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There is no such thing as small vegetation on Kauai.

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

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

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

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

Aloha!

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

Published in Potted Desert Garden

If you feel like taking on a rewarding project, the creation of a succulent wreath might be right up your alley! The end result can be used as a table centerpiece, a hanging on a shaded wall, or an adornment on the gate to your garden.

Trust me: This project is not for the faint of heart. You need patience and persistence—but we desert gardeners already have those traits due to our challenging climate! It will take about two weeks to complete your wreath.

Materials

  • A moss wreath, 12 to 16 inches
  • Floral wire or fishing wire
  • Floral pins
  • Succulent clippings or small succulent plants (see bottom)
  • A bowl, saucer or pan large enough in which to lay the completed wreath for watering

Preparing Your Plants

  • Take succulent cuttings several days prior to creating your wreath.
  • Cut stem sections 1 to 2 inches long.
  • Remove lower leaves from the bottom half-inch of the stem.
  • Allow cuttings to sit overnight on a tray to let the cut end form a scab.

Preparing Your Wreath Form

  • Wear gloves when working with moss or peat moss.
  • Submerge a mesh-covered moss wreath form (pictured to the right) in water.
  • Keep the form in water until it is fully saturated (30-60 minutes).
  • Place flat on a table to drain.

Set Out Your Plants

  • On a flat surface, lay out cuttings by plant type.

Plant Your Wreath

  • Make a hole in the moss using a pointed object, such as large nail, a pencil or a screwdriver.
  • Place the stem of your first cutting into the hole. Secure with a floral pin, being careful to not puncture the succulent’s stem.
  • Continue to arrange your cuttings around your wreath. For a fuller wreath, plant on the inner as well as the outer edges.
  • After planting, you'll see some moss between cuttings; as succulents grow, they'll hide the moss.

Let It Rest

After planting, place the wreath on a table out of the sun. You are waiting for the cuttings to send roots into the moss in order to secure their footing.

Ongoing Care

Soak the wreath in a container of water for at least one hour when it is only slightly moist. You can tell by feeling inside the back of the frame. The wreath will be very light when it dries 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.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Why am I talking about summer foliage in December?

You might find some of these plants in local nurseries now, and because of our mild winters, many of these summer plants can survive here year-round. You might consider experimenting with these choices, thereby easing your planting woes next spring when it starts getting hot, and you do not want to be outside as much!

Annual summer foliage is a great way to add attention-grabbing textures while subduing bold flower colors in your summer potted gardens. Purple Heart is often used as a ground cover plant. It has elongated leaves and subtle lavender flowers. It is rated as a full-sun plant, but in our desert sun, it will do much better in dappled shade or morning sun. Yes, it will still flower in the lower light conditions. Purple Heart can stand well on its own or will do nicely when paired with one other color.

If you find plants spouting pepper-shaped objects in purple, orange, yellow and red—all on the same plant—you have stumbled onto ornamental peppers. These are a unique, specialty type plant typically sold in the late summer; they have appealing features such as colorful berries and foliage. Look for the purple-black leaves such as the “Black Pearl,” and don’t miss the varieties that have variegated leaves.

Coleus is one of my absolute favorites, and it has really come into stardom over the last decade. When I first started gardening in the desert, you could only find the “Wizard” coleus mix, and it needed to be kept in full shade. Over the years, more and more varieties have been developed, with some able to handle almost full sun, even in the summer. If you do plant some in full sun, and the color washes out, move it to morning sun only. (Ah, the benefit of planting in pots!) The darker leaf coleus plants will do better in full sun. However, jumbo-large leafed varieties such as “King Kong” will also do better in the shade, as the large leaves have too much surface area to try to keep cool.

Another shade plant found is the massive-leafed Caladium. It’s a wonderfully fun plant with an array of variegation in the leaves from white to pink to red. Be sure not to overwater your shade plants. Most like to be slightly dryer before watering again—they do not like being soaking wet day after day. If they get too much water, they will suffer from root rot, eventually killing the plant.

If you have any questions about these or other plants for your desert potted gardens, shoot me an email, and I will get right back to you.

I wish you a wonderful holiday season.

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

The desert boasts a year-round growing season, and during the winter, you can create an easy-to-do but colorful garden by only having one plant type—yet you can go crazy by purchasing various varieties of that one plant type.

Take ornamental kale, for example, as seen in the photo above. More and more varieties are available in nurseries, each with different color variations, textures and growth structures, ranging from very short (up to 6 inches) and wide (up to 12 inches) to tall with a rose-like stem.

Plants you typically think of as house plants are actually tropical plants. Many have pleasing trailers and will supplement a pot arrangement with a strong spilling element. Variegated needlepoint ivy (right) creates a formal look in any pot. It is cold-tender, but in the low desert, protected under a needed shade cover, it will do very well all winter long. If it’s in absolutely no sun, it will thrive year-round.

Those in the mid and high desert regions will need to protect all tropical plants when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

Other trailers for desert shade with great color include the ground cover vinca (periwinkle), which comes in many varieties: green, variegated major, and minor (which is a smaller-leafed dwarf variety), as well as vinca “illuminations.’ Another gray-leafed trailer is the licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare), or “small leaf helichrysum.”

A magnificent plant that is well-suited for full sun with stunning year-round beauty is in the duranta family and is a variegated variety of the skyflower. Pictured in the photo below, this plant, like so many others, is cold-tender, but here in the Palm Springs area, where winters are very mild, it will do very well.

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

Fast. Fabulous. FOLIAGE!

Get immediate gratification in your desert container garden by showcasing plants with gorgeous, leafy color. Follow us this month each week as we discuss foliage plants that are worth adding to your seasonal desert container gardens.

Prolific bloomers need to be plucked and pruned and fed—and then we worry about the blooms bursting in time (and not too much before) our big party. If too soon or too late, off to the nursery we go, for more blooming plants. However … what if our star performers were spectacular leafy plants, bursting with rock-star color that isn’t fickle in its bloom cycle?

I’m not saying we should totally give up on our glorious flowers, of course. The moral of today’s story is diversity: Flowering plants and non-bloomers can thrive side by side, and a clever mix of the two offers the best of all worlds.

Let’s explore a few of my favorite foliage plants that hold up in our desert climate.

Dusty Miller (above)

When I came upon this bed of “flowers” dew-kissed on a cool winter morning, my immediate reaction was: There must be frost on the plants! I never thought my design for this flower bed would create such a refreshing break: Pairing Dusty Miller with white Alyssum created a surprisingly fun entry to this restaurant.

No matter where you are from, and no matter the climate, you may have used Dusty Miller in your garden. This sultry white/gray plant with a hint of green tolerates lower-water conditions, making it a perfect addition to your desert potted garden. Dusty Miller can enhance a full white garden or add to bold colors, making them seem to lunge in your direction.

Cordyline (below)

Cordyline is another of my favorites for desert winter gardens. Many flowing, colorful, upright plants will burn up in the desert—even if placed in the shade. As growers continue to hybridize varieties of these plants to tolerate more heat (if not more sun), we’ll begin to see an increasing number in our nurseries.

Planted in a cream-colored vertical pot, the combination pictured here interrupts the long wall behind this barbecue patio. The Cordyline was originally planted in the late fall, and in this summer shot, it shows how well the plant has acclimated to full sun exposure. In the low desert, it will do better if it gets that desired afternoon shade. Underplanted with white Vinca with a red center, the Cordyline stands on its own against the pale wall.

Dwarf Pampas Grass (above right)

I was looking for something to blow in the summer breeze, next to a pool. I wanted a plant that would hold up to the intense heat and strong winds, and that could be planted in a pot that’s unlikely to blow over. The 24-inch low-bowl pot gave me an opportunity for a grass experiment. Looking for something with interesting plumes, I found Dwarf Pampas Grass.

All grasses should be treated like annuals, because you do not want to have a pot full of nothing when the grass needs to be cut back!

Follow us every Tuesday this month as I share information on other desert-loving foliage plants!

What to do in your desert potted garden this month:

  • Continue successive plantings of lettuce, spinach, chard and other fast-maturing winter greens.
  • Snip petunias to encourage them to branch and spread. Cut the ends off of stems to encourage side-branching. This will promote abundant flowering and more compact plants.
  • Remove old blooms from geranium, cyclamen, calendula and other winter flowers as they fade, by cutting them off with sharp scissors or hand pruners. This will also increase flower production.
  • Use a biweekly spray application of a water-soluble fertilizer on all flowering plants to encourage growth and a continual show of flowers.

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

Color is the most prominent element in garden design, and typically the first one considered. Color is what draws us into a garden and is often what draws us out of the house and onto our patio.

When you’re driving down a road, and you approach a bed of flowers, what draws your eye in? Color! However, we’ve all had the experience of thinking a garden (or something else, for that matter) is “pretty” at first … but the more you look, something clicks in your mind that what you’re seeing is not working. What first is viewed as fun and exciting can become exhausting when you sit with your coffee or cocktail after a long day.

Why doesn’t it work? Often, the problem is too many colors in one garden!

Sometimes, we think a color combination will work when we choose the colors at the nursery, but once they are home and planted, we wonder … what did I do wrong?

At the store, the rainbow of colors and shades attracts our attention, and unless we have a “color agenda,” we don’t put the brakes on and try to coordinate our selections. We need to take a moment and step back to plan our potted gardens and, hence, our color selections.

I always suggest putting the plants that will go in one pot together on your shopping cart. Step back to look at them. The look needs to be long and hard. Stare at your combinations, and see if it works as you view it with your critical eye.

Here are some basic thoughts about combining color for your potted gardens this winter:

  • Start with two colors that you also use in a room inside your home—especially the room from which you have a view of your pots.
  • Add a contrasting color if you would like.

For instance, if your home is decorated in earth tones like rustic oranges, browns and greens, begin with an orange. Green will enter the picture with leaves and stems. Then add either purple or yellow, depending on how exciting or vibrant you want your color combination to be.

Another example: If your room is decorated in primary colors, choose something like blue and yellow, and then perhaps add red. The key is to put your plants together to see if you like the combination Try it! The beauty of using potted gardens is that you can easily change your mind, try new combinations and take out one plant and substitute another—without breaking the bank.

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

Nothing beats fresh-cut flower arrangements—but why spend money on expensive arrangements? Why not start your very own cutting garden?

Your desert potted garden can serve two purposes when it comes to flowers: It can be a profuse garden to decorate your outside world, and it can fill your home with bountiful bouquets of living wonder! Your friends may remark: These all came from your pots!?

You need many flowers coming into bud and bloom at the same time in order to have enough for arrangements. You will not want to feel that you are depriving your outside garden of its splendor in order to have your flowers inside. Therefore, it’s best to get many plants of a few varieties.

As we move into the winter months, we have the advantage of thriving flowers that will inspire the creation of imaginative arrangements!

Great flowers for arrangements include:

  • Calendula
  • Celosia
  • Coriopsis
  • Cosmos
  • Day lillies
  • Dianthus/carnations (below)
  • Freesia
  • Gerbera daisies
  • Godetia
  • Marigolds
  • Miniature hollyhocks
  • Mums (fall)
  • Pansies
  • Poppies
  • Roses
  • Snapdragons
  • Sweet pea
  • Tobacco flower
  • Violas

Add some branches from your herbs, perennials, shrubs and trees such as:

  • Basil
  • Boxwoods
  • Coleus
  • Pines
  • Sage
  • Salvia

Tips to keep your cut flowers longer:

  • Cut flower stems at an angle to prevent the stems from resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing themselves over. Angular cuts also create a larger surface area for water uptake.
  • Strip any foliage from stems that would sit below water level in a vase, as these will decay, becoming slimy and smelly.
  • Use room-temperature water.
  • Add a splash of bleach to the water to inhibit bacterial growth and make your flowers last longer. You only need to add about a quarter-teaspoon per quart of water. You can also try adding a tablespoon of sugar, as this will help to nourish the flowers.
  • Keep your flowers in cooler areas of your home. The life of your cut flowers will be reduced if they are placed close to heat or direct sunlight.
  • Remove any dead or fading blooms to prevent bacteria damaging the healthy flowers.
  • Change the water every few days, refreshing any flower feed and preservatives at the same 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. 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

The sensual joy of being able to plant year-round in our desert gardens is immeasurable. Our patios treat us to a wonderful visual display. The sounds of birds, perhaps water from a fountain, a harmonious wind chime and leaves rustling in the wind add to the acoustic value of our peaceful garden.

How about adding a few varieties of fragrant flowers so that your guests are quick to remark: "What is that delightful scent as I come up to your home?"

Unfortunately, many plants are no longer fragrant. They have been hybridized to improve their growth, develop resistance to new threats of pests and disease, and/or to increase their blooming cycles. All of these so-called improvements have come at a big price: the loss of scent.

However, you can still find many plants that will perfume your garden through the year. Be sure to place them strategically to enjoy them thoroughly. Some flowers have a light scent and need to be close by to be appreciated. Ideal planting locations include along a pathway to your front door; by a patio; or near a window that’s often open.

Use many plants of the same kind together for the strongest impact. Fragrant annuals including flowering tobacco, nasturtium, calendula, stock, sweet pea, dianthus, alyssum and wallflower are all readily available this winter in nurseries.

You can also select plants with fragrant leaves, like herbs and scented geraniums. Herbs for the winter months include mint (keep this in a separate pot as it will take over anything else!), rosemary, thyme and lavender (do not overwater).

Don't forget vines with fragrant flowers such as jasmine (confederate, night-blooming and star) and honeysuckle, as well as roses and citrus trees. Many shrubs will also perfume the air. My favorite for the shade is the gardenia. This is another plant that you will not want to overwater, as it will drop its buds after they turn brown for no apparent reason if you do.

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

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