Monday, February 28, 2011

Texas Ebony

Today is the last day of February and also the last post on perfect Zone 9 plants for the garden.  They must be green through our hellish summers and freezing winter nights and use little water to qualify.  Today's plant is the Texas Ebony.
Surprisingly, this tree is not utilized in many landscapes and yet is greener than any desert tree I've seen around here.  It packs a punch in the yard and makes for a nice green addition to your plant collection.  Little water needed once established, the Texas Ebony thrives on sun and heat.  It's a slow grower and can reach an amazing height(25 feet!) as you can see in this pic taken at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.  In fact, I didn't know about this plant until I had to deal with another Texan issue in my garden....Texas Root Rot!!!  I had to find a tree that would be resistant to this nasty fungal disease and discovered that the Texas Ebony was perfect for that area.  It has done well now for 2 years and has grown a couple inches.  The only drawback is that it's spiny and your clothes will catch on it so be careful handling this tree.   It grows 30 feet high and just as wide.
"Texas ebony tree grows quite well in Southern Arizona. Native to the Chihuahuan desert, this highly decorative tree is remarkably drought tolerant. Under ideal conditions, it grows to 30 feet tall with an equal spread. Medium green, compound leaves are arranged along thorny branches that twist and change direction repeatedly. Cream colored, fragrant clusters of flowers are produced from late spring to fall. These sweetly fragrant flowers are followed by large, dark brown seedpods. Texas ebony grows rather slowly, eventually becoming a small to medium-sized tree with a dense canopy.
Plant Texas ebony tree in the fall or spring in full or partial sunlight. It tolerates almost all soil conditions from deep, well-drained soil types to heavy clay. Water newly planted Texas ebony trees thoroughly, every 7 to 10 days, for the first year. In its natural form, Texas ebony grows a dense canopy to the ground. Prune in early summer to raise the canopy. Prune only a few side branches, until the crown is at the desired height. Wear protective clothing when working with this tree, as its stipular spines are very sharp. Water established Texas ebony trees twice a month in the summer and monthly in the winter. Falling seedpods create litter that may be a problem in high traffic areas."

We'll take another break from my journal notes and explore Arizona and around the world.  More from Las Aventuras tomorrow.......

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tucson Winter

Did we get snow today in Tucson?  Apparently so....but I didn't see anything outside my screen door.  However, many Tucsonans did at around 5 AM .  Here are their pics from local news station KVOA  Channel 4 in Tucson. More amazing Tucson pics can be found on their website.  These pictures tell a cold story. Here are the seasonal snapshots from photographers in Tucson. Hopefully this will be last frost of the season. Frost warning for the Tucson metro between 3AM until 9AM.  Enjoy!:)

Our poor plants!!!!

Cat's Claw Vine

Buyer beware!  Our next perfect Zone 9 Hardy plant is cat's claw.  It's a vine that spreads quickly up a ramada or trellis with sun.  Arizona has plenty of sun and therefore has plenty of these vines growing all over town.  Personally, I like this plant and think it's a great vine to have in your landscape....little to no water once established.  It'll take the brutal heat and absolute cold.  It climbs on its' own and grows like a weed.  So be careful when planting this vine!  Without adding bias, I'll do a pro and con category and then you decide if this is the right plant for you.

  1. Will take the brutal fact thrives off of the sun and heat.  The more sun; the more vine.  Cold here doesn't seem to affect it.
  2. Little water once established.
  3. Climbs on its' own.
  4. It has beautiful yellow flowers.
  5. Once it has wrapped itself around the ramada, it will go for another round on its' own.
  6. Fast grower!
  7. Looks nice on a metal fence, trellis, or ramada.
  1.   Climbs on its' own.  Do not plant near stucco or the home....or you'll find that when you pull the vine off the home, you'll pull the stucco or paint off the house.
  2. It's invasive and gets into everything.
  3. It's a top heavy plant and with enough weight, it could pull things down to the ground.
So there you have it.  If placed in the right spot, cat's claw can make an attractive plant.  Drive around town and see how people have used this plant in their own yards. This plant is loved or hated.  You decide.  Our next perfect Zone 9 plant is coming up tomorrow. Until next time.....

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mondo Grass

Mondo grass planted in mass groupings makes a wonderful statement in your rock garden.

I'm not one for lawns here in the desert.  It's a waste of time and money.....and water!!!  However, it doesn't mean you have to give up grass altogether in your own yard.  The problem with the grasses is that they tend to dry up during the winter and if you're grilling in the yard, like we do, we need to be careful about igniting a grass fire on our plant away from grills or chimeneas.  Grasses can add structure to pots, planters, or landscape.  They always seem best singular or planted in repetition like the above picture.  While I have enjoyed growing a variety of grasses in the garden, I don't enjoy the fact that most dry up during winter.  So this summer, I experimented with Mondo Grass.  Many times this plant will be on shelves, and like magnolia trees, purchased right away. Mondo grass seems to do very well here and it stays green in the hot or freezing weather.  I purchased several pots and placed them around the property in different locations....shady, part sunny, and sun.  They did extremely well and all of them continue to grow.  After the freeze, these plants were still green and full.  They are slow growers and need water initially when first planted.  If you're looking for a reliable grass that stays green all year round, I highly recommend this variety.
It's described as a small ornamental grass to be planted in full sun. It's excellent ground cover and has few pests and diseases. Mondo grass will grow 3-10 inches in height and just as wide.

"Mondo grass is an ornamental plant used as groundcover in a garden or lawn. An alternative to turf grass, mondo grass is a low maintenance turf that never needs to be mowed and remains colorful all-year long. Its rich green color helps to provide definition, allowing the features of the garden to really stand out. While technically a member of the lily family, this evergreen plant, also known as monkey grass or ophiopogon japonicus, has the appearance of a lush, hardy grass with slender blades. The summer months mark the appearance of small, blue berries that blend in naturally with the plant’s green leaves. This ornamental plant is a popular choice for use along garden borders, between stones, and in flower beds. Mondo establish themselves rapidly and do well in most any type of soil. They are a perfect solution in areas where water conservation is necessary since they do not require a lot of watering and can easily withstand heat and drought. The plants are successful in full shade as well as in direct sunlight. Weed control is also quite simple, giving mondo a distinct advantage over traditional grasses. Mondo grass typically reaches a height of 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm)."

When putting together the perfect Zone 9 plants, I had to consider a bunch of factors.  I wanted to list a variety of plants that survive our winters and hot summers while staying green all year round with little water or maintenance.  So far, I've listed a tree, a bush, and now a groundcover plant.  I'll list a vine for you tomorrow.  Common.  Aggressive. And a survivor in our Tucson extremes.  Stay tuned for more of the perfect Garden 9 plants......

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oleander Leaf Scorch

Do not confuse with freeze burn.

Yesterday, I mentioned in my writing the Oleander Leaf Scorch.  While I haven't heard of any cases in Tucson, several were found in Phoenix and is a concern for our area.  This is an article from the UA on this deadly disease.

Oleander leaf scorch (OLS)

Photo 1
Photo 2

Photo 3
Oleander leaf scorch (OLS) is caused by the oleander strain of Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that colonizes the xylem tissue of oleander. There are many different strains of X. fastidiosa that infect many different plants, and there is a large variation in the amount of disease expression. For example, the oleander strain is deadly in oleander but does not infect grape (the grape strain causes Pierce’s disease of grape and does not infect oleander).
Symptoms of OLS on oleander include an initial yellowing of leaves (photo 1) that is soon followed by the characteristic browning and necrosis of the tips and edges of leaves (photo 2). Symptoms often appear on one branch or part of the plant in the summer. Although the symptoms are often similar to drought stress and salt damage, infected plants continue to decline (photo 3).
The OLS strain of Xylella fastidiosa is transmitted to oleanders by xylem feeding sharpshooter insects. Presently, the most important vector of X. fastidiosa in oleander in Arizona is the smoke tree sharpshooter which is common in low desert areas, including Phoenix and Tucson. Another important vector, the glassy-winged sharpshooter, has not become established in Arizona. Although it has been reported in an isolated area of Sierra Vista, detection and eradication efforts by the Arizona Department of Agriculture continue to be effective. Both the glassy-winged sharpshooter and the smoke tree sharpshooter are much larger than other sharpshooters. They measure up to ¼ inch long (> 6 mm) and are easily visible but move quickly on leaves and stems. To date, X. fastidiosa has not been detected in the roots of oleander, and there is no data from controlled experiments showing that it is transmitted by pruning tools.

The Glassy winged sharpshooter.

Symptoms of scorch diseases caused by Xylella fastidiosa may be easily confused with other problems that cause marginal necrosis of foliage. In Arizona, the symptoms may be very similar to salt burn or nutrient and water stress (photo 4). Disease can only be positively diagnosed in the laboratory using serological or molecular assays, ELISA and PCR.

Photo 4
OLS has been detected in Arizona at several locations; but as far as is known, it has become established and problematic only in north central Phoenix. In an area north of Camelback to about Greenway and between 15 Ave and 15 St, the disease has killed mature oleanders. Many diseased plants have been observed in hedges in landscapes with large areas of turfgrass that are flood irrigated. Both white and red flowered types of oleanders are affected.
There is no control for OLS. Antibiotics such as tetracycline may have some very short term benefit but are not an effective control. Reduction of the insect vectors may be effective in a large scale effort, but this is difficult or impossible in private landscape settings. Infected plants should be removed as soon as possible to reduce spread of the bacterium to new plants. Preliminary observations of an infected oleander hedge in Tucson indicate that infected plants cut close to the ground produce healthy new growth. In this location, where populations of sharpshooters are probably low and infected plant tissue is removed, new growth may remain healthy for some time. However, in areas with heavy infestations of X. fastidiosa and sharpshooter vectors, pruning away infected branches or cutting plants back entirely do not stop spread of the bacterium or disease development.

Current infection rates are devastating millions of oleanders in Southern California

This information is from the University of Arizona Department of Plant Pathology.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


In my last post, I spoke about xylosma and mentioned oleander.  If you've never heard about oleander, then I encourage you to ask people about this controversial plant. But no matter what people will say, there is no denying that this plant is seen in landscapes across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and many other states. It's an aggressive plant that is green and lush which originates from the Mediterranean.  It thrives from neglect and harsh sun.  Without a doubt, if given FULL sun, this plant will not fail and grow to large heights and block out your gawking neighbors.  It's also root invasive so keep it away from the foundations of homes and other structures.  Once established, this plant is almost a weed and can be invasive.  The plant can also put seed out this time of year and randomly pop up in your yard somewhere.  So what should you know about oleander?  Let me start with the pros and then go into cons....
  1. Green green green and lush
  2. Pretty flowers in spring
  3. Blocks noise and annoying neighbors
  4. Makes a GREAT natural screen...if you don't want a fence, plant oleander instead
  5. They are extremely low maintenance once established in FULL sun
  6. Don't put this plant in shade as it will look leggy
  7. It can take some abuse and loves pruning!  In fact, this is a great plant to experiment on when you begin learning how to prune plants. Don't prune in winter.  Wait until the second week of March
  8. Nice hedge to use in repetition
  9. Beautiful flowers in spring/and a lot of color varieties
  10. It's also attractive to a certain Oleander Caterpillar
  1. Root invasive
  2. Poisoness leaves and stems; wear gloves
  3. While it does lose leaves, winter can make the plant look shabby and leaves will look burned
  4. Can destroy foundations with its' invasive roots
  5. Overused in the desert landscape
  6. Affected in some parts like Phoenix and California by Oleander Leaf Scorch...more on this on tomorrow's blog.  It's a huge concern for California and several states near California

This is a strong plant that is difficult to kill once established so think carefully before planting.  Stay tuned for more on strong Zone 9 plants!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Just saying the name, can be a trick. I say it "z-eye-los-ma". There is nothing special about this plant other than it grows large and green in the desert.  It is the perfect garden screen/fence.  The leaves are average size and make a nice screen.  Left unpruned, each can grow 12' to 16' high and wide.  Place 8 feet apart and 6' in from a fence or property line for a dense hedge.  Plant 6' apart and braid the branches of adjacent plants if you are creating a maze.  They can be left alone, trimmed or sheared up to 3 times during the growing season or even sculpted into geometric shapes or topiary.  Grows in full sun to half-day sun.  Looks best if given a deep watering every two weeks during a dry summer once established, but many specimens thrive in this area with no supplemental irrigation.  I use this plant in repetition around the garden along an old rotted fence area.  It grows moderately at a couple feet each year.  It's very low maintenance once established AND like the Texas Mountain Laurel, it doesn't lose many leaves.  It's evergreen all year round.  It can also be attractive to butterflies and bees!!!  I should warn you that if you don't like bees; you shouldn't plant this near doorways or walkways because in spring, you'll hear a lot of buzzing going on as the plant produces small clusters of flowers.  For people who love flowers, it's not much, but if you're looking to attract wildlife to your yard, this is a nice plant to have around.   I have seen some tiny berries grow on this plant, but for the most part, xylosma makes a nice hedge.  This plant also is know as the perfect zone 9 plant and I would agree as it performed extremely well against our severe freeze this past winter.  The leaves are green and the plants look lush and vibrant in the garden. If you're looking for an alternative to the overused oleander in Tucson, I highly recommend this plant for a hedge or screen.  Until next time.......

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Texas Mountain Laurel

I'm going to start this series with a tree that is going to be seen in our gardening centers from now until bloom time.  This remarkable plant goes unnoticed for most of the year until it pops out of nowhere with its' purple and super fragrant flowers!  But even without the flowers, this tree/bush is evergreen all year round and endures our extreme sun......even better, it came out on top after our severe freeze in the garden.  The leaves are super green and lush on my plant.  This plant is xeric, takes full sun, and is green all year round!  I think many people take the TML for granted.  It's all over Tucson and one of the top performing plants here in our desert.  It can grow to be 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide.  There are many large specimens in a row near the airforce base on the center medians of the road.  However, I have noticed that most aren't 30 feet here as they average about 15-20 feet tall.  They are wide and can be grown as a tree or bush.  Roots are very shallow, and will require adequate drainage. The orange-red seeds have a very hard shell covering a very poisonous seed which can be grown in our gardens.  If you are interested in propogating this plant, take the hard bean pods off the plant and take out the poisoness red/orange seeds.  Put them in water overnight and nick the seed to encourage growth.  The seeds are extremely hard.

This is a great plant to have in your garden all year round.  It will survive anything once established.  It's attractive to the Genista catepillar which eventually will become the brown night flying moth. Very little chews on this plant, but you will see, every now and again, a plant has attracted an uninvited guest:)  These plants are extremely popular in spring at your nearest garden center and then they seem to disappear off the shelves.  The flowers are what call people's attention because they smell like grape kool aid and are extremely fragrant.  I usually see flowers late March that will last through April.  Some years, like last, my plant didn't produce any flowers.  I'm crossing my fingers that this year will be different.  The con(you knew it was coming:) to this plant is that it grows slowly.  So if you're looking for something to fill in a space quickly, this is not the plant to choose for your garden.  The seeds, if you choose to plant them, can take years to germinate!  Many gardeners forget that they planted them until they see the plant pop up in the soil. However, if you're patient, this plant is a superstar in the garden!  More plants on the way......

Perfect Plants for Zone 9

The Sonoran Desert is a unique environment that receives high temps in the summer and colder nights in the winter.   Normally a desert is a very dry place, but because Tucson is situated in the monsoon belt, it receives higher than average rainfall putting our climate into the subtropical category.  On top of that, the Sonoran Desert is one the most "green" and biodiverse of the deserts on this Earth.

In this next series, I will explore some plants that came out on top during our extreme freeze plus endure the hellish heat of summer.  I am placing this series of garden notes ahead of the rest because there is one particular plant that everyone notices this time of year.  I won't give away the surprise and some of the native residents already know this plant.  We are gearing up for spring in just a couple of weeks and getting our grounds ready for some new trees and bushes.  The garden centers seem to only sell certain plants when they are in bloom so I'd like to give everyone a head's up before the blooms start showing  and you start asking, "What is this plant?"

Again this list contains just a few of the favorites here in Tucson and focuses on plants that survived not only the extreme cold but that also love our heat.  If you have several others that survived your winter frost, please make sure you include them in the comments section below. Spring is approaching. PS.  These plants did not receive any covering during our frost and look incredible today. This series is about those few perfect Zone 9 plants that will survive no matter what the condition.

Tlatlauquitepec, Puebla

Standing on a hill above the village of Tlatlauqui.  In this photo, I stick out like a sore thumb with my Mexican mother(striped shirt) and very young nieces.  They all are older teenagers now.  Life flies by so have fun!
Back in the 90's, my Mexican host family took a trip into the Pueblan mountains and had a beautiful visit with relatives.  Mexico is a country full of wonders and surprises.  If you know the Central Mexican landscape, you'll recognize that most of it is grassland with fun yuccas and cacti sprinkled about the landscape.  However, this place shocked me.  About 2 hours out of Tlaxcala in the state of Puebla exists an area of tropical rain forest and a whole other lifestyle.  I'll never forget how excited I was to run around the village and explore the area gardens and forests.  Many locals call this place Tlatlauqui and it's definitely worth the adventure.  The sky is overcast and the flora receives quite a bit of rain. The trek takes you through low desert up into the varied layers of mountain plant zones.  The mountain range along the Pueblan/Veracruz borders are very dry, but after a certain point, entering into the Veracruz side, the "wet" side of the mountains soon turn tropical. Tlatlauqui offers some unique Mexican cuisine which uses a lot of delicious green salsa. 

A view from the road towards the downtown area.  I would almost like to call this type of zone a cloud forest.  If you are in Mexico for an extended amount of time, I highly recommend the visit.  Until next time......

Monday, February 21, 2011

February Gardening in Tucson

I wanted to begin this particular series sooner, but I have a long list of garden journal "to do's" and so this post is overdue.  This blog is a resource for Tucson gardeners, travelers, travelers to Tucson, for my records and observations, etc. Over the past year, since March to be exact, I didn't write as much because I was collecting a lot of data from the plants and experiments done in the garden.  While I do not have a degree in plants or botany, I do have a lot of experience with them.  I am a docent at the Tucson Botanical Gardens and help educate people on the joys of gardening and plants because it's really what I love doing the most.  Sometimes I'll write from a newcomer's point of view to help guide the person better in addressing their issues on certain plants.  The professionals on these blogs are always correct in such matters as, "Plant natives.", but many people do a google search for a plant right after purchasing it. Hence the posts on lilacs, hostas, and bulbs.  Many of us move to the desert and get extremely excited about being able to garden most of the year here.  We bring with us our experience from our past lives and try them in the desert.....and not usually to success.  A plant ends up failing and gardeners feel frustrated.  I don't grow hostas or other similiar bulbs here because they take too much work and I do plant mostly natives with several exceptions in regards to pots and planters.  You'll see more of these series on plants coming up as Spring is about to be "Sprung" here and our garden centers open up for major business.  It's a lot of work, but I've found the internet to be pretty lacking for Tucson gardeners and focusing more on Phoenix gardeners which are in different zones. My hope is to build a database for Tucson gardeners from observations, findings, and experiences here.  So here are some things I've found from readings and personal finds.  Here's the February "To Do" List for Tucson.

What to plant
-pepper and tomatoes
-bare-root plants like roses and fruit trees
-cool season vegetables(beets, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes, turnips, salad greens)
-landscape plants(transplanting natives, but wait until after March 15 to plant frost tender tropicals like bouganvillea and lantana) If you like palms, wait until summer to put this plant into the ground...I'll speak more about this when I get to the palm series.

-clean up your yards, but do not prune until mid March
-for those with live oak trees, get ready for leaves to's a mess
-maintain roses-rake up and dispose of leaf litter around bushes to prevent powdery mildew.  Apply fresh mulch.  Fertilize now and when new growth is about 2 inches long.  Continue feeding every six weeks to prepare for April and May's peak bloom period.  See my past blog on roses and their performance in the El Presidio Garden.  You'll also be able to see exactly when those roses began blooming here.
-Feed fruit trees before they begin to leaf out and fertilize apple, apricot, peach, and plum. Apply nitrogen fertilizer at the plant's outer canopy range and slighly beyond. This is where the roots are actively growing.  Water deeply after application.
-Improve garden beds. Layer 4-6 inches of compost or well-aged manure on top of the soil. 
-Harvest citrus
-Divide herb plants like chives, lemon grass, mint and yarrow.
-Water and feed lawns

Source:  Phoenix Home and Garden(February 2011)
Great magazine and I highly recommend it for your coffee morning reads. I've been subscribing now for over 15 years.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winkelman, AZ

Yesterday me and my better half went on a road trip to nowhereland in Southern Arizona.  Our original plans were to go to the Grand Canyon and stay overnight, but a winter storm put the kabash on that idea.

We ate at a restaurant and instead followed another path on the State Route 77 and then looped back onto 79 back to Tucson.  This was an incredibly beautiful drive and a "must see" for people.

One of the things that shocked me was the tiny village of Winkelman.  We drove into the city and it felt like we were entering the fantastical world from Lord of the Rings.  The pic above shows the tower in Mordor(okay maybe it's just a HUGE chimney for copper refinement but one can imagine:).
Cold, misty, and rainy.....we found random plants all mixed together at this park. This above pic shows the color tone for most of the day. The state right now is this brown, washed, grey color.  I am really looking forward to seeing green again in about a month.

I don't know who plays in this scary looking park, but it's really interesting.  There is a river....and yes, I said river, not a wash, that runs through these little villages along this mountain range.  We took this beautiful roadtrip through Tonto National Park and found these tiny villages that were collapsing, or already collapsed like the village of Mustang. I believe we saw an operating Circle K and Medical Clinic.  A lot of homes off the highway were boarded up....many buildings had broken windows and wooden paneling over the doors.  I forgot that there are people in our own country fighting to survive.  There were some really nice homes here and there, but for the most part, this was poverty outside of Tucson.  I cannot believe that I have never taken this route before.  So what you'll see on this road trip is Mother Nature at her finest with human settlements adding a scratch here and there.  There's also a lot of history in these villages and I am going back again on nicer days to explore them over the summer.  A beautiful forest of trees runs as far as the eye can see along this river area and I want to explore this more.  Simply put....I'm hooked.  People who love riding need to take this route!  Go from Tucson on Oracle all the way until you reach Globe.  Spend a night anywhere along the some hiking.....and head over to route 79 from Globe back to Tucson OR continue the magic from Globe to the White Mountains. Arizona is amazing, but you'll have to leave our cities to see the great natural artwork. One more thing, on route 60/79, I discovered a world famous arboretum near Globe called the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  It was closed by the time we got there, but I'll be back there soon.

We stopped at Winkelman to gas up at $3.45 cents a gallon and found some locals shopping at this gas station.  It was really wonderful outside and I snapped a lot of shots from this cool little town.  However, walking inside for a soda, I noticed an older man hitting on a younger man filling up his tea.  I'm sorry.....I can't help it.  I admit....I'm fascinated by people.  The clerk looked annoyed and we enjoyed the free entertainment.  There definitely is a unique culture in this part of the desert and I am extremely fascinated and want to know more.  Why are the villages falling apart?  Who lives in this beautiful region? How do people view Tucsonans?  I'm imagining "annoying" as their final answer:) I don't know why I've never gone this route but it requires further investigation.  Winkelman has about 2500 people and they must be spread out over this larger area.  This town is first and the best kept from the other villages that follow.  We drove past Oracle and San Manuel.....all situated in some amazing and breathtaking scenery.

So while I didn't take pictures of the landscape......I will in future investigations and reports.  There were too many clouds all over the place.

On the way back home, I snapped this shot as the sky cleared up a bit.  If you visit, have some fun and explore our Arizona Highways:)  Until next time.....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sunset on State Route 79

From State Route 79 in Arizona
Today  I went on another photo shoot off of Highway 79.  It was a perfect day for a road trip as it was rainy and are some shots to let the mind wander.

If you have some time while in Tucson, take a drive from Tucson to Phoenix on this highway for the beautiful Sonoran desert vistas.

What you see in these pics is the sun setting in the overcast misty sky....but there was an opening in the clouds and it looks as if the sky is on fire.  I have another post tomorrow showing some of the misty dusty skies.  It was a beautiful day.

Thriller, Filler, Spiller

Sheila Schultz, Denver, Colorado
Former winner from a container design challenge
I have to admit that I have yet to master the idea of "Thriller, Filler, Spiller".  It takes a controlled hand to only plant a few specimens into one pot.  My issue is placing too many of the wrong plants this next blog on pots is about the art of designing an arrangement of plants together. I have just started buying large pots around the property and so while I don't have any "master" samples yet, I will down the road. Many of you already know this concept but this may be something new for those just starting to garden.  It doesn't matter where you live to utilize this design because it can happen anywhere....all you need is a pot.  However, I may be the first "desert" person to utilize this idea with cacti/succulents while creating that coral sea affect that I mentioned in an earlier blog.  But because of the weather, I can't begin my arrangements until March when the weather warms up.  Let's talk about this idea in detail.....

Kathy Mackenzie, Abington, Massachusetts
"Thriller, filler, spiller" is a simple idea.  3 plants.....notice again the idea of "3" being repeated with this design.  "3" seems to be magic number in the garden to set the human mind at ease.  Our eyes are attracted to "3" or "5" combinations.  But I'm sure that some of you have broken that golden rule and made this idea your own style:) Let's take the terms and understand them.  "Thriller" stands out in the pot and grabs our attention.  It sometimes will be the larger of the plants with bigger leaves, colorful leaves, or taller stems.  Sometimes it may have a colorful and bright flower that stands out from the rest.  Cannas are considered a thriller as are bananas/musa or large elephant ear plants.  These plants should be considered if you are putting together a tropical plant theme.  "Filler" is what fills the pot.  Many plants are considered fillers.  For example, again using the tropical plant theme, I use bushy flowery plants like the painted sky or caladiams for contrast.  Finally, we have the "spiller" which refers to that plant which spills over the pot towards the ground.  Here I use ice plants, sweet potato vine, or spider plants which do well in Tucson.

Jane Horn, Prior Lake, Minnesota

What's important is that you keep your themes together.......tropical with tropical, desert with desert, etc. Others will disagree and tell you to mix it up.  Do it....go with your feelings. Use a lot of contrasting color of leaves and flowers, BUT this is the one rule you MUST remember.  Make sure you place plants together that require the same watering schedule. Your job now is to identify these container winner's arrangements and identify what's the "Thriller, Filler, Spiller".  It's good practice.  Don't cheat and skip to the bottom for the answers.....see if you can identify the arrangements and identify if they are the thriller, filler, or spiller in each pot.  I'll let the masters guide you here as I am just a novice right now:)
Images and article taken from:
About an article on a 2007 Container Design Challenge.  Answers below.....
"Balancing shapes with textures.
While all of the plants Sheila chose for this planting are succulent, their widely varying textures make the combination dynamic. The paddle plant’s broad leaves and the aeonium’s dark foliage add visual bulk to cover up the stalk of the weeping yucca. As a whole, the plants also inversely mimic the shape of their vessel, creating a pleasingly balanced composition. Sheila and her husband moved from the shady suburbs of Chicago to the intense sun and dry air of Denver just four years ago. We think she’s putting her new palette of sun-loving plants to good use."


Weeping yucca (Yucca recurvifolia, USDA Hardiness Zones 7–9)

Pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucallii, not hardy below Z 11)

Paddle plant (Kalan­choe thyrsiflora, Z 11)

‘Zwartkop’ aeonium (Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’, Z 9–11)

‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Z 6–9)



Tropicanna® canna (Canna Tropicanna®, Zones 8-11)

'Silvery Sunproof' liriope (Liriope muscari 'Silvery Sunproof', Zones 6-10)

Geranium (Pelargonium cv., Zone 11)

'Sweet Caroline Red' sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Sweet Caroline Red', Zone 11)

Calibrachoas (Calibrachoa cvs., annual)

'Lemon Symphony' osteospermum (Osteospermum 'Lemon Symphony', Zones 10-11


"This thriller is a spiller, too. Jane stumbled upon the rex begonia vine while searching the nursery for a thriller. Trained on a metal hoop, it makes an excellent centerpiece for her entry. She loves the purple and silver leaves, and chose the remaining plants to highlight both the purple tones in the vine’s leaves and the purple-glazed pot. Eventually, Jane trained the thriller into a spiller and visually pulled the plants together."

Rex begonia vine (Cissus discolor, Z 11)


Purple shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, Z 6–10)

Shadow Dancer™ Ginger fuchsia (Fuchsia Shadow Dancer™ Ginger, Z 9–11)


Velvet Moon™ wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri Velvet Moon™, annual)

Until next time, stay tuned for more from the garden.......
Next post is on what we Tucson gardeners need to be doing in our gardens this month.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Plan B

A planter fixed up with amended soil and plants that were in pots and protected from our hard freeze
What happens when you suffer a devastating freeze and all your heavy pots with plants in them die?  This was the big question that had to be answered after our severe freeze several weeks ago.  I had a tropical theme going in two large planters for 3 years and they looked wonderful until Jack Frost killed them all.  Thankfully, I had a Plan B.  My focus for this blog, and tomorrows, is on pots and their purposes.  Tragedy hit all places at the El Presidio Garden which included the cactus garden that is contained in the newly installed whisky barrel project.  A lot of cacti were lost in the city and it is a terribly sad sight to see.  Cacti pads are solid and full of water.  Several nights of freezing weather will make them into cacti popsicles.  They become too heavy and just collapse all over the ground creating a mess.  I couldn't even replant the pads that fell off because once the pads unthawed, they were all dead from inside.  Thankfully, I had Plan B.  The citrus fried up causing the green stems to freeze and turn brown which means that the frost killed the plant.  Leaves shrivel up on citrus but as long as the stems are green, the tree/bush will be okay.  Not this time.  Jack Frost blew his evil breathe upon these trees and killed them.  I even had all the plants covered with blankets.  Didn't matter.  All dead.  But thankfully, I had Plan B.
All dead.  The day after shows that perhaps some of it will live, but by day 2, the planter is a total loss.  All leaves and roots have turned black and soft. Nothing at this point is salvageable. Or is it?

Plan B utilizes pots that are specifically grown for emergencies like our hard frost. These pots are filled with the transplants from the primary planters and heavy pots around the property that cannot be lifted.  The pots that carry these transplants must be movable and able to be transported to a shed or place where they will not freeze. To continue a plant species, one needs to save its' clones or transplants.  I had all of them in different pots around the property so that when the freeze came, I could put their clones into our shed.  This past weekend was brutal as I cleaned out the two large planters and reworked them both over again.  It actually looks better now than it had when I put them together for the first time.  However the planters were lush and full of beautiful tropical plants that made it through some tough winters, but unfortuneatly, this winter was too much for them and the entire colonies collapsed. 
Back to the basics as I create a mini jungle of effects....caladiams were also placed in the planter to add contrast in spring.  Featured in this planter is a datura, spider plant, philodendron, grecian urn plant, and caladiam bulbs with red coloring.

My Plan B utilizes a system that keeps an active colony of common plants around the property like cactus, spider plants, schefflera, philodendron, ice plants, citrus, succulents and fatsia plants.  These plants are currently being transferred to their new homes where they'll be able to grow even larger.  Should I be doing this now?  Probably not, but I can't stand looking at empty planters that have feral cats using them for the bathroom.  I also have this feeling that our severe frosts are over for this year. We have some cold nights coming, but they won't be like it was several weeks ago.  The benefit of Plan B is that you don't have to spend a whole lot of money to replace a huge amount of plants that were killed off.  Instead, you have a reserve of clones waiting to replace the original mother plant.  I have several citrus in pots and a cactus garden that I will be waiting to transplant until March.  However, I have started with the tropicals in our courtyard planters and I can't wait to see the "Thriller, Filler, Spiller" idea come to life in Spring.  More on that idea tomorrow. 
I also put Mondo grass in this planter....more on this surprisingly tough plant coming up in the next several days.....

It's always a great idea to invest in pots.  When you have extra plants, like for example from the spider plant, you should take the "babies" off the mother plants and place them in pots or around your property.  I have also done this with the agave pups and cacti segments.  While this freeze was devastating for a lot of us, I was prepared for it.  The only part that I wasn't ready for was the Jacaranda attack. I didn't have any clones of that tree and so to this day, I still worry about that situation as they aren't cheap to replace. 
Fatsia.  An example of an emergency pot.
The Dancy Tangerine may replace a lemon tree gone sour.
Spider, caladiam, and scheflerra make a perfect tropical combination.
Stay tuned for "Thriller, Filler, Spiller" Part 2 of pots and their purposes.