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Night Garden in the Southwest

Night time is a truly magical time during our Southwestern summers. As the blazing sun sinks below the horizon and the air begins to cool off, a number of native plants open their flowers, looking lovely in the moonlight, drenching the night air with alluring fragrances, and enticing the night-flying pollinators.

Flowers can look entirely different at night – gently lit.

Moon Garden

Over a year ago I (Jacqueline Soule) introduced the topic of a “Moon Garden,” listing a number of plants that attract the night-flying Southwest pollinators. That said, a moon garden need not have flowers to be attractive. There are a number of plants with silvery foliage that look lovely at night in the moonlight.

The silvery teeth on desert spoon glimmer in the moonlight

A moon garden can be fancy or simple. The idea is to add plants to your landscape that will increase your enjoyment of the space anytime after the sun goes down, whether the moon is out or not. You create a space to go outside, sit down, and let the cool air and slower pace of a Southwest summer night seep into your soul.

Tea lights will be bright enough after dark. Instead of waxy candles, use the battery driven ones for a cooler, safer light.


Kill the Bright Lights

The last thing you need in your moon garden is mood-killing “Stalig-17” lights shining in your eyes from the eaves of the house. Even a yellow porch light can be overly bright. A few low-level path lights shining downward are fine. A lantern or two with tea lights is also lovely.

Yes – when you first step outside from your brightly lit home it will seem dim, but give your eyes a few minutes to adjust. The starlight shimmer of silvery leaves can be quite bright given time.

White crapemyrtle blooms look lovely in the night – and grow well in much of the Southwest.

Sit and Smell the Flowers

In addition to plants, one of the most important components of a moon garden is a place to sit and enjoy your garden. Bench or chair, edge of the garden or center of it – there is no right or wrong; just make sure seating is comfortable. We discovered that a place to set drinks and snacks next to the seating is a nice addition.

There is no specific design for a moon garden. You can start small, add a few night blooming plants and some relaxing seating. As time goes by and you use your moon garden, add to it. Create a yard you can enjoy every day of the year, and all 24 hours of the day.

A decorative light with a low-light LED bulb can light the gateway and add a nice touch to the landscape. The tree is called bottle brush.

Question for You!

I have enough material to write a “Southwest Moon Garden” book. This book would feature low-water and fragrant native plants for your landscape that look lovely in the twilight. Sadly, publishers feel the fastest growing region of the United States still does not have enough book buyers in it. Please let us know in the comments below if I should create an online class for you folks.

Do select garden lighting features that mesh well with your overall design.

Speaking of online classes, did you know that we offer this one?

Boost Your Curb Appeal (Night Time is the Right Time)

A scant decade ago, curb appeal was all about how a home looked when you pulled up to the curb – during the daytime of course. Now so many people look at homes for sale on their computers, at night, and in the comfort of their own home. With this in mind, some photos of a lovely landscape to enjoy after dark – when people are done with the days work – can truly help sell a home. More tips in our online class Boost Your Curb Appeal” link here. Class comes with a workbook, a cheat sheet, and a transcript.

To learn more about gardening in our unique Southwestern region, consider this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we may get a few pennies at no additional cost to you. Your favorite Amazon Smile charity can also benefit.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule.  All rights reserved.  You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. Also you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


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Southwest Perennials for Southwest Pollinators

Time for plants for pollinators!  June is “National Perennial Garden Month,” and the third week of June (22-28, 2020) is “National Pollinator Week” so combining the two, allow me to introduce you to some of the many of the lovely low-water Southwest native perennials for Southwest pollinators.

Desert milkweed may not look like much, but the butterflies flock to it! Photo courtesy of W. Anderson

Pollinators in the Southwest

When it comes to pollinators, the American Southwest is one of the most species diverse habitats in the world.  We have numerous native species of bees, butterflies, moths, bats, and hummingbirds all busy pollinating our plants. Makes sense, because much of the region has blooms every month of the year.

The Southwest is the flyway for many species of hummingbirds, and a number live in parts of Arizona all year long. Butterflies – last count rain forests had us beet for diversity, but just barely. Native bees – Southwest wins! We are the most bee diverse place on earth. Some of these bees are barely 1/16 inch long, and most native bees can’t sting. (Makes sense – no hive or honey to protect.) Let’s help these native bees continue to thrive in our unique region by planting native perennials.

This tiny sweat bee builds a small hole for 3 to 5 babies in the ground and fills it with pollen and nectar for them to eat. (Halictus ligatus) Photo courtesy of S Shanks.

Why Perennials?

Perennial plants are non-woody plants that live for a long time, like iris, as compared to woody roses. Technically agaves could be viewed as perennials, but let’s just not go there! Besides, agaves bloom just once then die and we want to invite pollinators every day.

Arizona blue curls have remarkable flowers, rich in nectar to reward pollinators. Photo courtesy of W. Anderson

Five major reasons perennials should have a place in every Southwest yard.
First, perennials are, shorter than trees and shrubs, thus they add a grounding layer of color and interest to your yard.
Second, most perennials bloom with colorful flowers, and they often they bloom for months. Thus they add long-term color to your yard.
Third, perennials placed under trees and shrubs help shade the soil and reduce evaporation. They use water from the top foot of the soil, encouraging tree and shrub roots to grow two or three feet deep for water, and incidentally anchoring the trees better against wind storms.
Fourth, flowering shrubs require periodic rejuvenation pruning, leading to bulky plant waste that must be dealt with. Perennials are non-woody, thus require little if any pruning.
Fifth, most perennials provide long-lasting cut flowers for enjoyment indoors.

Hummingbirds love long tubular flowers like on this desert honeysuckle. But if you don’t like this color very much, fill your yard with other colors! Photo courtesy of W. Anderson

Which Perennials?

Plant what makes you happy. If you have a color scheme for your yard, use perennials that bloom with those colors. Place your perennial plantings in large sweeps of color. It makes it easier for pollinators with their tiny bee or butterfly brains to find the plants.


Many of the daytime pollinators find their flowers with vision. If you want fragrant flowers, consider a “Moon Garden.” This is one that fills with blooms and fragrance after the sun goes down in the summer – which is when you want to use the garden anyway! More about moon gardens next month.

“Dicliptera” means two wings – and that’s how many petals this charmer has. More than enough to attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. Photo courtesy of W. Anderson


There are so many wonderful low-water low-fuss perennials that you can plant even in the heat of summer in the Southwest. Just remember that these pampered nursery babies are going to need extra water at first, because they have been watered daily in the nursery. Once they grow roots out into the garden soil, you can taper off watering to once a week.
This list includes the scientific name, because the same plant can be called by many different common names, like the native zinnias I discussed earlier this year (here). Nurseries (as opposed to big box garden centers) know these scientific names, and so does the internet.

Damianita goes by many names, and lifts many blooms skywards for months. Plant a swath of these to bring in the butterflies. Photo courtesy of W. Anderson.

golden to yellow flowers
angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
desert coreopsis (Coreopsis biglovii)
damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
golden dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta)
threadleaf dyssodia (Dyssodia tenuisecta)
goldeneye daisy (Viguiera deltoides)
Saltillo primrose (Oenotheria stubbei)
sundrops (Calyophus hartweggi)
prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)

pink flowers
Saltillo primrose (Oenothera stubbei)
rain lily (Zephranthes species - different species and colors available)

red to orange flowers
Texas betony (Stachys coccinea)
honeysuckle, desert (Anisacanthus thurberi)
honeysuckle, Mexican (Justicia spicigera)
honeysuckle, California (Zauschneria californica)

purple flowers
dicliptera (Dicliptera resupinata)
ruellia (Ruellia species - different species in various heights)
threadleaf verbena (Verbena tenuisecta)

blue(ish) flowers
Arizona blue curls (Trichostema arizonicum)
Blue mist flower (Ageratum corymbosum)

white flowers

fleabane (Erigeron divergens)
desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa)
milkweed, desert (Asclepias subulata)
milkweed, pineleaf (Asclepias linaria)
tufted evening primrose (Oenotheria caespitosa)

To learn more about gardening in our unique Southwestern region, consider this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press) by SWGardening’s Dr. Jacqueline Soule.  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we may get a few pennies at no additional cost to you. Your favorite Amazon Smile charity can also benefit.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. Also you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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Soil Loves Compost – Especially in the Southwest

The title is a bit misleading. It’s not the soil that loves the compost – it’s all the plants that grow in the soil! And not just plants! There are countless life forms – mostly microscopic – that live in the soil and further help plants.  They love compost too.

Southwestern plants, like this queens wreath, love soil with ample rich compost in it.

Why? What’s so special about compost?

Compost is part of the natural process of building better soil for plants to grow in. Mother Nature does not sweep her floors! All those leaf bits and dead flowers fall to the ground, decay, and provide nutrients and acidic components for plant that dropped them to keep on growing. Another word for decay is decompose – creating compost!

A Bit of Science

Southwestern soils are virtually all alkaline. On a pH scale, Southwest soils are generally 7.7 to 8.5 pH. Most plants will grow better in mildly acidic to very mildly alkaline soils with 6.0 to 7.5 pH. Yes, even cacti. This is one reason they often grow tucked in under other plants.

Don’t believe me that your soil is alkaline? Go find a bit of bare soil in your yard and pour some nice acidic cider vinegar on it (pH generally 5.0). The acid vinegar will bubble and fizz like acidic vinegar and alkaline baking soda do.

The white layer in this soil is caliche – a rock-like layer that needs acidic compost to help break it down so roots can grow.

How to Compost in the Southwest

You can purchase compost in bags at the nursery. It’s a quick way to get started. You can also very easily compost at home. However, many HOAs (Home Owners Associations) forbid it because if improperly cared for, composting can be troublesome. Hint – you can compost in five-gallon buckets in your garage, with no-one the wiser.

Dark, rich compost. Good for our soil!

Compost Ingredients Are Different in the Southwest!

Here in the arid Southwest there are three components to successfully creating lovely compost – green, brown, and blue. (In humid climates they skip the blue component.)

Somewhat photogenic “green” kitchen waste.

Green Materials

This includes things like cucumber peels, citrus rinds, coffee grounds, tea bags, banana peels and vegetable kitchen scraps. Grass clippings are okay if they are non-invasive grass clippings. Avoid Bermudagrass in any form (grass clippings, hay, horse manure), it can take over your garden.

Less than photogenic kitchen green waste one week later. This will smell and attract flies without a lid and some brown material.

Brown Materials

This is the carbon component, and includes dropped leaves like palo verde, pine needles, mulberry and the like. Brown is also a shovel full of soil from your yard. Your soil should have the micro-organisms that will do the compost work. Also – recycle your junk mail! A paper shredder helps make it smaller. Sawdust works too – just not from pressure treated wood.

Bucket of green kitchen waste needs a layer of brown soil on top to help provide decay organisms.

Do the Blue!

Blue represents the water essential to keep it everything moist so the micro-organisms can break down the materials into something ready to go into the garden soil. Keep your compost enclosed and moist. If it dries out it will not decompose.

Add water so the compost stays moist and can decompose! Photo courtesy of Dramm.

Avoid these in your compost!

Avoid animal products such as meat, dairy, bacon grease. In the Southwest – avoid eggshells. We already have excessive calcium in our soils, and don’t need any more.

Compost demonstration area at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Your local botanical garden may have something similar.

Go Forth and Compost

You will need an enclosed space. Open compost heaps and piles often fail in the Southwest. Our air lacks humidity and the materials quickly dry out and cease to decompose.

There are any number of compost bin options on the market, look for fully enclosed ones. If they have air vents, make sure the vents are screened to keep out insect pests. You can build your own bin with cinder blocks, or use five gallon buckets with lids, or for and entirely low-tech (and back-breaking) option, dig a hole in the ground and use that! Just keep it covered to prevent evaporation.

Compost that wouldn’t! It kept drying out because it was too open. Enclosed bins work better in our climate.

Add green and brown components as if you were making a giant lasagna. Add ample moisture, and keep the pile “cooking” by turning the”lasagna” once a week. This helps mix the components and add necessary oxygen. Add more green and brown in equal portions at any time, and blue as needed. One month before you are going to harvest your compost, stop adding any new material.

soule-vegetables-southwestTo learn more about composting and using compost in our unique Southwestern region, consider this book: Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we may get a few pennies. Your favorite Amazon “Smile” charity will also benefit.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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Beautiful Baileya

The Southwest is a Unique Place

“The Southwest is like no place else on earth” says author Jacqueline Soule. I agree – it has the very unique wildflower called Baileya.

Actually, I’m quoting myself there, because I started a chapter of a book that way once. I went on to explain that the Southwest is a unique geographic area with unique growing conditions, as well as plants and animals found no place else on this earth. Today I would like to share with you one of those lovely plants that is beginning to bloom in the warmer areas of our region right about now – Baileya multiradiata, the desert marigold.


Desert Marigold and Kin

Although called “desert marigold,” Baileya (bail-ee-ah) is only a very distant relative of the true marigolds of the genus Tagetes (topic of my dissertation). Both are in the Compositae, or Sunflower, family. The family is called Compositae because each bloom is composed of both disk flowers and ray flowers. Compositae also are called Asteraceae by some.


The Sunflower Family is perhaps the largest plant family on earth and includes vegetables like lettuce and artichoke. It also has many familiar garden flowers like asters, daisies, chrysanthemum, cosmos, and of course, the sunflowers. Why do I love this family? Because there are so many beautiful native species that are now available in the local nursery trade and should be in anyone’s low-water landscape. I shared information about the lovely low-water native zinnias just a few weeks ago (here).

But back to today’s topic – the desert marigold.

Baileya multiradiata Blooms

The desert marigold has lovely showy yellow flowers in late winter (in low deserts). With a little extra water, flowering will last into summer, and even right through until frost nips the buds. It will keep on flowering and setting seed as long as the soils are warm. The lesser goldfinch adore the seeds, so I never remove the spent blooms. I occasionally cut some blooms for indoors though, and the flowers last about a week in a vase.

Someone forgot to shake out her cut flowers – and discovered a number of tiny visitors in each bloom!

Baileya In the Landscape

This low perennial reaches around 1 foot tall, and clumps can gradually spread to a foot wide. The silvery blue leaves cluster mostly at the base. The leaves are highly variable and can be toothed or not, an unusual trait in plants. They have a dandelion-like taproot but are a lot easier to remove than dandelions – but why would you want to?


The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great resource for information on native plants. They share this information that Baileya“is a well-behaved plant that thrives in poor, dry soils and extreme heat. It is subject to crown rot if the soil is too wet. A stand of desert marigold will self-sow in favorable conditions. The seedling rosettes require a period of cold dormancy to set buds.” 

Baileya multiradiata is native to southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, southwestern Utah, western Texas, and northern Mexico. The plant is cold hardy down to zone 6, so it can grow in high deserts and some mountain areas. It often grows along our Southwestern roads. It grows so easily that it’s often included in many re-vegetation mixes used by transportation departments.


Lepidoptera Love

You might see tiny green caterpillars on your plants — don’t be alarmed. They are larvae of the unique desert-marigold moth (Schinia miniana), a tiny rust and gold moth that feeds exclusively on the Baileya. As far as we know they don’t kill the plants.

book-soule-gardeningCare of Baileya and other natives is scattered through my book Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there, we will get a few pennies.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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You Can Grow Peanuts in the Southwest

Peanuts are great for the soil, make tasty snacks for people, and can be grown in the Southwest right now! That said – they can be grown outdoors if you are in one of the warmer USDA zones, meaning 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Peanuts need 100 to 120 frost-free days , so if you have fewer than that (like in northern New Mexico) you will need to start them indoors.

Pretty peanut plants!
Peanut Plant Requirements Overview
Soil: well drained, ideally sandy to loam, not clay
Soil pH: acidic preferred (6.0 to 6.9) will tolerate to 7.5
Sun Exposure: at least 6 hours of sun per day, afternoon shade in zones 9-12 good
Plant: once soil temperature is 65 degrees Fahrenheit
Space: 8 inches between plants and 12 to 24 inches between rows (36 for runners)
Seed Depth: 1 inch
Water: Regular. 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Stop watering 2 weeks before harvest.
Harvest: can be after 85 to 130 days of sowing, depending on the variety.

Peanut Varieties

Choose your peanut variety based on how you want to use your peanuts. Selling? Eating whole? Candy? Boiling? These are the four main categories.

Runners for marketing. These are some of the most common peanuts. Their uniform size makes them more appealing for mass growing and marketing purposes.

Virginia peanuts for eating from the shell. The reason to choose these peanuts is for their size, usually 3 to 4 nuts per shell.

Spanish peanuts for candy, because they are smaller. They have a red and brown skin on them, and you would most likely recognize them if you ever eat peanut candies (like peanut brittle). Because of how small they are, they are great for candy making.

Valencia peanuts make great boiled peanuts! They also have 3 or more nuts inside each shell.

Freshly dug peanuts offer rich flavor. Photo courtesy Alan LePage, who grew these in his garden.

Growing Peanuts

Sow Seed

Plant peanut seeds about 1 inch deep and at least 8 inches apart in loose soil. (Take them out of the shell first!)  I just planted a few plants in the improved soil around the base of my pine tree. If you’re planting rows of peanuts, make them far enough apart for so they are easy to cultivate (see below).

Water Regularly

Peanut plants need regular water, unlike many of our native plants that tolerate indifferent care. Be sure to water peanuts daily at first, then at least weekly and enough so the soil is damp 1 foot deep. Once plants are growing, let the soil dry somewhat between watering.

Peanut flowers reach skyward to attract pollinators.

Once your peanut plants have reached 6 inches tall it is time to cultivate (loosen the soil) around each plant. This is to make it easier for the plant to spread out and grow. But BE GENTLE! Peanuts are fairly shallow rooted, so only rake about one-half  inch deep. After loosening the soil, do this:

Hill the Plants

This basically means to build up a mound of straw or other loose mulch around the plants (pine needles work great). This is to protect the roots and help preserve soil moisture, making it easier for the pegs to burrow underground.

Watch Them Grow

After sowing and cultivating, be patient! Little golden-yellow flowers start to blossom and bloom on your plants. They form along the stem of the peanut plant.

Once the flowers are pollinated, the petals drop and little peanut-shaped ovaries form. The flower stalk then forms a peg that heads downward and will tunnel into the ground. (Why you loosened the soil.)

The flowers have been pollinated, the stalks turn into “pegs” and are heading towards the ground to develop the nuts. Photo courtesy of Tony Sarah, who grew these peanuts in Tucson.


Harvest Your Peanuts

Mark your calendar! 120 days after planting you can harvest your peanuts. Cooler zones – you need to do it before the frost hits. Pull up the entire plant and shake off any excess dirt. If no rain or frost is in the forecast – lay them on top of the soil (or in your garage) to air dry for about a week before eating.

Peanuts are easy to pull out of rich garden soil. Photo courtesy Tony Sarah, whose rich garden soil was all contained in a raised garden.

How to Use Your Peanuts

Check out the website called SavortheSW for some tasty ways to use what you grow (more than just peanuts!).

I (Jacqueline Soule) will be posting some peanut recipes soon, like how to make your own super savory Homemade Peanut Butter, or Spicy Southwest-Style Peanuts for snacking.


If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures that I mention on our Facebook page. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we may get a few pennies.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.