CVIndependent

Fri09252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

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

We have had a hot start to the spring here in the Coachella Valley!

Many of you might be saying: “What spring?” The entire Southwest has been running 10 degrees above normal, jumping us into an early period of 90-degree days. I have heard too many people already complaining about the heat.

Regardless, May is a good time to get your potted garden in good shape before the real saturated heat starts. Here are some tips to guide you along your way. Think about these this month before the intensity of the heat keeps you indoors.

1. It’s not too late! You can still plant summer flowers, shrubs, cactus and succulents this month. If you have a blank-slate area of your yard, consider getting out there with a few new jumbo-sized pots and some well-started summer plants—and make a major difference in your landscape. The most important things to keep in mind if you are going to create a new potted garden this month are:

  • Plant early in the morning.
  • Make sure your plants have healthy root systems.
  • Be sure your plants’ root balls are moist before planting.
  • Water the pots fully when you are finished with your planting (except for pots with cactus).
  • Keep a close eye on your pots during the first two weeks of growth to make sure they are getting enough water. You do not want your plants to dry out as they are getting established. Once you see new growth on the plants, you know they are off to a good start.

2. Because the desert summer sun is so intense, even sun-loving plants prefer a little shade. Place pots under a lightly leafed tree, such as a mesquite tree, for dappled light.

3. Move some of your favorite pots and plantings onto a patio or into an entryway. Getting them into the shade and close to your living areas will provide them with the conditions they need for summer success. Furthermore, you will more likely keep an eye on them, because you will see them every day.

4. As you would expect, the key to success in your hot desert pots is water—consistent, plentiful water. 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 you can. Both you and your pots will love you for it. Be sure the water coming out of the hose is not hot. 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. I use a water meter for this to make sure I am not overwatering them.

5. If you do lose some plants to the heat, don’t leave dead or dying plants in the pot. All that does is make you feel bad. My motto has always been: Better dirt than dead!

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

Desert homes are often built with sizable front yards and comfortable back patios. However, how many of us neglect our oftentimes unused side yards? They’re used as a thoroughfare, or an area to stash things—yet these small corridors are often an eyesore on the homeowner’s never-ending to-do list.

Here’s an idea: Transform this problem area with a beautiful potted garden!

Start with a few pots to define the areas you want to enhance. The empty side yard pictured above has a back wall, a side door with a walkway, and a wooden fence bordering the yard. This picture of the initial planting, to right, shows that a small concrete table and metal chair were added to give anyone who stops by a place to rest. Filled with morning sun, the yard begins the day on the warm side. In the afternoon, the entire yard is in the shade, as the western end of the yard is shaded by a monstrous pine tree. The pots range from 20 to 26 inches, with the largest pots for “yellow bells” and a Pittosporum (standard tree form).

In the more shady corner, below, a ground-cover plant of variegated vinca major is used as a mature trailing plant, along with a boxwood myrtle. These will stand up well to the summer heat.

As you see in the final picture below, the garden has filled in very well. Passers-by are often surprised to learn that this has all been done with pots, as the mature plantings hide some of the pots. Ground plantings are much harder to accomplish and care for—so to surprise visitors with this achievement is very rewarding!

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

Check out the repetition of color in the picture above of an early summer annual planting in a desert container garden. The red celosia and “Strawberry Fields” gomphrena, paired with yellow “profusion” zinnias and “blue” salvia, echo the rainbow colors of the glass balls settled into the rock divider between concrete pads.

We certainly have been able to enjoy all the beautiful blues of winter annuals—growers keep coming up with new hybrids of pansies, violas and lobelia to fill our gardens with wonderful blues. As we face our garden challenges of summer in the desert, many of us would love to plant some soft blues to help cool us off—at least visually.

Unfortunately, blue is next to impossible to come by in summer flowers. In cooler parts of the country, homeowners are planting all of the flowers that we had during the winter, including blues—yet we have none. Yes, some varieties of flowers might have “blue” in the name—for instance blue salvia, and blue vinca—but these flowers are really purple. (See the first pic below.) Yes, it may be a blueish purple, but it’s not blue.

Since we are so close to the California coast, we might pine over the blues in plumbago or agapanthus, which are so abundantly available there. But it’s just too hot to grow them successfully in our desert.

If you are trying for a cool shade to spend the evenings with on your patio, try some soft pinks of vincas and pentas, as pictured in the final picture below, in which the pots are nestled in afternoon shade. They will cool you off—and stand up to the heat throughout the summer.

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

A substantial number of people who have moved to the desert ask me about the difficulties of growing flowers in the desert in the summer. No, check that: They tell me that you cannot grow flowers in the desert in the summer.

I admit it can be a challenge. However, with enough water, some afternoon shade and the right flowers, you can have an abundant summer garden.

The pots pictured in this column obviously include mature plantings. They were started from 4-inch plants purchased from the nursery and are the direct result of daily watering, biweekly fertilizing and careful grooming. The pots at this desert home are on a dedicated drip line and got off to a good start before the summer really started heating up.

This home is at a higher elevation than the Palm Springs desert floor, so a few of these plants may not make it all summer long in the lower elevations. However, if you use vinca and pentas. you will have a decent chance of summer success. Also, if you can place your pots where they get afternoon shade, you will greatly increase your chances. For homes without shade for pots, create shade placing a large pot with a tree planted in it on the west side of the flowering pots. You can also put some shade cloth over the plants during the really hot periods, but be sure it is anchored down, or you will eventually find it in your neighbor’s pool.

If you have not been planting a potted garden in the summer, start with just a couple of pots, so you don’t get overwhelmed with the care they need in the heat. You might have to experiment with a few plants; be sure you get the watering correct before you invest in a multitude of pots and plants.

Never say never! Think of the joy you will have celebrating your gardening success in the desert summer.

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

Baby boomers like me want immediate gratification in everything we do—including our gardens.

As gardeners, it goes without saying that we enjoy communing with nature. Even if you don’t personally create the landscape, there is a reason you want a garden in your life, right?

And if you don’t have a garden yet at your desert home … think about it. What could be easier than simply adding a few pots? The beauty of container gardening is that you can add one pot at a time—making for easy instant gratification. Place one by a chair … and relax for a while. I’ll bet that as you enjoy your accomplishment, you will quickly start thinking about what to add next.

Even a small outdoor area can be converted into a serene spot. Look at the picture above: Using existing pots and an existing St. Francis statue, this condominium owner turned a narrow yard into a sanctuary. Mature trees provide filtered sun throughout the day, allowing for successful gardening even in the summer heat. Volunteer flowers have popped up around the pots, grabbing for the water provided by the pot-irrigation run-off. This creates a woodland retreat; all that is needed is a comfy chair.

In the two pictures below, you are invited to leave the sun-drenched backyard of this desert home and enter a shaded side yard at another home. Neighboring Arizona ash and oleanders provide free shade for this southside patio. A walkway about 8 feet in width—an under-used thoroughfare leading from the home’s carport to the back yard—becomes a tremendous space. The addition of various seating options, a lamp and a fountain unite to create a respite from the heat—an invitation to morning coffee or afternoon wine, as well as a place to sit outside during the day to write or read.

Container gardening is simple, easy and rife for (almost) immediate gratification. Enjoy!

April Care in Your Desert Potted Garden

  • Plant summer flowers as late as possible this month. Remember, newly planted pots need daily water!
  • Establish a regular fertilizing schedule for your roses, with both organic and water-soluble fertilizers.
  • Check your irrigation this month! Review past water bills to track your usage—look for any obvious changes. Check your system for leaks.
  • Do not assume! We need an inch of rain in a day to be safe in turning off the irrigation for any length of time—and even then, pots will need water again in one to two days. In the unlikely event this ever happens, don’t forget to turn irrigation back on!
  • Adjust irrigation timers. As temperatures increase, so do the water needs of your garden. To give plants just the right amount, start by increasing the number of days per week it operates, but not the number of minutes per cycle. If your pots are not getting thoroughly wet throughout the soil volume, increase the length by one minute at a time.

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

Tomorow is April Fool’s day. I hate having pranks played on me; here are some to look out for—or, perhaps play on someone (just not me!), if you’re a prankster yourself:

  • Visiting a neighbor’s home? Be sure to throw something into the entryway to make sure the sprinkler is not set up to turn on when it detects motion.
  • Watch out for stray “For Sale” signs in your front yard!
  • If anyone brings you a caramel apple, cut into it before sinking in your teeth—because it’s an April Fool’s trick to substitute an onion.
  • Watch out for fake flower tricksters! Before you fawn over a friend’s garden, or look in amazement over gorgeous flowers that have suddenly appeared in your garden, remember what day it is!

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 visitingwww.potteddesert.com/m.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Continuing on our theme this month of seasonal changes in our desert potted gardens: This week, we’ll visit one home’s entryway, and talk about design.

These pots are in the full morning sun and will get an afternoon siesta, as the front of the house is facing east. Let’s study these pots over several years of plantings—largely during the summer season.

One year, we planted just two colors, as you can see in the photo above: a tree form of a daisy bush, and an underplanting of red/coral geraniums. (Just how many shades of red are there?) The tree canopy will grow significantly, but the colors will remain true.

Next, as you can see in the first photo below, we have a bountiful bouquet—yet it remains simple, with pale pink vinca, yellow marigolds (which will only last until it is hot) and purple salvia. If you want to keep the yellow in the mix, add some zinnias when the marigolds die off; profusion zinnias are your best bet. The back of the pot has a perennial butterfly iris, which should shoot up some flowers by next spring.

The last duo gets to be a little wilder, with hot pink vinca, purple summer snaps (angelonia), and skyflower, a frost-tender perennial shrub (duranta erecta). If you use the skyflower, you will be pleased with the strong purple flowers all summer long, as well as the orange berries.

Your pots, with the right amount of water, can thrive all summer. If in doubt, ask someone in the know at a local nursery—or email me anytime!

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

Feast your eyes on this potted winter garden in the desert, pictured above. A warm February really made the colors shine in this Mexican wide-urn pot. The combination of deep pink petunias, blue pansies and yellow violas is framed with fragrant white alyssum. The center butterfly iris will stay in the pot year-round, providing height and stature throughout the seasons.

The next photo of the same planting, below, shows how aggressive the alyssum can be, as it takes over the entire rim of the pot. The petunias are strong in their efforts to blast through the bed of white. In the back of the pot, it’s easy to miss the addition of snapdragons to add tall color. Now that it has warmed up, they will soon burst open with another deep rose color.

In the next picture: Switching to early summer, the winter flowers have petered out, but you can see how well the butterfly iris has grown. It even has a flower on the left side. Some of the leaves need some trimming, as they are showing signs of age, but the plant is still doing very well. Early-season marigolds, red vinca and blackie sweet potato vine have all been added to the pot, along with some purple salvia, tucked in the back to intertwine with the butterfly iris.

Now to another early summer photo. The butterfly iris outgrew the pot, and rather than dividing it, we decided to go with a new look. We have a standard yellow daisy bush underplanted with coral geraniums. We want to complement the shades of the clay pot and decided the coral would work nicely highlighted with the tall, easy care yellow of the daisy tree.

In the final picture: Unfortunately, after five years of our urn pots, they finally gave out—to the exploration of critters in this east facing front yard. We moved to a more stable pot and lower-water plants. This young winter planting includes a cordyline, a geranium and yellow pansies. The geranium is a lighter color coral that will work with the similarly colored glazed pot in Chinese red.

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.">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