been talking about? Here, those same plants are gigantic. There are pothos leaves the size of full-grown turkeys. Crotons almost two stories high. (See the picture!) And the summer sweet-potato vine, pictured in a water feature, grows all year long—and if not contained, it would take over the entire yard.

We went to an inner-island golf course where there is a Japanese garden and found a full-bloom poinsettia tucked in with other trees. Yes—it was a tree itself! I am sure no one stuck it in a closet for four months to try to get it to bloom again.

Every year, we come here for the holidays, and I’m amazed not just by the beauty of the green, but by how quickly the plants and flowers grow. I hope to come back in the spring sometime, as I am sure that we will see more plants in bloom. There are hedges of bromeliads along the roadways, like we see red yuccas in our desert communities. They are not in bloom now, but the red/green/burgundy leaves are stunning by themselves.

What is our take-away regarding our own gorgeous desert? For me it is two-fold: We need to treasure the desert climate and the natural gardens that exist there. And as a true gardener, we need to continue to try to stretch the limits of what we can plant and grow successfully, to bring in some of the tropic ambience. Our plants may never be as large as they are on the islands, but they will be the perfect size for my diminutive patio.

Aloha!

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.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Blank spaces and easy care are great reasons to consider getting some potted trees, or plants pruned into tree forms. Once potted, the proper trees need only consistent water, fertilizer and occasional pruning to thrive in your desert garden.

Potted trees bring a vertical element to a patio corner or wall, creating a focal point at a spot in your landscape—or perhaps providing a screen to unsightly elements. They can also offer a background to pots with flowers—and possible shade. Finally, potted trees offer a sense of permanence in your garden, especially during our long summer months.

You will want to choose trees that stay small or are slow-growing. Many tree varieties do not grow to full size when their roots are constricted in a container. Most trees will do best in larger containers, of course.

Look for trees that are evergreen so they maintain their contribution to your landscape or patio all year long. Some trees bring additional benefits—seasonal blooms, berries or even fruit! In the low desert areas where winter temperatures rarely hit freezing, many trees that show frost damage in other warm climates will excel year-round.

If you live in an area that does experience colder winter temperatures, you can cover the plants or move containers to a protected area during freezes and near-freezes. Of course, you’ll want to use pots that fit on rollers or dollies.

Citrus trees best suited for pots

  • Improved Meyer lemon
  • Mexican lime
  • Bearss lime
  • Kumquats (my personal favorite is Meiwa)
  • Tangelos
  • Clementines

Conifers

  • Dwarf Alberta spruce
  • Fern pine
  • Juniper
  • Yew pine

Palms

  • Canary Island date palm
  • Mediterranean fan palm
  • Phoenix roebelenii (below)
  • Pygmy date palm
  • Pindo palm
  • Sago palm (actually a cycad; poisonous to some pets)
  • Windmill palm

Landscape plants that will do well in pots

  • Acacia (many varieties)
  • Bamboo
  • Bottlebrush
  • Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
  • Crepe myrtle
  • Oleander (poisonous to many pets—and therefore critter-resistant)
  • Pineapple guava
  • Texas mountain laurel

Succulents

  • Aloe in tree form
  • Elephant’s food
  • Madagascar palm
  • Pencil cactus (sap is toxic)
  • Ponytail palms
  • Spanish dagger (green and variegated)
  • Yucca

“Houseplants”

I put this in quotes, because houseplants are really tropical plants that people grow inside when living in climates with a true winter. However, in low desert communities where winter temps rarely get below freezing, most plants can live-year round on a protected patio. If an unusually cold spell arises, the plants can be covered or brought inside.

  • Aralia palm
  • Arborea
  • Dracaena
  • Ficus
  • Fig

Standards

Shrubs that have been formed to look and act like trees are called standards. Their lower branches are removed to form a trunk. If you want to try forming one on your own, look for a shrub with a single strong center stem.

  • Boxwood
  • Gardenia
  • Hibiscus
  • Mexican bird of paradise (Caesalpinia Mexicana)
  • Myrtles
  • Roses
  • Purple potato bush
  • Yellow bells
  • Duranta family plants (like Tecoma stans; skyflower)
  • Pyracantha

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 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.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

In recent weeks, I’ve offered several ideas about pot combinations, and have talked a little about design within the pots. However, I have not yet discussed the basics of container design.

There are three basic principles when you are combining plants within a container: You need a vertical element, a mass or featured element, and filler elements, which might be cascading.

I always think of the vertical plant as one that provides the stature or structural backbone. The upright plant will be the tallest in the pot, of course. I often use a perennial, but some tall annuals can work as well. This plant is at the back or at the center of the pot, depending on your focal points.

Speaking of the focal point: The mass or featured plants should be placed at that focal point. They are what draws the eye to the pot, either with strong flower color or foliage; you want large flowers or leaves to make a bold statement.

Filler or trailing plants finish the look off, generally in the front of the pot and/or on the sides. I love to find successful trailing plants that cascade over the pot, covering it to some degree. If the trailing plants have flowers, you want them to be of a smaller size and in contrast to the focal-plant colors and texture.

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: If you have petunias, the long growth period can make them leggy. Cut them back to where you see new growth, and they will last nicely for another two to three months!

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

I have to admit: I have a resistance to pink. I am not sure why. Maybe it’s because I had a pink bedroom growing up—Pepto-Bismol pink, that is. When I was given a choice of room color, it was a soft green. Go figure! Green—gardening—was my color choice directing my future path.

As I came into my own by designing flower gardens for our desert landscape, I had similar negative reactions to pinks. I absolutely abhorred pink with orange to the point that I told my staff: Never, ever put pink near orange.

Then, one day … I saw a rich fuchsia-pink bougainvillea as a backdrop to some gorgeous orange lantana. At first, I was resistant, and then, it struck me … I liked it! So I started experimenting in the nursery, putting together some different pinks, oranges, purples or blues and reds to see what I liked. I came up with what you might call jewel tones—a rich, deep pink; and an orange with a red hue, and a deep red. A touch of purple or blue seemed to support the other colors.

I even planted my “pass by every day” pots at my own home with these colors, and I soon became hooked.

Lessons to be learned from this?

  1. Experiment with plant and color combinations at the nursery.
  2. Try colors that you might not normally combine.
  3. Keep it simple with how many colors you put together in one pot. Combine and repeat.
  4. Enjoy playing with color!

This Week in Your Desert Potted Garden:

  1. Plant some tomatoes (full-size plants) and other fall vegetables and herbs.
  2. Use an organic fertilizer along with some time-release fertilizer when planting in containers.
  3. When you plant the tomatoes, dig a deep hole, and bury as much of the plant as possible.
  4. Water well after planting.

Marylee Pangman is the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can always 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 on Facebook.

A Combination of Strong Colors

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Page 1 of 2