CVIndependent

Tue10222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Marylee Pangman

Approaching an entrance for the first time can be intimidating. Do we have the right house? Is this the right door? If you couple this with a prickly “attack” cactus, that can only to your visitors’ apprehension!

We do need low-water plants in pots near our entryways. It can be hard to run irrigation to these pots; we do not want to have water runoff there; and the potential for stains around the pots is troublesome. Therefore, cactuses or succulents make sense.

However, we have a choice when it comes to these plantings. There are many succulents that can grace a front entry or courtyard gate without an unwelcoming prickly persona!

The following list includes some of my favorite plants that do well all year long in the desert. Those that prefer afternoon shade are marked with an asterisk. A double asterisk demands full shade. Note that some succulents put off a white milky sap that may be irritating to the skin and can be dangerous if ingested. Please handle these and other cactuses/succilents with gloves and caution.

  • Totem Pole Cactus Lophocereus schottii monstrose
  • Toothless Desert Spoon Dasylirion quadrangulatum
  • Spineless Pricky Pear Cactus Opuntia cochenillifera 
  • Red Yucca Hesperaloe and Giant Hesperaloe
  • Moroccan Mound Euphorbia resinifera
  • Lady Slipper Pedilanthus macrocarpus
  • Pencil Cactus or Firesticks Euphorbia tirucalli (pictured below; beware of toxic sap)
  • Elephant’s Food* Portulacaria afra
  • Spanish Dagger* (variegated or green) Yucca gloriosa
  • Jade** Crassula ovata

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.

Many of us have gates at the front of our desert homes. They are nice to have, as they can keep the critters out while also creating a beautiful courtyard that serves as the first entry to our home.

An adorned gate, of course, crafts a welcoming message to your guests as they approach your home. Beyond that, however, you may not think of this area as a space that needs added décor; after all, we don’t live out there.

Often, a sidewalk or driveway leads right up to the entry way, limiting choices on what can be placed at the wall or gate. A container garden at the front gate can offer a living welcome to all who come to your home—including yourself, every day!

Consider the case of this home, where the gate and entryway were essentially a blank slate. To the left of the gate is the driveway, leading to the garage. There is landscaping to the right of the gate on a downhill slope. This situation was perfect for a trio of pots, which added color and curb appeal to the entry.

Planted in these winter pots are Euryops, Snapdragons, Dusty Miller and an Artemesia. The tall pot on the right has similar plantings, along with a Pyracantha in full bloom.

Our next picture shows the summer story of this gate. The Euryops and Artemisia are still growing after a winter pruning. Because these pots are western-facing, a Lantana variety has been added, for low water usage and to deter critters. You can see the Pyracantha is just about ready for a pruning that will guide it up toward the arch of the gate.

Unfortunately, the homeowner started having a serious battle with various animals—who are coming down into residential areas more due to the drought—that thought of the plants as possible food. At first, the homeowner they added fencing to the pots, but that became an eyesore real fast.

Because of the fencing issues and the water/calcium stains that were developing on the aggregate concrete, we finally decided to switch the previous pots out with colorful blue pots that were rectangular in shape, to hug the entry walls. We added Red Yucca and Golden Barrels, enhancing the front gate with an easy-care invitation to enter.

Welcoming, isn’t it? See the pics 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. 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.. You can also follow The Potted Desert at facebook.com/PottedDesert. The Potted Desert Garden appears every Tuesday morning at CVIndependent.com.

Three pots filled with winter plants added a lot to the entryway.

During the summer, a mix of plants both remaining and new created a nice look.

When animals started treating the plants as food, fencing helped—but was rather unsightly.

The final, lovely solution: Rectangular blue pots with Red Yucca and Golden Barrels.

With so many new varieties and hybrids of flowers being introduced each year, we can have great fun putting unique combinations together. When you discover something unique, don’t hide it among many other plants, colors and textures. Let it take center stage!

Color can be affected by many factors in our landscape. Reflections from surroundings can change or enhance colors, as you can see above. Flowers with complementary colors will appear stronger or brighter when placed together. (Remember that complementary colors are across the color wheel from each other.)

Plants in the shade will appear darker in color. The weather, clouds and sun will change the color of plants as well. Therefore, when we consider color in our planting designs, we need to think about not only the combination of different plants/flowers, but also the effect of the surroundings on the plants. For instance, a dark green wall behind green plants will all blend into nothingness.

Add our intense sun and heat to fuchsia bougainvillea, and they will blind you with brilliance in the spring, and become much more subdued in the summer heat. In the picture above, the true color of the flowers (bracts) is what you will see in the summer heat, while the color reflected in the water is the color during cooler times.

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.

Many of us justifiably take great pride in our desert homes. We have invested a lot of time and money to get that perfect look.

I am often asked about styles of containers and materials that are appropriate for planting in the desert. I never recommend plastic pots, as they do not have a suitably thick wall to help insulate the soil in the desert’s intense sun.

But just as important: Plastic pots do not represent our homes with the richness that we deserve!

At any given moment, how do your potted plants look? Are they healthy and inviting to both you and your guests? I have always had a rule: Better dirt than dead. I would rather take the dead or almost-dead plants out of pots and groom the soil until I can pick up some new plants; it’s much better than leaving sad plants in place until you “get around to it.”

Anything we do around our homes is a reflection on us. This applies to businesses, too. How many times have you gone into a restaurant or office and seen sickly or dead plants at the entrance. Even if we don’t have a conscious thought about it, our subconscious mind says: If they cannot take care of a couple pots, how are they going to take care of me?

Don’t wait until you “get around to it!” Go out and get some plants to replace those dead ones, like that poor tree below. Do it today!

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.

The Coachella Valley is running about five degrees warmer than normal—so you can go ahead and start removing your spent winter flowers, and moving toward summer plants.

Here are some other March tasks for the “Honey Do” list, for the Honey in your household:

  • Check the location of all pots and furnishings to make sure they’re out of wind tunnels.
  • If you have not fertilized your citrus, get it done this week!
  • Check your irrigation system. Be prepared to increase the watering frequency as temperatures continue to warm up.
  • Clean up all ground debris—especially from leaf loss and cactus demise.
  • Apply a pre-emergent if you have not already done so. Presuming the weather remains dry, follow the directions for watering this in. This will help prevent weeds from popping up. Do not use where you are planting seeds or growing vegetables and herbs!
  • If you somehow avoided the rainstorm a couple of weeks ago, water your potted cactus. For a softer, contemporary look, plant a few slipper plants (see below) in a series of pots or in a raised planter bed to create an easy-care border.

It's also time to start your potted rose fertilization schedule. Be sure to water well the night before each step. Important: If you have newly planted roses, DO NOT fertilize until after their first bloom!

  • For the first week, use an organic fertilizer; scratch it into the earth and then water.
  • Two weeks later, use a water-soluble fertilizer.
  • Use a fish emulsion once per month to help get microorganisms growing.
  • Spray your roses with water! Spring brings aphids, thrips and mildew to your plants. Use the jet-spray setting on the hose in the morning, twice per week, to prevent unwanted critters and mold.

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 on Facebook.

Want to improve your landscaping without spending a lot of money? Consider this: shimmering reflections of your existing landscaping, as well as a few artfully arranged container gardens.

Why not double the intrinsic value of your landscape by using your pool as a mirror that reflects your plantings year-round? Container gardens are perfect for this: You don’t need to retrofit new beds and planting areas; all you need to do is add some appropriately sized pots close to the water’s edge, and gain the look immediately.

Consider using some brightly colored pots, and then plant in them flowers/plants with one or two colors to gain the greatest reflective value in the pool. To keep your pool-cleaning from becoming more challenging, you will also want to choose flowers that do not readily drop. Some annuals that hang on to their blooms are Scaevola (fan flower—trailing), Pentas (tall upright) and Gazania (low perennial). I also recommend searching out some of the more interesting varieties of Lantana. They will thrive in the heat and hold up well all summer long.

Some heat-happy succulents and other plants to consider:

  • Giant Hesperaloe. (Pictured to the right.)
  • Red Yucca.
  • Whipple's Yucca.
  • Bougainvillea—Torch Glow. (You don’t want to use other varieties, as you will constantly be removing the petals from your pool filter. The Torch Glow hangs on to its blossoms much better.)

What about the heat, you ask? You can beat the heat with some good planning. It’s best to place your pots on the south or west side of the pool. West-side pots should ideally have something behind them to provide a bit of afternoon shade. A wall would be perfect—see the picture at the top—or you can use a landscape plant if you already have a bed nearby. You can even use a larger pot behind the pool pots. The reflection value is tremendous with this latter arrangement.

If the pots need to be on the east side of the pool—which means plants will get not only a direct hit of the Western sun; they’ll also bear the reflecting heat of the pool—it’s best to go with shrubs or cacti/succulents. These plants hold up well to the direct sunlight and heat of our desert summer.

North-side pots are most at risk of heat problems in the middle of the summer when the sun is setting. Again, you can add plants or large pots to offer these pool-area pots some relief.

All plants will need regular water, so make sure your plantings are in pots a minimum of 24 inches tall. Floral plantings will need daily water, and shrubs require water every two to three days. Cactuses only need water once every two weeks.

Your first step is to spend some time looking at your pool while the weather is still relatively cool. If you have an empty pot handy, try placing it near the pool’s edge to see where you get the best reflection. Then plan what pot(s) you will want to use, and what you would like to plant in them. Start with just one, if you’d like, or ramp it up to two or three. If you’re worried about trying this during the summer, go ahead and plan for the fall.

A 24-inch pot with one of the succulents listed above will be the easiest plant to practice with. Plant one in a brilliant red or purple pot, and it’ll do the trick!

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. The Potted Desert Garden appears weekly at CVIndependent.com.

Roses can be more than just pretty flowering shrubs or climbers. We always think of using cut roses to decorate our homes with flowers, placing them on tables inside and out.

However, roses can perform other jobs in your landscape, too. I have used roses in pots as a focal point; as a screen to block more unsightly items; as a grouping in the front yard to shout out to passers-by that gardeners live here; and as a tall plant to break up a long wall, as you can see above.

When choosing roses to use for any of these purposes, keep in mind common design rules. Use complementary colors together, and colors that work well with your décor choices inside and out. If your home uses desert colors (sage greens, browns, tans, soft yellows), your palette choices can be pretty broad. But if you have deep hues of red-oranges, browns, purples or burgundies, you will want to stay within the shades of these colors—adding red, apricot and yellow, perhaps, but staying away from pink and lavender.

For your cut-flower roses, hybrid teas and grandifloras are your best bet. With blooms grown on long stems, either singly or in clusters, they lend themselves to arranging in vases.

Floribundas have flowers in large clusters with more than one bloom on stems at any one time. These roses typically provide massive colorful, long-lasting garden displays and can bloom continually. These also can serve as a hedge or single plantings.

Climbing roses work well for screening and for breaking up a long run of a wall. Since you do not cut climbers all the way back when you do your January prune, you will not lose much of the “bush.”

Miniature roses, such as the roses in the whiskey barrels below, make great close-up focal points on your patio or at your eastern-facing front entry. They are fun, smile-producing plants that welcome you and your guests home each day. They are easy to care for, too!

For more on your desert rose garden, sign up for the Potted View at www.potteddesert.com.

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.

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.

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.

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.