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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Marylee Pangman

Volunteer plants! We often get surprised by something we did not plant that shoots up. These plants can come from previous plantings, seeds carried in by the wind, and even bird droppings.

One of the nicest surprises is when alyssum plants (above) pop up during late summer rains. We might find volunteer vinca, and some volunteer cactus in a hidden shady spot. (Feel free to move the cactus after the summer heat has dissipated. It may not be growing where you will want it to mature.) Think of the potential reward when we grow any cactus that surprises us with spring or fall blooms!

Below, you can see some summer flowers that decided to sprout up at my desert home. They came up in areas where there obviously was some water runoff from irrigation.

Enjoy!

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

Desert homeowners often complain about birds eating their potted plants and flowers. Unfortunately, I have not come up with any way of truly deterring them. Some people try bird nets, pepper spray and spinning reflective objects such as CDs, pinwheels, etc. However, birds seem pretty smart and focused when there is something they want.

The biggest surprise is going out to a pot—and finding nest full of eggs. Often, you will discover your pot has become a quail’s nest. The lucky homeowner often will ask: What should I do?!

The best idea is to keep the pot (if living plants are sharing the pot with the mother quail) slightly moist. When you water, it will scare the mama bird away, but she will come back. Quail and most other birds are very devoted to their offspring. With patience, you will be rewarded with a covey of quails following Mom and Dad until they start to fly.

Hummingbirds will build their nests in high spots, usually under some shade. These golf-ball-size nests are hard to find, but I once had one in a driftwood wind chime that I hung outside my window. The best thing to do for the hummers is give them privacy.

My least-favorite nesting bird is the dove. They seem to think that two sticks will make a nest—so you will find them making messes on ramada rafters, window ledges and outdoor speakers. I try to discourage them from coming by placing wire or chicken-coop fencing in an area in which they may have interest. However, it may be best to simply enjoy all of our feathered friends and let them raise their families.

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

Shade is a good thing during our hot summers—and some ground-cover plants offer a lot of great shade for our summer pots!

The entire vinca family (perennial groundcover vincas) will grow easily, even in our summer heat, as long as the plants are in the shade. Above, you have a picture of the beautiful gold and green variegated vinca, “Golden Illuminations.” You will have no problem keeping the plant going down the sides of the pot.

You can also find vinca major and vinca minor, with deep, glossy green leaves; one of the few differences in the two varieties is leaf size: Major leaves are about twice the size of minor leaves. Each variety also comes in a variegated style. (The variegated vinca major is pictured to the right.)

Another key difference between major and minor is the growth height. Vinca major will grow to 10 inches tall, even in pots, so it is a little more challenging to keep the plants cascading. Minors will have no problem trailing down the pot.

Keep these plants evenly moist, in shade areas (one hour of early morning sun is OK in the summer; more in the winter is fine).

In previous columns, I’ve discussed the Purple Heart Plant, or "Purple Wandering Jew" (Tradescantia pallida), seen in the first pic below. Too many desert-dwellers try to push this plant in sunny landscapes; however, it thrives in shady conditions, or filtered sun in the winter. As you see in the picture, it does grow to about 10 inches in height but will also cascade as the branches get longer. It is somewhat drought-tolerant—but you’ll still need to water it, and make sure the soil does not completely dry out.

One landscape groundcover plant that will hold up to the heat of the day all year long is the trailing rosemary, shown in the second photo below. Be sure to select a plant that is “trailing” and not the upright rosemary: The latter will grow up to 4 feet tall, while the trailing rosemary tops out at 6 inches. Plants left in pots more than two years do get somewhat woody, but they respond well to pruning. Don’t forget to use new growth in your cooking!

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

A lot of us living in the desert did not grow up here. We came from up North, back East or elsewhere on the West Coast. We may have gardened easily in those regions thanks to ample rain, plenty of moderate sun and simple conditions.

Many transplanted gardeners yearn for their gardens from back home. But now, faced with the challenges of the desert, we might give up and not even bother, once we see the thermometer hitting the 95 degree mark.

I have been sharing tips on not only surviving the desert summer, but having gardens that thrive, for almost two decades now. Today, I want to give you permission to try something different: Go ahead and plant something that you loved back home.

The photo above shows a bed of coleus. These wonderful, colorful, leafy plants are being hybridized to handle increasingly hot climates. Some even can take a moderate amount of sun. I suggest you plant them while it is still slightly cool at night (in other words … now!), and be sure to choose a location that has only morning sun. Be sure to provide them with ample water, too.

The second picture, to the upper right, shows coleus in the full sun. Imagine how this mound of plants shades the soil, keeping it cooler. The pot is about 28 inches in diameter and holds a volume of soil that will insulate the roots. In the low desert, I would advise you to place this pot in afternoon shade. It is amazing that even in this instance, it thrived!

Using these principles, tempt fate with plants that you would love to try planting again. Don’t spend your entire savings, though: Work with only a few plants at a time. For instance, it can be tough to grow marigolds all summer in the desert—unless the conditions are perfect. I once planted a bed with transplants in the early spring. As the sun made its northern journey across the horizon, the bed was positioned so it was tucked into shade from a short wall behind it. With plenty of water and good air circulation, the marigolds thrived.

Another surprise might occur when you let some of your herbs or veggies flower. Check the artichoke pictured below. Planted in a pot, the vegetable produces a flower bud, which, when picked, is a delightful delicacy. However, if you leave this flower bud on the stem and allow it to open, you are rewarded with a beautiful purple flower. Now I plant some artichokes to eat—and some to flower! Why not?!

Tips to Allow Your “Back Home” Plants to Grow in the Desert:

1. Choose some of your most resilient favorites.

2. Plant in morning-sun locations early in the summer season. It’s best to plant in pots before the nighttime temperatures consistently reach the 70s.

3. Provide consistent and abundant water.

4. Start small, and gain experience. It takes the right spot with the right conditions, a lot of love—and a little luck.

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

Looking for a gorgeous, colorful flower pot for our extensive Coachella Valley summer?

Here is a combination that will stand up to a full summer of heat. The 28-inch pot pictured above is filled with overflowing vinca in red and white; white summer snaps (Angelonia); and a Silver Queen euonymus shrub, planted for permanent stature in the center of the pot.

If you have a cool side, you can add the Million Bells (Calibrachoa), shown on the bottom right of the picture. However, it may be best-suited to fall seasons or higher elevations.

To keep these plants happy, be sure to water twice a day for the first two weeks. As the plants grow large enough to shade the soil, you should be able to reduce your watering to once a day. Feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer, and jet-spray them off at least weekly in the early morning hours.

This combination is simple to care for because it does not need much deadheading. The vinca blooms will fall off on their own. A little pruning of the summer snaps encourages them to grow to their full maturation.

Below is another picture of the same planting from the opposite side, giving you a good view of the summer snaps and Silver Queen.

Enjoy!

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

The Coachella Valley is enjoying slightly cooler than normal days and nights so far this month. However, per usual, weather systems are coming through, bringing high winds—and many of our homes have wind tunnels, of course.

There are three things you can do to protect your pots from being tipped by our at-times crazy winds.

1. A pot with a wide base, as shown above, is your best solution to pots blowing over in our high winds. Vase-shaped pots will be safest in protected patio corners or near a protected front door.

2. Only plant tall plants in well-seated pots—in other words, pots described above. They’re your best solution for any trees, tall shrubs or grasses. Thick canopies of these plants, such as the tall pampas grass shown below, will act as a sail in a strong wind, so they are best suited in grounded pots.

3. If high winds are predicted, water your pots well. The water weight will give your pot much more ballast when challenged by windy conditions.

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

It’s getting hot—and it’s really getting hot if you’re a rose bush.

Although roses grow beautifully in the desert, the heat takes its toll. Don’t expect your roses to bloom in the middle of the summer, and remember to cut the amount of fertilizer in half from June through August. This allows your rose bushes to rest during the heat of the summer.

Here are a few hints to maintain lovely rose plants over the next few months:

  • Water, water, water! Be sure the water gets down to the roots. If possible, submerge the container in a bucket of water to saturate the soil. Once well-watered, return the container to its original location.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Using an organic mulch like straw, compost, chipped bark, ground western cedar or pine needles helps keep the soil cool and retain moisture.
  • Use the hose on the gentle spray nozzle setting to sprinkle your plants several times a day for added moisture and insect control.
  • Do not prune the leaves. The leaves help shade the canes and hold moisture. Pack rats have been known to eat the new growth on bushes; if this is the case, contact a pest-control company. Always remember to deadhead when necessary.
  • You might try shade cloth during the worst heat of the day. This keeps the sun off, the heat down and the humidity up.

In September return to your regular amount of fertilizer and continue applying these nutrients until November.

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

We have had a hot start to the spring here in the Coachella Valley!

Many of you might be saying: “What spring?” The entire Southwest has been running 10 degrees above normal, jumping us into an early period of 90-degree days. I have heard too many people already complaining about the heat.

Regardless, May is a good time to get your potted garden in good shape before the real saturated heat starts. Here are some tips to guide you along your way. Think about these this month before the intensity of the heat keeps you indoors.

1. It’s not too late! You can still plant summer flowers, shrubs, cactus and succulents this month. If you have a blank-slate area of your yard, consider getting out there with a few new jumbo-sized pots and some well-started summer plants—and make a major difference in your landscape. The most important things to keep in mind if you are going to create a new potted garden this month are:

  • Plant early in the morning.
  • Make sure your plants have healthy root systems.
  • Be sure your plants’ root balls are moist before planting.
  • Water the pots fully when you are finished with your planting (except for pots with cactus).
  • Keep a close eye on your pots during the first two weeks of growth to make sure they are getting enough water. You do not want your plants to dry out as they are getting established. Once you see new growth on the plants, you know they are off to a good start.

2. Because the desert summer sun is so intense, even sun-loving plants prefer a little shade. Place pots under a lightly leafed tree, such as a mesquite tree, for dappled light.

3. Move some of your favorite pots and plantings onto a patio or into an entryway. Getting them into the shade and close to your living areas will provide them with the conditions they need for summer success. Furthermore, you will more likely keep an eye on them, because you will see them every day.

4. As you would expect, the key to success in your hot desert pots is water—consistent, plentiful water. If you water your pots with an irrigation system, set it to come on about 4 a.m., and water before the lines heat up in the sun. If you are watering by hand, water as close to sunrise as you can. Both you and your pots will love you for it. Be sure the water coming out of the hose is not hot. Water pots until the water comes out of the drain hole.

However, only water your potted succulents and cacti when the soil is almost dry. I use a water meter for this to make sure I am not overwatering them.

5. If you do lose some plants to the heat, don’t leave dead or dying plants in the pot. All that does is make you feel bad. My motto has always been: Better dirt than dead!

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

Desert homes are often built with sizable front yards and comfortable back patios. However, how many of us neglect our oftentimes unused side yards? They’re used as a thoroughfare, or an area to stash things—yet these small corridors are often an eyesore on the homeowner’s never-ending to-do list.

Here’s an idea: Transform this problem area with a beautiful potted garden!

Start with a few pots to define the areas you want to enhance. The empty side yard pictured above has a back wall, a side door with a walkway, and a wooden fence bordering the yard. This picture of the initial planting, to right, shows that a small concrete table and metal chair were added to give anyone who stops by a place to rest. Filled with morning sun, the yard begins the day on the warm side. In the afternoon, the entire yard is in the shade, as the western end of the yard is shaded by a monstrous pine tree. The pots range from 20 to 26 inches, with the largest pots for “yellow bells” and a Pittosporum (standard tree form).

In the more shady corner, below, a ground-cover plant of variegated vinca major is used as a mature trailing plant, along with a boxwood myrtle. These will stand up well to the summer heat.

As you see in the final picture below, the garden has filled in very well. Passers-by are often surprised to learn that this has all been done with pots, as the mature plantings hide some of the pots. Ground plantings are much harder to accomplish and care for—so to surprise visitors with this achievement is very rewarding!

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

Check out the repetition of color in the picture above of an early summer annual planting in a desert container garden. The red celosia and “Strawberry Fields” gomphrena, paired with yellow “profusion” zinnias and “blue” salvia, echo the rainbow colors of the glass balls settled into the rock divider between concrete pads.

We certainly have been able to enjoy all the beautiful blues of winter annuals—growers keep coming up with new hybrids of pansies, violas and lobelia to fill our gardens with wonderful blues. As we face our garden challenges of summer in the desert, many of us would love to plant some soft blues to help cool us off—at least visually.

Unfortunately, blue is next to impossible to come by in summer flowers. In cooler parts of the country, homeowners are planting all of the flowers that we had during the winter, including blues—yet we have none. Yes, some varieties of flowers might have “blue” in the name—for instance blue salvia, and blue vinca—but these flowers are really purple. (See the first pic below.) Yes, it may be a blueish purple, but it’s not blue.

Since we are so close to the California coast, we might pine over the blues in plumbago or agapanthus, which are so abundantly available there. But it’s just too hot to grow them successfully in our desert.

If you are trying for a cool shade to spend the evenings with on your patio, try some soft pinks of vincas and pentas, as pictured in the final picture below, in which the pots are nestled in afternoon shade. They will cool you off—and stand up to the heat throughout the summer.

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