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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Marylee Pangman

After last week’s storms, temperatures in the valley have heated back up. Perhaps your potted gardens are looking shabby or tired. There are several things you can—and should—do to care for your potted gardens this month.

Here are some tips to get you deeper into the desert’s true fall season.

Deadhead: Continue to deadhead your annuals.

Prune: Prune any leggy plants to create new growth and make for a well-shaped plant. Prune your tomatoes by two-thirds to encourage new growth and fruit-set for the fall. If you haven't pruned back your geraniums, do so now.

Jet spray: I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it many times again: Spray all of your potted plants, including flowers, shrubs, cacti and succulents—everything—every day if you are able. This will increase air circulation, and deter pests and disease such as spider mites, powdery mildew, aphids, etc. Do this in the early morning.

Fertilize: Treat your potted gardens every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer. Any rains we receive will support wild growth!

Capture rainwater: Use it to water plants under your covered areas. Micro-nutrients in the rain are great for potted plants!

Speaking of rain (and there’s a chance of some in the forecast this week): Too often, desert homeowners make the mistake of thinking that a storm means they can cut back on irrigation or hand-watering. However, it has to rain at least one inch in order to saturate the root ball of your plants—and even a deep soaking rain (more than one inch) received over a long time period (several hours) will only replace one day's worth of pot watering.

Two more things: First, it’s time for your September rose cutback. This applies to all hybrid teas, minis and floribundas. (See the picture below!)

  • Remove the top third of your roses and dead canes.
  • Selectively prune your climbers, doing a lesser cutback.
  • Clean up all the dead and fallen leaves, old mulch and debris.
  • Reapply bark mulch around the roses.

Second, be sure to fertilize your citrus this month. Fertilize according to the instructions on the package, and be sure to water in deeply.

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

Summer snapdragons are some of my favorite summer flowers.

I am always looking for something that will give me height in my desert potted gardens and that will last. Summer snaps, or Angelonia angustifolia, do just that. In the photo above, summer snaps are planted with white profusion zinnias and trailing scaevola. They are rapidly trying to take over a “silver king” euonymus shrub which will take the shade they provide just fine.

Summer snapdragons (not related to the common snapdragon) have appeared in desert nurseries over the last few years. The flowers are relatively small, but once they take off in the mid- to late-summer, the masses of flower spikes gather to give wonderful supporting color to the other flowers in your pot. Topping out at 20 to 24 inches tall, these plants wave their cool colors above all others and seem to love the early fall breezes.

Summer snaps come in white, purple, lavender and pink. You will most often find purple and white in big-box nurseries, and a larger array of colors in your local nurseries. You will not find them in hot colors like reds, oranges or yellow; instead, they add a cooling element to your garden.

These plants are actually perennials, so in our warmer desert areas, you will be able to leave them planted and have them come back easily in the early spring. When they begin to look leggy or spindly, cut them back to just above the soil line, and plant your winter flowers around them.

Planted in six hours of sun, summer snaps need to stay well-watered during the growing season and need an application of a water-soluble fertilizer every other week. If they slow down their flower production, cut your fertilizing back to every three weeks, and be sure they are not getting over-watered. If they start sprawling mid-summer, cut them back by about half.

Summer snaps really do not need deadheading, so they are an easy plant to grow. You can add them to a pot anytime during the summer (yes, even in mid-September), so if you have not planted any yet, and you have a bare spot in the back or center of a pot, see if your nursery has some—and pop one in! Try to choose a cloudy day, or plant it in the late afternoon when the temperatures start dropping for the evening. 

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

Many of us became desert-dwellers because of the year-round sunny days and beautiful views. However, one of the first things I ask many desert-dwellers is how they use their outdoor spaces (patio, courtyard or pool). Way too often, the answer is, “Actually, we don’t use it!”

We’re too busy. It’s too hot. It’s too messy.

Well, the summer and the oppressive heat are starting to wane—so now is the time to create an outdoor space you love, and then get in the habit of using it!

If you’re not using your outdoor space, you may want to rethink your current arrangement. If your budget doesn’t allow for a major renovation to create your special oasis, a potted garden can provide you with an affordable solution that is beautiful and inviting year-round.

Pots with trellis and vine features can be used to “build” walls. You can also use trellises to form barriers from things you do not want to see (including the neighbors!).

For added interest, consider using a colorful mix of flowers and perennials to create a hummingbird garden, or select a beautiful hand-crafted container and a specimen plant to create “living art.”

As I mentioned above, transforming your patio does not have to be expensive. First, explore things you already have. Look for seating, pieces of art and accessories that will work outdoors. If you do not have containers or trellises in the right size, invest in a few that will help you build the space you want. Arrange the different pieces in a way that feels good to you—and you have the makings of your own outdoor getaway!

I suggested to one of my clients, who has some beautiful potted plants outdoors, that they give themselves an “at home” holiday. Even though these clients are retired, they are so caught up in “doing” that they often forget the very reason they moved to the desert: the lovely weather. I suggested that they take a weekend to relax: Turn off the phones; spend time in the pool; curl up with a good book—the very things they might do at a resort. With a little imagination, creativity and a couple of comfortable chairs, you can create a wonderful, cozy seating area, without investing in bricks and mortar, to enjoy on your “staycation.”

Studies have proven that living with plants and flowers is good for our health, and can soothe our souls. Share your special space with a friend or loved one, and it can be the catalyst for great conversation and relaxation. I promise you: It’s worth a small investment of time and money to create an area that calls to you. With the proper care and nourishment, that area will always be there for you.

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

I really like planting yuccas in our desert container gardens. Most are frost-hardy, easy-care and low-water, and they’re great architectural specimens.

Among yucca plants, the variegated Spanish dagger is definitely one of my favorites.

The green Spanish dagger is common to nurseries and big-box stores. Unlike other yuccas, these plants have leaves that bend in the breeze, and drape like a fountain spray. But be careful, as the ends still have those sharp points. (Remember the name dagger!) In other words, keep them away from high-traffic areas, including kids’ runways.

Most often in nurseries, you will find the variegated variety in green, with silver margins. Sometimes, you might find rose-colored margins, or even yellow ones. However, don’t confuse this plant with the variegated dracaena—that plant cannot take any sun!

Yucca gloriosa do well in containers, but since the head of the plant can become top-heavy, you should plant them in a container with a wide, stable base. After a while, the plant may sprout another trunk near the base, adding more interest and structure to the plant (while challenging you with a balancing act if planted in the wrong pot!). The variegated Spanish dagger is best planted in dappled shade, in an area with good air circulation. If it’s stuck in a corner, spider mites and other pests that like to hide inside the throat of the leaves may make themselves at home.

When treated with the love and care it deserves, the Spanish dagger will show off its “attitude”! You might be tempted to surround its bare trunk base with other succulents, but I suggest instead adding some medium-to-large rocks to finish the look and help with drainage.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

Elephant’s food, or Portulacaria afra, is a wonderful plant for desert gardens. Best planted in a pot that gets afternoon shade during our hot months, Elephant’s food is a pleasure to grow.

They’re easy-care, low-water and interesting to shape. I have even seen some plants that are nurtured into small, multi-stemmed tree and bonsai forms. In the full, green-leafed variety, the contrast between the deep green leaves and the reddish brown stem is lovely.

The inset in the picture above shows the variegated type, which brings a different curiosity to the plant.

A tender succulent like elephant’s food may suffer from freeze damage when winter temperatures fall below 30 degrees. No worries; you can bring them inside and place them in a brightly lit corner of your home.

In pots, plants will range from 15 inches to 4 feet tall, depending on how you trim them.

Elephant’s food gets its name from its origin in Africa: Portulacaria afra can make up 80 percent of an elephant's diet. A group of elephants will strip all the leaves and smaller branches of a stand in a single feeding. Branches that an elephant breaks off quickly re-root and establish new stands of plants. In other words, it’s a great plant to propagate and share with friends or empty pots.

Have fun with this plant! It grows quickly and is resilient to the elements—and trimmed or broken branches will swiftly grow into new plants when planted inside or 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. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s amazing what nature extends to us.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

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

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

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

Now for those tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.