CVIndependent

Thu09192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Marylee Pangman

Yes, it’s that important time of year: It’s rose-pruning time.

You will want to finish pruning your roses by early February—preferably this week—so they can rest for a couple of weeks before our early spring tells them it’s to start growing!

Follow these steps for a healthy spring bloom! The instructions apply for all hybrid tea and Floribunda roses.

Pruning

  • Use bypass pruners that work similar to scissors. Anvil-type pruners will crush your rose stems.
  • Prune the rose bush down to a height of 8 to 12 inches. Yes, it’s a lot: This will remove half to two-thirds of the plant.
  • Remove any dead canes and small twiggy growth.
  • Remove any canes that are crossing through the middle of the bush or rubbing against other canes. This also opens up the center of the plant. You want your bush to have a “vase” shape to it.
  • Make your cuts about a quarter-inch above a bud eye that is facing out from the center of the bush.
  • Strip all leaves from the canes.

Cleanup

  • Remove the old mulch and dead leaves, and throw them in the trash—not your compost pile. Dead leaves can often have mildew spores and other diseases on them that can infest your compost pile and create problems later on.

Maintenance

  • Apply both a pesticide and a fungicide to your pruned roses and the ground around the plants. Fungus spores such as mildew can live through the winter in your soil.
  • Seal pruned canes larger than a pencil with carpenter’s glue (it’s waterproof) to protect against cane-borers.
  • Check your roses in pots to see if they need to be repotted. How low is the soil in the pot? If it is lower than three inches below the rim, it is likely that the soil has become too compacted, and the tiny hair roots can’t get the oxygen they need. Lift the entire plant out of the pot; loosen any soil around the root ball; and re-pot in fresh potting soil.

Water and feed

  • Do not fertilize your roses until mid-February.
  • Continue to water your ground-planted roses once or twice a week depending on the daytime temperatures. Be sure you are deep watering to a depth of 18 to 24 inches.
  • Roses in pots typically need to be watered more often than roses in the ground; provide them with a deep watering every four days or so.

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. Below: Hybrid tea roses after the January cutback. Sprouting!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Life in the desert is grand! Since we can enjoy gardening year-round, we can plant as little or as much as we want without worrying too much about the timing.

But now is the time, as the holiday season is upon us, to add to our home’s celebration by sprucing up our container gardens to our heart’s content. It’s yet another excuse to ‘play’ outside in our gorgeous fall weather!

You have many options to add to the holiday luster in your pots. Let’s explore some ideas; mix and match as you please.

Seasonal plantings that last all winter: Whether you lean toward permanent plantings, such as shrubs or trees; you mix it up with perennials; or you only have annuals, you can plant your holiday color scheme now. Your gardens, with the right care, will last until the heat of the early summer.

For in-sun plantings, red and white annual possibilities include:

• Petunias

• Million Bells

• Stock

• Dianthus (try the newer variety of Amazon or other super-tall dianthus)

• Geraniums (they’re part-shade, too)

• Diascia

• Nemesia

• Snapdragons (whites and burgundy; no red)

• Alyssum

• Lobelia

• Pansies and Viola (whites and burgundy; no red)

As for shade plantings, primrose and cyclamen are your best bets in full shade. Filtered sun is a great place for geraniums.

Paper whites, amaryllis and, of course, poinsettias are great nursery plants that you can use in pots during the holidays. If there is a dip in temperatures to 40 degrees or below, you will want to bring them inside.

Permanent plantings: Your existing shrubs or trees can stand alone as holiday décor. Heavenly bamboo leaves will turn red. The red-tipped photinia’s new growth is red, so if you fertilize it now, you might force it into growth, resulting in showy leaves just in time for the holidays. Pyracantha and English holly have red berries that show off right in time for your parties. Burgundy cordyline is another plant that can bring holiday cheer when decorated with other plants or objects.

Speaking of objects: Take some of your decorations, and embellish the plants. Use small holiday lights, bows, garlands, ornaments, pine cones or anything that catches your eye as you deck the halls!

Combining your ideas: You also have the opportunity to plant annuals under or around your potted permanent plants. You can simply place a potted plant (or several) on top of the soil of the larger plant and dress it with potted ivy, garland, pine boughs or anything else you have to finish it off. This is a great way to use those tender nursery plants that you might need to bring inside.

Pots on your patio or near your front door are a great place to add candles (maybe of the flameless variety) inside chimneys among the plantings. This would be a great addition when you are expecting guests!

No matter how much or how little you do, allow your child’s eye to create the look you want for the holidays. I have kept within the traditional red-and-white color spectrum here, but if you want to work with blues, all-whites, golds or silvers, look for those colors when you visit the nursery. I know you will find something that just tickles you!

Have a great holiday season. Be safe in your garden and in your celebrations.

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.

We get more than 360 days of sun in the desert, so we don’t often have gray skies—but there are some great gray- or silver-leafed plants that can jazz up our potted winter bouquets.

Almost any color scheme has space for silver. It is a contrasting color that plays a supporting role to bright jewel-tone colors, and it makes pastels pop more than they might on their own. Silver can also look like dew drops in the winter morning sun. Most silver-leafed plants can take our sun and will also thrive in the shade. I especially enjoy using gray foliage with shades of blue and purple.

Readily accessible gray or silver-leafed plants include the dusty miller; the gopher plant; and lamb’s ear. These plants not only have stunning appearances; many are also drought-tolerant.

One of my favorites is artemisia, which is a perennial of the Asteraceae family. Valued for its beautiful, slender, gray-to-silver leaves on tall arching stems or low mounds, it is pleasantly soft to the touch and critter-resistant, and it responds well to pruning.

With its soft, silvery leaves, dusty miller is typically grown as an annual foliage plant—despite the fact that it’s actually a perennial that will flower after the first year.

Your typical bedding plant of dusty miller has yellow flowers. I do not let mine complete the flowering process, because it weakens the plant in our desert heat. However, in recent years, I have found another variety of dusty miller, Velvet Centaurea, that has beautiful artichoke-like purple flowers.

Since the dusty miller truly is a perennial, you might want to see how long you can maintain it in your potted garden. Trim it to shape, and enjoy the role it plays with your flowers.

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.