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Mon, July 15

When planting in an arid climate, bigger is better

The butterfly bush, Buddleja davidi, also known as the summer blooming lilac, attracts butterflies all season long.

The butterfly bush, Buddleja davidi, also known as the summer blooming lilac, attracts butterflies all season long.

Thanks for the exceptionally positive response to last week's column about watering techniques for local landscapes. Yes, we can have beautiful landscapes without using excessive amounts of water. If you'd like a copy of that info go to or just type my name in the search box at I agree with many of you that it's well worth the read and a good source of reference to keep on hand.

Weather now through Independence Day will expose any weaknesses in our irrigation systems.

To insure proper hydration, you must keep a close eye on small plants until the monsoons arrive.

Because garden centers know how difficult it is to keep small plants watered, you will find garden inventory shifting to large size plants.

The single most important lesson I give in my "Newcomer Garden Class" is that bigger is better when planting in an arid climate. I have found that there is a direct correlation between root size and success rate for new plantings. The larger the root sizes the lower the mortality rate of new plants in high mountain landscapes. This goes for trees, shrubs and roses as well as for flower and vegetable starts. Bigger is better.

I stick to this practice in my own yard and rarely plant the traditional 6-pack of flowers. By the time the roots of these small plants mature and support new flowers the growing season is almost over. The roots of a one- gallon-sized flower is mature enough to send up new color instantly, while a smaller 6-pack size will take weeks of rooting before maturing enough to send out consecutive blooms.

I suggest that my customers reduce the quantity and increase the quality of the plants they purchase, especially now through October. Plant larger sizes and space them farther apart in the garden. If your garden thumb is on the brown side of green try this approach for guaranteed better success.

If you choose a really large, heavy plant, it's best not to plant it yourself. Most independent garden centers have planting crews available to install their larger specimens. These crews are trained to plant correctly, and they have the tools to get into our heavy clay soils.

At this point in the season, when plants are past their initial spring push of growth, I recommend pulling out ugly plants. Plants that have been in a landscape for over two years and are still ugly should be dug up and replaced with fresh, new plants. Bring a sample of your ugly plant to your favorite garden center for a diagnosis of what's wrong. If possible, bring in the sample, roots and all. We train our staff to detect insect, fungus and soil issues that may have caused problems that can be avoided for your new plant.

For summer-long

colors, be sure to look at butterfly bush and crape myrtle. These plants are arriving at garden centers in full bloom, ready for our summer plantings.

You really will have butterflies attracted to your yard if you plant a butterfly bush, Buddleja davidi, also known as the summer blooming lilac. Each branch has lance-shaped dark green leaves with silvery undersides that sing in the slightest breeze. The ends of every branch bear huge purple flower panicles that stand out in any garden. The profusion of 8-inch long blooms provides nectar that is a vital food source for butterflies. When spent flowers are cut off, the plant easily sends out fragrant new blooms, which guarantees season-long flowers, which guarantees season-long butterflies!

A dwarf butterfly bush makes a charming foundation shrub that grows wide as it is tall. It can reach a maximum height of 5 feet but can be kept as low as 3-4 feet high. A larger specimen is fast growing to 6-8 feet tall and makes an excellent showy background or border shrub. Butterfly bushes are really beautiful when planted with cottage garden perennials or as part of a habitat garden.

Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, is a gorgeous shrub that begins its summer show with magnificent dark wine red, pure white, and fuchsia inflorescences that grow like upright torches. In fall, the foliage turns colorful shades of red and orange; then during winter the exposed bark offers a unique peeling texture with light silvery contrasts. The newest myrtle introductions boast greatly improved cold hardiness, mildew resistance and very limited suckering.

A dwarf crape myrtle grows very similarly in size to a dwarf butterfly bush, about five feet tall. A standard size can be trained into either a small tree or a large bush about 10 feet high an of equal width. For an impressive hedge, I like to plant this shrub at five foot intervals and cluster at least 3 of the same color shrub together before changing to a different color in the row.

Butterfly bushes and crape myrtles are low water users and do well with drip irrigation. In clay soil you can expect to water a new plant twice a week through summer; established plants can go 7-10 days before needing another drink. In addition to being very undemanding of our precious water supplies, these flowering shrubs enjoy full sun and they stand up well to our summer winds.

In choosing the right plant colors for your yard it's well to remember that dark colors are best viewed up close and light colors are recommended for plants that will be admired from a distance. White is seen at its best when mixed with other colors and when planted in areas that are viewed in the evening.

For names of other plants that ease the use of water in our landscapes, ask for my garden handout page called "Yavapai-Friendly Plants."

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.


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