The Much-Maligned Buddleia

I am here to ask that people stop bashing Buddleia. Commonly known as butterfly bush, Buddleia (Buddleja) varieties are attractive, low-water and easy-care plants for Southwest gardens. Unfortunately, because they are invasive in some populous areas of the country, misinformation abounds on growing this plant in the plains and Southwest. So, I want to set the record straight for those of who garden in dry climates. Here is the good and the bad of Buddleia:

Why Does Everyone Hate Butterfly Bush?

First, most Buddleias are not native to North America. I agree that we need to favor native plants over non-native ones. However, one of the best reasons for choosing natives is ability to adapt to conditions, such as low water use. Well, guess what? Butterfly bush is drought tolerant after it is established and actually does poorly in soggy conditions.

butterfly-bush-in-rock-garden
The butterfly bush in the right center is the perfect height to balance a natural garden and close enough to see butterflies.

Second, non-native plants can become invasive. There are two reasons why this should not concern most growers in the Southwest. Buddleia davidii plants have been declared invasive in most of the Pacific Northwest, areas along the California coast and on the eastern seaboard. They need a little more water than some varieties. Southwestern states have completely different growing conditions, and the plant is not invasive in any drier climates I’ve visited. Further, I leave all branches and flowers on my plant all winter. I have never spotted a new butterfly bush cropping up.

butterfly-bush-winter
Here is that butterfly bush in winter. It still gives height to the garden and a place for birds to land.

Finally, there are several Buddleia varieties that are native to North America (see below).  And you can bet that as soon as plant breeders saw all the fuss about banning butterfly bushes, they got busy. So, there are plenty of sterile varieties available. That means they will not set seeds and make new plants that clutter and invade your landscape.

monarch-butterfly-buddleia
In case you need evidence, here is a Monarch butterfly on my butterfly bush a few years ago.

Why Do I Love Butterfly Bush?

This is one of my favorite plants in the landscape. The one we have is front and center in our garden. It was planted at least 8 years ago by the previous owners of our home. And it still looks great every summer.

Here are some of my favorite features of Buddleia:

  • Butterflies flock to the aptly named plant (although it is not considered a “host”  plant, butterflies enjoy the flowers’ nectar). So do hummingbirds. I wouldn’t rely on a buddleia as a sole source for helping butterflies, but it can be part of a pollinator landscape.
  • Butterfly bushes bloom all summer, can take heat and need no deadheading (if in a dry climate or growing a sterile or noninvasive variety).
  • Larger buddleias have winter interest and serve as a landing spot for winter birds.
  • Talk about easy: We water deeply once each spring after pruning. We only water other times in periods extreme heat and drought.
  • You can prune butterfly bush to a foot or less above ground in early spring as new growth appears along the lower branches. Also remove dead branches. That’s all it needs to grow and bloom each summer.
  • The bush is deer resistant, a big plus for mountain and high desert gardens.
butterfly-bush-purple-flower
It’s a flower full of little flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Safe Buddleia Varieties

As I said, there are some butterfly bushes native to the Southwest and new hybrids with sterile flowers. Here are a few examples:

  • B. alternifolia Fountain. Grows to about 12 feet tall in a fountain shape with purple flowers.
  • B. marrubifolia, also known as Orange Wooly Butterfly Bush,  is native to the Chihuahuan desert, with whitish foliage and orange flowers.
  • B. utahensis, or Utah Butterfly Bush, is native to Utah, Arizona, California, and Nevada.
  • Dwarf varieties such as B. davidii var. annhoensis.

See more choices and photos in this article from Garden Design Magazine. I have been testing a new variety called B. alternifolia ‘Unique’ that I brought back from a meeting in Atlanta several years ago, in my suitcase. We kept it alive in a sunny spot all winter and  planted it the next spring. It’s a dwarf variety with pinkish-lavender flowers that is perfect for butterfly containers.

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B. alternifolia ‘Unique’ is a dwarf butterfly bush.

You can find butterfly bush varieties in white, lavender, deep purple, magenta, and others. So, don’t be afraid to plant Buddleia in your low-water garden. Check at the nursery or online seller to make sure the variety you choose is either native or bred to be sterile. And when looking for gardening information, check more than one source, one of which is local or regional!

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Close-up of the B. alternifolia ‘Unique’ branches. Pretty foliage and pinkish purple blooms!

Raindrops Kept Fallin’…

There’s always some irony in gardening. I’m writing about drought-tolerant plants several hundred yards from an area struck by fire no more than five years ago and under severe water use and fire restrictions all spring. We prefer xeric plants and inherited a huge and well-planned xeric garden when we moved here in April. Most of the plants survived with no care or water while the property sat on the market for a year. So we were ready to look for more drought-tolerant choices for a slightly cooler zone and purchase rain barrels in case the skies ever opened up.

early rain
Early summer rain. See how brown the grass is? What grass, you say?

Rural Gardening

People who live in rural areas know their weather. One reason is that they tend to pay attention to the skies, the land, the views. Another is that many grow lawns, crops, or feed for livestock or homestead.

One of the main reasons they know weather is that no television station, web site or app gets rural weather right. Our “local” weather is mixed in with several other communities in our county, some of which are 20 miles north of us or about 1,000 feet higher in elevation. Considering that the temperature can vary about six degrees between our place and a neighbor who lives about a block away, it is hard to pinpoint our precise forecasts.

First and Last Freeze

The USDA has our hardiness zone on the money, and that helps us know which plants are less likely to survive nights below 20, or even 10, degrees. Maybe more accurate is the very definite (but since proven accurate) prediction of various neighbors told us the last freeze would be “around Mother’s Day.” The first year, we had a hard freeze the day before.  When they said that the rains would start “on the Fourth of July,” they were close again. It started raining July 1 and pretty much kept raining for nearly six weeks. I have not asked about the need to tie weather events to well-known holidays, but if it works…

rain on patio
So then it really rained. Maybe because we were trying to pour a patio.

Nearly 6 years later, the holiday predictions still are pretty accurate, but rain has been scarce since 2017. The first year, however, and in summer 2017, we got lots of rain.

Too Much Rain

So, what do you do when your xeric garden gets rain, LOTS of rain? Well, most of the plants adapted just fine. They grew well and plenty of lovely annuals popped up from volunteer seeds. But we also got every kind weed known to man in every spot a weed could grow and some places I thought they couldn’t. In all of the gravel walkways, between rocks and pavers, inside cacti (those weeds are smart!). And pretty much all over the entire 4 acres.

By the time we got a mower to the back orchard, the weeds were up to my knees. We eventually conquered the mowing, but lost the battle in much of the garden. My thinking is that the yard and weeds had a year’s head start on us, and it will take us a little time to catch up.

weeds take over
Still raining Aug. 10. See the weeds in that front bed and all along the ditch bank in the background?

I also have been meaning to ask a neighbor what sort of event to expect on Thanksgiving. Maybe our first snow, though I think it might hit sooner. I just hope the snow doesn’t last for six weeks.

outdoor wedding tent
The rain was perfect in 2017, just before we held our daughter’s wedding here. It let up the morning of the wedding!

Gifts for New Mexico Gardeners

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December is filled with shopping and even stressing over ideas for gifts. But I’ve got a few ideas and links to some great gifts courtesy of me and my partners at Southwest Gardening Blog. If you have co-workers, friends, or family members who love plants, we’ve got some great ideas, many of them based on gifts we’ve received or wished for, or products we’ve tested.

Link below to a holiday gift guide for Southwest gardeners, complete with links for immediate purchase.

Some of my favorite gifts have included cactus-themed containers or office supplies, Olla watering pots and gardening gloves. For links to some of these and other gift ideas, head over to our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide (which also has a link to last year’s guide) for more ideas. You should be able to link directly from our gift ideas to online purchases.

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LED grow lights, African violets, and a USB humidifier are great gifts for houseplant growers.

Speaking as a plant geek, I can tell you that anyone who loves houseplants or outdoor gardening also loves plant-related gifts. My daughter has given me so many thoughtful gifts with a plant theme, some of which are included in the Holiday Gift Guide.

Still unsure? We also have a great gift for anyone who either loves gardening or just has to maintain their Southwest yard. Our 2020 Southwest Gardening calendar has photos from throughout the Southwest and gardening tips or tasks by month.

Since New Mexico and nearby states vary so much in climate and conditions, we’ve divided these tips by region: low and middle desert, high desert and mountain regions, and Texas. It’s a practical and pretty gift full of great Southwest gardening information.

haworthia-foliage
Harowthia is such a fun succulent, and it can send up a stem with yellow flowers.

And if you are in the holiday spirit, read my past posts on New Mexico traditions, succulents as gifts, review of a product for bird lovers, and a recipe for yummy cookies.

Happy shopping!

New Mexico Chile

If there is one fact people know about New Mexico, it’s that we grow the best chile (Capsicum annuum), no matter what neighboring states might say. You might not know that paprika and cayenne come from chile products. Paprika is made from low-heat red chile, and cayenne from a more pungent, higher heat pepper. But nothing beats fresh green chile.

Leaving green chile on the plant until it is red and nearly dry makes the red chile pods that are used for chile ristras, and especially for delicious red chile sauce. People who live in New Mexico love to eat chile, and the only real debate is whether red or green chiles are better. The best way to solve any dispute and please the taste buds is to order both (a choice called “Christmas” in our local restaurants). Take my poll below if you have a strong opinion!

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New Mexico red chile, strung in decorative ristras. Image from the National Park Service.

According to New Mexico chile growers, the industry is in trouble because of low-cost foreign competition. But chile crops require warm weather, arid conditions and warm soil. Southern New Mexico in particular boasts the perfect chile-growing conditions. And since weather can affect not only harvest but flavor and heat of the fruit, why would anyone buy from less than the best?

If you want to grow a few plants in your own garden, the chile plants thrive best when temperatures are at or above 60 degrees. Even a light frost can kill a chile pepper plant. Direct-seeding is preferred, but you need a long, warm growing season to start chile from seeds. Otherwise, you can transplant chile plants that are about six to eight inches high and space them about 10 inches apart. Make sure they’re getting full sun and are in well-drained soil. They need consistent watering, but adjust based on rainfall. They won’t like wet feet.

green chile from community garden
Green chile harvested from neighborhood community garden, along with other great vegetables.

Chiles are ready for harvest around August, and New Mexico towns fill with the smell of roasted green chile. Both red and green chiles are loaded with vitamins A and C and tons of flavor. If you’ve never tried them before, start with mild or medium heat and work your way up.

New Mexico green chile
You can roast green chile on your grill.

If you can’t grow chile where you live, buy authentic New Mexico chile. Try the search page for NM chile sellers from the NM Chile Association.

5 Xeric Plants for Containers

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Growing in containers gives you flexibility; you can move plants around based on shade and sun exposure or bring some inside for winter. There are plenty of reasons to have lots of fun or decorative containers (or an entire row of them!) Here are 5 great low-water choices and a few tips for growing succulents and other xeric plants in containers.

Agave

agave-skull-ends-protect
Agave makes a striking single plant, and you can add these fun protectors to keep it from striking you as you pass by!

Pot these upright succulents when you have limited space or your winter low prohibits growing them in the ground. Some agaves become quite large, but probably will grow a little slower in a pot. Try those smaller than about a foot in diameter (basketball-sized at maturity) such as black-spined, artichoke and Queen Victoria for great container-scale plants. The rosette shape of most agaves makes them perfect as the only plant in a container. Line the top of the soil with decorative rocks or glass and your container design is done! Agaves withstand heat and drought, and some can take cold (such as A. parryi). Most, however, can only handle light freezes.

Rosemary

rosemary-container
Rosemary can grow in containers in climates either too cold or too hot for the herb.

My favorite versatile herb can grow well in containers. Depending on the look you want, select an upright (bush) type to add height to a mix of xeric container plants or choose a trailing rosemary to drape over the side. Either one should bloom at some point during the growing season. You can move your container rosemary inside to a sunny window or leave outside against a warm south-facing wall for year-round access to the tasty herb. Some varieties can survive winters down to zone 5 or 6, but most do best in warmer climates. And remember, that container cools off faster than the ground.

Portulaca

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Portulaca is versatile — you can use one color to excellent effect or add mixes for pops of color in containers.

Portulaca plants are idea for containers, especially for adding texture, draping shape and outstanding color. I love filling containers with portulaca, but also love placing them beneath a tall plant in a container to add interest. They grow best in dry, well-draining soil in full sun. Portulaca plants are annuals, but always available in Southwest nurseries. They spread so quickly and bloom so heavily that they are well worth the money. Choose from bloom colors in reds, oranges, yellows, whites and pink. They often drop tiny seeds that will show up as volunteers the next year, which can be fun. Or you can easily pull up the shallow roots.

Lantana

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Lantana Ultra Yellow is a bright container plant. Image courtesy of Plant Select.

These gorgeous plants make great low-growing borders, hedges or potted plants, depending on your climate. Potted lantanas drape over the side, adding shape and dimensions to container arrangements. I love the salmon-pink and lemon-yellow bloom arrangements. Some varieties grow large, but look for dwarf varieties such as Pinkie or Patriot. In the low desert (zones 9 through 11), lantana plants can be outside all year. In high deserts of New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, we have to grow them as annuals or bring them inside when temperatures dip to about 55 degrees.

Any Succulent

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Happy succulents winter indoors with good southern sun, and travel outside in summer.

Containers dry out faster than the ground, making xeric plants, and especially succulents, the perfect container plants. Succulents need well-draining soil, so look for mixes that don’t retain too much water. Once you get the right soil mix, you should be able to water your succulents lightly once a week and have plenty of success. Most also grow slowly, so they don’t require frequent repotting. Some of my favorites are jade, echeveria, sempervivum, haworthia  and crown of thorns.

A few tips for growing xeric plants in containers:

  • Make sure you have well-draining soil so the roots do not stay too wet.
  • Likewise, provide drainage at the bottom of the container.
  • Water slowly and lightly when possible to avoid washing out soil and nutrients.
  • Most xeric container plants need lots of sun, but keep an eye out for too much sun, especially when moving a plant back outdoors for the summer or placing it inside too close to a window.
  • Try to keep xeric plants together in arrangements, since they have similar watering needs. Or if mixing, find a way to separate low-water plants by potting within the larger pot or ensuring water drains away from them.
  • Overwatering leads to the demise of more xeric plants, especially container succulents, than other issues.

 

Caryopteris: You Can Grow That!

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If you want a shrub that bursts with mid- to late spring color and thrills butterflies and bees, you can grow Caryopteris (C. x clandonensis).  Also called bluebeard, blue mist, and blue mist spirea, caryopteris plants actually are part of the mint (Laminaceae) family, a recent change from their former placement in the verbena family. Regardless, they are nothing like a spirea, but the name has stuck.

 

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The mint-like leaves have a nice scent and color. The purple blooms burst with color in mid- to late summer.

About Caryopteris

Caryopteris is a drought-tolerant shrub that has pretty, sage-like pale green leaves. The leaves have a nice, light scent. They drop in winter (it is deciduous) but begin emerging in late spring or early summer. I leave the brown seed heads on for some winter interest; blue mist still will maintain its shrub shape with dry, light brown stems.

painted-lady-buttefly-caryopteris
Butterflies love the bright blossoms of caryopteris. Each time I walk past a plant, I feel like I am in a butterfly pavilion.

The plant comes from Asia, so it is not native to North America. That does not seem to bother my pollinators and I have not seen the plant spread invasively, unlike its mint relatives.  Still, you can prevent it from self-sowing (dropping seeds to create new plants) by pruning it in fall as soon as all the flowers fade.

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This caryopteris receives some afternoon shade but still blooms fully next to an Apache plume.

Where to Plant Caryopteris

This pretty and easy-care shrub can grow and bloom in either full sun or part sun in zone 5 through 8 Southwest gardens. Some cultivars are hardy down to zone 4. The plant can reach 3 feet wide and 4 feet high, but can grow a little taller in the right conditions. It is easy to shape and control. Blue mist can make a nice low hedge if planted close together or serve as a featured plant in a sunny area.

blue-mist-on-berm-river-bed-ornamental-grass
Here is the caryopteris we lifted out, divided and replanted in nearly the same spot, just a little further from and above patio runoff.

Blue mist does not like to sit in soggy soil, especially in cooler weather, so choose a spot with soil that drains well. We had one near our house that seemed to be getting too much water from patio runoff. When we built a dry river bed to handle drainage, we created a low berm for the caryopteris. It still gathers water from the flowing rain runoff but does not stay too wet.

Caring for Caryopteris

In the first year, water caryopteris regularly, letting it dry a little between waterings. When temperatures stay above about 90 degrees, water blue mist every two weeks if you are not getting rain. To avoid root rot, cut back on watering when nights cool and for plants getting some shade.

Other than that, all you have to do is prune this stunning purple plant once a year. I prune mine in spring as new growth begins to appear near the ground, but you can prune in early fall after the plant fades if you are worried about self-sowing. You can trim the branches down to about 12 to 15 inches from the ground for a pretty shrub effect. We also had some planted together in one area of the garden that my husband shaped so they would frame the nearby Apache plume.

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Bees also love caryopteris and co-exist with us and the butterflies.

If you do get volunteer plants or your caryopteris outgrows its spot in your garden, it is an easy shrub to transplant. Carefully dig deeply around your small volunteers soon after their lower leaves green up in spring. We also divided the one we put back on the berm, and both plants have retained a nice round shape.

It’s drought tolerant, a pollinator magnet and easy care. You can grow caryopteris!

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Product Review: Nectar Aid

 

Nectar-Aid-pitcher-instructions

Feeding and attracting hummingbirds each season is a favorite gardener and birder activity. I use a combination of native plants and a hummingbird feeder.  I used to find refilling the feeder a tedious and messy task. Now, a New Mexico entrepreneur, Arnold Klein, has patented a one-step system for mixing hummingbird and oriole nectar that is easy and clean.

Before I go further, I want to emphasize why you should mix your own nectar. First, it costs less than purchasing a mix. Second, it is fresh. And finally, you should not add red food coloring like commercial nectars do. Hummers will find the feeder, since all have some degree of red on them. And the dyes can be harmful.

hummingbird-on-glass-feeder
Last year’s feeder before the bees took over, filled with nectar I mixed up in my Nectar Aid.

Nectar Aid

Klein’s product, Nectar Aid, makes it easy to mix two simple ingredients—sugar and water—by providing all the tools and steps you need for making nectar in your kitchen. The Nectar Aid comes with a handled plastic pitcher, a lid, and a divider for separating sugar and water while measuring (that doubles as a stirring paddle). The pitcher is microwave safe in case you want to warm or boil your water.

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A view from the top shows the lid, grooves in the pitcher for measuring and the easy-pour spout.

How Nectar Aid Works

The product comes with easy instructions. Place the mixing paddle/divider into one of the grooved slots – one is for oriole nectar, and the other for hummingbird nectar. Fill it with water. I only make two batches at a time, so after several uses, I have learned to fill mine about one-fourth up or less. But if you have several feeders or go through lots of nectar, fill it as full as necessary. You can boil the water right in the pitcher. Or you can use warm tap water – warmed water dissolves the sugar faster.

Nectar-aid-sugar-right-water-left
Just fill the Nectar Aid with equal parts sugar and water by viewing whether it is level. So simple!

The top time-saving feature of Nectar Aid for me is that you need no formula. I always forget ratios and recipes and have to go look them up again. The Nectar Aid pitcher already has that figured out.

As soon as you have put in both sugar and water to the same level, lift the separating spoon out and use it to stir your mix. It easily scrapes sugar out of corners and drags the bottom of the pitcher. Then, place the lid on and you are ready pour your nectar, assuming it has cooled enough to avoid burning you and especially your hummers.

stirring-paddle-in-nectar-aid-pitcher
Just lift the paddle so the sugar and water come together, then stir.

Easy Pouring and Storage

I also love that the Nectar Aid makes pouring the sticky water easier. I have spilled nectar in the past and had ants all over where it landed. This makes it super easy to fill nearly any size or shape of feeder without a funnel.

pouring-clear-nectar-into-feeder-bowl
The lid controls the flow to pour into small spaces if necessary. My new feeder (bee and ant proof) is easy to fill from the Nectar Aid pitcher.

The pitcher stores well in the fridge with the lid on, so all you have to do when you refill your feeder (which you should do every few days after a quick clean) is pour it in; your batch is ready and safe. It will keep for 7 to 10 days in the refrigerator, so only make what you usually need for a week. You won’t mind mixing more if you run out, because Nectar Aid makes it so easy.

Notes on Use

Another great feature of the Nectar Aid is the paddle holder on the side of the pitcher’s lid. That makes it easy to store your Nectar Aid without misplacing just the lid or stirring paddle. I have found I prefer to put sugar in first, just because the water sometimes runs under the paddle and into the sugar side. But it doesn’t affect the mix unless you stop in the middle of filling.

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The lid also holds your mixing paddle between uses.

Overall, this is a clever and useful product. I have had mine for a year and use it regularly each summer. It stores easily in winter in a pantry along with other pitchers.

Where to Buy Nectar Aid

Buy Nectar Aid from Hummingbird Guide and even view a video on how it works.  It costs $19.99 plus shipping. I know hummingbird season is winding down in some areas of the country, but you can be ready next spring with a Nectar Aid or give it as a gift this holiday season to a bird lover.

 

 

 

 

Looking Up in the Garden

 

trees-and-skyWhen you tour botanical gardens or private gardens, do you ever look up to see what’s above your head? Most of us plan our gardens while sitting on our back patio or strolling through its paths. Often, we choose plants simply because we see them at a nursery and love their flowers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but one day soon, take a look at your landscape from the point of entry, such as the gate to your backyard, and walk around,  considering the overall look from ground level to tree canopy.

You might be pleasantly surprised, and you can add interest and beauty to  your garden by considering what goes on over your head. I recently toured several gardens in the Denver area and noted use of arbors and other design elements to add height and 360-degree interest to landscapes. Here are a few examples.

Decks and Patios

Al you need are a few containers and some “engineering” skills to garden vertically, so to speak. Here are some of my favorite examples.

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We all love a few containers on the deck or patio, but floor space is limited, right? Jim Borland, co-host of Ask the Garden Pros on Denver radio station EZ 1430, has “looking up” down to a science.
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Here’s a totally different style of plant for a different style of home. These giant fuchsias hang from baskets on the front porch of Kirsten and Scott Hamling’s home in Denver.
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I love the ingenious ways Denver-area homeowners have for hanging baskets. This fun collection hangs from overhead at the home of Dan Johnson and Tony Miles of Englewood, CO.
grass-growing-hanging-container
And a little whimsy always helps. Jim Borland has a container with grass hanging on his back patio. I am not sure how he mows it…
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The prize for most containers in a yard, not just in Denver, but maybe anywhere, goes to Rob Proctor and David Macke. They have more than 600 containers — filled with healthy plants. Rob is a garden expert, author, lecturer and TV personality in Denver. I love these pink petunias up the steps.

Arbors and Pergolas

Some plants are just born to trail up, down or around. With a well-placed arbor, you can add height, shapes, color and materials to your garden. Most of all, you can display some beautiful climbing plants that double as shade-makers.

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Such a pretty structure that draws your eye up and shows off bright pink roses. This was one of many highlights in Carol and Randy Shinn’s garden in Fort Collins, CO.
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This wooden structure in Jan and Richard Devore’s Fort Collins garden is natural and unobtrusive, helping your eye see the climbing branches and foliage.
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Even more natural are these twisting, shady treetops, also in the Devores’ large backyard.
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Another great thing about looking up: Southwest skies. This arbor at the Denver Botanic Garden provided shade, plant support and a peek at the gorgeous clouds.
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This beautiful arbor at the Johnson-Miles garden looks great from the bottom up.

Mix up Plant Heights

Finally, don’t be afraid to add tall trees or other natural elements right in the middle of your garden. I always worry I have to place the tallest plants in the back. But breaking the “rules” can be fun and a hit.

confider-between-plants
The Shinns had a gorgeous mix of dry river beds, native plants, roses and other ornamentals in their front yard … and a giant tree as a focal point for the 360-degree view.

 

Persian Stonecress: You Can Grow That!

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Here’s a drought-tolerant, but little-known, delight for rock gardens: Persian stonecress (Aehtionema scistosum). I fell in love with this plant; here is why:

It is easy to grow Persian stonecress in zones 4 through 8, which means it can take some cold and heat. Aside from the explosion of tiny pinkish-lavender flowers in spring, this little plant smells wonderfully fragrant. Ours grows at the edge of our patio, where we can enjoy its sweet scent. Other great features of this plant are that it is waterwise, evergreen and often re-seeds, creating a low mounded groundcover in a rock or alpine garden.

pink-blooms-end-persian-stonecress-stem
The first blossoms are opening on this Persian stonecress stem. They stay open while the others follow for a pretty cap-like effect.

 Where to Plant Persian Stonecress

For the fragrance, plant Persian stonecress where you sit or walk by and can easily bend down to enjoy its fragrance. Note that once it grows to maturity, the plant will reach nearly 10 inches high and 15 inches wide. Because Persian stonecress can naturalize or multiply, it can make a pretty spring groundcover up against rock borders.

persian-stonecress-faded-flowers
These plants still look good as the flowers fade. They are next to our patio and planted near Turkish speedwell and daisies.

Select a spot with full sun if possible and with soil that drains well. You can plant other groundcovers of different heights and bloom color nearby and they probably will grow to form a colorful groundcover in a few years. I love the look of ours butted up against yellow daisies.

yellow-daisies-persian-stonecress-blossoms
The effect of the bright yellow and pale pink flowers is such a welcome spring sight.

How to Care for Persian Stonecress

Water a new plant a little more than you water other xeric plants, then water little to not at all. After the plant has finished flowering in spring, you can cut back the ends of the tiny branches to make it look neat. I leave the spent blooms on for several weeks or more. You also can trim the spent blooms off in fall; just avoid cutting into the evergreen part of the stems below.

flower-stalks-foliage-persian-stonecress
This shot was taken on a windy day, but shows the contrast between the evergreen leaves below and the fading flower stalks.

Remove dead stems if necessary in early spring. Otherwise, wait for it to bud out as one of the first spring-blooming xeric plants. And as you clean up your garden in spring, watch for new plants that might have started nearby. Their needle-like foliage and rounded shape are easy to spot.

I am not certain yet how well Persian stonecress transplants; we moved one in spring because it was about to be covered up by a new planting area we were building (it had taken root in a rock border). The plant looked dried up, but has new growth at its base, so we hope it will be healthy and blooming in its new location next spring.

Add Persian Stonecress to Your Rock Garden

Persian stonecress is not a common plant in nurseries, but High Country Gardens, which specializes in drought-tolerant plants, carries it online and will ship it as a small potted plant. This is an easy and beautiful spring bloomer for any xeric garden.

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Grow Your Xeric Garden With Plants that Naturalize

We are wrapping up a big project in our rock garden. It involved removing some lower beds and extending the raised beds out, bordered by a gabion wall. So, that meant having to dig up and transplant several favorite plants. After all, we needed to fill a lot of new planting area, and it’s always sad to lose a plant simply because of logistics.

So, Tim started digging up some plants last fall, when we began work on the new walls. He planted them in recycled nursery containers with a combination of potting mix and soil from where the plants were growing. When it became warm enough, we replanted them, helping to save a little money on filling our new beds and keeping some of our favorite plants going.

kniphofia plant and blooms before wall
Kniphofia, or red hot poker, multiplies and needs dividing every so often.

Plants That Naturalize

Many plants we grow in the Southwest re-seed (volunteers) or have spreading habits that make them easy to divide and move. Sometimes, a plant reproduces so easily, it becomes a problem. But conditions have to be just right for that, so I love this feature in a plant. After all, you can always transplant or gift one of your plants. Here are a few low-water plants we “saved” and replanted:

purple salvia in xeric garden
Salvia sylvestris keeps growing little “pups” near the first plant.

Salvia

Salvia plants are related to mint, and some of them sprout new plants from seeds. We have a row of midnight blue salvia plants that kept producing “pups,” so we potted some up, transplanted some directly and gave some away. We’ve never purchased the plant; these all came from one that was here more than six years ago.

colorado penstemon blooms
This native penstemon has created new plants for years.

Penstemon

Likewise, we have a purple penstemon (Rocky Mountain penstemon, or Penstemon strictus) that Tim dug up from one that spread in some grounds he used to care for. We planted in at our last home and it spread a little more, so we brought a part of it here. We had to transplant it to build our new bed, and now have at least six plants from the one he dug up about eight years ago.

bee on blanket flower
Bee on gaillardia. We have a native version growing in our yard as well.

Blanket Flower

Blanket flower (Gaillardia) is a wonderful magnet for bees and a great xeric perennial flower. It can spread from seed; we also saved and moved a few to our new beds. They have perked up and are doing well.

kniphofia-on-ground-pieces
Here is the Kniphofia pictured above. We broke it up and pulled out about six healthy looking ones to transplant.

Bulbs

Of course, iris reproduce like rabbits and they’re easy to transplant. We also moved some daylilies and split up a Kniphofia (red hot poker) to help fill our new beds. The jury still is out on when the lilies and red hot pokers will bloom, since we moved them when we had to, not necessarily at the best time for the plants.

apache-plume-white-blooms
It is easy to spot volunteers of Apache plume. It might take a year or two for the small plant to begin blooming, but it is free and beautiful!

Apache Plume

This native plant is one of several that starts volunteer seedlings around our garden. Although some might see this as a drawback, we welcome the seedlings. If we can’t move them, we always can pull them up if in the way of another plant.

close-up of thyme leaves
Thyme plants re-seed, grow pretty little flowers, attract bees and taste delicious!

Thyme

Herbal thyme is one of my favorite plants. The low-water herb does triple duty: it looks and smells great in the garden, it has delicate flowers that bees love, and it tastes great! We have let some plants spread and transplanted others.

threadgrass-rock-garden
We had at least seven or eight volunteer threadgrass plants this year we could relocate.

Threadgrass

Threadgrass is my new favorite low-water plant. It is easy to care for, and produces lots of little seedlings that are easy to spot and tell from other grasses or weeds. Just dig it up and move it to another spot.

grasses-austin-gardem
Repetition can look natural and orderly at the same time. Don’t be afraid to use several of the same plant in your Southwest garden.

A Few Tips for Replanting

Some of our success with volunteers certainly comes from letting plants go to seed. That can be a bad idea if they become invasive and crowd out other plants or if your front garden looks too unkempt through fall and winter.  But re-seeders can feed birds in fall and give you new plants to enjoy in spring.

Remember, if you are planting or dividing a plant, even a xeric one, it will need extra water for at least a few weeks while it gets used to its new home. And it needs a little extra water and care in its first year of life.

Check your favorite local and regional books or with local independent nursery staff to find out plants that re-seed in your area without taking over.

Of course, you also can keep an eye out for plants that re-seed. Nature often puts them in the perfect place, which also gives your xeric garden a more natural look.

xeric-garden-bed-mulch-volunteer-plants
This new bed is a little sparse now, but will fill in. It has a euphorbia, several salvias, cannas, a blanket flower and a yarrow we moved from other areas of the garden or from volunteer plants.

Finally, we are guilty of planting one of each plant we like. I’ve since seen enough gardens in which repetition of plants actually looks more natural and striking than stuffing in as many different plants as we can. So, don’t be afraid to plant three or more of the same plant!