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Our theme this month is watching our garden pots change through the seasons.

Planting with annuals allows us to creatively plan combinations each new season. In other words, we should never get bored with our potted gardens. Each attempt, however well-thought-out, may even surprise us as the garden grows. With perennial and annual combinations, we have the constant of a maturing long-lasting plant, along with the pop and color of annuals.

In this first picture above, we can see a boring tree trunk which marks the walkway to a main entrance of an office.

These next three photos show unique winter combinations with varying color themes. Notice how each one creates a different mood or attitude. Think how differently you might react to these plantings as you approach the potted collection. One offers bold, vibrant primary colors. Another shows off soft, pink hues which can bring calm. The third returns to a boldness, but goes away from our primary colors and turns to burgundy, which allows the yellows of the pansies and variegated wallflower to pop out.

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

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

Picture this: A back patio with several unsightly posts.

We know we need to add something to make the post go away in our mind’s eye. I cannot tell you how many homes I have gone to where a homeowner has tried to deal with this very problem, and failed—often by choosing pots that are too small for the height of the post and the size of the area.

Draw a line from your back window viewpoint to the post, and then to the view beyond. The line will rise to the back wall, distant landscape or even a mountain view. The line does not go down to the base of the post—and that is where those 12-inch pots sit in the example to the right.

We all understand how we came to use those small pots: They were easiest to carry from the store. They were not expensive, or maybe they were leftovers from past potted garden attempts, or gifts from our guests with long-forgotten plants that moved on to the compost heap.

The pots you should select for your posts need to become more than a tripping hazard.

In this collection pictured below (and in the main pic above), a lonely post with two small pots is quickly transformed by simply adding one extra-large pot with a trellised vine and seasonal accent annuals. As these plants mature, they later join forces with perennial combinations with a long-lasting and colorful golden-barrel cactus.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

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

Mototony is no fun! Therefore, lose the monotony of a boring home entryway with some personal touches—and, of course, some lovely potted plants.

We all want our homes to be unique. Well, many desert community homes have similar layouts and landscapes. So, shout-out a welcome to your guests—and keep that welcome fresh as you change it with the seasons.

Shown here are before (above) and after (below) pictures of the front of one desert home. This area is challenged by full sun, rabbits and other creatures; the plants chosen for these three pots show how you can create living beauty that is critter-resistant and water-thrifty. The plantings here include purple summer snaps, orange coreopsis, purple verbena and brocade artemisia.

What a difference several pots can make!

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

What kinds of pots are best in the desert sun? This question is asked in every class I teach.

Before I answer, let’s break that question down further: What pots should you not use? And what size pots do you need?

Followers of this column know I often extol the virtues of large pots. In the sun, you don’t want a pot with less than an 18-inch interior diameter. You need a solid volume of soil, ample moisture protection and insulation of the plants’ roots.

I do not recommend metal or plastic pots. I also recommend skipping black pots (unless they’re ceramic); definitely do not leave your plants in the black nursery cans. They just retain too much heat.

Consider these types of pots:

Terra cotta, clay and Mexican pots: These pots tend to be less expensive than other styles; many are fired at lower temperatures, making them less durable to high-salt water and heat. Some Italian and Chinese clay pots are “high-fired,” however, which means they will stand up to our harsh climates much better.

Since some clay pots are of the “old world” style, they fit Mediterranean-style homes. Mexican pots are happy in a hacienda-style home.

To make them last longer, use a lawn-and-leaf garbage bag with a hole in the bottom—for drainage, to protect the pot from fast deterioration, and to help with water retention.

Glazed pots: All glazed pots are high-fired, making them well-suited to the desert climate. They will retain moisture, stand up to the heat and sun, and outlast most of our lifetimes. There are many beautiful shapes, colors, textures and styles. I plant 90 percent of my gardens in one type of glazed pot or another. I’d rather spend extra money on a quality pot once rather than replace a pot and repot a plant after just a couple of years.

High-gloss pots: With a huge array of colors and shapes, high-gloss pots stand out. Use rimmed pots for a more traditional-style home, and rimless pots for a contemporary look. Pots are finished in all colors.

Rustic glazed pots: Rustic glazed pots are much more organic in their style. They will fit into a natural desert landscape, complementing the design rather then popping out. The colors usually reflect those found naturally in the desert. These pots can always be counted on to hold up to the heat, and their weight will make sure they stay in place despite the wind.

Talavera pots: People often ask if these pots are suitable for the desert sun. The answer: As long as they have been made by reputable potters, and the colors are glazed rather than painted on, these pots will do well in our desert landscapes. They, too, are high-fired, and their superb color and design will add a lot to a Hacienda-style décor. Just don’t go overboard and combine too many of them in one spot. Use them with monotone colors, and have the Talavera pot as the focal point.

What about your small pots? Choose your favorites, and plant them with shade plants, especially soft succulents. Group them in a shady area on a baker’s rack, table or other shelving unit to create a work of living art.

February Care in Your Desert Potted Garden

In order to keep your winter flowers blooming into May, provide them with regular attention. Take a morning coffee break with your garden a couple of times a week so that you can enjoy your labors for several more months!

  • Deadhead your flowers weekly. Be sure to pinch them back to the originating stem, not just the flower. This will support continual bloom.
  • Cut back ornamental grasses to just above ground level.
  • Fertilize your potted plants every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer, best applied with a hose applicator.
  • Fertilize any potted citrus or other fruit trees around Valentine’s Day.
  • Plant color annuals such as pansies, petunias, larkspur, primrose, poppy, stock, violas, alyssum, snapdragon and marigolds.
  • Watch shallow-rooted newly planted annuals, which can quickly dry out with spring winds.
  • Adjust your watering schedule according to winter rains, if there are any.

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

Do you tend to spread yourself too thin? Maybe your patio hardscapes are suffering from the same problem.

We often make large outdoor party areas at our desert homes to enjoy during the non-scorching months. If we want to soften the look with plants, we are restricted to using pots. We know containers need to be large to fill the area, but many of us tend to jam all pots against long walls, rather than filling underused areas with a collection of pots.

If you look at the before picture below, you will notice the area to the right of the stairs. This platform could only fit one chair—and that chair will usually be in the full sun. So unless you are a recluse and want to toast by yourself, this area will serve a better purpose as a lush garden featuring of three 24-inch pots, as you can see above.

In that winter garden pictured above, there is a collection of pansies, violas and other hardy bloomers that will perform throughout winter in our desert climate. Regular deadheading and a biweekly water-soluble fertilizer is all that will be needed besides water to keep these bloomers happy until May!

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

Check out the pesky raised-bed garden above. This is what I call a “collection area”—a shady spot, a place close to a door, or any other convenient place to drop items on the way to or from the house.

These garden areas tend to become places for collections of things we’ve abandoned. We intend to leave something for just a few minutes. I'll come right back. I'll have the kids clean up, etc. However, the reality is that we don't come back to get the things that have found their way to this natural collection basket.

A typical cause of this scenario is a failed garden. Since the space is so ugly, what harm will a few errant items do?

One of two things cause the demise of most of our desert plantings. First is the incorrect selection of plants for the area. Our harsh desert climate does not allow us much room for error. Second involves inappropriate watering. Too much, too little—if we don't get it right, especially in the first two weeks of the young planting, the plants will begin to weaken, opening the door for all kinds of diseases or pests. We then throw our hands up in the air and say, “Forget it.” Hence the result pictured above.

Wouldn't it be grand to instead have a garden such as the one pictured below? This garden will thrive in the desert shade from spring through fall; depending the winter temperatures, some plants will coast through the coldest months, too. Included in this bed are coleus, caladiums, begonia (not flowering at the time of the picture) and variegated vinca major. Black decorative stone added as mulch will keep the ground not only moist, but attractive around these well-deserving showpieces.

So, go and fix your garden’s collecting spot. Don’t settle for ugly!

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

Patio homes, apartments and loft spaces often include small balconies or terraces. Perhaps they’re used for storage, or maybe the balcony includes a table and chairs. In any case, these small spaces can quickly become monotonous.

But they don’t need to become monotonous. Instead, you can turn your outdoor living area into your own tropical paradise, and extend your home to the outdoors!

Break your long narrow space into two spaces by using pots, with or without trellises. Even a pot encroaching into a normal pathway will serve as a divider, of sorts. Then you can decorate each “room” with furnishings and plantings that provide you with the atmosphere you are looking to create. Perhaps you can create a dining area with a living room … or a hideaway and public space. Even consider an outdoor office with a kitchenette (featuring a barbecue).

Choose plants with height and “staying” power for the corners and, if used, dividers. Lower pots are perfect for the front edges of your space, perhaps filled with color that reflects your cushions and decor. Don't forget to use fragrant plants that can envelope you with lush smells that make you want to stay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do in your desert potted garden this month:

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

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

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

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

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Published in Potted Desert Garden