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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

Here we go again with a fifth Tuesday, on this last day of September.

For you, it’s another chance to consider your potted desert garden. For me, it’s an opportunity to share more of my personal side.

At the end of July, I told you about my move to a new home, and going from 45-plus pots to a mere seven large pots, with four small succulent pails hanging in our mesquite tree. We have had a few cooler mornings, and this enticed me to do some work outside—not in the garden, but in my swinging hammock chair on my iPad. Nice!

This leads me to my first idea as temperatures allow you to venture outside, at least in the early morning hours: Drink your morning beverage outside, and contemplate even cooler days to come. What are your plans? Is there anything different you want to do in your pots this winter?

But before you go outside, get some healthy air inside! This is idea No. 2. There are many reasons to open the windows. First and foremost: It feels and smells good! But there are some other reasons to get those windows open!

  • It will help rid your home of toxic fumes.
  • It’s free! Turn off your air conditioning for a couple hours, and let your home soak up those cool breezes.
  • Your indoor plants will love you for it!
  • You will hear the birds and other sounds of nature.
  • Experts say that opening windows will improve your overall health.

And while we are talking about feeling good, consider idea No. 3—reduce some of the clutter that might have accumulated in your yard over the past year(s). If you are not using some pots, donate them to a community or school garden. Have old soil and fertilizer, broken tools, things you have collected over time and don’t want/need them anymore? Find new homes for them by donating them, or toss what is of no value.

Finally. idea No. 4—consider adding a new accent pot or piece of art to your favorite area. A new, cooler season might inspire you to treat yourself to something bright and cheery.

Now is the time to dream a little and make some fun decisions about what’s next for your garden as cooler days approach.

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

I love potted gardens for so many reasons. They are versatile in their uses, and flexible in their placement and plantings—plus, you don’t have to dig in the ground!

Many yards have no delineated areas. To change that, homeowners will build ramadas, patios, gazebos and even outdoor kitchens. All of these add to the hardscape of your property—and add HEAT!

I came to the realization years ago that pots can give yards structure.

In my first Tucson home, we had a long walkway down the side of the house to the backyard. Because the area was shaded by the neighbor’s oleanders, we created sitting areas down this path and separated it with a trellis, as well as pots with vines that grew up the angled trellis.

In another case: A restaurant client of mine had a patio facing a parking lot. We created side-by-side concrete planters filled with Robellini palms and Mexican lime trees, and then underplanted with cascading flowers and herbs to be used by the chef.

Above, you can see another example of how to enclose a patio area to make a “room” out of it. The door leads out to the outside “dining room,” which is encircled by pots with plenty of walking space to move out into the rest of the patio and backyard.

To the above right is a cool idea for a roundabout driveway that has a drop off if you don’t make the corner. The contractor put up a standard double-railing to warn drivers, but it looked industrial. The planters are 48-inch wire frame hayracks with coco-fiber liners. Then we welded on decorative braces to assist in the planters’ stability.

The two photos below show how screening with plants can be accomplished for other areas of a home. One marks the steps to an above ground spa. The other shows plants masking a wall of the home—where all the electrical components are hanging.

As you can see, there are myriad ways you can use pots. They allow you to work with a smaller budget and provide tremendous flexibility when we change our minds—as many of us tend to 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

After last week’s storms, temperatures in the valley have heated back up. Perhaps your potted gardens are looking shabby or tired. There are several things you can—and should—do to care for your potted gardens this month.

Here are some tips to get you deeper into the desert’s true fall season.

Deadhead: Continue to deadhead your annuals.

Prune: Prune any leggy plants to create new growth and make for a well-shaped plant. Prune your tomatoes by two-thirds to encourage new growth and fruit-set for the fall. If you haven't pruned back your geraniums, do so now.

Jet spray: I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it many times again: Spray all of your potted plants, including flowers, shrubs, cacti and succulents—everything—every day if you are able. This will increase air circulation, and deter pests and disease such as spider mites, powdery mildew, aphids, etc. Do this in the early morning.

Fertilize: Treat your potted gardens every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer. Any rains we receive will support wild growth!

Capture rainwater: Use it to water plants under your covered areas. Micro-nutrients in the rain are great for potted plants!

Speaking of rain (and there’s a chance of some in the forecast this week): Too often, desert homeowners make the mistake of thinking that a storm means they can cut back on irrigation or hand-watering. However, it has to rain at least one inch in order to saturate the root ball of your plants—and even a deep soaking rain (more than one inch) received over a long time period (several hours) will only replace one day's worth of pot watering.

Two more things: First, it’s time for your September rose cutback. This applies to all hybrid teas, minis and floribundas. (See the picture below!)

  • Remove the top third of your roses and dead canes.
  • Selectively prune your climbers, doing a lesser cutback.
  • Clean up all the dead and fallen leaves, old mulch and debris.
  • Reapply bark mulch around the roses.

Second, be sure to fertilize your citrus this month. Fertilize according to the instructions on the package, and be sure to water in deeply.

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

Summer snapdragons are some of my favorite summer flowers.

I am always looking for something that will give me height in my desert potted gardens and that will last. Summer snaps, or Angelonia angustifolia, do just that. In the photo above, summer snaps are planted with white profusion zinnias and trailing scaevola. They are rapidly trying to take over a “silver king” euonymus shrub which will take the shade they provide just fine.

Summer snapdragons (not related to the common snapdragon) have appeared in desert nurseries over the last few years. The flowers are relatively small, but once they take off in the mid- to late-summer, the masses of flower spikes gather to give wonderful supporting color to the other flowers in your pot. Topping out at 20 to 24 inches tall, these plants wave their cool colors above all others and seem to love the early fall breezes.

Summer snaps come in white, purple, lavender and pink. You will most often find purple and white in big-box nurseries, and a larger array of colors in your local nurseries. You will not find them in hot colors like reds, oranges or yellow; instead, they add a cooling element to your garden.

These plants are actually perennials, so in our warmer desert areas, you will be able to leave them planted and have them come back easily in the early spring. When they begin to look leggy or spindly, cut them back to just above the soil line, and plant your winter flowers around them.

Planted in six hours of sun, summer snaps need to stay well-watered during the growing season and need an application of a water-soluble fertilizer every other week. If they slow down their flower production, cut your fertilizing back to every three weeks, and be sure they are not getting over-watered. If they start sprawling mid-summer, cut them back by about half.

Summer snaps really do not need deadheading, so they are an easy plant to grow. You can add them to a pot anytime during the summer (yes, even in mid-September), so if you have not planted any yet, and you have a bare spot in the back or center of a pot, see if your nursery has some—and pop one in! Try to choose a cloudy day, or plant it in the late afternoon when the temperatures start dropping for the evening. 

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

Many of us became desert-dwellers because of the year-round sunny days and beautiful views. However, one of the first things I ask many desert-dwellers is how they use their outdoor spaces (patio, courtyard or pool). Way too often, the answer is, “Actually, we don’t use it!”

We’re too busy. It’s too hot. It’s too messy.

Well, the summer and the oppressive heat are starting to wane—so now is the time to create an outdoor space you love, and then get in the habit of using it!

If you’re not using your outdoor space, you may want to rethink your current arrangement. If your budget doesn’t allow for a major renovation to create your special oasis, a potted garden can provide you with an affordable solution that is beautiful and inviting year-round.

Pots with trellis and vine features can be used to “build” walls. You can also use trellises to form barriers from things you do not want to see (including the neighbors!).

For added interest, consider using a colorful mix of flowers and perennials to create a hummingbird garden, or select a beautiful hand-crafted container and a specimen plant to create “living art.”

As I mentioned above, transforming your patio does not have to be expensive. First, explore things you already have. Look for seating, pieces of art and accessories that will work outdoors. If you do not have containers or trellises in the right size, invest in a few that will help you build the space you want. Arrange the different pieces in a way that feels good to you—and you have the makings of your own outdoor getaway!

I suggested to one of my clients, who has some beautiful potted plants outdoors, that they give themselves an “at home” holiday. Even though these clients are retired, they are so caught up in “doing” that they often forget the very reason they moved to the desert: the lovely weather. I suggested that they take a weekend to relax: Turn off the phones; spend time in the pool; curl up with a good book—the very things they might do at a resort. With a little imagination, creativity and a couple of comfortable chairs, you can create a wonderful, cozy seating area, without investing in bricks and mortar, to enjoy on your “staycation.”

Studies have proven that living with plants and flowers is good for our health, and can soothe our souls. Share your special space with a friend or loved one, and it can be the catalyst for great conversation and relaxation. I promise you: It’s worth a small investment of time and money to create an area that calls to you. With the proper care and nourishment, that area will always be there for you.

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.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

I really like planting yuccas in our desert container gardens. Most are frost-hardy, easy-care and low-water, and they’re great architectural specimens.

Among yucca plants, the variegated Spanish dagger is definitely one of my favorites.

The green Spanish dagger is common to nurseries and big-box stores. Unlike other yuccas, these plants have leaves that bend in the breeze, and drape like a fountain spray. But be careful, as the ends still have those sharp points. (Remember the name dagger!) In other words, keep them away from high-traffic areas, including kids’ runways.

Most often in nurseries, you will find the variegated variety in green, with silver margins. Sometimes, you might find rose-colored margins, or even yellow ones. However, don’t confuse this plant with the variegated dracaena—that plant cannot take any sun!

Yucca gloriosa do well in containers, but since the head of the plant can become top-heavy, you should plant them in a container with a wide, stable base. After a while, the plant may sprout another trunk near the base, adding more interest and structure to the plant (while challenging you with a balancing act if planted in the wrong pot!). The variegated Spanish dagger is best planted in dappled shade, in an area with good air circulation. If it’s stuck in a corner, spider mites and other pests that like to hide inside the throat of the leaves may make themselves at home.

When treated with the love and care it deserves, the Spanish dagger will show off its “attitude”! You might be tempted to surround its bare trunk base with other succulents, but I suggest instead adding some medium-to-large rocks to finish the look and help with drainage.

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

Elephant’s food, or Portulacaria afra, is a wonderful plant for desert gardens. Best planted in a pot that gets afternoon shade during our hot months, Elephant’s food is a pleasure to grow.

They’re easy-care, low-water and interesting to shape. I have even seen some plants that are nurtured into small, multi-stemmed tree and bonsai forms. In the full, green-leafed variety, the contrast between the deep green leaves and the reddish brown stem is lovely.

The inset in the picture above shows the variegated type, which brings a different curiosity to the plant.

A tender succulent like elephant’s food may suffer from freeze damage when winter temperatures fall below 30 degrees. No worries; you can bring them inside and place them in a brightly lit corner of your home.

In pots, plants will range from 15 inches to 4 feet tall, depending on how you trim them.

Elephant’s food gets its name from its origin in Africa: Portulacaria afra can make up 80 percent of an elephant's diet. A group of elephants will strip all the leaves and smaller branches of a stand in a single feeding. Branches that an elephant breaks off quickly re-root and establish new stands of plants. In other words, it’s a great plant to propagate and share with friends or empty pots.

Have fun with this plant! It grows quickly and is resilient to the elements—and trimmed or broken branches will swiftly grow into new plants when planted inside or 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. 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