The Queen Now Has A Crown!

Queens Wreath from 2015

Our Queen’s Wreath – 2015

Readers of JBRish who have been following along for a while might have read a bit about our Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus) vine (see links below). Up until recently, this plant has been a show stopper and then something happened…

The plant was just not filling out the way it did during the previous years. Instead of a full, swath of leaves and stems this what we saw.


Bare, sparse stems

A close up revealed how sparse the leaves where in relationship to the lush coat of heart-shaped leaves we anticipated.

closeup of sparse growth

It was only a vague shadow of its former glory and far from queen-like.

full side view - - sparse

Instead of the abundant bouquet of blooms in the first picture, this was the extent of the flowering.

single strand of paltry blooms

We examined the plant over time looking for insect damage, making sure the water was being amply applied and noting that we used the same fertilizing regimen of the past. At the base, the leaves were more lush so we looked more closely and then it hit us. Rabbits!

Rabbits were eating away at the base

Those pesky rabbits had decided that they now like the Queen’s Wreath and that it would become their salad bar. This was not an issue during the three or so seasons of beauty preceding this problem.

We knew what we had to do even though we didn’t relish the thought. Like other plants in our landscape, this would have to be rabbit-proofed. We erected a plastic barrier approximately thirty inches high.

a picture of the plastic fence

To completely thwart rabbits, some method needs to be used to keep them from digging under the barrier. Most of the time, having the “fencing” flat on the ground for several inches creating a lip and then topped with rocks will be discouraging enough. When done correctly, it forms a resistant border. (See yellow arrows below)

Fencing lip topped with rocks

We were sure to have the water supply located appropriately before fastening the barrier and now we had the fence around the entire plant. I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I knew I had to do something with the existing plant material. Some flowering vines (as well as other plants) will react negatively to a severe trim and the bloom may be lost for the current gardening year.

After all of this trouble, I didn’t want to risk that so I hedged my bet and severely trimmed one side while only moderately trimming the other side in hopes of preserving some of the flowers for this current season.

Luckily the plant began to flourish as in the past and now, at the end of the season, both sides have evened out and the plant is showing why it is called Queen’s Wreath.

Queen's Wreath glorious once again

Sprays of flowers cover the vine

Beautiful, blooming Queen's Wreath

You have to admit, although small, the plethora of blooms do put on a show.

Closeup of coral blooms

We are hopeful that this will be a long-lasting resolution to the Queen’s Wreath’s care and provide years of charming color!


Showy Queen’s Wreath – October, 2015

Reinforced Trellis Support – Reduce Metal Fatigue


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©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2018 –

Garden Video: Live Capture of Critters in a Bottle Mousetrap

If you have followed for a while, you may have read one of my posts where I describe the difficulty we have with a variety of rodents (and other critters) in our desert garden.

I try to appreciate and respect all of nature and I don’t like to kill any animals if it can be avoided. I was intrigued by the EL GATO live-capture Bottle Mousetrap which may help with some of our smaller vermin.

Watch the video below and let me know what you think.


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©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Sunflowers in the Valley of the Sun – Part 1

There is no doubt about it, gardening in the Sonoran Desert during the summer is a challenge. It is similar to other areas of the country which have on season, mainly winter, that is not too hospitable to a wide assortment of plants that would be otherwise easy to grow in spring, summer and into the fall.

Unlike those areas where winter prevents almost all outside gardening, there are some plants and varieties that can tolerate our summers given the appropriate environment; and therein lies the rub!

As I travel the highways and byways of the desert regions of the southwest, I notice that there is one variety of wild sunflower that seems to survive the summer most years and even thrive when there are ample showers. Keeping that in mind, and not being able to nail down the exact variety (my bad), I decided to try a package of mixed sunflower seeds to see what it would yield in my desert garden. This was to be my gardening experiment for the summer of 2018.

Package of Sunflower Seeds

I always check the back of the package to see the “Packed for” date. Obviously the fresher the seeds, the better so I always make sure they are the current year’s seeds. I also like the fact that these seeds are organic and are not treated with chemicals. Our bees are struggling enough as it is.

Notice organic and sell-by date

An inexpensive turkey baster is used in this process to control the flow of water. It is good for delicate seedlings and at times when I need to wet a plant with a controlled, low flow of water.

Turkey baster for gentle watering

To keep everything corraled on the counter, I work inside a container lid. The lip of the lid keeps the water and other debris under control.

Coffee lid container for working

Of course we could plant the seeds directly in the ground, but I considered several factors:

  • We have numerous desert critters that would love to take a bite out of a luscious sprout.
  • There is no guarantee that every seed in a package will be viable.
  • I have limited time and space so I want to make sure any seed has the best start possible.

Considering the above, I decided to pre-sprout the seeds. Here are the three seeds I selected. [NOTE: One cannot tell from the seeds which sunflower will be “born” from any specific seed. This is a mix so it is a random choice.]

Three sunflower seeds-mixed varieties

My process for pre-sprouting the seeds is to wet a piece of paper towel to the point where it is uniformally wet, but not soaked.

Wet paper towel

Once the towel has been wet, the seeds are then placed at intervals on the sheet leaving ample space between, but not too much. I like to make a compact packet.

Seeds on wet towel

After the seeds have been carefully placed, the towel is folded over them so they are enveloped in the moist towel. This will be a good environment for sprouting.

Towel folded over seeds

The towel is folded into an envelope-type form to provide the best chance of staying moist.

Towel folded into envelope/packet

I always make a label just in case I want to keep track of sprouting times, time from sprout to flower, etc., but I didn’t use that information for tracking in this instance.

Sunflower seed label

Once this process is complete, probably less than thirty minutes, the seeds are placed inside a plastic bag, label and all and set aside. I check them every day to …

    – make sure the seeds remain uniformally damp, but not soaking

    – see if they have sprouted (because at that point further action is needed)

Packet in baggie with label

To be continued…


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©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Desert Broom – New Cultivar Discovered**

There is a desert plant in the Sonoran Desert that has the distinction of being one of the few native plants that is considered invasive. It can become a problem during the very hot, dry summers when fires are a real possibility.

Here is a picture of the native Desert Broom.

Desert Broom Plant

Picture courtesy of Sierra Vista Growers

On the way to a shopping mall recently, I noticed what may potentially be a new cultivar or sport of the native desert broom. It was just off to the side of the road. Can you find it in the picture below?

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport closeup

If you are having difficulty, here is a closeup!

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport

What do you think?



**This post is a tongue and cheek bit of humor related to desert gardening! (wink, wink)


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©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Sore Thumb, Green Thumb – Desert Bloom

Red blooming desert cactus at a distance

Can you see it?

Red blooming desert cactus at a distance

It stood out like a sore thumb; at least to me. The desert landscape doesn’t usually have a significant number of blooms this time of year with temperatures between 90-110 degrees. This particular cactus was given to me a couple of years ago as a broken piece from a much larger plant.

We hardened it off a bit and placed it in the landscape. Over the first year, I babied it a bit with extra water, but it only receives scant water now in its second full year.

Red blooming desert cactus portrait

Here is a close up


The bees were taking advantage of the abundant pollen being made available.

Closeup with bees

I must say, they burrowed way down into the base of the flower and appeared to be “rolling around” in all their glory. We have to feel sorry for the bees nowadays.

I believe this is a torch cactus variety, but I do not have the exact botanical name. It might be a Trichocereus huascha (Echinopsis), but I will let you decide by checking the link.


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©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Mum is the Word in the Desert Garden

Prior to moving to the Valley of the Sun, north of Phoenix, Arizona, we lived in northwestern New Jersey; Hunterdon County. We normally gardened from May through October and there were times when we started seeds indoor in early April. We could stretch our gardening into the fall and early winter by including Chrysanthemums.

Mums were part of the Halloween-Thanksgiving trimmings in our area. We usually had them placed on our front steps often with thin netting over them to keep the deer from nibbling. There were years when we were able to winter over a mum or two, but much of the time our efforts fell short or the variety we purchased was not as hardy as we thought.

We were surprised to find that mums are available for purchase in our area of Arizona during the same season as in the northeast. It was only natural then that we began to fold some of them into our Halloween-Thanksgiving floral displays.

Because our experience with Chrysanthemums was anchored in the northeast, we figured that once the real hot weather of sustained ninety to one-hundred and above came along, that these familiar plants would wither and die.

Imagine our surprise to find that they, given enough shade and water, fight off the heat to usher forth extended blooms during the late spring and summer and into the following fall. To give these plants the best chance possible for surviving in this less than hospitable climate, we have a routine we follow in the early spring.

This is the mum we selected for what we call revitalizing.

As readers can see, the green leaves make up only about one-half to two-thirds of the plant and there are a lot of brown, dead leaves and stems.

What we normally do if it is warm and the sun is in full flare is bring the plant into the shade of one of the garage bays and work there. We move the plant into the garage and remove the rock mulch that we use in almost every planter.

Once the rock mulch is removed, much of the dead parts of the plant are trimmed.

After the initial trimming, we begin to excavate the root ball.

NOTE – Notice that we work mostly on a drop cloth to catch errant dirt, stones and debris. The old dirt is offloaded to a cement mixing bin to dry and save for use in a future rejuvenated mix.

Once the root ball is excavated, it is examined to make sure the roots are white and in good condition and there are no grubs hiding. Then I gently remove more of the dead, hard stems and any dead roots.

NOTE – Be careful to leave most of the rootball intact as the plant will need to recover even from a mild root trimming and tickling.

Here is a closer look:

There are some stems so low to the base of the root ball that they have to be cut away with a scissors or garden shear which reduces the chance of disturbing too much of the root ball.

I make one final inspection of the root ball and very gently loosen some of the compacted roots so they are able to spread when they grow anew.

On the left is the old pot with the remaining old dirt. In the upper middle area of the picture is the new, smaller pot that is lighter in color. The new plant will spend much of the summer in this pot, but may need to be transplanted in to a larger pot later.

Enough new planting mix is placed in the pot to take up approximately one third. This is the bottom third of the planter.

To encourage downward root growth, I place a small amount of fertilizer in the bottom of the pot (notice the green dots in the ovals- BELOW) and then mix them into the top part of the bottom mix. The green dots are hard to discern in this photo and may be confused with gravel which is used in the planting mix. The arrows show the gravel which is much less uniform in shape.

The new planter is placed inside a bin to catch any stray dirt. Dirt is added to the correct depth to bring the crown of the plant to about three-quarters of an inch below the rim of the pot. I usually create a cone in the center and put the newly trimmed rootball in the center. The dirt is then filled in around the rootball as shown above.

Here is the plant with the dirt filled in and new, different fertilizer added (see the Vigoro in the background).

After the planting is complete, water is gently added. I use my hand to break the flow and spread the water around the rootball of the plant. Once the plant has been watered so that water runs freely through the bottom of the pot, I gently press the dirt down to remove any potential air pockets.

NOTE – Don’t press down too hard which may compact the roots; just gently.

Now it is time to move the plant to its place in the courtyard. We picked an area that will receive mostly shade with a bit of sun during the day. This will protect the mum from the blazing heat. Notice that a two gallon per-hour emitter (red) has been anchored to the side of the plant.

Another emitter is added to the other side of the plant to provide even coverage when watered.

We place the rock mulch on top of the plant, which also helps to hold the emitters in place and give one final watering. A protective cover is placed over the pot for a couple of days to provide bit of shade. The Dollar Store or Target sells laundry baskets, crates, etc. that serve this purpose. Sometimes we need to drill more holes depending on the configuration.

NOTE – We often put a weight on top of the “covers” to keep them from blowing off in the wind.

The plant is carefully checked over the next couple of days and after that, the basket or crate used to shield the sun is removed. The plant then needs time to grow and in a few months this is how it looks.

You can see it here (BELOW) on the left. As the summer progresses, the snail vine will grow to cover the sun trellis and offer enough shade to provide an appropriate environment for the plant during the hottest summer days.

You may also note two other mums on the right that we transplanted in the same fashion .

We have followed this procedure for a couple of years now and it has served us well. I wouldn’t have guessed that we would be able to winter-over or perhaps more appropriately, summer-over the mums in our Sonoran Desert environment.


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Spring 2018 – What’s Growing in the Arizona Desert?

We have arrived at our spring planting season in the Phoenix, Arizona area even when other areas of the nation continue to be cold and perhaps stormy. I had an opportunity to visit the demonstration garden at the Maricopa County Extension Center which is maintained primarily by the Master Gardeners.

There were some interesting plants in full bloom and I wanted to share two of them with you. When I select a plant to grow, it is generally one that has impressive flowers. This can be small, numerous flowers or large, showy flower that are less in number.

I also like to have the flower-to-leaf ratio to be appropriate. I don’t want the leaves to overpower the flowers. The one exception to this would be a plant that has pretty or show leaves. One plant that comes to mind in this category is Milk Thistle. We have lots of critters in our neighborhood and they like many of the plants we enjoy so I need to be very selective.

Then there are some plants that people in our region select because they are unique.

One quite “different” plant at the demonstration garden is Lion’s Tail or Wild Dagga (Leonotis leonurus) – One look and it will be obvious how this flower received its name.

Lion's Tail or Wild Dagga

Here is a close up of the flower…

Lion's Tail or Wild Dagga - closeup

Lion’s Tail is reportedly a fast growing, drought tolerant plant!

You can read more about this unique plant in The San Francisco Gate article HERE. — scroll down.

Another unique and interesting plant is the Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab or Lablab purpurea). This plant is grown as much for its purple seed pod as the plentiful light and dark pink flowers. If you have a place in your garden for a vine, this might be a very good choice.

Hyacinth Bean

Naturally if this is grown in our area, it must be heat tolerant, but the amazing thing is how well the vine tends to do even with the hight temperatures as long as it is given ample water.

Hyacinth Bean closeup

You can find more information about Hyacinth Bean HERE and HERE.


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Bin There, Dug That

Although living in the Sonoran Desert does set some limits on what can and can not be grown at certain times of the year, it really isn’t much different than other areas of the United States such as New England. The nice thing about living in the North Phoenix, AZ area is that we have two planting seasons and by mid-to-late October, the second season is well under way.

What this generally means is that those plants that have worked hard all summer long, put up with exhausting heat and yet continued to put on a floral show are now very “tired” and ready to be replaced. The vinca below is one such candidate.


To help with this process, we use a cement mixing bin/tub or two to contain debris and corral the planting mix. As you will see, we also enlist a variety of pails and other containers.


A larger sized bin can be used to help merge the ingredients for the replenished soil mixture although on this day we used a wheelbarrow.


We use rocks as mulch because they are plentiful and help to keep the animals away from the roots. We have some pesky visitors that like to scale our walls and gates and dig in our garden and planters.

The pot below is shown after the plant and rocks were removed.


As you can see, there was a substantial root ball.


We use a shovel and/or trowel to break up the dirt and remove as much plant debris (roots, leaves, etc.) as possible. We then place the dirt in a sunny spot to dry out for a few days making sure to turn it several times during the process.

Notice the crack near the bottom handle of the bin. After several years in the heat and sun the hard plastic does have a tendency to develop cracks here and there. Our experience is that even with heavy use, they last quite a few seasons if care is exercised.



The older, dried planting mix will later be incorporated into a new planting blend using fresh “dirt” and fertilizer.

With the vinca removed, we replanted an ivy geranium in the same pot.


Before placing the rest of the dirt and mulch in the planter, we position it on its elevated platform. We have several raised pot holders because our courtyard did not always have a gate and the Javelinas were fond of marauding among our posies! BTW the pail is set up to catch water should the irrigation system engage while we are in the transplanting process.


Once the dirt is filled to the desire level, the emitters for the irrigation system are secured in place. I like to have one emitter on either side to the root ball to distribute the water as evenly as possible without getting carried away.


With the emitters secured, the plant is watered in, the rock mulch applied and a bit more water added to make sure the mix is moist throughout.


Since this plant is in a location that receives reflected heat which is still intense in the October afternoon, we cover it with a lattice plastic bin which reduces some of the negative effects of the hot sun. After two or three days this will be removed during an evening and the plant will be better acclimated. The large rock is to keep the cover from blowing in the wind.


Having the bins and other accessories really helps to make the job of transplanting without too much of a mess relatively easy.

For your reference, Home Depot has a large mixing tub for under $15:

  • 20.9-Gal capacity for large or small jobs
  • Strong enough for mixing materials like concrete, grout or mortar
  • Heavy-duty PVC construction


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2017 –

Argentine Giant Cactus Flower – Photograph

Photograph of the Argentine Giant Cactus in Bloom
at the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Argentine Giant Cactus, Echinopsis candicans
Argentine Giant Cactus, Echinopsis candicans

I am a member/volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ. It is the second most visited attraction in the state after the Grand Canyon. On my way to the Seed Room where I work as a volunteer, I passed an Argentine Giant cactus that was still in bloom. It has been my experience that they generally bloom earlier in the season, but this particular specimen was in a location that enabled it to be in flower now.

The flower is not the most attractive cactus bloom I have seen, but it is very pretty and the size is huge. The flower can be as large as a person’s face. Unfortunately, these blooms only last a day, but what a day it is! originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.


Agave Farms (AF) – An Urban Desert Experience – Part 2

In Part 1 of my story about the Master Gardener’s visit to Agave Farms, I mentioned the large size of the facility. Many of the sections have stone walls creating raised beds that are also very large.

Agave Farm picture

If you visit the area near the informal entrance you may be able to find a variety of plantings, pots, etc. to provide ideas and inspiration such as this large planting of Euphorbia tirucalli is commonly referred to as a ‘Sticks on Fire’ or another similar name.

Agave Farm picture

As previously noted, AF grows vegetables, cacti, succulents and a host of other plants. Another of their specialties is roses. Whenever I mention rose growing in the desert to my friends from other areas, they are surprised, but Arizona is one of the largest exporters of roses in the US.

Agave Farm picture

AF carries a large variety of roses. They have a three-fold brochure listing the names of their roses so gardeners can more easily find a particular variety.

Agave Farm picture

If there is a color you are seeking, you will most likely find it at AF. Interestingly enough, they grow many of their roses in mesh-like bags which are environmentally friendly. I had never seen these before, but they seemed to work well.

Agave Farm picture

I was seeking a very particular climbing rose that does well in our zone, Golden Showers, and sure enough, I was able to find the plant at AF and it is now doing well in our courtyard landscape.

I did not get the specific name of the plant pictured below, but it was somewhat unique for our area. I particularly liked the leaf form and the white-ish tips at the end of the flowers.

Agave Farm picture

Flowers and vegetables are planted in groupings and interspersed. This may be to deter certain pests or perhaps just to develop a more colorful display.

Agave Farm picture

In one section of the farm, they were demonstrating hay bale gardening for those who don’t have a fertile plot or otherwise find this an acceptable alternative.

Agave Farm picture

More cool weather veggies and flowers.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farm picture

It was fun just to walk around. Up against a fence, I saw this half-column ornament which was different!

Agave Farm picture

There are constant reminders that AF is in the middle of the city as apartments surround it and can be seen across from this water retention pond.

Agave Farm picture

A chicken coop constructed from an old truck cargo area was another interesting stop.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farm picture

Just before I left the farm to head home, I saw this unique bicycle cart. Isn’t the color wonderful?!

Agave Farm picture originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.