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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Marylee Pangman

A substantial number of people who have moved to the desert ask me about the difficulties of growing flowers in the desert in the summer. No, check that: They tell me that you cannot grow flowers in the desert in the summer.

I admit it can be a challenge. However, with enough water, some afternoon shade and the right flowers, you can have an abundant summer garden.

The pots pictured in this column obviously include mature plantings. They were started from 4-inch plants purchased from the nursery and are the direct result of daily watering, biweekly fertilizing and careful grooming. The pots at this desert home are on a dedicated drip line and got off to a good start before the summer really started heating up.

This home is at a higher elevation than the Palm Springs desert floor, so a few of these plants may not make it all summer long in the lower elevations. However, if you use vinca and pentas. you will have a decent chance of summer success. Also, if you can place your pots where they get afternoon shade, you will greatly increase your chances. For homes without shade for pots, create shade placing a large pot with a tree planted in it on the west side of the flowering pots. You can also put some shade cloth over the plants during the really hot periods, but be sure it is anchored down, or you will eventually find it in your neighbor’s pool.

If you have not been planting a potted garden in the summer, start with just a couple of pots, so you don’t get overwhelmed with the care they need in the heat. You might have to experiment with a few plants; be sure you get the watering correct before you invest in a multitude of pots and plants.

Never say never! Think of the joy you will have celebrating your gardening success in the desert 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.

Baby boomers like me want immediate gratification in everything we do—including our gardens.

As gardeners, it goes without saying that we enjoy communing with nature. Even if you don’t personally create the landscape, there is a reason you want a garden in your life, right?

And if you don’t have a garden yet at your desert home … think about it. What could be easier than simply adding a few pots? The beauty of container gardening is that you can add one pot at a time—making for easy instant gratification. Place one by a chair … and relax for a while. I’ll bet that as you enjoy your accomplishment, you will quickly start thinking about what to add next.

Even a small outdoor area can be converted into a serene spot. Look at the picture above: Using existing pots and an existing St. Francis statue, this condominium owner turned a narrow yard into a sanctuary. Mature trees provide filtered sun throughout the day, allowing for successful gardening even in the summer heat. Volunteer flowers have popped up around the pots, grabbing for the water provided by the pot-irrigation run-off. This creates a woodland retreat; all that is needed is a comfy chair.

In the two pictures below, you are invited to leave the sun-drenched backyard of this desert home and enter a shaded side yard at another home. Neighboring Arizona ash and oleanders provide free shade for this southside patio. A walkway about 8 feet in width—an under-used thoroughfare leading from the home’s carport to the back yard—becomes a tremendous space. The addition of various seating options, a lamp and a fountain unite to create a respite from the heat—an invitation to morning coffee or afternoon wine, as well as a place to sit outside during the day to write or read.

Container gardening is simple, easy and rife for (almost) immediate gratification. Enjoy!

April Care in Your Desert Potted Garden

  • Plant summer flowers as late as possible this month. Remember, newly planted pots need daily water!
  • Establish a regular fertilizing schedule for your roses, with both organic and water-soluble fertilizers.
  • Check your irrigation this month! Review past water bills to track your usage—look for any obvious changes. Check your system for leaks.
  • Do not assume! We need an inch of rain in a day to be safe in turning off the irrigation for any length of time—and even then, pots will need water again in one to two days. In the unlikely event this ever happens, don’t forget to turn irrigation back on!
  • Adjust irrigation timers. As temperatures increase, so do the water needs of your garden. To give plants just the right amount, start by increasing the number of days per week it operates, but not the number of minutes per cycle. If your pots are not getting thoroughly wet throughout the soil volume, increase the length by one minute at a time.

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.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015 08:00

The Potted Desert Garden: April Fool's!

Tomorow is April Fool’s day. I hate having pranks played on me; here are some to look out for—or, perhaps play on someone (just not me!), if you’re a prankster yourself:

  • Visiting a neighbor’s home? Be sure to throw something into the entryway to make sure the sprinkler is not set up to turn on when it detects motion.
  • Watch out for stray “For Sale” signs in your front yard!
  • If anyone brings you a caramel apple, cut into it before sinking in your teeth—because it’s an April Fool’s trick to substitute an onion.
  • Watch out for fake flower tricksters! Before you fawn over a friend’s garden, or look in amazement over gorgeous flowers that have suddenly appeared in your garden, remember what day it is!

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 visitingwww.potteddesert.com/m.

Continuing on our theme this month of seasonal changes in our desert potted gardens: This week, we’ll visit one home’s entryway, and talk about design.

These pots are in the full morning sun and will get an afternoon siesta, as the front of the house is facing east. Let’s study these pots over several years of plantings—largely during the summer season.

One year, we planted just two colors, as you can see in the photo above: a tree form of a daisy bush, and an underplanting of red/coral geraniums. (Just how many shades of red are there?) The tree canopy will grow significantly, but the colors will remain true.

Next, as you can see in the first photo below, we have a bountiful bouquet—yet it remains simple, with pale pink vinca, yellow marigolds (which will only last until it is hot) and purple salvia. If you want to keep the yellow in the mix, add some zinnias when the marigolds die off; profusion zinnias are your best bet. The back of the pot has a perennial butterfly iris, which should shoot up some flowers by next spring.

The last duo gets to be a little wilder, with hot pink vinca, purple summer snaps (angelonia), and skyflower, a frost-tender perennial shrub (duranta erecta). If you use the skyflower, you will be pleased with the strong purple flowers all summer long, as well as the orange berries.

Your pots, with the right amount of water, can thrive all summer. If in doubt, ask someone in the know at a local nursery—or email me anytime!

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.

Feast your eyes on this potted winter garden in the desert, pictured above. A warm February really made the colors shine in this Mexican wide-urn pot. The combination of deep pink petunias, blue pansies and yellow violas is framed with fragrant white alyssum. The center butterfly iris will stay in the pot year-round, providing height and stature throughout the seasons.

The next photo of the same planting, below, shows how aggressive the alyssum can be, as it takes over the entire rim of the pot. The petunias are strong in their efforts to blast through the bed of white. In the back of the pot, it’s easy to miss the addition of snapdragons to add tall color. Now that it has warmed up, they will soon burst open with another deep rose color.

In the next picture: Switching to early summer, the winter flowers have petered out, but you can see how well the butterfly iris has grown. It even has a flower on the left side. Some of the leaves need some trimming, as they are showing signs of age, but the plant is still doing very well. Early-season marigolds, red vinca and blackie sweet potato vine have all been added to the pot, along with some purple salvia, tucked in the back to intertwine with the butterfly iris.

Now to another early summer photo. The butterfly iris outgrew the pot, and rather than dividing it, we decided to go with a new look. We have a standard yellow daisy bush underplanted with coral geraniums. We want to complement the shades of the clay pot and decided the coral would work nicely highlighted with the tall, easy care yellow of the daisy tree.

In the final picture: Unfortunately, after five years of our urn pots, they finally gave out—to the exploration of critters in this east facing front yard. We moved to a more stable pot and lower-water plants. This young winter planting includes a cordyline, a geranium and yellow pansies. The geranium is a lighter color coral that will work with the similarly colored glazed pot in Chinese red.

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.">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.

Our theme this month is watching our garden pots change through the seasons.

Planting with annuals allows us to creatively plan combinations each new season. In other words, we should never get bored with our potted gardens. Each attempt, however well-thought-out, may even surprise us as the garden grows. With perennial and annual combinations, we have the constant of a maturing long-lasting plant, along with the pop and color of annuals.

In this first picture above, we can see a boring tree trunk which marks the walkway to a main entrance of an office.

These next three photos show unique winter combinations with varying color themes. Notice how each one creates a different mood or attitude. Think how differently you might react to these plantings as you approach the potted collection. One offers bold, vibrant primary colors. Another shows off soft, pink hues which can bring calm. The third returns to a boldness, but goes away from our primary colors and turns to burgundy, which allows the yellows of the pansies and variegated wallflower to pop out.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. 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.

Would you believe something as simple as three pots can make a remarkable story in your desert garden—a story that you can change on a whim?

Pictured first, above, is a blank slate—a common, boring fence in a desert backyard. It borders a grassy area adjacent to a rocky space. It’s crying for the “right something” to be added.

Enter—a collection of three pots, with two kids perpetually playing (below). This combination quickly became a fun garden “play area”! This winter combination includes complementary colors of yellow, blue and burgundy, simply planted with pansies and two varieties of lobelia.

Next we come to summer—desert style! The trees on the east side of the pots have leafed out and provide some intermittent shade to the pots. The vinca, salvia, chartreuse and sweet-potato vine are all sun-loving plants, but anything will do better with some respite from the intense summer sun. Notice our ballplayers tucked into the leaves of the sweet potato vine!

Back to another winter season, and the out-of-the-picture eastern tree has grown, providing even more shade for the pots. A long-living perennial (butterfly iris) and a shrub (golden euonymus) have been added as permanent stature plants in the back two pots. The front pot is filled with cold-loving cyclamen.

This last picture brings us back full-circle, to another summer. You can now see the true golden colors of the euonymus as it reflects the early morning sun. Since the pots are continuing to be protected by the mature tree, more shade plants have been added, including begonia, bacopa and geraniums. The hottest pot is the back yellow one, where calibrachoa and dusty miller are added for some bold contrasting shades. The back two pots will also shade the front pot in the later afternoon sun. You can find ways to create shade by the calculated alignment of the pots in relation to the movement of the sun!

March Care in Your Desert Potted Garden

Things are starting to heat up in our Palm Springs gardens—but it is too soon to think about planting summer flowers, with night temperatures staying in the 50s.

In order to extend the life of your winter flowers:

  • Deadhead your flowers. Pinch them back to the originating stem, deep within the plant.
  • Fertilize your potted plants every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer.
  • Bare spots in your pots? Plant midseason annuals such as petunias, dianthus, osteospernum, snapdragons and marigolds.
  • Watch shallow-rooted, newly planted annuals, which can quickly dry out with spring winds.

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.

Picture this: A back patio with several unsightly posts.

We know we need to add something to make the post go away in our mind’s eye. I cannot tell you how many homes I have gone to where a homeowner has tried to deal with this very problem, and failed—often by choosing pots that are too small for the height of the post and the size of the area.

Draw a line from your back window viewpoint to the post, and then to the view beyond. The line will rise to the back wall, distant landscape or even a mountain view. The line does not go down to the base of the post—and that is where those 12-inch pots sit in the example to the right.

We all understand how we came to use those small pots: They were easiest to carry from the store. They were not expensive, or maybe they were leftovers from past potted garden attempts, or gifts from our guests with long-forgotten plants that moved on to the compost heap.

The pots you should select for your posts need to become more than a tripping hazard.

In this collection pictured below (and in the main pic above), a lonely post with two small pots is quickly transformed by simply adding one extra-large pot with a trellised vine and seasonal accent annuals. As these plants mature, they later join forces with perennial combinations with a long-lasting and colorful golden-barrel cactus.

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.

Enter the open courtyard of this desert home, and you’ll be enticed by the collection of extra large pots that break up the long line of the front façade. The home also has a long raised bed that increases curb appeal—but without the pots, people would still come up to a ho-hum front door.

By adding five pots instead of foundation plants, the homeowner here limited water use—and was able to have a lot more fun with plantings.

The 28-inch Chinese red glazed egg pots originally held pistache trees, for height and plentiful annuals that offer popping color. However, we quickly found that the trees were not the best choice for pots: With constant water and fertilizer, they grew so fast that the soil bases were not large enough to support the trees. They were quickly taken out (after two large storms threatened them and their pots) and replaced with Mexican lime trees. The original trees were planted in the back landscape.

Seasonal changes allowed the homeowner to play with different colors to bounce off the deep red tones of the pots. Yellow, white and shades of blue will all work well with these striking containers!

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.

Mototony is no fun! Therefore, lose the monotony of a boring home entryway with some personal touches—and, of course, some lovely potted plants.

We all want our homes to be unique. Well, many desert community homes have similar layouts and landscapes. So, shout-out a welcome to your guests—and keep that welcome fresh as you change it with the seasons.

Shown here are before (above) and after (below) pictures of the front of one desert home. This area is challenged by full sun, rabbits and other creatures; the plants chosen for these three pots show how you can create living beauty that is critter-resistant and water-thrifty. The plantings here include purple summer snaps, orange coreopsis, purple verbena and brocade artemisia.

What a difference several pots can make!

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.