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I hear the word “Morocco,” and I think exotic. I see bright colors and handmade earthenware pots. I see the tropics, and I see the desert.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite desert succulents—one which can take the full sun—is native to Morocco.

The Moroccan mound (Euphorbia resinifera) reminds me of our desert mountain peaks intermingled with canyons and jutting rocks. That’s what drew me to it in the first place.

The Moroccan mound works very well in pots. It has a mounding habit (hence the name) and grows wider as it reaches its height of up to 18 inches. Plants can be found up to 3 or 4 feet across when given the chance. It is a slow-grower, so it will do nicely in a pot.

Moroccan mounds can be planted in a low bowl pot—either as a single specimen, or in a cluster of several plants. The cluster may eventually need to be split apart, but not for a few years. In the photo below, the Moroccan mound serves as bookends to a Mexican fence post in a tall pot. They help to balance the height of both the pot and the fencepost—and give it all a sense of greater stability.

I won’t bore you (or myself) with scientific details, but I will say it’s interesting that this plant is yet another representative of the huge Euphorbia genus. We think of Euphorbias typically as succulents, but others are thought of more as flowers and perennials.

It’s amazing what nature extends to us.

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

It is so hot in August that very few people want to even think about outdoor activities like gardening. But now is actually the perfect time to start planning our fall gardens; after all, the season is (thankfully) just around the corner.

In the desert, it’s best to contemplate low-water plants, like succulents. In my quest to keep your plants (and your money!) out of the compost heap, here are eight tips to safeguard your investment in these plants.

But first, a clarification: All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Of course, the best-known succulents are cacti.

Now for those tips:

1. Buy your plants from a nursery that grows its plants in the weather in which you will be planting them. In other words: Purchase locally from the growers, if possible. Some nurseries may not grow their own plants, but you can always ask where they were grown. Make sure the answer is either here or another desert climate!

2. Plant each cactus with the same orientation to the sun in which it was grown, to avoid sunburn.

3. Location is critical when choosing plants. Be sure each location and sun exposure is appropriate for the plant.

4. Plant succulents in purchased cactus soil—not native desert soil. This will limit exposure to bacteria and other disease organisms in ground soil.

5. When planting a succulent, bring the cactus soil level up to an inch or two below the original soil line on the stem of the plant. This will give you room to add rock to the top of the soil.

6. Here’s why you want to add that rock: It helps retain moisture and speeds top-level drainage. Too much water around the top of the planted stem can lead to root rot.

7. Allow the newly planted succulent to rest out of direct sunlight for a week or two before watering it. This allows any roots that were damaged to heal, as unhealed wet roots are susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections.

8. Do not overwater! Most succulents (aloes are a notable exception) are dormant in the winter, so potted succulents only need water once a month. In the summer, every two weeks will work. If you are going to be away, no worries; they can wait three to four weeks for water.

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 find ourselves with a fifth Tuesday this month. That means there’s time to reflect on … the heat? No, we’re all tired of that subject.

Instead, I will tell you about some of the changes I have recently made in my life—and share with you my new minimal garden. Since 1996, my partner and I had lived in a house which had no garden when we moved in. Our front and back yards became the spawn of my business, The Contained Gardener, and quickly grew from three pots to more than 50 during the high point!

We decided this spring that we were ready to downsize and that we would sell our home after returning from a cruise in May. We also decided to rent for a while in order to decide what’s next. We lucked out and found a home in a community that has a reasonable back yard and a great view!

Not wanting to run irrigation again (due to renting, a desire to reduce water bills and to save my time), we only brought seven cactus pots with us. (See below.) We have a lovely little yard, a great view … and SQUIRRELS! A mesquite tree and a shed share the space with us. Well, a squirrel created a lovely hole and mound that interfered with the back gate; other squirrels, although cute, were overrunning the yard and filling it with other holes.

I certainly did not want to use poison, so I read everything I could on the Internet and tried to make our yard less inviting to the squirrels. We removed the tree branches that went over the wall into the four-acre untended ranch behind us. (Those branches were a highway into the yard!) Then I stopped feeding finches and put up hummingbird feeders. The super-hole was filled with water, rocks, soil and moth balls in stockings, and then covered with more rocks. I also use pepper in areas where some of the younger squirrels like to munch on the bean pods of the mesquite tree.

I only have one regular visitor now, which is fine. When I clean up the bean pods, I toss them over the wall to the ranch land. I think he was too busy feasting over there to come yesterday!

I will let you know how all of this goes. We love the house, and the backyard is very peaceful. I am looking forward to the days when I can actually go out and sit for a while—in other words, when it cools down!

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 have been talking about cactus and succulents for our Palm Springs desert pots this month. With the temps this week projected to hit 115 degrees, we can imagine calmer times by planning a garden in white.

White is a cool color. When paired with other muted colors like blue or gray, white plants can help keep things nice and tranquil as we struggle through scorching temperatures.

Last week, I showed you the silver torch. This plant certainly deserves center stage when planting a white cactus pot.

Another option for a starring role in an extra-large pot (24 inches in diameter or larger) is the agave “Americana variegata.” While it has green borders on its leaves and may have some yellow hues, depending on what variety you select, the agave Americana variegata offers a more graceful look in your white garden than the silver torch’s columns.

By putting several plants together in a pot, you can achieve a lovely garden with interest and a cool attitude. Check out the combination below of a silver torch, an old lady cactus and a mounding variety of a cactus in the Mammillaria family. All are suited well for our desert sun and heat.

Consider what color pot you would like to place them in, and plant away!

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 “silver torch” cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) is a great choice for your desert landscape or patio, because it is an eye-catching accent plant and can easily be grown in pots.

The silver-white colored spines offer a contrasting color in most landscapes. Its slender, vertical columns can reach a height of 10 feet, even in pots, and are only about 2.5 inches across, which keeps the plant neat and tidy. The plant is also easy to grow and care for.

Don’t confuse this cactus with the “old man” cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) which has an unshorn coat. I have nothing against old men, but I prefer the neat comb of the silver torch rather than the unruly shags of the old man, which turn brown and lose their appeal with age.

A great feature for hummingbird lovers: Once the cactus reaches 18 inches in height, it will begin to produce tubular, deep red flowers from February into May. (See the pic to the right.)

Tips for growing the silver torch in your potted desert garden:

  • Place this plant where it gets partial shade or morning direct sun.
  • Don’t worry about the cold. Hardy to at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the cactus will survive even lower temperatures when sheltered by a tree or other overhang.
  • Plant in a mixture of loamy/sandy soil to provide good drainage.
  • Water regularly during the summer, and sparingly during the winter months.
  • Stake the cactus if it begins to tip as it grows taller.
  • The silver torch will multiply by growing new “pups” at the base of the plant. (See below.) These will shoot up quickly as new columns. They will space themselves away from the mature main stem to create a colony of white pillars. Neat and tidy!

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

Temperatures for much of the last week have been approaching 110 degrees—as you already know!

Well, this week, we’re talking about rain. With all of the blazing sun, you might think: Why is she writing about rain? Well, we do occasionally get a summer rain shower or two in July and/or August (and as of this writing, Weather.com is reporting a 30 percent chance of precipitation on Thursday), so it’s important to be prepared, just in case, so we can help our plants get all the benefits!

Too often, desert homeowners make the mistake of thinking that a rainstorm means they can cut back on irrigating or hand-watering their pots, gardens and other plants. Don’t do that. After all:

  • One inch of rain is needed to saturate the root ball of your plants. We are unlikely to get that amount all summer, much less in one storm.
  • In the unlikely event of a deep, soaking rain (more than an inch) received over a long time period (several hours), it will only replace one day's worth of watering.
  • Pots under a ramada, tree or overhang do not receive much, if any, rain.
  • Pots in full sun with flowers and other 'soft' plants are accustomed to daily watering. A missed watering will cause your plants to be stressed—and this invites problems, including pest invasion and disease.
  • Remember, potted cacti and succulents need water, too, rain or no rain!

Some other tips:

Capture rainwater: Put out pots, cans—anything you can put your hands on—to capture rainwater. Use it to water plants under your covered areas. Micro-nutrients in the rain are great for potted plants!

Measure your rain: It’s fun to see how much rain we get at our homes in comparison to the measurements at the airport. Pick up a rain gauge at your local hardware store, and place it in a location where it will catch rain without being hampered by tree branches or overhangs. (I have mine in a pot!)

Deadhead: Continue to deadhead your annuals, and prune to create new growth and a well-shaped plant.

Fertilize: Your potted gardens every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer. Rains will support wild growth!

Jet spray: Regardless of whether it rains, spray all of your potted plants, including flowers, shrubs, cacti and succulents, every day if you are able. This will increase air circulation and deter pests and disease such as spider mites, powdery mildew, aphids, etc. As long as your plants are well established, i.e., they have been growing all summer in their pots, do not be afraid of using the jet setting on your hose. Stand about three feet from the plants.

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 people are asking what plants they can use in pots that will weather the summer sun and intense Coachella Valley heat.

Of course, you know I love our summer flowers; with the right watering and afternoon shade, they will thrive! However, many people do not want to be married to their pots and hoses; they travel a lot; or they are simply trying to be more water-conscious.

I do not recommend using plants in pots that go dormant in the winter, or need to be pruned each winter. Plants such as grasses and salvias fall into this category; although they are beautiful during the hot months, they do not do our pots justice during the winter months. Additionally, some other plants, such as bougainvillea, sages and Texas Rangers, are great in our landscapes, but do not perform well in pots. They need room to spread their roots much farther than a pot will allow.

Staying away from high-water flowers and shrubs, you can create beautiful pots with many cactuses and succulents. If you are aiming for lushness, consider the Gopher Plant (right). If you keep it well-groomed as lower branches brown up, it can be a very satisfying plant year-round. The one pictured here is in full spring bloom.

Another plant that I have mentioned before remains a favorite: the Giant Hesperaloe (below). It’s large enough to be a great specimen plant supported by a magnificent pot, and it will thrive in any full-sun desert setting.

If you don’t have as much room, try my third favorite: Pedilanthus macrocarpus, or the Lady Slipper (top). The orange-red flowers resemble slippers. This easy-to-grow succulent is fun to watch grow. It is slow-growing, so you can put it in a smaller pot which fits into an area tucked around your doors or patio. Lined up as in the picture above, they become little soldiers defending your home!

For optimal success with these and other succulents, be sure to use cactus soil when planting. Smaller pots will need water twice a week, while an extra-large pot (which you’d want to use with the Hesperaloe) will only need water every week or two. A water meter found in any garden department will help guide your water needs.

What plant might you add to this list? Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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

Too many colors in our garden all at once will create havoc or confusion in our weary, heat-laden minds. Let’s return to this month’s theme of the rule of three, and limit our choice in color combinations to odd numbers.

In this pot above, with our plant of the month, the Silver King Euonymus, we already have our silvery white and green glossy leaves. (Green is static in our combination, and we will not count it as one of the three colors.) With the white, I added strong contrasting colors: purple of Nierembergia “Purple Robe,” and the almost-black leaf of the Black Pearl Ornamental pepper plant. The white is repeated in white “Profusion” zinnias as the outside bookends of the design.

You can substitute purple scaevola or fan flowers for the Nierembergia; they will hold up better in the full desert sun. You can also use vinca for your white. You could substitute yellow for the white—with either the Profusion zinnias or purslane.

As I always say: At the nursery, group your plants on a cart, and step back from them to see if you like them together. You will be tempted to buy many other plants and flowers, but keep in mind the heat, and keep it simple. You can always go back another day!

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 on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Tolerating the Palm Springs summer heat poses a challenge to any living thing—but box-leaf shrubs (euonymus), including the Silver King (see last week’s column), are up to the challenge.

These plants enjoy good potting soil, but can tolerate less-rich soils and moderate watering. Since the shrub is easily pruned, it can serve as an excellent topiary specimen. If it has a good center trunk, it can be shaped up into a small tree over a couple years.

When you visit your nursery to select a plant, compare the size of a one-gallon plant with a five-gallon plant. Be sure whichever you choose is well-rooted: You should be able to see a few roots through the holes in the can. Since they are not super-fast growers, select the size that will give you satisfaction now!

  • Take the plant home, and water it well—water should come out through the holes in the can. Prepare your pot by placing it in its permanent location.
  • Fill your pot after covering the drainage hole with screening or a folded coffee filter. Bring the soil level up about half way, and then compress the soil.
  • Add a large handful of time-release fertilizer to the soil. Leave a cavity in which to place the root ball.
  • Carefully remove the plant from the container by turning it on its side; compress the container to loosen the root ball; and gently urge the entire plant out from the can, being cautious to not tear the stems from the roots.
  • Loosen the root ball’s mass by opening it with your hands or a small trowel. You do not need to be overly cautious at this point.
  • Place the plant into the pot and add soil, making sure the end result will place the top of the plant’s root ball about 2 inches below the top of the pot.
  • Add more soil, and continue to pack it in around the root ball. Bring the new soil level up even with the top of the plant’s root ball. Do not bury the root ball under new soil. Pack the entire mass firmly, and water in thoroughly.
  • Be sure your newly planted shrub does not dry out. During the first two weeks, you may need to water daily. Depending on sun exposure, heat levels and wind, you might be able to drop back to every other day.

Prune shrubs in the spring after flowering (inconsequential) to maintain the desired shape and to remove green shoots that will sometimes pop up. It’s proper to remove a quarter to a third of the shrub each time it is pruned, forcing new growth to come from old wood deeper inside the canopy of the shrub. This rejuvenates the shrub, adds more new growth to the canopy, and keeps it young and vigorous.

One of the main issues with the euonymus is its tendency to get powdery mildew. Although this is less likely to occur in the dry desert, reduce the likelihood by choosing a location with morning to mid-afternoon sun, and good air circulation; water it in the morning.

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 on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Looking for a new plant this summer? I recommend considering the box-leaf family of euonymus—and this month, specifically, the Silver King.

The Silver King has eye-catching, silvery white edges with glossy green leaves that add unique color and texture to your landscape.

I tend to harp about the size of our desert garden pots, because larger pots work best for plants to survive the summer furnace in your Palm Springs container garden—and to support our illustrious plant of the month, the pot should be at least 24 inches wide. This width and similar depth will provide structural support as well as insulation of the soil—and, subsequently, the root system of the plant.

Variegated forms of the box leaf family are most popular, and are among the few shrubs to maintain their variegated leaf color in the full sun during our hot summer climates. The silver tones mix easily with other desert-landscape plant materials and add a unique color and texture to your garden. The plant can serve as a stand-alone focal point, or be surrounded by almost any contrasting color for instant beauty. With the plant’s upright growth habit, several pots can be grouped to form a low screen.

As mentioned last week, the theme for this month is working your designs in odd numbers. Three pots may work best, or you can still maintain the odd number by having a single pot. They do not all have to be planted the same, and probably should not be. We would not want our “King” to get bored with his royal court, now, would we?

More on the Silver King next week.

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 on Facebook.\

Published in Potted Desert Garden