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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

Would you believe something as simple as three pots can make a remarkable story in your desert garden—a story that you can change on a whim?

Pictured first, above, is a blank slate—a common, boring fence in a desert backyard. It borders a grassy area adjacent to a rocky space. It’s crying for the “right something” to be added.

Enter—a collection of three pots, with two kids perpetually playing (below). This combination quickly became a fun garden “play area”! This winter combination includes complementary colors of yellow, blue and burgundy, simply planted with pansies and two varieties of lobelia.

Next we come to summer—desert style! The trees on the east side of the pots have leafed out and provide some intermittent shade to the pots. The vinca, salvia, chartreuse and sweet-potato vine are all sun-loving plants, but anything will do better with some respite from the intense summer sun. Notice our ballplayers tucked into the leaves of the sweet potato vine!

Back to another winter season, and the out-of-the-picture eastern tree has grown, providing even more shade for the pots. A long-living perennial (butterfly iris) and a shrub (golden euonymus) have been added as permanent stature plants in the back two pots. The front pot is filled with cold-loving cyclamen.

This last picture brings us back full-circle, to another summer. You can now see the true golden colors of the euonymus as it reflects the early morning sun. Since the pots are continuing to be protected by the mature tree, more shade plants have been added, including begonia, bacopa and geraniums. The hottest pot is the back yellow one, where calibrachoa and dusty miller are added for some bold contrasting shades. The back two pots will also shade the front pot in the later afternoon sun. You can find ways to create shade by the calculated alignment of the pots in relation to the movement of the sun!

March Care in Your Desert Potted Garden

Things are starting to heat up in our Palm Springs gardens—but it is too soon to think about planting summer flowers, with night temperatures staying in the 50s.

In order to extend the life of your winter flowers:

  • Deadhead your flowers. Pinch them back to the originating stem, deep within the plant.
  • Fertilize your potted plants every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer.
  • Bare spots in your pots? Plant midseason annuals such as petunias, dianthus, osteospernum, snapdragons and marigolds.
  • Watch shallow-rooted, newly planted annuals, which can quickly dry out with spring winds.

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

Enter the open courtyard of this desert home, and you’ll be enticed by the collection of extra large pots that break up the long line of the front façade. The home also has a long raised bed that increases curb appeal—but without the pots, people would still come up to a ho-hum front door.

By adding five pots instead of foundation plants, the homeowner here limited water use—and was able to have a lot more fun with plantings.

The 28-inch Chinese red glazed egg pots originally held pistache trees, for height and plentiful annuals that offer popping color. However, we quickly found that the trees were not the best choice for pots: With constant water and fertilizer, they grew so fast that the soil bases were not large enough to support the trees. They were quickly taken out (after two large storms threatened them and their pots) and replaced with Mexican lime trees. The original trees were planted in the back landscape.

Seasonal changes allowed the homeowner to play with different colors to bounce off the deep red tones of the pots. Yellow, white and shades of blue will all work well with these striking containers!

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

We live in the desert.

It can be really hot.

However

We can grow wonderful plants all year long!

In our pots.

We moved here for a reason. For many of us, the weather was one of those reasons. It was for me, when I moved from upstate New York—away from the snow!

Even with the heat, we ought to have wonderful color in our landscapes every day of the year. Of course, I use pots to accomplish this. I plant backbone structural plants—and then I add my color, each and every season (which here means twice per year). When plants peter out in the heat, I find replacements.

Planting a backbone plant saves money, as we don't have to replace all of the plants each season. As the perennial, shrub or tree grows, only half of the pot will need to be replanted. For instance, in a 24-inch pot, I would need to plant a total of 17 to 20 4-inch annuals if that’s all there were in the pot. However, when I put a 1-gallon plant in the back of the pot, I only need 12-15 annuals. As the stature plant grows, that number will be reduced each season.

For me, those annuals are definitely about the color.

During my 18 years of living in the desert, I have developed many favorite combinations of flowers—but for my client, every design has been unique over the years. I worked on developing my plant and color palette as much as an artist would.

I also cultivated a repertoire of backbone plants. My first go-to plant was the butterfly iris. I wanted a grassy effect, but with a plant that would not need to be cut back every winter. Best in afternoon shade, its rich, dark-green blade leaves blow and bend in the wind, but stand up well to the heat—as long as the plant gets enough water.

I soon got bored with this as my mainstay, though, and began looking for other options. I tried evergreen perennials, shrubs, trees and often tall annuals (especially for my snowbird clients).

Salvias, artichokes, red yucca, plumbago, yellow bells, myrtles of all shapes and sizes, herbs and numerous other plants and shrubs found their way into my pots. This was all done to support my desire for color in what resources like HGTV and Better Homes and Gardens have called “thrillers, chillers and spillers.” That’s your backbone structural plants, mid-height colors, and trailing plants.

We are finally at or near the time when we can plant our winter annuals, so check out local nurseries for new colors, hybrids and trusted familiar plants. You can choose from old standards like pansies, petunias, geraniums, cyclamen, alyssum, lobelia, calendula, sweet peas, ornamental kale and snapdragons. I also recommend spreading your wings a little with diascia, nemesia, candytuft, African daisies and gerbera daisies.

This list does not exhaust the possibilities, so check out what’s available—and make sure you have fun while doing so!

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

Below: The butterfly iris can be used as a lovely backbone plant.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Since I love flowers and their flamboyant glory, I often plant them under my stature plants. I call that process “underplanting.”

One of the landscape designers I used to work with heard me use this term, and thought I was saying “underpants”—and wondered why in the world I would say that! It became our joke, and on properties where we worked together, any pots with flowers under the tree or perennial had on its “underpants”!

Most perennials, shrubs and trees do great with plants added to the soil around the edge of the pot. I often harp on the importance of using large pots for almost everything we plant in our desert gardens—and the ability to underplant is yet another reason to use these bigger containers!

Choosing Your “Underpants”

  • If your stature plant has a trunk, choose low-growing flowers or plants, so that you don’t hide the trunk.
  • If your stature plant is multi-stemmed, plant in graduated heights in front or around it.
  • In the case of a tall succulent, I recommend trailing succulents such as the “ghost” plant, hens and chicks, sedums or other sprawling succulents.

Planting Your Pot

  • Plant your tree as you normally would, bring the new potting soil to the original soil line of the root ball. Pack the soil in as you build the base of soil.
  • Dig little holes for each of your flowers or plants, and plant them. Make sure that as you fill in the soil around them, you pack it in, and do not bury the plant’s original root ball or soil below more soil.
  • Water in thoroughly.

Maintaining Your “Underplanted Pot”

  • Be sure you are meeting the water needs of all plants. The tree’s deep root ball must be kept moist. The shallow roots of the flowers will tend to dry out sooner than the tree. Make sure you water the flowers in-between deep waterings.
  • Succulent pots can be watered deeply as normal.

Another Idea

Put rigid one-gallon pots around the ball of the tree so that seasonal color flourishes without root competition from the tree. Add quart cans to the one-gallon pots each new season. The one gallon pot stays in place when the color is changed.

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

When it comes to dressing up your patio with furnishings, a barbecue or plants, it is a good idea to pay attention to how the sun moves.

In the above picture, the patio is facing south. This means that in the summer, much of the patio will be in the shade—a good thing. In the winter, as the sun moves toward the south, only the deepest part of the patio will be in the shade, but since the winter sun is much less direct, many plants will be able to handle sun’s direct hit.

If the patio is oriented to the north, the opposite is true—making plants that are on the edge of the patio susceptible to summer burn. This is true, too, of west-facing patios. The fringes of the patio are hot all year long. Keep this in mind for your seating areas, your barbecue and any other items you have on your covered patio.

Three of my favorite shade-loving plants are pictured below: the Madagascar palm (first below), the sego palm (which is really a cycad; second below) and the ficus tree (third below). Each adds a lush, green, tropical element to your patio ambiance.

The two palms are low-water plants, and need only a deep soaking twice a week in the summer, and every five to seven days in the winter. Do not overwater the Madagascar, though. Periodic palm food (as directed by the package label) and a small amount of dead-leaf trimming are the only other requirements. Both can handle the morning sun, but then will do very well in the shady corners of the patio. They can both get rather large, so I would start them off in a 24-inch pot, if not a larger pot.

The ficus is best suited to a shady corner. It needs bright light but will burn in direct sun. Ficus trees are pretty fussy and do not like being moved, so expect leaf drop when you first plant—and try to keep the tree where you originally place it. Also, do not let the root ball dry out. You will need to water it more often than the other two trees mentioned. I also recommend feeding your ficus a balanced all-purpose liquid fertilizer, such as 8-8-8, during the growing season, at half-strength. The ficus tree does tend to grow very quickly, so don’t encourage it too much: Feed it once per month, and then discontinue in the fall.

As long as the temperatures at your home stay above freezing, these plants will do well in your patio garden. The Madagascar will most likely lose its leaves if it gets chilly, and the ficus is the most frost-sensitive.

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

Desert-dwellers often wonder which trees they can plant in pots in the sun. Last week, I gave you a list of many varieties, and today, I want to share with you three of my favorites—which provide three distinct additions to the sunny areas of your desert landscape.

Citrus trees, such as the Mexican lime tree (above), are the most requested, because they bear fruit. Citrus trees also have lush evergreen leaves and fragrant blooms in the early spring, making them attractive. The Mexican lime and some kumquats will bloom more than once a year, which means they will bear fruit more than once!

Smaller fruit citrus, such as limes, tangelos and lemons, are the best for pots, as their leaves are better-suited to work with the proportions of the pot. All citrus, except for kumquats, should be put in pots that are at least 26 inches in width. These larger pots will allow trees to stay in them for years (with a root trim every three years or so). Kumquats can go into 18-inch pots if they are purchased when small.

Grapefruit trees should not be planted in pots, due to their larger size and need for more root room. Caution is needed for the improved meyer lemon, as it is a fast grower and can outsize a pot very quickly.

Make sure your citrus tree receives at least six hours of sun, if possible with afternoon shade. Try to place it where it is protected from harsh winds.

If you are interested in a beautiful flowering tree that performs all summer long, look for the crape myrtle (above right). I find it amazing to think that such a delicate flower can withstand our heat and bloom with such vibrant colors—yet it does! These trees should also be placed in 24-inch-wide or larger pots.

Unfortunately, at least in my view, crape myrtles are deciduous and will lose their leaves in the winter. They are susceptible to freeze, which should not be much of a problem here in the Palm Springs area, but if you happen to live in a colder region, be careful.

The robellini palm (below) is my third choice. This tree will give you a tropical feeling when placed in pots around your patio, pool or barbecue area. You may also know this tree as the pygmy date palm or the Phoenix robellini. Since this plant does not like temps dipping much below 50 degrees, it is perfect for the low desert. Planted in warm zones with some protection, it will do well in mid-desert regions, too. These beautiful trees are easy to grow, take an average amount of water, and will provide many years of satisfaction when added to your overall landscape plan.

These three trees will provide you with fruit, flowers and lushness with minimal concern. Just be sure to add water and food!

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

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

One of the most often-asked questions I receive about potted gardens is: How often do I need to change the soil in my pots?

As is the case with many questions concerning potted gardens, there is no simple answer. If you find these instructions confusing, please do not hesitate to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. me with your specific question.

• Note that potting soil is a "soilless" mix. Be sure to select a quality product, one that is rich, deep brown and smells earthy. Always add new fertilizer (organic and/or time-release) each time you newly plant a pot.

• For pots 24 inches in diameter and less (ones that you can somewhat easily move): You will want to replace the soil in the following situations:

  1. The pot is root bound with its plants.
  2. The plants that were in the pot died due to disease or pests (in which case you need to sterilize the pot before reusing).
  3. The soil no longer holds water.
  4. There is a lack of richness or “earthiness” in the soil.

• For pots larger than 24 inches in diameter: They are very cumbersome to change out entirely, especially with a large plant—and “really big pots,” which are 32 inches in diameter and larger, are VERY difficult. Still, there are certain circumstances in which I would suggest that you do get some strong bodies to help and get the plant taken out, with the soil changed.

Even in large pots, plants can become root-bound. The choice is to either take the plant out and give it a permanent place in your landscape, or to trim the roots. In the former, be sure to plant it during the appropriate season to plant’s needs and tolerance.

If the plant can tolerate a root-pruning, you can remove it from the pot by laying the pot down on its side (this is where the muscle is needed) and gently extracting it. Then you can reduce the root volume by up to one-third and repot the plant—with all-new potting soil. Citrus trees and many shrubs such as the myrtle family of boxwoods respond very well to root-trimming. Palms do not do well with root pruning, in my experience.

Be sure to water the plant very thoroughly after repotting.

If the plant is not root-bound, and the soil level has dropped from its original height, you can add new soil once a year. I suggest you follow these steps:

  1. Remove a top layer of old soil without “assaulting” the roots. They will be OK if you move or tear some, so you do not need to be meticulous—just mindful.
  2. Add new soil to replace the amount you took out, mixing it into the lower level of soil if possible.
  3. Add organic and/or time-release fertilizer, and mix it into the top 6 inches of soil.
  4. Bring the soil level up to the original level on the trunk of the plant.
  5. If the plant and soil have sunk into the pot lower than the desired height, and you do not want to remove the plant to lift it, you can increase the level of soil by up to an inch per year without suffocating the plant.

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Deadhead your potted flowers thoroughly, trimming back to new growth. Extend the life of your summer flowers a couple of weeks!

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

One gardener’s “really big pot” is another gardener’s medium-sized pot—at best. I often chuckle when I ask someone, “What size pot do you have?” and the person responds that a “really big pot” is 18 inches in diameter.

“Really big pots”—aka RBPs—are, in my book, pots that are at least 32 inches in diameter—and we must plant in large pots, no smaller than 20 inches, in order to have successful full-sun potted gardens in our desert heat. The soil volume in these larger pots gives the roots a fighting chance to keep their cool.

Since RBPs obviously take up a lot of space, you want to think about using RBPs where they can serve a specific function in your exterior design. They might become a focal point—with or without a plant. They might break up the monotony of a large flat wall, or if they include a vine, shrub or small tree, they can hide an eyesore—and even provide screening from your nosy neighbors.

Your best bet when planting in super-sized pots is to choose plants that you will either replace each year—like annual flowers—or plants that are slow-growing. Most nursery plant tags will say what the rate of growth is for a particular plant—and pay attention! I once made the mistake of planting evergreen pistache trees in 32-inch pots. Those trees, with the love and care of regular water and food, outgrew the pots in less than a year. The trees were not overly large—but the root system could not grow large enough in the pots to support their canopy.

Here are some basic tips on how to handle RBPs.

1. Make a firm decision as to where you want the pot placed before planting in it. Have you ever tried to lift a 22-inch container garden filled with dirt and plants? I have—and it was overwhelmingly heavy. Once planted, an RBP will be virtually impossible to move. To do so will require that you empty it of all the plants and soil. Be sure!

2. If you know you are planting shallow- or medium-rooted plants in an RBP, do not fill the entire pot with soil. If you are planting small perennials or annuals, you can fill the lower two-thirds of the pot with other material. When planting a small shrub-type plant, you need more soil volume, but you can fill the bottom third with nonorganic material. (Do NOT use rocks; they just make the pot heavier!) I recommend that you cover whatever material you use with a sheet of landscape fabric. This will allow water to go through, yet will help maintain the soil above the fillers. Filler possibilities include a larger-sized terra cotta pot that you do not care about, upside-down at the bottom of the pot; upside-down black plastic nursery pots (squeezing them to fill in as much space as possible); used six-packs or nursery pots, or even packing “peanuts,” bundled inside a leaf bag; empty plastic bottles or aluminum pop cans, covered with landscape cloth; or even plastic foam, broken into manageable pieces. Whatever you do, make sure you do not seal the drainage hole shut.

3. Do not fill your pot with soil from your garden—even if your garden has the very best soil on the planet. Garden soil is heavy and “dirty” (replete with weed seeds, bugs and their eggs, bacteria—stuff that you don't want in your pots). Instead, use a good potting soil (also called potting mix or container mix). Potting soil is well-aerated, sterile, lightweight and made of a good balance of organic material and mineral particles like peat, sand or perlite. (Potting soil is actually soilless—that is, it doesn't contain any dirt.) When choosing a potting soil, it should smell and feel rich. It will not be sandy or smell like manure.

4. When planting a tree in an RBP, fill the pot completely full with soil. Trees also need to be planted in solidly based pots in order to reduce the tipping factor. The base of the pot should be almost as large as the top of the pot. Our desert winds have been known to blow over many pots—even super-sized ones!

5. If you put a large plant in an RBP, you do not need to change out all of the soil every few years, like you do in smaller pots. Instead, each year, remove a top layer of old soil and add new soil, along with time-release fertilizer. Mix it in with the old soil as much as you can without severely disturbing the root system. Keep the soil level at the same depth as before, so you don’t cover the root or trunk any deeper than it was originally planted.

By following these methods, you can enjoy terrific potted gardens for many, many years!

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., and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook. Her column appears every Tuesday at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Potted Desert Garden