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Drought Tolerant Flowers, Plants and Shrubs for High Desert Gardening

High Desert Blogging

Gardening in high desert terrain can vary from one garden to another, even in the same area. Finding what works is a matter of learning what type of garden soil you have, how much sun or shade a plant needs, trial and error and a whole lot of TLC.

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Water Conservation and Money-Saving Gardening Tips

Since water conservation is of utmost importance in the Mohave Desert, gardeners look for ways to cut down on garden upkeep. One garden blogger advised planting shrubs to save money in the garden. Like she says, they take up a larger space which means fewer plants are needed.

Planting drought tolerant shrubs, flowers, and trees will help conserve water. Oleander, pyracantha shrubs and Italian Cypress trees are evergreen and often seen planted as privacy fences. Although not everyone likes to plant oleanders because they are poisonous, they do grow well in the high desert. The oleander produces pink, white and red flowers from spring through autumn. The pyracantha is thorny and produces bright red or orange berries in autumn and winter and white flowers during spring and summer.

Combine shrubs with perennials and herbs like these:

  • lavender
  • sage
  • salvia
  • lovage
  • lemon balm
  • snapdragons
  • pansies
  • yarrow
  • catmint
  • California poppies

High Desert Snapdragons

Keep plants that require more water in the same area, and use soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system.

It makes sense to use native plants like cacti. A cactus garden when in bloom with bright green and pink flowers is a beautiful sight. Bees and hummingbirds love a blooming cactus garden.

Plant a smoke tree, mulberry or a juniper. These make great drought tolerant choices for a high desert landscape.

Groundcover plants to consider are:

  • Sedum
  • Rockrose
  • Thyme
  • Succulents

Be sure to ask your nursery what the best choices are for your type of garden soil. Keep your receipts. Some garden stores offer a money-back guarantee if you have a receipt to show.

Happy Gardening!


How to Start Organic Garden Composting

recycling kitchen waste

Organic Garden Composting

Organic composting can be started simply without costing a great deal of money. Starting an organic compost pile just takes a little research of the types of green and brown materials to use.


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Gardeners learning to compost are told to add leaves for brown material. A high desert gardener might ask, “What leaves?” High desert areas have a great amount of the materials listed in the not-to-use list below. In that case, there are other brown materials that can be substituted.

Green Material

  • Grass Clippings
  • Fresh Weeds and Plants
  • Vegetable Scraps
  • Annual and Perennial Plant Trimmings
  • Chicken, Cow and Horse Manure
  • Eggshells
  • Annual Weeds Not Seeded Yet
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Tea Leaves
  • Flowers and Cuttings (chop woody stems)
  • Urine
garden composting

Strawberry Waste Composting

Brown Material

  • Fall Leaves
  • Pine Needles
  • Twigs
  • Dryer Lint
  • Cardboard Egg Cartons
  • Shrub Prunings
  • Wood  Chips
  • Hay
  • Straw
  • Newspaper (not glossy or colored inks)
  • Corn Cobs or Stalks
  • Fruit Waste
  • Peanut Shells

Materials Not to Use

  • Oleanders
  • Juniper, Acacia, Cypress, Eucalyptus (contain acids which are toxic)
  • Invasive Weeds
  • Diseased Plants
  • Wood Ashes
  • Thorny Plants
  • Meats
  • Bones
  • Dairy
  • Oils and grease
  • Glossy newspaper
  • Cactus Plants

A ratio of fifty percent green and fifty percent brown works fine. However, three to four parts brown to one part green is ideal. Combining the correct ratio of green and brown materials is important.

The greens are the nitrogen content, fresh and moist. The dry browns are the carbon content. Too much carbon will slow down decomposition, and too much nitrogen will make a stinky compost pile.

How to Compost

  1. Start pile on dirt, or add dirt to bottom of pile if putting into a container (for good organisms like worms). Compost or potting soil you have on hand works, too.
  2. Add twigs, leaves or straw next (for drainage and circulating air).
  3. Add grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, or any of the green material.
  4. Put water on the pile, about once or twice weekly. If it starts smelling bad, there may be too much water or green material.
  5. Cover. Use a large plastic bag and wood boards to hold it in place, or use anything that will hold the moisture in.
  6. Mix the compost two or three times weekly with a pitchfork which will add oxygen.

Combining the steps above with the perfect ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials can have a compost pile ready to use in about three weeks. If the simple method of turning with a pitchfork seems too much work or too slow of a process, shop for an easy-to-turn compost bin.

Recycling yard and kitchen waste is good for plants and the soil. Clay soils drain better. Sandy soils retain water. In addition, you save money by not having to buy compost at the garden center.


Essential Tools for the High Desert Gardener

Pink Cactus Flower

My Garden Pink Cactus Flower

Growing a garden in the high desert requires owning a few necessary tools. Consider these tasks when choosing essentials for a new garden:

  • pulling weeds
  • planting flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees
  • raking leaves
  • watering
  • composting

Gardeners have favorite tools they can’t live without. My list of favorites is based on comfort and gardening in the high desert.

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You can never have too many pairs of garden gloves. When glove shopping, don’t let the pretty ones deceive you. Cheap ones are priced low for a reason. The least water and dirt will cause quick wear and tear on them.

Cheap Gloves

$2-$3 Gloves

Pretty and pink means little when purchasing the best gloves. However, go ahead and get those pretty ones you have your eyes on if it means you need a little comfort to make you feel good.

Choose pretty pink (or whatever your favorite color is) and invest in another pair of durable gloves as well. You’ll know you didn’t choose the most durable ones when you get stuck with desert prickly foxtails.

Two brands of gloves that have held up for awhile for me or that I like are Digz and Mud. has a set of pretty Digz women’s garden gloves
and are bright colors if you are looking for pretty ones.

Even the Digz gloves get worn out like mine did with holes in the finger tips. My Digz gloves and the pretty pink ones gave out, so I purchased another pair that are blue and made by Mud. Just the name “Mud” made me think they might hold up better with water and dirt. We’ll see.

Digz Garden Gloves

Women’s Digz Garden Gloves

Garden gloves made by Mud

My Mud Gloves










Digging in the dirt, planting, watering or strolling through the garden to check on the new sprouts of green popping up will make you lose your sense of time. It’s a refreshing like you can’t imagine. So grab your hat before walking out the door because when you walk into your garden world, you’ll forget all about protecting your skin basking in the sun.

Colors of the garden inspire. Colorful hats do, too. Pick up a new summer hat for your mornings and evenings in the garden.

Hula Hoe

I haven’t met anyone who loves weeding – unless it’s to get your exercise quota in for a day. The kind I use is the inexpensive basic hula hoe, but I’ve seen some that cost more and that are bigger. It seems like to me the bigger one, though the cost is more, might make a weeding job a tad bit easier. That’s a thought for starting my next gardening tool list.


Trowels are handy when planting flowers, herbs and vegetables, whether in the ground or containers. Traditional trowels with long, narrow blades work well for digging and planting. I’ve used the traditional type for scooping out soil from a bag to transport to pots. Every time I spill the soil. So a wide deep-dish blade works better for transplanting soil. Shop online or at your local hardware store to choose the best for your needs. Choose your favorite, the traditional, ergonomic or a type of garden trowel that fits all of your needs.


When the summer season ends, it’s a good idea to own a rake. A friend visited my desert place and commented, “I’ve never seen a rake like that.”

Thinking she was referring to my mini rake (a very handy little tool to have) that helps when scooping a pile of leaves, I turned to see what she was pointing at. She was talking about my big sweep rake. It made me curious about types of rakes. I did an online research and discovered that there are all kinds of rakes I wasn’t even aware of.


Working in the garden, especially when weeding with the hula hoe, can cause many foxtails to stick through flimsy shoes. A good pair of durable garden clog shoes is worth keeping around.


A kinking hose when watering is the most aggravating thing about gardening – with the exception of critters eating from the garden. The kinking problem, however, can be easily solved by purchasing a pocket hose like the one below.

You may can tell that my favorite garden item is gloves. However, all of these items are important for all gardeners.

Got a favorite garden tool you can’t do without? I’d like to hear about it. Tell me in the comment section on this page.

Happy Gardening!

Gardening Inspiration and Poetry

Flowers in Sinks

Herb Sink Gardening

April has been an interesting month for me because of dealing with vertigo. It’s been a new experience. Extreme spinning happens at hearing acute noises, seeing movements, or just sitting in a chair. One thing that has helped, however, is simply watering the garden, planting seeds, or pulling weeds. Every chance, whether twenty to thirty minutes or an hour spent in the garden, is a wonderful relief from vertigo episodes that last for hours or a whole day.

Spending time in the garden is the thing I like most about spring. Planting flowers, herbs and vegetables inspires the soul. Not only is it therapeutic. It’s an excellent way to get physical exercise.

Basil, pepper, and tomato plants were planted early this month. Seeds I’ve planted so far include beets, broccoli, chives, cilantro, dill, carrots, okra, peas and nasturtiums. Herbs such as lavender, lemon balm, lovage, mint and rosemary are already growing fast in my garden. Kitchen gardens are handy to grow. When cooking up a vegetable or marinating chicken, you just step outside the kitchen door, snip off a handful of herbs, rinse them and add to whatever you’re cooking.

April is National Poetry Month, and is hosting a poetry contest on the theme of “Place”. Co-hosting this contest is Poet Mary Langer Thompson, author of “Poems in Water”.

Inspire us with your own garden poetry. Why not write a poem about your favorite flowers and herb or vegetable garden? Write about your memories of your mother’s or grandmother’s garden.

Tomorrow is the deadline for submitting poems. Poems submitted for the contest will be considered for publishing on The contest details are listed on our High Desert Events page. Find out more by reading Poet Mary Langer Thompson’s “April is Poetry Month” blog post published April 1, 2015.

Since I love gardens, I can’t wait to read any gardening poems that come in for the contest. Hurry and submit your poems. You have until 11:59 pm, Monday, April 20, 2015 to email us your contest submissions. Don’t forget to read the details listed on our site, then email the poems to

One more thing about the contest – it’s FREE to enter! Not only that, we’re giving prizes to the winners. It’s our way of saying thank you for the comments you give us and for reading our blog.

Lovely Spring Gift Ideas For High Desert Gardeners

Prickly Pear as a Source of Food

Prickly Pear as a Source of Food

Gift Ideas We Love

Do you really want to receive a dozen roses that will only last a week? Why not ask for a cactus that blooms for you each year? Just go to your nursery and pick out the prettiest. And as for color, you’ll find a good variety.

Many of the varieties offer different shapes and heights, while others bloom in hues of white to cream to yellow, pink to red to rose. All of them are easy to water, drought-tolerant, and easy to grow in typical desert temperatures. Prickly Pear is native to the Southwest, easy to transplant and grow while providing sweet fruits to make jelly. The new pads or leaves (before they grow spines) can be cut and boiled or fried like green chilies. They have a mild taste and are also worth pickling.

Animals use their broad trunks and leaves for hiding from predators or getting out of the summer heat. Ernie, my cat, loves to sit in the shade and dream of being a lion — I’m sure that’s what he’s thinking.

Another feature of cactus that I enjoy is their slow growing nature. You can plant them in a 10″ pot and it will be years before you’ll need to transplant them into a half whiskey barrel or directly into your yard. Many of them can grow for decades, often dropping “babies” or allowing their arms to be cut and replanted for the new generation of cacti. I have a night blooming cereus that is over 40-years-old and has been inside all of its life.


Cream Yellow bud from Hedgehog cactus
Cream Yellow bud from Hedgehog cactus

“Christmas cactus”, known for blooming in winter with bright red or fuchsia colored pointy blooms, can be more temperamental because they are a tropical cactus. They don’t like their roots too wet or too dry. A trick for forcing their blooms is to place them in a closet for a month prior to the holidays. Once out of the dark, they want to herald in the New Year. Healthy and happy plants will blossom all year.

Those combination cactus sampler dishes, that nurseries often place near their check out stands, are a really smart way to try some cactus plantings. Each dish holds a selection of tiny cuttings. The photo above is of a Hedgehog type of cactus you’ll find in some platter gardens. Some selections don’t live very long; others grow and bloom and last for years.

If you’re not sure which ones to try, try all of them. They take little water and often produce a few flowers or even double in size during their first year.

Some cactus plants for sale at nurseries are not really cactus at all but are succulents with spiky skins. Their interiors are mushy pulp and don’t have the fortitude to make it through a dry, hot desert summer. You can try growing them in a portable pot or inside near a window. Be careful of direct sunlight scorching them through the double- and triple- panes of your windows. I tried that and more succulents and aloe vera plants succumbed to being bleached to death by the sun. It doesn’t take long to broil them in the intense heat.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

My favorite tropical/ desert species is called the Carrion Plant. It grows large, slim, columnar arms  on thin stems that look more like sipping straws. It produces flowers only once a year. The bud is a large yellow pod with purple lines and polka dots but covered in hair. In a few days, the pod bursts open into a giant yellow and purple star with the most horrific odor you’ve ever smelled. This rancid perfume is designed to attract insects — especially the fly that helps propagate its pollen. It smells like dead, rotting meat — hence the name “Carrion” plant. It only takes one visit to a Carrion Plant to instill that smell into the sensory part of your brain. Whew!

So there are some of my favorite cacti and plants that make a good gift and have the longevity to last more than a few days or weeks. Once you have cacti in your garden, you’ll have a fragrant  friend for life.

Rusty LaGrange

Spring Garden Perennials


Spring Garden

Purple Iris

What are you growing in your spring garden? Do you plant a little at a time, or do you buy everything at once and plant a huge garden?

Iris bulbs are good to plant because they multiply. When my husband and I purchased our High Desert fixer upper, there was a huge patch of irises. Since then I’ve planted them in different garden spots, and they amaze me. They grow wherever they are planted.

If you are tempted like me to buy everything I see at garden nurseries, you know how difficult it is to go flower shopping and only buy one or two. Frugal gardening takes a little effort, but it can be done if you plan your garden carefully.

The ideal way to plan a garden frugally is to shop for perennials and plants that grow well in the zone you live in. A few perennials I’ve been able to grow are:

  • Irises
  • Snapdragons
  • Lemon Balm
  • Pansies
  • Lavender

The iris bulbs have been placed in three different garden areas in the yard, and every spring they produce gorgeous flowers.

Purple Iris

Purple Iris from My Spring Garden

Cuttings from my lemon balm are proving to be successful, too. I took three small pieces and planted them in another pot, and they are growing steadily.

Lemon Balm Herb

Lemon Balm Herb Mint

Lemon Balm

New Tiny Lemon Balm Herb 

Purple Pansies before Spring

Early March Pansies

Snapdragons are usually planted as annuals, but I’ve had success with them as perennials. They can be grown as perennials in zones 8 and above. Deadheading spent blooms will help new blooms to form. I’ve planted pink, light and dark red, and yellow, but the brighter red and yellow ones planted together look absolutely beautiful.


High Desert Snapdragons


Yellow Snapdragons

Lemon Balm Herb

Lemon Balm Herb Mint

Beginning Spring Lavender Flowers

Pre-Spring Lavender

Growing in my kitchen herb garden are rosemary, lavender, and a mint in the ground. The first plants I purchased this month are a basil herb and a tomato plant. It’s a start.

Now tell me about your herbs and flowers and which ones are growing well since spring began.

Preparing for Spring Gardening- Desert Inspiration

The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.

~Bern Williams

Purple Pansies before Spring

Early March Pansies

Pansies growing in the winter brighten a desert garden that would otherwise look barren and void of color except for faithful evergreens.

Gardeners who thrive on decorating a rustic garden never run out of ideas for places to plant flowers. The pansies in the photo above were planted in a glass pitcher that was broken. I watched a woman setting the pitcher in a corner outside a store. She left, and I investigated the pitcher. Broken, it was missing a chunk of glass. Not good for pouring tea or lemonade, but it made the perfect planter for my rustic garden ideas.

Spend time outdoors at different times of the day and just observe. Now is the time to do that with the recent springing forward an hour. Planting flowers or sitting a spell to enjoy the warmth of the sun, you’re bound to feel inspired by nature’s sounds and observances of the garden. Whether planting in odd-shaped discarded containers, freshly painted dilapidated chairs with missing pieces or a broken pitcher, designing a rustic garden can incredibly inspire the mind.

Listen to the sounds of the garden. Watch the movement of little creatures – like a cat ready to pounce on a bird making a nest.

Cat spying a bird building a nest

“Is it worth leaping into the cacti?”

Friday, March 20th, is the first day of spring. An easy way to tell if the ground is ready for planting, according to, is to stick a shovel or pitchfork down into the ground about six inches. If it’s muddy when you pull it out, it’s not time yet. Plant when you pull the shovel out and it’s clean.

Tall weeds have shot up higher than ever before in my desert cottage garden. The lavender plant showed its colors in spite of the weeds however. Finally being cut down the weeds will not be able to hide the perennials any longer – lavender, salvia, mirror plant and another pansy that somehow has thrived through the weeds.

Lavender Perennial

Early Lavender Bloom

White and Purple Pansy

White and Purple Pansy Hiding in the Weeds

How can a gardener, itching to plant flowers, keep from working in the garden when spring is around the corner? Even weeding satisfies the gardener’s craving to dig in the ground when spring has not yet arrived.

Last Few Weeks Left of Fall Harvesting Before Freeze

If you are working your Fall Garden, it’s just about time to do the last harvesting before the freeze. Temperatures in the High Desert have been swinging lower at night. Then I came across this scarecrow that couldn’t scare a fly. Her days are over. But she’s still cute.

A Softer, Gentler “Shoo-crow” in the Morning

This can't be a scarecrow, so it must be a shoo-crow

This can’t be a scarecrow, so it must be a shoo-crow

What self-serving crow would take flight in fear when facing this adorable representation. I found this on the Internet last Autumn and it reminded me of the toddler-sized dancing rag dolls where children could slip their feet into an elastic band on the doll’s feet.

Who wouldn’t want to dance across the grassy yard with a light-footed blonde, and constantly beaming, partner, who knew all your steps. Yes, I had one, though it belonged to my younger sister, I would gleefully spin across the lawn under the English walnut tree. She didn’t have the same dancing images that I did. And, although I was a bit embarrassed to be dancing with a doll while nearly teen-aged, it seemed that the doll inspired me to just go for it.

Yet, here it was, attempting to scare away ravenous birds who just wanted to dive into the garden.

Scarecrows have been around in some form since Egyptians first netted their fields to catch flocks of quail in their fields. Greeks and Romans were the earliest to use human -styled scarecrows. In the Medieval era when anything that vexed you had to be demonic or sent by some evil-worshipping villager, they were using children as bird scarers.

Even as the Pilgrims were preparing their first meal with the First Americans, who taught them survival skills, the farmers were using what they knew from decades earlier. They had time to grow European corn and potatoes and carrots to offer at the first harvest dinner. The natives offered maize, squashes, and seeds, berries, and nuts , as well as fish, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums. But, funnily enough, there is no research listing actual turkey but other fowl arrived on the platters.

Planting, tending, weeding, watering, and harvesting, while keeping the critters at bay, was a full-time job. And whether you were Native or New Englander, each harvest was the indicator of whether your village would store enough food and be strong enough for the encroaching winter.

Most crows would look twice before landing

Most crows would look twice before landing

Even in the Southwest, scarecrows were employed in the New World, too. Some tribes used young boys to tend the flocks and scare birds by throwing rocks at them. Others used woven reed and yucca to hang a variety of feathers, sticks and bones that clacked.


Creative and a bit punkish

Creative and a bit punkish

A scarecrow swaying and flapping in the breeze was, and continues to be, a deterrent for most animals, not just hungry crows. Think about your garden scarecrow. Is it a collection of tin pie plates hung from cords in the trees? Whirligigs are often spinning in the garden, then after the harvest season, can be found on porches and front yards. Do you stuff an old tattered pair of jeans and a flannel shirt? Or do you get creative and invent a new version like the young lady shoo-away scarecrow?

One of friends placed soft and rancid pumpkins around the edge of her garden to deter daytime garden invaders, but I think she had more night visitors that were attracted to the odors.

Let us know what you do in your garden when it’s time to plant your scarecrow.


Pink Fuchsia for Autumn Gardens

Drought tolerant Fuchsia

Pink Fuchsia Plant

Pink Fuchsia is fit for a princess’ garden with its jewel-like bead-stems that dangle. Imagine its beauty if it had appeared as Anna’s and Elsa’s favorite flower. A pink and purple jewel in ice. Our daughters and granddaughters would have fallen in love with the flower beauty, don’t you think?

My little granddaughter, introduced to Frozen by me, loves Frozen as many girls do. Watching a movie isn’t my favorite thing to do because I tend to fall asleep somewhere in the middle. Frozen? No way did I fall asleep. I loved seeing the movie with my sweet little one-year-old love. She’ll be two next month, and she already knows the names, Elsa and Anna. Let it go are also three words she is very familiar with and loves to sing.

A friend who has been making the cutest little tote bags made a couple of Disney bags. She made a darling pink Frozen one for me to give my little precious for her birthday or for Christmas.


Anna and Elsa

Frozen Tote Bag

Now when I plant more Fuchsia in my garden, I’m sure that Anna and Elsa will be lingering close in my mind as I imagine fancy pink dangling Fuchsia bouquets in ice. However, the plant may not thrive so well in winter though it does grow well in Autumn and in drought tolerant gardens.

Fuchsia in Autumn

My Garden’s Pink Fuchsia


I think I’ll go out and look for more Fuchsia to plant in the garden. Before I do, I’m going over to link up to the fun Pink Saturday where there’s gorgeous pink surprises to behold. See you there!

Planting Flowers and Shrubs that Survive High Desert Seasons

Evergreens and Perennials

Lavender, Salvia, Dark Knight Bluebeard

Summer’s ending inspires me to plant evergreens and perennials, rich colors like red, amber, and purple. The arrival of fall makes me want to plant more flowers and shrubs that stay green through the winter or bloom again year after year.

New in my garden are these lovelies:

  • Blue Hill Salvia – This particular Salvia can get up to 24″  high and wide. and can survive a -20 to -30 degree F winter. 
  • Slender Western Rosemary – This plant gets as high as 3-5′ high and wide and has a cold hardiness of 30-20 degrees F.
  • Dark Knight Bluebeard – This is a mounding deciduous shrub that grows 2-3′ tall and 3-4′ wide. It makes a good backdrop in the perennial garden. It’s fragrant, dark-blue flowers in summer and early fall attract butterflies.
  • Pomegranate tree – It’s tiny thing that I’m hoping will grow as pretty as I’ve seen in other gardens such as the one Santa Fe Trading Company has.
  • Angelonia – This perennial has purple-lavender or white flowers. Though it blossoms in the summer, I’m hoping this perennial will make it through the winter in my garden.
  • Japanese Barberry – It’s a beautiful drought-tolerant, low-maintenance shrub with reddish-purple leaves. The thing I didn’t know about this shrub is that it can provide favorable habitat for all life stages of blacklegged ticks. I only planted two of these plants, but now I’m having second thoughts about them.

What experience have you had with any of these plants in the high desert? I have a friend who planted the Japanese Barberry in the high desert and has not ever seen the ticks, and there are no deer in the area. I’d love to hear your comments.


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