CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

When faced with the pending summer warm-up of their desert homes, people often ask: How should I water my potted gardens as the days grow hotter? As we leave winter’s slightly cooler months, we need to be prepared to adjust our watering each day, until we settle into consistent temperatures as spring blasts into summer.

I say this, because the temperatures could be in the mild 70s one week—and then get pumped into the upper 80s or even 90s in a day’s time. As we enjoy our wonderful winter flowers, we hope to get a couple more months of splendor from them, so we need to make sure they are moist enough to make it through the hotter days—but not overly wet when it cools off.

If you are hand-watering or have your pots on an irrigation system, adjustments are not hard to make, as long as you are mindful. Being mindful means exploring your garden on a regular basis, especially as the seasons change. Take your coffee or tea out in the mornings, and check your pots to make sure they are each doing well.

Our plants have the greatest chance of survival if they are healthy before the heat hits. Proper water and regular feeding (every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer) will provide them with the best conditions possible for this challenge.

With fully grown winter flowers and plants now shading the soil, I would expect you are watering your larger pots (greater than 22 inches, that is) every other day in the morning. Check your pots on the non-watering day to make sure the top 6 inches of soil have not dried out. The roots of flowers planted in the fall should be at least this deep, so that is where you want them damp. They should be OK if the top soil line is a little dry.

A water meter is a handy tool to have; otherwise, just insert a pencil. If the pencil comes out with soil clinging to it, the soil is moist. The water-meter reading will be between medium and dry before water is needed. If you do find them dry that far down, be sure to give them a good soak—meaning that water flows out of the drain hole in the bottom of the pot. The general guide for hand-watering is 30 seconds for each 18 inches of soil diameter, with your hose set to a gentle-shower setting.

Irrigation run times will depend on your system and emitters. A dedicated pot line is typically set for five to 10 minutes each day of operation. I have seen some systems running only three minutes, with ample water delivered to the soil. As I said, it depends on your water-delivery methods. You must make sure you understand how to run the system and make adjustments as needed. They best way to learn is to practice making changes every day until you are so comfortable with its operation that you could coach someone over the phone.

While you are out there being mindful, take time to smell the flowers!


Planning for a Delightful Year-Round Pot

I have often talked about planting trees in pots—but a tree I have left off my list, at least until now, is the pineapple guava (pictured below). It’s actually a shrub, but this plant is often grown as a patio tree, keeping its size in a pot to 6 feet. We won’t necessarily see flowers or fruit on the tree due to the absence of the chilling time required to produce fruit, but the gray-green leaves with silvery-white undersides bring a striking and unique hue to your yard. They’re similar in color to the leaves of an olive tree.

Pineapple guavas, like all potted trees, should be put into a pot at least 26 inches in interior diameter. This will give the roots enough soil to stretch out and provide the plant with the moisture and nutrients it needs to thrive. They are not fast-growers, so I suggest you select a plant in a 5-gallon nursery container.

Plant them in a good potting soil that drains well. Similar to Mediterranean plants, pineapple guavas do not like wet feet. They can take full sun, but they will look better if given some afternoon summer shade.

Don’t be fooled by the drought-tolerant listing: You do not want the tree to dry out. If it does get too dry, the leaves will let you know by dropping off the plant. (Remember my “be mindful” mantra!)

The pineapple guava is frost-tender in mid-desert regions, but in the low desert, it will be rather comfortable all winter long. If we happen to get down to 35 degrees or lower, it would not mind a little jacket, in the form of a light blanket. Take it off the next morning after the sun is up.

As seen in the accompanying picture, the Guava can be underplanted with seasonal flowers—making for pure beauty when supported by the perfect pot.


Your March To-Do List

  • Monitor irrigation and watering. Be Mindful!
  • Deadhead faithfully, and selectively prune longer branches, especially in petunias.
  • Use your water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks with a hose applicator.
  • Clean up plant debris, including dead leaves and broken succulent stems.
  • Begin fertilizing roses.

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

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

This evergreen shrub plant with its many varieties is recognized by many name: Boxwood. Box-leaf. Winter creeper.

If you are daring, true gardener, you might simply say euonymus (yoo-on-uh-muhs).

Because of its diversity, the euonymus has many different uses; I love using these plants in containers. The full shrub works well as a stunning specimen plant, in a combination planting or an as attractive living screen.

In the landscape, it is often used as a hedge. Most euonymus plants grow well in either full sun or shady conditions; however, the variegated evergreen forms generally need more sun to develop and maintain their best color. They prefer moist, well-drained soil, especially when planted in pots.

Shopping for Euonymus

Varieties I have successfully used in pots are the following (in order of my favorites):

  • Golden euonymus, or “aureo-marginata,” has bright golden foliage (shown above).
  • “Silver king” has green leaves with silvery white edges (shown below).
  • “Silver queen” has green leaves with creamy white edges.
  • “Goldspot euonymus or “aureo-variegata” has leaves with yellow blotches and green edges.
  • Box-leaf euonymus, or “microphylla,” is a small-leafed, compact shrub, usually trimmed as a hedge. In pots, it can be trimmed into a nicely shaped topiary.

Growth, Care and Feeding

The euonymus is slow-growing. If you choose a variety with variegated leaves, it will add more to your garden than simply green. It will take the full sun, and is very hardy during our mild winters. Since it does grow slowly, you can keep the plant in the same pot for several years without a problem. I do suggest that you start the larger varieties in 22-to-24-inch (or bigger) pots. The smaller-leaved box-leaf can do well in a slightly smaller pot.

When the shrub becomes root-bound in its container, you do not have to up-size the pot. You can gently remove the plant from the pot and cut back the roots by up to one-third. Then re-pot the plant with fresh potting soil and some time-release fertilizer; water thoroughl,y and you are good to go. I would do this in the early fall or spring.

Each of these euonymus varieties can be trimmed to shape. You can surround them with flowers to make a beautiful, full-potted garden. As you fertilize your flowers bi-weekly with a water-soluble fertilizer, the shrub will be getting the added food it needs to thrive.

In more hot and humid climates, gardeners often complain of the propensity for the plant to attract scale insects. If you keep the plant from getting too compact with its strong branches by pruning out some of the center branches, and you blast the with water with your hose nozzle set to the “jet” setting, you will keep the plant healthy so it can resist a scale attack.

If you are lucky enough to find a young plant with a strong center stem, the euonymus will shape nicely into a small tree. Remember, though, that it is slow-growing, so you will need to exercise patience to gain substantial height of the topiary. It will max out around 3 to 4 feet. Starting with a five-gallon plant from the nursery will give you a good start!

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

Raised garden beds and planters offer another way to “contain” your desert gardens. They can provide a larger space to grow veggies and flowers.

One reason why I like raised planters is that, like pots, they are much easier on your back. If the raised planter is designed well, you can sit on the edge of the bed while planting and caring for your plants. The downside is you can’t move around a raised bed like you can pots.

To prepare a raised bed for planting, fill it with a quality potting soil. If the bed is large, this may be too expensive, and you may need to instead pick up a quality garden soil at the nursery. You want something that is sterile and smells earthy—there should be no hint of a manure smell.

As you add the soil to the bed, stop every 12 to 18 inches, and compress the soil with your hands to pack it down. Without packing the soil down, air pockets will cause the water to flow through, dropping the top soil level. However, take care not to pack the soil so intensely that there will not be any air left in the soil.

In the desert, I recommend you plant more gallon containers than 4-inch plants. To prepare for these gallon containers, fill the bed to the point approximately 10 inches below the top of the walls. Place your plants where you want them, about 8 inches apart (for gallon containers). Be sure to open the root ball before going on to the next step.

Add soil up the root balls, coming up about two inches short of the top of the plants’ soil line. Then add time-release fertilizer to the soil. Follow the directions on the container. Distribute the fertilizer throughout the top 2 inches of soil. You do not need to worry about mixing it in beyond this, as ongoing watering will continue to deliver the food down throughout the root structure.

Now you can add your 4-inch plants, opening the roots and adding soil up to the top of all of the plants’ root balls. Press down on each plant to seat it into its new home, and press down all soil areas.

Water all of the plants and soil with the shower setting on your hose nozzle, making sure the soil is wet all the way down through the root balls. To test it, use a metal rod or stick to push into the soil. It should consistently come out damp or with soil adhering to the stick. You will average about one minute of water for every square foot of space.

This same planting method can be used for containers or pots—everything above the ground.

Want more detail? Check out my new book.

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

It’s time to speak specifically to newcomers about gardening in the desert.

Of course, you are probably reading this when the mercury is still firmly wrestling with 100-plus degrees on a daily basis, and you’re saying, “Are you kidding me?”

Really: I do not jest. We can and do have wonderful gardens here in the low desert; we just have to be smart about it.

Many of us come from climates with beautiful, cooler summers—and with those summers come stunning gardens. I know that many of us yearn for a similar garden here in the desert, and I want to assure you that it can be done.

A note for the non-gardeners who may be reading this: Why not try your hand with a garden at your desert home? Perhaps you have caught yourself admiring other gardens in the valley, and you think to yourself, “Could I do it?”

Here are 15 reasons to consider a container garden in the desert:

1. Pots are a great place to try your hand at gardening.

2. You can make a small investment to get started—both in money and labor.

3. Pots are movable. Change your mind about a location? No problem!

4. Pots will fit anywhere, even if you have limited space outside.

5. There are only rare frosty conditions, so there is little risk of pots breaking in a freeze.

6. We have a long growing season for flowers, vegetables and herbs.

7. Succulents and cacti provide easy care options.

8. Targeted watering means you can have an oasis garden (on a small scale) and use little water.

9. Immediate gratification—plant it, and enjoy!

10. Almost no weeding!

11. Pots are easier to reach than ground plantings. This is great for bad backs, aging bodies and anyone who does not like to dig in the ground.

12. Pots are the only way to have plants on your hardscapes, i.e., patios, entries, etc.

13. Grow plants easily in the shade.

14. Kids of all ages love pots!

15. You can create a potted garden to coordinate with any style or color … and then change it whenever you desire!

There are two key priorities when creating a potted garden in the desert. The first is water: Everything is going to need water. The second is your pot. Let’s address the pot question first, since you need one to begin your garden.

The biggest mistake that homeowners make is to buy a pot that is too small. You need a good-sized pot, i.e., one that is 24 inches or greater in interior diameter at the rim, when planning to plant in the full sun. Pots need this volume in order for them to have enough soil and moisture to protect, insulate and care for the plant, regardless of what kind it is. When you are planning to plant in the shade, you can go a little bit smaller, but you never want to go below 20 inches—even if your pot gets no sun.

People always ask me what kind of pots I recommend. You want a pot where the entire wall is as thick as possible; clay pots are particularly good. I never recommend plastic pots, because the walls are too thin, offer no insulation, and will become brittle. A clay pot that has been high-fired is your best bet. It will cost you a little more money, but it will last you a lifetime.

The easiest way to get started in a container garden is to think about cactus and succulents. Your first decision is where you want to place your first pot. Look at your home’s outside areas, and decide where the place of honor will be: Near your entryway? At a focal point in the yard? On the patio? Will it be in the sun or in shade?

Go to a local nursery and talk to someone in the know about where you want to place your plant. Look at the choices; ask for one that is easy care; and make your selection. Get some help in choosing the right-size pot; grab some cactus soil and time-release fertilizer; and take it all home.

Online at CVIndependent.com all this month, I’ll continue with tips for newcomers—for example, how to plant your plants in containers.

The Potted Desert Garden appears Tuesdays. 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 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

Snowbirds will soon begin to return to the Coachella Valley. Once they arrive, they’ll be quickly reminded of their pre-summer departure, as they find empty pots around their home.

One of the first items on the agenda after unpacking: Planning new gardens!

We’ll soon enter one of those periods of time between winter and summer known in most regions as “fall.” The comfortable temperature months of September and April can try our patience as we seek out flowers to plant in our now-tired pots. Often, our selection is somewhat limited, considering it may not truly be time to plant yet.

These are what I call the “shoulder seasons” of desert gardening. We should hold off on planting some things until nighttime temperatures reach levels that are just a bit cooler. Growers cannot push out plants that will succumb to the heat too early: We need night temps to get out of the 60s to plant true winter flowers. Yes, it is the nighttime temperature that dictates our planting cycles: As long as the plants can be warm or cool enough at night (depending on the season), they can handle the days’ swings between 70 and 90.

Even though some nurseries may have winter flowers on offer such as pansies, violas and ornamental kale, if we plant them too soon, they will struggle to survive, often succumbing to the constant heat in September and early October. Pansies get leggy and weak. Kale bolts early.

However, if we are patient and use flowers that can withstand the challenges of our long summer, we will be rewarded with stunning potted gardens.

To help desert residents enjoy potted color 365 days a year, I have created a short list of flowers and complementary plants that will thrive during the shoulder season—and often make it through much of the following season, too. Many of these flowers are becoming increasingly available during all seasons. Under the right conditions, they might hang on longer and longer. The “right” conditions typically mean receiving afternoon shade or filtered sun during the eight to nine warmer months. They will certainly stand up to the low desert’s cooler temperatures in the winter:

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

You can see some attractive combinations in the accompanying pictures. Using the taller varieties such as osteos and snapdragons as center or backbone plants will give you some great height to start your arrangement. Dianthus also comes in some newer hybrids, including “Amazon,” where heights far exceed the standard 8-to-10 inches of older varieties.

Next in your pot should be mid-height plants such as the dusty miller, marigolds and petunias. As you know, petunias will also trail, so don’t put anything between them and the pot’s edge.

Lastly, alyssum and bacopa are your true trailers. Bacopa will not tolerate the strong desert sun, so keep it in the shade or on the shady side of the pot.

Follow along at CVIndependent.com this month as I share more information with you about the coming shoulder season in the desert!

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. The Potted Desert Garden appears Tuesdays at CVIndependent.com. Below: Snapdragons, petunias and dusty miller; geraniums, alyssum and bacopa.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

California residents are dealing with unprecedented water restrictions due to our record-breaking drought.

Those of us who garden have a choice: Either we can simply comply with these limitations, or we can morally commit to reacting in a way that will help our state achieve sustainability. I, for one, believe we must take control of our water usage.

Water restrictions vary from agency to agency. Palm Springs’ Desert Water Agency, for example, restricts landscape irrigation to Monday, Wednesday and Friday during overnight hours. Fortunately, most desert landscape gardens do not need three days of water. (Please don’t get me started on grass in the desert. Artificial turf is beautiful, and lawns do not belong here.)

Of course, container gardens offer flexibility regarding placement and size—and, therefore, water usage. Here are some tips to embrace sooner rather than later. (Although I am writing about pots, many of these tips can translate to raised beds, landscapes and bedding plants.)

1. Take a pail into your shower, and fill it with the water that comes out before the water reaches your desired temperature. Use the bucket to water thirsty plants.

2. When rain is in the forecast (rare, but it happens … hopefully), put out buckets and barrels to gather as much water as possible. Rainwater has many beneficial micronutrients that your plants will appreciate.

3. If you are gone a lot, don't plant water-hungry plants and flowers. After all, you won’t be around to enjoy them.

4. Plant fewer flowers and more succulents—and consider leaving some pots empty.

5. Use large pots (greater than 20 inches wide and deep). Once new plantings are established, they will need to be watered less. You can add more water to thirstier pots from rainwater and your shower.

6. Make sure none of your irrigation emitters are over-spraying into areas with no plants.

7. Check for dripping hose bibs and leaks in your irrigation.

8. Shorten your irrigation run times. If you can cut the time by 25 percent, you will be doing more than your part. If you have your pots on a dedicated line with adjustable emitters, they should only run for five to 10 minutes—and cutting the time by 25 percent will bring those times down to four to seven minutes. As long as the plants are established, that’ll probably be enough water. If it isn’t, you always have that shower water!

9. Never irrigate your cactus and succulents. Even in the Coachella Valley, they really only need water once a week—and that is only if they are in full sun. Succulents in the shade will probably get by with watering every other week.

I am a huge proponent of setting up a dedicated irrigation line to your containers. The watering-schedule settings are very specific and not as subject to human error or forgetfulness. Irrigation lines also save water over hand-watering. I suggest you use an adjustable emitter. Be absolutely certain that you have a dedicated line for pots, because if you add pots to the landscape line, you will be over-watering your potted plants—and wasting hundreds of gallons of water.

Water is a necessity for every living thing. Save some of this precious resource while continuing to enjoy your 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. 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.

Below: Low-water flowers and cactus are good to plant during the drought.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

A lot of us living in the desert did not grow up here. We came from up North, back East or elsewhere on the West Coast. We may have gardened easily in those regions thanks to ample rain, plenty of moderate sun and simple conditions.

Many transplanted gardeners yearn for their gardens from back home. But now, faced with the challenges of the desert, we might give up and not even bother, once we see the thermometer hitting the 95 degree mark.

I have been sharing tips on not only surviving the desert summer, but having gardens that thrive, for almost two decades now. Today, I want to give you permission to try something different: Go ahead and plant something that you loved back home.

The photo above shows a bed of coleus. These wonderful, colorful, leafy plants are being hybridized to handle increasingly hot climates. Some even can take a moderate amount of sun. I suggest you plant them while it is still slightly cool at night (in other words … now!), and be sure to choose a location that has only morning sun. Be sure to provide them with ample water, too.

The second picture, to the upper right, shows coleus in the full sun. Imagine how this mound of plants shades the soil, keeping it cooler. The pot is about 28 inches in diameter and holds a volume of soil that will insulate the roots. In the low desert, I would advise you to place this pot in afternoon shade. It is amazing that even in this instance, it thrived!

Using these principles, tempt fate with plants that you would love to try planting again. Don’t spend your entire savings, though: Work with only a few plants at a time. For instance, it can be tough to grow marigolds all summer in the desert—unless the conditions are perfect. I once planted a bed with transplants in the early spring. As the sun made its northern journey across the horizon, the bed was positioned so it was tucked into shade from a short wall behind it. With plenty of water and good air circulation, the marigolds thrived.

Another surprise might occur when you let some of your herbs or veggies flower. Check the artichoke pictured below. Planted in a pot, the vegetable produces a flower bud, which, when picked, is a delightful delicacy. However, if you leave this flower bud on the stem and allow it to open, you are rewarded with a beautiful purple flower. Now I plant some artichokes to eat—and some to flower! Why not?!

Tips to Allow Your “Back Home” Plants to Grow in the Desert:

1. Choose some of your most resilient favorites.

2. Plant in morning-sun locations early in the summer season. It’s best to plant in pots before the nighttime temperatures consistently reach the 70s.

3. Provide consistent and abundant water.

4. Start small, and gain experience. It takes the right spot with the right conditions, a lot of love—and a little luck.

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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