On Saturday, November 22, 2014, the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association held its 38th annual Excellence in Landscaping Awards Program and Banquet at Loew’s Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson. This program recognizes member companies who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to designing, installing and maintaining beautiful and sustainable landscapes in Arizona. Projects are submitted by member companies, judged by a panel of industry experts and must adhere to strict criteria of industry standards to be considered for an award. This year Sonoran Gardens submitted two residential design and new installation projects and one residential redesign and renovation project for consideration by the judges.

I am very proud to announce that Sonoran Gardens was awarded three Awards of Excellence for our submissions. The Award of Excellence is the highest honor possible. This award is given to a single project within a category that demonstrates outstanding levels of quality and creativity. Additionally, all projects being considered for an Award of Excellence must have scored 90% or higher on the strict criteria and are also visited by the judges to confirm that they are indeed worthy of the highest honor.

Winner of the Xeriscape Award

Eckert Project: Winner of the Xeriscape Award


Ashdown Project

Roper Project

Roper Project








Sonoran Gardens was also awarded the Xeriscape Award, one of the three Grand Awards. The Xeriscape Award is given to a project that has received an Award of Excellence and is designed, planned and constructed to adhere to the xeriscape principals of reduced water use and maintenance.

Congratulations to everyone who worked for and with us on these outstanding projects. And a special congratulations to our design partners Sven Gunn and Shelly Abbott for their work on these wonderful projects.

Happy holidays!

Chris Niccum

Old Dog Learning New Tricks

For the first time in over 30 years I have a vegetable garden. Learning to grow vegetables in Southern Arizona is both fun and challenging. My previous experience with growing veggies was in Idaho (the place where they grow all the potatoes). Frankly growing veggies there was fairly easy and didn’t require a lot of effort. I’m finding that growing them in Southern AZ is a bit more of a challenge.

I had set aside an area on the east side of my house for the garden. This area gets good light for most of the day but is protected from the afternoon sun. The soil in that area is compacted red clay that I believed would require major efforts to produce a growing medium conducive to growing veggies. So, I decided to use raised beds for my garden. I purchased several galvanized steel stock tanks to use for the raised beds. These tanks are very durable and about 2′ deeps, so they hold plenty of soil. This is also a nice comfortable working height requiring much less bending and stooping when working in the garden. After positioning the tanks, I drilled drainage holes in the bottom and filled them with a soil mix of 50% topsoil, 40% compost and 10% sand.

I extended an existing waterline into this area and installed a hose bib to use for hand watering. I also installed an automatic irrigation system with a controller and vales dedicated to just watering the veggie tanks. This gives me the ability to independently program and adjust the irrigation for each tank as needed. The individual plants are watered using a combination of in line drip emitters and adjustable micro bubblers.

I am now beginning to learn the what, how and when of growing veggies in Southern AZ. For the first time in a long time this old dog is trying to learn a whole new set of gardening tricks.

Happy gardening from Chris Niccum!






It seems like every time I look up in my garden something is flying around. Mostly hummingbirds and butterflies. There are three hummingbirds (a pair of Costa’s and an Anna’s) that call my garden home. They seem to be engaged in a never ending battle over control of the territory. I’m surprised that they haven’t starved to death because it appears that they spend all of there time chasing each other and would have no time or energy left to eat. When they aren’t chasing each other, they attempt to chase off other birds, and I’ve even seen them trying to chase butterflies.

This fall my garden is full of butterflies. I’ve planted an area adjacent to my side patio with plants that will attract butterflies. Most notably Butterfly Mist (Eupatorium Greggii) and several species of Milkweed. I love to sit on the patio and watch the parade of color and movement of whole groups of Queens, Black Swallow Tails, Giant Swallow Tails, Sulphurs, Painted Ladies and occasionally a Monarch.

Several weeks ago I noticed a Monarch in the garden. She was pretty faded and one back wing didn’t work quite right. I could only imagine the journey she had been on from the Midwest to Arizona. She stayed around for a while and I saw her laying eggs on one of my milkweeds. A few days later the eggs hatched and the caterpillars began devouring my milkweed. It is amazing how much they eat and how quickly they grow. After a couple of weeks I noticed that most of caterpillars were gone and I found one crawling across the patio toward the BBQ counter. Within a a few hours it had attached itself to the underside of the counter and began transforming itself into a chrysalis. Over the next 10 days the chrysalis slowly changed color from pale green to brown and early one morning a new adult Monarch emerged. It spent an hour or so drying out and expanding its wings and then spent the day feeding and flying around the garden. Late in the afternoon I watched as it flew high into the air, caught the wind and headed off to the south continuing the journey to winter in Mexico. A beautiful bright orange and black replacement for the battered and faded adult that had laid the egg.


Mother butterfly




Becoming a butterfly

Becoming a butterfly

Becoming a butterfly

Drying its wings to fly

Drying its wings to fly




As summer ends and fall begins it is a great time of year to add new plants into your garden. The cooler temperatures make it easier for new plants to establish, and there are still at least 6-8 weeks of the growing season left before cold weather and the potential for frost arrives. It also gives you an excuse to be outside in this beautiful autumn weather.

I am adding about 20 new plants to my ornamental garden this fall. This may sound like a lot of new plants to the average homeowner. However, when you consider that my ornamental garden contains over 260 individual plants representing over 100 different species and varieties, this is in fact a relatively small number of new plants. I am also the type of gardener that believes if you can see the ground, there is room for another plant. And most of my new plants are in fact replacements for plants that had not performed well or had died.

Planting success is mostly a matter of selecting the right plant and putting it in the right spot. The first 35
step is to determine what you want the plant to do. Screen out the neighbor’s house? Attract butterflies or birds? Or maybe just look pretty. Then you can decide what you want the plant to look like. Size? Flower color? Flower season? Foliage color? Texture? Evergreen or deciduous? Lastly, you must determine the growing conditions in the site that you have selected. Sun exposure? Heat and cold tolerance? Soil conditions? Irrigation? Don’t skip this step. Most of plants that I’m replacing this year failed because I paid too much attention to function and appearance and not enough to growing conditions. You now have enough information to select the right plant for your spot. I like to do this by going to the nursery and looking at the plants they currently have available, carefully reading the tags, and making a selection based on my criteria. This all sounds good except, because I am a plant nut, I almost always come home with a bunch of extra plants that I just had to have and I now must try to figure out a place to plant them.


Planting is easy. Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the pot and about 1/2″ shallower than the top of soil in the pot. Place the plant in hole. Then install drip irrigation and backfill with the soil removed when digging the hole. Build a water retention basin with soil about 2″ deep around the outside edge of the planting hole. Water the plant in with liquid fertilizer to settle in the backfill and give the plant some nutrition to grow on. Water everyday by filling the basin for at least 2 weeks and once a week with liquid fertilizer. Then just let it grow.

Now, go plant something!


My gardens look fabulous. The plants in the front desert re-vegetated areas are all green and growing and many are in flower. The rear ornamental gardens are full of flowers and every plant appears to be healthy and vibrant and the vegetable garden is providing fresh produce every day. I must be the greatest gardener in the world!

Or maybe just maybe my gardens look fabulous because I’ve had a great monsoon season. At my house it’s rained on a regular basis, temperatures have been relatively moderate and humidity has been up. I would guess judging from the number of calls that we’ve been getting at the office requesting drainage improvements and general landscape clean ups that most of you have also had a good monsoon. For the last six weeks the weather in Tucson has actually encouraged plants to thrive and they have. This really seems to be the only time of year in which every plant in my gardens consistently looks good and I love it. I’ve been fortunate to have worked as a professional gardener in many varied locations (Indiana, Texas, Idaho, Virgin Islands and Arizona) and I can say that without a doubt that Southern Arizona is the most difficult place of all to grow a beautiful garden. Except for right now. So, all you gardeners should enjoy the beauty that you’ve created and pat yourselves on the back because right now it appears that we are all the greatest gardeners in the world!

Happy gardening!

Chris Niccum
Sonoran Gardens Landscape Design & Construction

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I’ve been a gardener for most of my life. I have always had an interest in
plants and enjoyed growing them. My career has included work in almost
every aspect of the green industry with a particular emphasis on the design,
installation and care of ornamental landscapes. Currently I am the semi
retired owner of Sonoran Gardens a residential landscape design, build and
maintenance company in Tucson, AZ.

My home is a fairly typical suburban residence on about a 1/3 acre lot with
in a development in Vail, AZ. We built it about 10 years ago and I have
been designing and planting since then. There is undisturbed desert behind
and across the street and a neighbors house on each side. We don’t however
share common walls with them. The front yard and the areas between the
walls have been planted to duplicate the existing desert areas as closely as
possible. At the front entry is a small specimen cactus garden with a
collection of potted succulents on the porch. The rear yard is an outdoor
living space with patios, swimming pool, BBQ/bar counter and fire pit all
surrounded by an ornamental garden. The side yard is dedicated to growing
fruits and vegetables in pots and galvanized metal stock tanks.

Generally when I meet someone and they discover that I own a landscape
company they begin asking for advice about their landscapes and the plants
in them. Since I have a passion for plants and beautiful gardens, I’m
always willing to share what I have learned from a lifetime of gardening.
For that reason I’ve begun this blog. I will be regularly discussing my
design inspirations, maintenance activities and plant knowledge as they
relate to my home gardens.

Front Yard

Veggie Garden

Back Yard

What Can You Do To Minimize Heat Stress?

In most cases, summer stress can be lessened or even prevented by proper irrigation. Slow, deep irrigations that allow water to soak water down deep into the soil to reach the lower root zones of plants are essential. Never use hot water from a hose. Let the water run until it cools off. Timing is critical also. It is best to irrigate by running the drip irrigation to regular landscape plants 3 – 4 days per week for 2 hours with the run time starting in the early morning.

Trees should run twice per week for 3 hours. Flower beds and pots should run twice per day, every day for 5-7 minutes each run. A correct irrigation will wet the entire area underneath shrubs and trees to ensure that a majority of the roots are receiving water.

If you understand the basics of summer heat stress, we can take the proper steps to minimize the stress or avoid it all together.

As always, you can call Sonoran Gardens with any questions or concerns. We’re here to help!

Looks Like Spring is Here! What Happened to Winter???!!!

Hello fellow gardeners. It’s time to gear up for warm weather!

If your plants are anything like mine these days. they look happy and full of blooms right now, but we need to remember it is going to be hot soon. Especially with our warm winter, plants are already thinking we are well into Spring. So, here are a few tips to get you started this season:

  • Prune your shrubs after they have completed flowering
  • Woody plants such as Bougainvillea and Lantana should not be cut back until threat of frost has past.
  • Cut back shrubs that need rejuvenation 12″-18″ from the ground. Shrubs that could benefit from rejuvenation cut back would include: Texas Mountain Laurel, Oleander, and Hop Bushes.
  • Shrubs that need just clean up can be achieved by removing base branches and/or unproductive branches within the canopy.
  • If any of this is not in your area of expertise, please call our staff at Sonoran Gardens to learn how we can help you with a custom designed maintenance plan.

Summer Pots: Sonoran Gardens are the pot experts! Let our Contained Gardener team show you how pots can light up your living areas inside & out! A few thoughts…

  • Yes, you can have color in the hot Arizona summer!
  • Summer annuals can begin being planted in mid-April and they should last until mid-October
  • Summer flower staples include Zinnia, Penta, Angelonia and Vinca
  • The soil should always be moist to the touch, but not so wet that water is filling up your saucers.
  • The Sonoran Gardens Contained Gardner irrigation team can set-up your irrigation system if needed.


Make sure your irrigation controller is adjusted for spring & summer. Your plants need extra water with the high temperatures and low humidity.

Tips for keeping your plants healthy in the warmer weather:

  1. Inspect your irrigation system for leaks, breaks, and clogs. You will be running your system more frequently and any leaks or breaks will end up wasting a lot of money. In addition leaks and breaks can create unsightly wet spots and mud puddles in your area. Clogs in your system during the hottest time of year will restrict water to your plants and can result in stressed and dying plants.
  2. Listen to your plants – they will show you if they need water. Look for leaves that are turning a lighter shade of green or yellow, dull wilted, drooping, or curling leaves, stems or branches dying back. Be cautious of heat wilt. At the hottest part of the day many plants will experience heat wilt. Their leaves show signs of wilt because they are tired from reflecting the sun all day. These plants are not dying or under-watered; once the day begins to cool they will perk back up. Think about how you feel after a day in the sun – it can be exhausting! Use your finger to test the soil around the plant; if it is moist your plant is probably experiencing heat wilt.
  3. Program your controller for the season. Most landscapes will require time and/or days added to the irrigation schedule for the summer months. Knowing how much water your plants require and how much water your system puts out is integral to programming your control. You can visit Arizona’s, Water Use It Wisely website for some great basic tips to determine how much water you need. In addition, reference your irrigation controller’s user manual they typically provide information on appropriate programming.

If you need assistance programming your system, or are experiencing any issues, Sonoran Gardens can help you out with that. Call today – 520-579-9411. Or contact us.

Don’t forget, it’s not just your plants that need water in these temperatures. Make sure you always have water on hand and are drinking plenty of it throughout the day.

Sonoran Gardens Landscape Design & Construction is a complete landscape design, landscape construction, custom care landscape maintenance, irrigation and lighting repair firm serving Tucson, Oro Valley, Catalina Foothills, SaddleBrooke, Tanque Verde, Marana, Vail, Sahuarita, Green Valley, and Southern Arizona.

Sonoran Gardens

4261 W Jeremy PL

Tucson, AZ 85741



Spring landscaping tips from Sonoran Gardens Landscaping

Yes, I believe we can all agree that we might be having the most unusual Tucson winter weather in quite some time, but Spring will soon be here and we thought we would share a few tips on what you should be doing in your outdoor spaces. As always, Sonoran Gardens is here to help with our Custom Care Maintenance program that can take care of all of your maintenance needs every month. For more information, please call us at 520-579-9411.What you should be doing:

  • Apply pre-emergent: weeds are already starting to come up and the pre-emergent should go down before the spring rains. It will keep your weed growth to a minimum. Be sure to read the label on any product you purchase.
  • Trim back your rose bushes
  • Start cutting back your plants that for adequate Spring growth. This should include all your “woody” plants including Lantana, Bougainvillea, Mexican Bird of Paradise, Yellow Bells, and Red Salvia. Sonoran Gardens' Custom Landscape Care
  • This year we experienced a catastrophic freeze event(s). To treat your plants it is best to wait to cut them back until they are beginning to show signs of re-growth. At this time you can cut back the dead limbs to the new growth. If the plant died all the way to the ground (as was often the case with lantana) wait until you see new growth sprout up, then cut the plant all the way to the ground.
  • If your cactus has signs of frost or freeze damage there are a couple routes you can take. First, if the cactus is severally damaged and experiencing rot, it is best to remove the specimen completely and replace it when the weather is warmer. If the tips or small portions of the cactus are damaged these areas can be pruned off. The pruned areas should heal just fine, as long as the pruning occurs after any threat of cold weather. Finally if just the very tip of the cactus (columnar) has been damaged you can leave it. The cactus, typically, will generate new shoots from the dead growing point.
  • Fertilize citrus

    Our Custom Care team working hard to keep your outdoor spaces looking their best!

    Our Custom Care team working hard to keep your outdoor spaces looking their best!

  • Flushing irrigation filters. We recommend doing this every quarter – typically around the changing of the seasons. Sonoran Gardens has a team of irrigation experts that can do this for you.

Please feel free to call us at 520-579-9411 with any questions or needs that you might have. If you found this information helpful, please feel free to share it with anyone!

Here’s to Spring!4261 West Jeremy Lot #2, Tucson, AZ 85741   |   Tel: 520.579.9411


Examples of complete landscape projects from Sonoran Gardens

A beautiful example of a Sonoran Gardens new construction installation:

All masonry, iron work including gates, fences and trellises, brick paving, plantings, and pots by Sonoran Gardens!

Sonoran Gardens Landscape Design, Construction and Custom Care Landscape Maintenance in Tucson, Arizona, was established in 1996 by Chris Niccum. Chris has a Bachelor’s degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Purdue University and has spent his entire working career in the landscape industry. He started Sonoran Gardens with an old pickup truck, some basic hand tools, one helper and a dream of becoming the best landscape construction company in Tucson. His years of experience had shown him that producing a high quality product, exceptional customer service, and treating people with integrity and honesty, would lead to success. Since that time he has brought together a staff of dedicated professionals who share that belief.

Sonoran Gardens approaches each project as a unique opportunity to meet our client’s needs and exceed their expectations, always with an on-going development of systems and procedures to ensure that these goals are achieved for every one of our clients. From detailed personalized planning and award winning design, to expert project management and installation, Sonoran Gardens will do whatever it takes to ensure your complete satisfaction.

Contact us at 520-579-9411 for your complimentary landscape design and installation consultation or to learn more about our Custom Care Landscape Maintenance program.

Thank you!

Chris Niccum and the Sonoran Gardens Team