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We’ve been talking about roses all month—and I know some of you out there without roses in your potted desert garden are wondering if you should take the leap.

If you are just starting out, begin with a few rose bushes, and follow these instructions. You will develop what works for your home and your home’s micro-climate over time. You can make it as simple or complicated as you'd like.

Rose Selection

  • Buy only No. 1 grade roses, as these have the best chance to get established and survive our summer heat. Buy from a local nursery.
  • Make sure each bush has three strong, healthy canes. Reject those with fewer canes or roots that are spindly.
  • Roses should be potted by late March to get established before the summer heat.

Site Selection

  • Roses do best with at least six hours of sun a day. Eastern exposure is ideal to provide protection from the hot afternoon sun.
  • Plant near other roses, large trees and shrubs to provide added humidity and shade to the pots themselves, so they remain cooler.
  • Check the pot and soil for good drainage.
  • If you’re planning a bare-root rose, soak the entire bush for 24 hours in a 32-gallon trash can.

Watering

  • It is almost impossible to overwater roses if they have proper drainage. You want the roots to grow deeply into the pot, so be sure the pots are at least 20 inches tall. Roots near the surface are exposed to the desert heat and may dry out. Deep watering also serves to flush out salts which can accumulate in the root zone, causing brown leaf tips.
  • When temperatures are below 90 degrees, water potted roses deeply three to four times a week.
  • In the winter months, watering is needed only two to three times a week.
  • When temperatures rise above 90 degrees, water potted roses daily.
  • Add a 2-inch layer of mulch (use medium-size bark chips, or under-plant the rose with a thick, low-growing plant or flower) to conserve the moisture in the soil and keep roots cooler—prevent weeds sprouting.

Insect control

  • Jet-spray two or three times a week, above and beneath the foliage.

Fertilizing

  • Roses are heavy feeders. There are many good fertilizers that will produce beautiful roses. You want to fertilize on a regular schedule to provide your roses with the best conditions possible, and to promote good health, which can ward off pests and disease. To avoid burning roots, water before and after you fertilize.
  • To receive monthly fertilizing tips, sign up for the Potted View at www.potteddesert.com.

Thanks to the Tucson Rose Society, the Desert Rose Society and the Mesa-East Valley Rose Society for their resources which were used in this article.

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., and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

No matter where we live, if we want roses, we want them in bloom—and the benefit of growing roses in the desert is that we can enjoy those blooms 7 or 8 months a year!

Roses are perceived as a delicate plant requiring a lot of work—but this does not need to be the case here in the Coachella Valley.

Trust me: Roses can take the heat. It's intense sunlight that will really stress them out. There are two steps you can take on a regular basis to help them survive the summer and get ready for fall blooms:

1. Plant them in a spot where they only get morning sun. They need eight hours of sun or so to thrive. When roses are planted on the east side of your home, thanks to our early rising sun, the roses can be in the shade by around noon, and will do very well!

2. Water them—deeply, even twice a day in intense heat, with the second watering happening before 6 p.m. Even a brief hose shower will help them cool off. Think of the misters at your favorite alfresco restaurants that help during the summer.

We do need to practice some patience over those hot months, though. Our bushes will look withered, and the few blooms that are pushed out may look scrawny. The best thing to do for your roses—beyond giving them shade and plenty of water—is to leave the burned leaves and the dead blooms on the bush. Every bit of shade does the plant good.

And when fall arrives, the roses will reward you with a fanfare of blooms lasting well into December.

There are many, many roses that do well in the desert. Here is a list of 10 to check out at your local nursery.

  • Saint Patrick
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Julia Child
  • Peace
  • Fragrant Cloud
  • Double Delight
  • Rainbow Knock Out
  • Sally Holmes
  • Fourth of July
  • Mr. Lincoln (pictured below)

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., and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

One of the biggest gardening misconceptions desert newcomers have is that it’s hard to grow roses here. In fact, roses can do well in the desert; I grow beautiful roses at my home, and they are no harder to grow and care for than citrus trees and seasonal potted annuals.

The practice of growing roses in pots at desert homes has grown significantly in the past decade. It makes sense; potted roses offer ease in planting and maintenance, as well as flexibility in placement.

Here are some tips on enjoying great roses in the Coachella Valley.

Pot Size

When it comes to pots for roses, bigger is often better!

For roses 4 feet tall or more (such as floribundas, climbers, standard tree roses and hybrid teas), choose pots that are a minimum of 24 inches in diameter, and 22 to 24 inches deep. Roses need a lot of root room.

Roses less than 4 feet tall (ground cover and miniature varieties) will do best in pots that are at least 16 to 18 inches in diameter, and equally tall.

As for putting tiny or cascading roses in small pots and/or hanging baskets: It may be fun to try, but they’ll be quite difficult to keep watered during the summer!

Pot Materials

Terra Cotta and other clay pots; whiskey barrels; glazed ceramic pots; and double-walled lightweight pots are all suitable for roses.

Check to see that each pot has a hole in the bottom for draining. If there isn’t one, drill a one-inch hole.

Be sure there is air space under the pot by raising the pot off your deck, your patio or the ground with pot feet, bricks or a pot stand. Do not place the pot directly into a saucer.

Planting

Nurseries will be happy to help you select an ideal potting mix that allows for good drainage, plenty of air space and moisture retention. I also recommend adding super phosphate to help with root development, as well as a slow-release fertilizer.

  • Place a folded coffee filter or a window-screen square over the hole in the bottom of the pot to allow drainage, but retain the soil.
  • Gently remove the rose from the pot in which it came, and untangle matted roots. You want to encourage the roots to move out in the new container.
  • Add potting mix to bottom of the new pot so that the top of the root ball will rest within a couple of inches of the rim.
  • Add super phosphate and fertilizer into the potting soil.
  • Add potting mix around the root ball, pressing the soil firmly as you work. The final fill line should be no more than two inches from the rim of the pot and level with the top of the root ball. (If you over-fill the pot with soil, you will lose soil when you water.)
  • Mulch with a 1-to-2-inch layer of compost or bark to conserve moisture and keep weeds from sprouting in the pot.

If You’re Planting a Bare-Root Rose

  • Form a small mound of moistened potting mix in the bottom of the pot.
  • Place the plant on the mound, fanning the roots out in a circle to cover it.
  • Add potting mix to fill around the roots.
  • Level the rose so the crown (the graph of the rose to its root stock) is 1 to 2 inches below the rim of the pot.
  • Fill the pot up to the rose’s crown.
  • Water thoroughly, but gently, to settle the soil.

Caring for Your Potted Roses

Place your rose in a sunny and airy location that gets at least six hours of full sun and some afternoon shade. Space pots about 2 feet apart (to reduce the possible spread of fungus-related rose diseases).

Potted roses will need daily deep watering in the summer, and watering every two to three days in the winter. Each time you water, you should see water draining from the bottom of the pot. This is good: It reduces salt buildup in the soil.

Add soil if needed. Fertilize and prune established potted roses the same as you would ground-planted roses.

Your Shopping List:

  • One rose plant of your choice.
  • Potting soil.
  • Pot with a hole.
  • Pot feet or something else to lift the pot.
  • Coffee filter.
  • Time-release fertilizer.
  • Super phosphate (fertilizer).
  • Bark mulch.

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Chances are, you have two problems with your tropical potted plants: Whether they're planted inside or outside in your shade garden, you might have pesky flying gnats; or you are losing plants more often than you should.

Well, both of these situations are caused by loving our plants to death—in other words, we overwater them.

We live in the desert, right? So all plants need a lot of water, right? Not necessarily so.

Signs of overwatering include:

  • Yellowing leaves that remain soft and fall off the plant.
  • Soggy roots.
  • Smelly soil.
  • Those aforementioned gnats.

In the desert, most true tropical plants—such as gardenias, camellias and what we know as house plants—need to be grown in the shade, or inside during the colder seasons. Plants grown in the shade do not have hot, direct sun to dry them out, so they will stay moist for much longer than those in the sun.

The larger the pot, the more water it will hold. If you stick your finger in the soil, you may feel that the top 4 inches are dry—but think about where the root system is for your plants. An established plant in a 12-to-16-inch-tall pot will have roots down 8 inches. A water meter can be helpful to test the moisture in the root zone. When using one, you will only want to water when the meter is registering toward the dry side.

General watering guidelines:

  • Outdoor potted shade plants need water in the summer once or twice a week. In the winter, a watering every seven to 10 days will be ample.
  • Many indoor plants only need to be watered every three to four weeks. Really!

As for Those Pesky Gnats

Those gnats are typically fungus flies. They'll appear after you’ve overwatered your plants, since the eggs hatch with excessive soil moisture. Allowing the soil to dry between waterings usually eliminates the problem.

You can purchase yellow sticky traps at hardware stores or nurseries to eradicate the adults—but the larvae and eggs remain in the soil, so you’ll still have to isolate the plant and let the soil dry out to prevent the maturation and production of more flies. The cycle from egg to fly is three weeks—so watering every three to four weeks makes sense.

Should you have a chronic problem, check with an exterminator about treating your soil. My exterminator eliminated my pest problem by using a solution that’s nontoxic to plants. Remember, the eggs of fungus flies are present in basically all soil, so appropriate watering is key.

Important: Take action as soon as you see one or two gnats. If you wait, you’ll have a much larger problem.

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

I was having a tough time getting any plants to grow in a certain deeply shaded spot a couple of years ago. One of my former staff members suggested getting a ZZ plant.

I said: “A Zee Zee? What is that?” Well, it turns out that the ZZ is a newer “old plant” that is very easy to grow—indoors or out!

Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a member of the aroid family, and was originally grown in Africa. It is a tropical plant with a tuberous root and shiny leaves, a tolerance for low light, a resistance to pests, and the ability to thrive on water—or survive without watering for weeks. In other words, it may be the world's first foolproof houseplant.

The "ZZ" can grow to 18 to 36 inches—and I have seen ZZ plants just as wide. The "ZZ" is a bit more expensive than other house plants; you can find it at some of the local nurseries and the chains like The Home Depot, in various sizes (and prices).

"ZZ" plants will adapt to nearly any light condition—except total darkness. I have placed them near a bright window, under a lamp and in dark corners. The foliage grows from a bulb or tuber that stores water. Let the soil dry out completely between watering: A "ZZ" plant prefers to be on the dry side. If it starts dropping leaves, it probably is too dry. The stems may also get “wrinkly.” Your plant will send out new growth when regularly watered—but give it too much water, and you'll not only have leaves turning yellow; the tuber will begin to rot. In fact, about the only way to kill this plant is to over-water it.

Feed bi-monthly, and you can propagate by dividing the tubers. Mature branches tend to droop or fall as they get heavy with water in their thick stems. If unsightly, you can always cut those branches out. New shoots will arise from the interior of the plant.

Be warned: The sap of the plant is toxic, and no part of the plant should be eaten. Keep it away from children and pets, and wash your hands or wear gloves when you are pruning it.

As is the case for many houseplants, the "ZZ" plant does fine outdoors as well, especially in a mostly shady spot—but don't take it out until spring temperatures are consistently in the upper 50s, and make sure you bring it back in when fall temperatures are around the same mark, unless it’s in a well-protected area.

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Deadhead your flowers this week, and if you still have summer vinca, trim them back to new growth.

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

I was very fortunate in 2013. Not only was I able to finally marry my partner of 20 years; we were able to spend our honeymoon, including the holidays, on Kauai, in Hawaii. We enjoyed every minute of our time on the island.

As I tried to write this column from my lanai (porch)—looking out at a tropical natural garden and the distant ocean, as I listened to the birds and the waves crashing—I thought about how to bring a touch of the tropics back home to the desert.

Freezing nights are rare in the Coachella Valley, so we are able to stretch our plant choices a little further than those in many other desert areas—as long as we can provide most of our plants with heavily filtered sun or afternoon shade.

The south side of my home, with an 8-foot-wide side yard, is shaded by my neighbors’ towering oleanders. This is really the walkway to the backyard, but I was able to turn the side yard into a mini-oasis which tends to be about 10 degrees cooler than other areas of my landscape.

Many plants that we have come to know as house plants are actually tropical plants that cannot survive the cold temperatures that most of the United States experiences; we are familiar with names like pothos, dracaena and philodendron. In full shade, and with cold protection if the temperatures go below 40, these plants can offer tropical wonders for our patio oasis.

Plants that will tolerate more sun (but still will want afternoon shade most of the year) are the Rose of Sharon, hibiscus, sago palm (Cycas revoluta), daylilies (which offer clumps of arching sword-like leaves and can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous, depending on the species), agapanthus, butterfly iris, cordyline and coleus.

Full sun plants include many of our palm trees; the entire Yucca family (many of which are very tropical in appearance); and many broad leafed agaves.

Design tips:

  • Plan your tropical garden to be near your home, perhaps as part of your seating area. The majority of the plants require heavily filtered light; since you can appreciate similar conditions, why not make the garden part of your outdoor living area?
  • Plan the flooring to be as cool as possible. Non-reflective colors in earthtones or blue hues work well. You might consider adding an outdoor carpet to the seating area.
  • Think in levels or layers of plantings, as you would see in a tropical garden. Low plantings around the seating areas in low pots will do well; they’re also good for bordering walkways. Then add mid-height plants in taller pots or pots up on pedestals, as well as pots with trellises for some vines.
  • Further back—toward walls or away from the patio—think about larger plants and trees, while still trying to keep the layered effect of the three heights of plants. A couple of citrus or palm trees would work well, as would an evergreen pistache tree, with a mixture of hibiscus and a blue-leafed agave such as the Agave colorata. Definitely keep in mind your bougainvillea and birds of paradise, both tropical (shade) and Mexican (sun)!
  • Consider adding a water feature to your garden. It will add a lot to your tropical paradise in the desert.

Aloha!

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Many of us attempt to make New Year’s resolutions. In our gardens, we can make many different kinds of resolutions, such as:

  • To work consistently in the garden, deadheading, planting and fertilizing.
  • To add a water feature.
  • To create a new garden.
  • To add a new patio or shade area to the garden.
  • To create a sustainable garden with vegetables and herbs.
  • Etc, etc, etc!

However, I’d like to offer a suggestion for your garden-related New Year’s resolution: Resolve to simply spend more time in your garden or on your patio, enjoying the world around you.

So often, when I speak to my fellow desert denizens and ask them how they use their patio, the answer is heartbreaking: I don’t.

We have chosen to live in this beautiful desert climate, and the winter months are a perfect time to be outside and take in all that you have done to create a beautiful environment around you.

Please: Enjoy this easy resolution for many years to come!

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Take this week off from the work of gardening, and simply practice your new resolution to enjoy!

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

In recent weeks, I’ve offered several ideas about pot combinations, and have talked a little about design within the pots. However, I have not yet discussed the basics of container design.

There are three basic principles when you are combining plants within a container: You need a vertical element, a mass or featured element, and filler elements, which might be cascading.

I always think of the vertical plant as one that provides the stature or structural backbone. The upright plant will be the tallest in the pot, of course. I often use a perennial, but some tall annuals can work as well. This plant is at the back or at the center of the pot, depending on your focal points.

Speaking of the focal point: The mass or featured plants should be placed at that focal point. They are what draws the eye to the pot, either with strong flower color or foliage; you want large flowers or leaves to make a bold statement.

Filler or trailing plants finish the look off, generally in the front of the pot and/or on the sides. I love to find successful trailing plants that cascade over the pot, covering it to some degree. If the trailing plants have flowers, you want them to be of a smaller size and in contrast to the focal-plant colors and texture.

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: If you have petunias, the long growth period can make them leggy. Cut them back to where you see new growth, and they will last nicely for another two to three months!

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Do you have a front door that is crying out for some easy-to-care-for color? This pot arrangement might just do the trick.

Nurseries should be spilling over with begonias, so look for some in gallon containers that are already 8 inches tall. Get three of them, along with some variegated Vinca major (either gallon or six packs is what you will most likely find). This vinca works especially well in pots as a trailing plant. You will need to remove stubborn stems that insist on growing vertically, but soon, you will have a nice cascading effect for your pot.

These plants do nicely with a strong hose spray to deadhead and keep powdery mildew and insects at bay. Also, spray with a water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks for nice growth.

As for temperatures: The begonia is cold-sensitive, but will be fine if kept in a protected area. I have had this pot continue for three years!

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Deadhead and fertilize all potted flowers this week!

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

Here’s an idea for a pot that you can put outside of your living-room window that’s full of red, white and green cheer.

First, your shopping list:

  • One 16-to-20-inch diameter pot
  • One one-gallon butterfly iris or fortnight lily
  • Three 4-inch red cyclamen
  • Two 4-inch white bacopa

Choose a pot that is at least 16 inches in diameter. Another 2-4 inches is even better; it depends what you want to use for the holidays. Fill the bottom of the pot with your favorite potting soil (after making sure you have a good drainage hole, and that you cover it with a screen or coffee filter); add some time-release fertilizer.

Decide if the pot will be seen just from one side or all around, and plant in the following order, back to front, or center out.

First, take the butterfly iris out of its nursery container; be sure to loosen up the roots, as they are usually packed. A fortnight lily will work just as well, but as the plant matures, the leaves become much broader, and I prefer the “grassy” appearance of the iris.

Plant the iris in the back or center of the pot. Next, plant the cyclamen (if planting front to back, you only may need three) closely around the iris. Then take your bacopa, keeping the trailers on the outside of the pot; fill in between the cyclamen. Add soil as needed to snug up.

Place the pot on a shady covered patio in front of your window to enjoy, indoors and out! It would look very nice on a stand or table, closer to eye level. You will find you only need to water the pot every few days, as all of these plants have low to moderate water needs once established.

If you feel in a decorating mood, you can add some holiday décor to the pot; put some glass beads around the base with some blue-gray river rock; or add a couple more smaller pots with some white or red cyclamen in them. If you find you have any dirt showing around your plants, add some sphagnum moss to cover it, and dress the pot up more.

Each of these plants are perennials; however, if it gets too cold, the bacopa may need to be treated as an annual. I have bacopa growing in my carport yard year-round, and some of the plants have lasted for three years now! The cyclamen will stop flowering when it gets hot, but you can plant something else around it in the summer and then spice up the fertilizer in the fall to get it to start flowering again.

Eventually, your iris will need to be divided—probably in two years. Then you can add it to another pot.

If you are having a holiday party, feel free to bring the pot inside, but be sure to get it back outside soon. You don’t want to leave it inside more than a day.

Enjoy! Keep this pot going, and it will work for Valentine’s Day, too!

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Water your potted cactus deeply with a water soluble fertilizer at half strength (of the recommended directions on the fertilizer container).

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.

Published in Potted Desert Garden

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