Friday, September 30, 2011

Purple Fountain Grass

Looking for some fall color?
Over the years, I have noticed a trend with decorative grass such as the Purple Fountain Grass. Some years it's extremely popular while in others, like last year, it wasn't sold as much. The trend has been to put bamboo into the landscape as it is green for most of the year while other grasses are not. The exception of course is Mondo Grass. There is also the fear that grass spreads fire(which it does). During this month of dry weather with a lightening strike here or there, it could become a potential danger. So many homeowners in the Tucson area may be hesitant to plant something near their home that could potentially become a fire hazard. If I were in the Foothills area, I'd be more cautious but here in the city, the threat isn't as great unless you have some idiot throwing a cigarrette onto your property. Several years ago before we owned our home here, I lived up in the Foothills and watched as the Mt. Lemon fire descended onto people's property slowly. It was a sight many of us will never forget. Plus grasses tend to seed in places unwanted, dry out during the winter, and sometimes get knocked over by our Tucson wind. While there are negatives to the grass family, there are also positives. One of the few grasses that I've enjoyed growing in my own garden is the Purple Fountain Grass. I use it as an accent and place in bright sun. Grass loves sun with some regular watering! It has a lovely appearance in pots and planters and adds a contrast to the green plants around it. So if you want a lovely grass, go ahead and get this gem. This is my opinion only, but I think it's a great grass used as an accent.....just don't mass plant this around your property. Fire season is not something to joke around with here in the Old Pueblo. Most fires caused during this time of year are from human smokers, campfires that weren't put out properly, or lightening. Sometimes controlled burns become uncontrolled. Smokers provoke an anger inside of me. They carelessly throw their cig butts out of their car window and on the interstate, a little heat can spark a flame faster than you can blink your eye. It's important to remember your surrounding environment when putting in plants. My recommendation is to keep the grass out of potential areas where people can throw their cigarrette butts. I deal with this on a daily basis. Some neighbors throw their cigs into planters or on the parking lot....because they are pigs. No, I take that back, pigs don't deserve that label with these "people". :) My suggestion, again, just my opinion, don't place grass in planters near heavy traffic areas. Okay, that's it on growing grass in the desert. Here is some info on the Purple Fountain Grass.....

"By Nikki Phipps
Fountain Grass
Fountain grass (Pennisetum) is a mound-forming ornamental grass and a garden favorite, as the care of fountain grass is easy. The cascading leaves on this plant have a fountain-like appearance. Clump-forming grasses grow in mounds or clumps, making them ideal for many areas without becoming invasive. It can be used alone as a specimen plant or in a border alongside other perennials. Fountain grass is an attractive perennial grass densely clumped growth. Blooming of its foxtail-looking flowers generally takes place from late summer through the fall. The small flowers of fountain grass are tan, pink or purple. During fall and throughout winter, this plant will also reward gardeners with spectacular foliage displays.

Types of fountain grass

There are different types of fountain grass to choose, ranging in size from 12 inches to 3 feet. One of the most common varieties is Dwarf Fountain Grass Hameln (P. alopecuroides ‘Hameln’). Its light tan blooms turn pinkish brown in fall. This fountain grass blooms earlier than the others, making it a great choice for gardens with shorter growing seasons. Purple Fountain Grass (P. setaceum) has both purple foliage and blooms. Used for its reddish foliage and showy flowers is Red Fountain Grass (P. setaceum‘Rubrum’), which grows about 3- 4 feet tall. Other types of fountain grass cultivars include ‘Cassian,’ ‘Little Bunny’, ‘Little Honey’, and ‘Moudry’.

Growing fountain grass

Growing fountain grass is easy. As with most ornamental grasses, fountain grass is extremely adaptable. Care of fountain grass is easy as well. It’s sometimes helpful to cut back the foliage in the spring prior to growth. Although not specifically a requirement for fountain grass, fertilizer can be applied as growth resumes in the spring. Established plants do not need regular watering, except during periods of drought. Fountain Grass does well nearly any type of soil; however, for greater results, fountain grass should be planted in fertile, well-drained soil. Fountain grass enjoys full sun but tolerates some light shade. Look for areas receiving full sun, as these plants prefer warm conditions. Warm-season grasses thrive in warmer temperatures ranging from 75 to 85 degrees F.

Transplanting fountain grass

Transplanting fountain grass is not always necessary; however, it can be dug up and divided in areas where overcrowding may occur or if more plants are simply desired. Division usually depends on spacing or visual appearance. For instance, plants suffering from die-out in the center can be divided to improve their appearance. Division can be performed in early spring prior to new growth or after the growing season in the late summer or fall. Taking care of fountain grass is a rewarding undertaking for a gardener. By growing fountain grass, you add a low maintenance option to your garden." End of article. Source:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Price We Pay

Luna-the white kitty.  Today's pics will be cuter than the ugly truth of this post.  When I look at receipts, I think of cute kitties who help me write every morning.  I could have been quite literal with this post and show you folders of receipts for pics.....but I thought that would be rather boring.  These pics are what happens when your camera is sitting next to the computer.
Today's write is a painful one.  Do any of us realize how much money we spend every year on our landscaping??  Well, recently a homeowner asked me to do just that and so I did.  I sat down with my hundreds of receipts, a calculator, and a pen.  Receipts ranging from the Home Depot to Mesquite Valley nursery piled up on my table.  Of course my cats had to help me and try to mess up the order of it all. 
Nova is shocked by the costs of landscaping and outdoor maintenance!
 What did I discover?  I spent WAY over the amount I am allotted every month and need to repay myself back some of that money.  It's amazing how much everything costs!!  From garden tools, arborist fees, new plants, maintenance, gas, soil and fertilizer, El Presidio does a good job eating up our 300 dollar a month allowance.  I remember the issues I had when I first moved here. The grounds looked terrible and there wasn't any money to fix anything up.  A dead tree leaned up against my building and no one was going to remove it.  Why?  No money!!!  Scared, I offered my help by taking over the maintenance of the grounds.  I began investing in tools and other items.  While we are making a movement forward, I have hit a stump right now.  Several major projects this past spring PLUS our terrible winter freeze has interferred with the forward momentum.  By the end of this year, my projects will be done.  I'm not so sure about our pool and courtyard. 
Some days I would like to be sleeping like this on the couch but unfortuneatly, the garden calls for assistance on Saturday and Sunday mornings during our hot months.
We filled the pool and I believe we need a landscape designer to help us redefine that space.  It is such an eyesore right now.  There are two people trying to sell their units and with that space looking like it does, I wouldn't take a step near El Presidio.  It's time for the professionals to work their magic! Well that's my 1/16th of an opinion.  Some are against the idea while others think it's needed. The issue? No one wants to spend the money for a "plan". But the plan is needed if we are going to make our courtyard space work with the buildings around it. I don't think it's an option and it's money well spent. I get discouraged everytime I step out my door and see that ugly area.  Once the pool and side areas have definition, the El Presidio courtyard will look a million times better.  As the guy in the background, I have ideas but I also realize that this project is over my head NOR should it be done by me. 16 homeowners have to make a decision towards this space and how it will be redefined. 
This was a stock photo and like this mushroom in my garden, it randomly and unexplicably shows up on this post.
As for the planters.  We did the right thing by getting rid of the old plants that were breaking the cement barriers and leaning against the building.  I will be excited to see what it all looks like next summer.  So my spring projects for this upcoming year will be about fixing up all those areas again. It's too hot right now to put anything into the ground!  I'll take my camera around the property and show you the different areas that need some work.  I'll begin my light work in September and gradually build up for the major work that needs to be done.  It's important to note that I am going to focus on one area ONLY!  It is overwhelming to look at everything at once.  So for my sanity, I will clean up one area at a time.
From left to right...we are cat hoarders soon to be featured on that TV show.  We have 5 cats total.  From left to right, Calisto(the Torty), Aurora the Grey, and Luna the White
So how much was spent?  Get ready. 

HOA-300 dollars
My expenditures with dead tree removal etc. $1,288.10
Out of my pocket $988.10

HOA paid me 3300 dollars(normally it was 3600, but we were in a financial crunch and I took a one month loss in January due to the yearly insurance cost) Planter was removed on side and I was supposed to pay myself back but as you'll see it didn't happen quite as planned.
My expenditures $5001.53. Out of my pocket cost $1701.53


HOA began to recover from losses on homeowners paying late and all payments for landscaping were paid for the year. $3600 was paid to me and I spent 3041.80. I paid myself back $558.20 which was good.


HOA pays me $3600 for the year and I spend $3909.84. Out of my pocket, I take a hit of $309.84


So far HOA has paid me $2400 and I've spent a total of $2200.

So it's about budgeting.  But landscaping sometimes has other ideas for homeowners. It's a fun job, but it's like having a kid.....lots of work!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Barrel Cactus

I snapped this shot at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  They have lovely arrangements using this cactus.
Looking for a reliable cactus in Tucson? Perhaps you need some structure to your garden?  One of my favorite cactus to use in a repetitive form is the Barrel Cactus.  It does extremely well here in Tucson with very little care.  This SLOW growing cactus is round and adds lovely shape to the desert garden.  At El Presidio, there are 5 of them.  Two are located near the fruit garden while the other cluster is at the front gate.
One of my first shots last year with my then, new camera.  The sunlight creates wonderful shadowplay against the spine clusters(areoles) of the cactus.
This cactus is unique in that it always points south when it grows.  It's sometimes known as the "Compass Cactus" for that reason.  It will lean to protect itself from sunburn giving the appearance that it will fall over. Eventually it will become large and tip over, but that takes many many years to happen.  They grow extremely slow.  When it flowers, it has orange to yellow coloring that happens on top of the cactus.  The fruits look like small pineapples which are loved by the local desert fauna. Offshoots from the main stem, called pups, will form and you can carefully take them off the mother plant and pot them later for placement in the landscape. Very little care is needed once established.  They do well in our winters and summers as they are hardy.  Barrel cactus also make a lovely statement in pots.
Taken in spring of this past year in the fruit garden.
Personally I love the yellow and green  colors on this plant.  On the above pic, you can see the yellow spines against the green.  Love cactus?  Then this is a definite must for your Tucson garden. 
This pic I snapped at my work place.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Coping With Caliche!

People new to the desert may not be aware of a special type of soil we have here known as "caliche".  I have spent hours with a hose, jackhammer, and iron pick loosening up this subsurface clay for my plants.  It is not uncommon for Tucsonans to break their new shovel for one hole in the ground. The big question is, "Will this soil disappear?"  If you have an area that gets regular watering and you've removed most of the caliche, it will disappear and won't be an issue.  It's the dry or neglected areas that you are developing for a garden that make it difficult.  Usually, several days before I start digging, I'll throw a hose on the area to soften the ground.  I remember that this process took me an entire summer before establishing our fern garden!  One last personal point, as we start putting in our trees and shrubs for the October month, please please PLEASE be careful digging.  Have your house plan near you and know where your sewer, drip system and electrical wires are located before you start digging.  I only say this because I've watched many people start picking at what they think is caliche and it turns out to be cement protecting a sewer line. So before you start digging, look at your house plans:)  The following write is from one of my favorite people here in the desert, Cathy Cromell.  I've been reading her work and books for several years and she really touches upon a lot of the issues that we Tucsonans have in our own landscape.   
Illustration by Michael Gellatly.  The yellow zone is the hard and cement like "caliche".  Roots sometimes will reach an impasse at this point and spread out on top of this layer.  On the negative side, roots will not be "anchored" into the ground and during our wind events, the tree can be blown over.

"When digging becomes difficult, desert gardeners are quick to blame the Southwest’s notorious caliche. However, not all “hard labor” signifies you’ve struck this rock-hard substance. Sometimes that “thunk” sound is just your shovel striking extremely compacted desert soil—known as hardpan—that becomes even harder after heavy construction equipment compresses it.

You can distinguish the difference between caliche and hardpan by color: caliche is light (whitish-gray or cream), whereas hardpan usually is the same brownish color as the surrounding soil. Another method is to soak suspected areas with water. A layer of hardpan will soften with repeated soakings, allowing you to dig deeper a few inches at a time.

Wondering where that layer of caliche comes from? First, calcium combines with carbon dioxide dissolved in the soil’s water to form insoluble calcium carbonate. Over time, soil particles become cemented together by calcium carbonate to create solid deposits known as caliche. Your digging may unearth random chunks of caliche mixed in with soil and rocks or concrete-like layers of caliche several inches to several feet thick.

Caliche creates several problems for gardeners. First, roots cannot penetrate through it. Shallow root systems are susceptible to drought stress as well as uprooting during windstorms. In addition, plants must survive on the limited nutrients found in the soil above the caliche layer.

Second, water cannot soak through a tight caliche layer. This results in poorly drained, wet soil, which doesn’t provide the aeration that roots require. Think of a root ball in a planting hole set above caliche in the same way that a plant sits in a container without drainage holes. When water is unable to penetrate through the soil, salts cannot leach beyond the root zone. Over time, salt buildup kills plants.

Finally, calcium carbonate is a high pH substance; pH is a measure of acidity (low pH) and basicity (high pH). Although iron is available in the soil, high pH may inhibit a plant’s ability to absorb it, causing iron deficiency. This condition is more likely to impact non-native plants than natives.

- If soil is compacted, test the area’s drainage before planting. Dig a hole 1 foot deep. Fill with water twice during the day. If water remains 24 hours after the second filling, drainage is poor and should be dealt with before planting. Because caliche appears randomly in desert soils, the solution may be as easy as moving your planting site elsewhere.
- If there are no other site options, break apart and discard as much caliche as possible before planting. You may need to rent a jackhammer to crack through it. If it is impractical to remove a large and deep expanse of caliche, create narrow drainage holes—or “chimneys”—through the layer. Retest drainage after your efforts. When planting a tree, make a chimney hole on each side. To gain maximum benefit of water and air penetration for expanding roots, the chimneys should be about 5 feet out from the trunk.
- If breaking through caliche seems to be impossible, add a 2-foot layer of soil over the projected planting area and expanding outward to where roots eventually will grow. Use soil that is similar to the surrounding area. Soil must cover the entire circumference of the root zone based on the plant’s mature size, not its size when it is transplanted. Roots will expand one-and-a-half to four times beyond the mature canopy in their quest for water and nutrients, so this can be a significant and expensive amount of soil buildup. "  Written by Cathy Cromell
More tomorrow friends.....
Source: Caliche

Monday, September 26, 2011

Urban Beauty

 Tucson has been displaying some incredible sunsets these past several nights.  On my way home, I snapped these shots in a rough neighborhood.  I like the contrast between nature and the urban setting.  These pics are untouched and natural.....and that's how brilliant our sunsets have been here.  I have a shot waiting to be taken, but I have to climb my roof to get it!!!  Maybe tomorrow:)

The Succulent Experiment

I get inspired by visiting gardens and after visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum this past spring, I got some ideas.  But instead of posting these beautiful succulents right away, I wanted to see how they would do over our hot summer.  These were placed in afternoon sun in well drained soil.  I will cover the remaining survivors up this winter during our freezes.  This was an experiment on succulents here in Tucson.  So let's take a look at what survived and is hardy....... 

Crassula argentea 'E.T.'s Fingers'
'E.T's Fingers' was one of my favorites, but it died.  This one requires a bit of shade.
Chocolate Soldier
The Chocolate Soldier slowly died and disappeared.  It likes morning sun.
Echeveria multicaulis
Surprisingly, this one has survived! But barely.
Graptosedum 'Vera Higgins'
This 'Vera Higgins' survived but barely.
Key Lime Pie or Adromischus cristatus
Key Lime Pie would like some cooler temps but it's hanging in there.
Cocoon Plant/Senecio haworthii
The Cocoon Plant is still alive.
Aloe descoingsii
This Aloe thrives!
Climbing Aloe/Aloe ciliaris
So does this one.  It's beautiful and very very green.
Ripple Jade/Crassula arborescens undulatifolia
Unfortuneatly, this Crassula didn't make it.
Rainbow Bush/Portulacaria afra 'Variegata'
This Rainbow Bush is the WINNER for heat.  I like it in mass plantings AND the best part?  It will thrive in almost full sun.  This plant seems to have done the best out of them all.  I am going to purchase more of these and plant them in repetitive form.
Sempervivum arachnoideum 'Cebenses'
This plant is barely holding on.....
Crassula Springtime
This Crassula has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Echeveria minima
Still hanging on but would like cooler temps, this Echeveria minima is a favorite.
Haworthia mirabilis mundula
This Haworthia mirabilis mundula is my favorite.  I planted this in mostly shade because I love it.  It is doing well.
Kalanchoe longiflora coccinea
This Kalanchoe is still around.
Echeveria Ramillette
As is this Echeveria Ramillette.
Cremnosedum 'Crocodile'
I also like this Cremnosedum 'Crocodile'.  It's doing well and alive.  So my Tucson gardening friends, I would say that all of these need strong morning sun but protection from the blinding afternoon heat.  The Rainbow bush and aloe thrive on full sun.  The Rainbow Bush is the winner for the extreme desert heat and sun.  It's extremely attractive and makes a nice addition to an area that needs mass plantings.  Of course most succulents need some regular watering in extreme heat, but don't overwater or you'll kill them.  Knowing this information, I'll be able to better place future generations of succulents around the El Presidio grounds.  Too much shade and they'll rot.  Too much sun and they'll burn.  Also remember that they will freeze if not covered during our winter nights.  If you'd like a reliable succulent ground cover for your garden, plant the popular ice plant.  Little water.  Lots of sun and heat.....and BAM!  Perfection.  Until tomorrow...

Sedeveria 'Blue Elf'

There's your very own Tucson test.  I like everyone of these amazing plants and I have a plan to create garden art with them.  However, this time, I will be providing some protective shade for them down the road.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

El Presidio Record Keeping 2011

Caladiums and Elephant Ears.  I'll start off with the pretty pic first because the rest of it needs a lot of work. 
Do you ever wonder who placed that old tree in your yard?  Or wonder why a set of bushes were placed along a fence? Or perhaps the thoughts behind why or how they began their gardens before you took over?  Most properties around town carry old histories and stories about the people who created these gardens from a long time ago. Cars and people pass these places up and don't pay particular attention to the trees or plants that make up our city's landscape.  If you ask anyone about a specific plant, you're more than likely to receive a shrug or a "I don't know."  Some places have kept records about a tree or an important plant like at the University of Arizona. Today I begin my second visual record of the El Presidio Gardens.  There is progress, but I'll warn you.....some of it is in transition! PS.  There is never an end to the amount of material I have for this blog.  I have been saving all of my work for years just for this kind of thing.:)  There are a lot of pics for this moderate sized property. 
The fern garden is currently my masterpiece sample.  It's coming along nicely with some fine tuning to be done in spring.
One of the reasons for this blog is to keep a record of our grounds and show the progress being made every year. It's also to explain the thoughts and ideas of the current homeowners for why they've done what they've done, like for example, our pool being filled.  This blog allows current homeowners and renters to read what's going on around our place at all times.  Down the road, it will allow a future gardener/homeowner, like myself, to read why I planted what I did and understand the thinking behind the placement of a tree or shrub.  No one is perfect, but as time goes, modifications are made.  Change is always happening for gardeners, and that's just the process:) This is the purpose of a blog or gardening diary. Wouldn't it be nice to know that when we purchased a new place, we'd get a blog or diary on the landscape?
The courtyard.  Where do I begin?  The balance is off.  As promised, I will have a lot of El Presidio information coming up.  This summer has been a transition for everyone.   The pool is gone and filled in, but what shall we do?  Stay tuned for the transformations.
This year has been a difficult year in the garden and landscape due to our winter's freeze and MAJOR projects.  But I'll catch you all up over the course of several days.  After all that is what part of this blog is about.  I feel good that we've done some major work, but I also have to be patient with the reconstruction of the landscape.  It's a constant battle and a SLOW process. We've hired someone to look at our pool and give us a professional plan.  That post will be coming up and titled, "Decisions, Decisions".  For now, let's look at the property and the various sections.  What are the plans? What are the issues?
The front area needs a little fix.  The balance is off.  Cactus have been added on the left side to give this area a little desert punch.
This planter is where my tropical addictions go.  I love caladiums and elephant ears but I can't place them all over the property because they require too much water.
The area above needs to have the live oak saplings pruned back.  The wells also need some work.  I'd like to put my upright cactus here.
This ramada area needs a rake with some vines on the side.  The top is covered with cat's claw and solar lights.  Colorful pots will also address the side areas to make this space POP!!
The fern garden is near completion but on the left side of this space I have some work to do.  A privet needs to be removed.  More bamboo will be added. But who will dig the holes?
This space is on the fern garden side and will be a cactus garden.
Potted area full of citrus, dwarf fruit trees and vinca. 
Overgrown area of morning glory vine. This space will be "fixed" in spring.
Back to the courtyard.  A crepe myrtle is looking terrible.  I am going to cut it down and begin at "ground zero".  I think this will create a stronger and healthier looking plant.  I've done it with one already and it's has done well with this treatment.
The fruit garden is almost completely finished.  But the side planters must be addressed this fall and spring.
The courtyard is an eyesore for many homeowners....especially those trying to sell their places.  The HOA has had to wait for the dirt in the pool to sink a bit with our rains before putting a professional design in.  When getting rid of your pool, remember that it is a year long process for many people. Sometimes longer.....
This space needs to more rose bushes....and some cleaning up.
This space will be redefined in spring.  Cactus and other smaller shrubs will be added to give this space a little punch.
This side area will take time, but the Tree of Heaven(or Hell) has been placed in this contained area where it is spreading copies of itself all along this planter.  Remember keep this invasive plant in an area from other plants.
Those rocks along the courtyard will be removed and placed in the back of this garden to highlight other plants.
More torchglow bougainvillea will be planted in this area. It LOVES the hot western sun.  Does well with little to no watering.
The Whiskey Barrels are doing well and the various cacti are growing. Little to no water for this northern exposure.
Castor plants add that purple punch to the front entrance. 
The former pool area is the biggest challenge.  What will our professional designer tell us?
Hope you've enjoyed a quick view on some of the work we have ahead of us this fall and spring.  Our workday for homeowners is scheduled October 23rd at 9 AM. Lunch is provided:)  Stay tuned for more news on the El Presidio Grounds.