Plant of the Month

Autumn Daffodil
Sternbergia lutea

  • Plant Form: Perennial bulb
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 0.25 – 0.5 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Fall (Sept – Oct)
  • Native to: Southern Europe, Asia
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 28°F

This cheery surprise arrives to brighten your garden in the fall, seeming to appear out of nowhere. Autumn Daffodil bulbs sleep underground all summer, then burst up with bunches of yellow, waxy flowers in September and October, closely followed by clusters of strap-shaped leaves all winter. This plant’s charm and easy maintenance has garnered it awards — once you plant your own, you’ll know why.

Autumn Daffodil pops up through bare ground when you least expect it, just as autumn arrives. Its crocus-like, goblet-shaped, waxy yellow flowers each appear singly on 5 to 6-inch-tall stems. Soon after, deep green, strap-shaped leaves emerge that persist through winter, feeding the bulbs so they survive through their summer dormancy. Eventually these leaves disappear in spring until the next fall bloom. This heirloom bulb is so ridiculously easy to grow, and looks so charming, it has earned the prestigious “Award of Garden Merit” from the Royal Horticultural Society for its outstanding qualities. Happily, rabbits and deer rarely bother this plant. Plant bulbs 5-6 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart in late summer. Accepts most soil types, but they must be well-drained. Prefers full sun, and hot and dry summer months, so don’t give it too much summer water. Brightens up border fronts, rock gardens, cottage gardens, Mediterranean gardens, foundations, containers (with evergreen companion plants), pathways, and sidewalks.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for September


Spring Leaf Drop

It’s normal for evergreen plants to shed their oldest leaves, which are closer to the trunk than the newly emerged younger leaves at the ends of branches. While the term “evergreen” may make one think that the leaves last forever, evergreen leaves may last between one to several years before being replaced by new leaves.

Don’t panic if you see your evergreen plants dropping large amounts of yellow leaves in the spring! These are actually older leaves giving up their nutrients to the flush of young leaves that seem to sprout up overnight as the temperature warms.  You might worry that leaves turning color and falling to the ground indicates that your evergreen plant isn’t happy or is stressing, but this spring leaf-fall is very much a vital, living process that prepares the plant for a giant growth spurt each spring. As I discussed in another post, leaf drop is only possible if the leaves are attached to a plant or branch that is alive. In fall, leaf drop is a preparation for winter dormancy; in spring, it is a sacrifice of nutrients from old leaves into young leaves that need an injection of critical nutrients to expand and mature quickly for the growing season.

Spring leaf drop from our evergreen Sugarbush (Rhus ovata). This is a normal response to the flush of new growth in spring and early summer. “Out with the old and in with the new” is the agenda that moves valuable nutrients from older leaves into new, fast-growing spring leaves. After transferring their nutrients to the new growth, the old leaves fall to decompose and release their remaining nutrients into the soil as a continuing fertilizer…so their death keeps recycling vital gifts.

People are used to seeing deciduous plants shed their foliage at the end of the growing season in autumn, over-wintering with bare limbs and branches. “Leaf-peepers” travel around the country every year to watch the spectacle of leaf colors as groves of deciduous trees prepare for their autumn leaf drop and winter sleep. But we are not as accustomed to the often significant leaf drop of evergreen trees just as spring entices new growth.

As spring triggers new growth, older leaves are busy sending their accumulated stores of essential minerals, sugars, and other hard-won products out of the leaf, and sending them to the fast-growing cells of new leaves. As minerals like iron, phosphorus, and other valuable nutrients are transported off-leaf, color changes paint the older leaves yellow and orange, a visible sign of the chemical transformations happening within each old leaf during its sacrifice before it falls.

So don’t stress over the overnight yellow apron of leaves underneath your evergreen trees and shrubs that appeared just as spring kicks into high gear. It’s just the elders making way for the next generation of youngsters…as we will all end up doing.


Notice that only the older leaves are turning yellow on this evergreen shrub, Sugarbush (Rhus ovata), not the newer leaves near the branch tips. The older leaves are transferring nutrients to the flush of new spring growth.



Harvesting Desert Almond

Part of my appreciation of our native desert plants comes from the indispensable gifts that these plants have provided for millennia to humans, wildlife, birds, insects, soils, and the whole ecosystem. Indigenous peoples have long valued and used native desert plants for food, medicine, healing, shelter, clothing, utensils, and ceremony

Desert Almond is a relative of our commercial almond that is smaller than the store-bought almonds that you are familiar with, but they have the same familiar structure: a furry outer covering, a thinner inner shell, and an edible nut inside. What is surprising is the huge flavor burst from a miniature almond as small as a pea — you will taste a cherry-almond flavor reminiscent of marzipan.


Part of my appreciation of our native desert plants comes from the indispensable gifts that these plants have provided for millennia to humans, wildlife, birds, insects, soils, and the whole ecosystem. Indigenous peoples have long valued and used native desert plants for food, medicine, healing, shelter, clothing, utensils, and ceremony.

I would like to share some of these uses that we can incorporate into our lives today, but this comes with a responsibility to reciprocate thoughtful care and stewardship for these tenacious but fragile desert dwellers. I always encourage respectful harvesting and mindful use of our native plants (join one of our workshops to find out how! We prepare these native plants for you to taste, drink, smell, touch, and experience).

I also strongly encourage the purchase and planting of native plants in our own yards, especially if we want to harvest their gifts regularly (see our section, Native Plant Nurseries, for southwest nurseries that sell California native plants). By incorporating plants into our yards that are native to our own region, we also help sustain native butterflies, native bees, birds, wildlife, and migration corridors for all of them, as well as reducing our dependence on added water, fertilizers, and pesticides in our yards. Growing plants that thrive in our climate also reduces our time and cost to maintain our yard). It is truly a win-win scenario.


Desert Almond’s fruits started to develop in April, and they will be ready for harvest in June and July. You will know they are ready when they turn from green to tan-colored, and drop off easily from the branch when touched. Desert Almond is extremely drought-tolerant, which makes it a perfect choice for your desert-friendly yard landscaping. It grows quickly into a dense shrub 6-10 feet high and wide, and can be pruned into any shape you desire. Even though it loses its tiny leaves in winter, its dense branching still makes a good privacy screen or background plant. Antelope Ground Squirrels (the cute little ground squirrels that look like chipmunks) are attracted to this “giving” plant’s nuts and harvest them in large quantities, so you might need to be diligent about watching as the fruits ripen to get part of the bounty.

My favorite use of the “nuts” (actually drupes) is to add a small spoonful of shelled nuts over vanilla ice cream, and then drizzle amaretto liquor over the top for an incredible dessert. As with all plants in this genus, there is a small amount of cyanide in the seed, which is reported to stimulate respiration and improve digestion in small amounts, but which can be poisonous in large amounts if not cooked or leached first.

Late spring and early summer is the time to harvest these tasty native miniature almonds. We encourage you to invite this valuable native plant into your own yard for both drought-tolerant and edible landscaping. 

Clockwise photos from upper left:

  1. Desert Almond plant
  2. Desert Almond flowers
  3. Desert Almond unripe green fruit
  4. Desert Almond ripe fruit on stem; outer fuzzy covering usually splits when seed is ripe
  5. Desert Almond ripe seeds harvested
  6. Desert Almond seeds, shells removed – ready to eat in small quantities; roast or leach with water to eat in large quantities

Desert Almond plant parts traditionally used:
  • Seeds – Ripe “nuts” (actually drupes) eaten raw or cooked. Cahuilla Native Americans pounded the almonds, considered a delicacy, into flour and leached the flour with water to remove traces of cyanic acid, which can be toxic in large amounts. Nuts can also be roasted to remove any cyanide. Small amounts can be safely eaten without any processing.

  • Twigs – Used by Kawaiisu Native Americans from California’s Tehachapi Valley as the foreshaft of arrows inserted into the mainsheet of hollow carizzo grass mainshafts.

  • Branches – Used by Kawaiisu Native Americans as a drill in bow-drill fire-making.



The Desert Underground

Who would guess that anyone could say, with any credible authority, “Mushrooms can help save the world?” And even more preposterous, that in the desert, fungal threads that connect to plant roots combat global warming? Even though these statements sound like science fiction, we are finding that both are proving to be absolutely true. 

These concepts were at the forefront of the vision to create an artistic, visually compelling book that would transport readers along a graphic “tour” of the unseen desert beneath the soil surface. Robin’s new book, “The Desert Underground,” will lead you on a virtual tour of the hidden but magnificent world of microorganisms intertwined with roots that silently works under our feet every day.

“The Desert Underground” book reveals the amazing partnerships that connect every native plant underground across the landscape. Journey through the interlocking biological and geological systems that work together to create a surprising carbon sponge, helping to combat climate change wherever desert soils remain intact.

Come on a virtual tour of the desert’s surprising living soils under your feet. Join in this tour within the pages of “The Desert Underground” book by Robin Kobaly.
Sample page from “The Desert Underground”

Robin’s newest book was released at a special exhibit featuring “The Desert Underground” at the Joshua Tree National Park Art Expo at the 29 Palms Inn in September 2019. A series of large graphic displays, created with the original artwork presented in Robin’s book, led viewers along an illustrated tour through our desert soils, delving deeper and deeper into the underground. The exhibit was created by Robin Kobaly and was presented by The SummerTree Institute, an environmental education nonprofit, of which Robin is Executive Director.

Visitors take a virtual “tour” of the desert underground at the
Joshua Tree National Park Art Expo in fall 2019.

For more information about
The Desert Underground” book,
or to order your own copy,

For an overview of the hidden but magnificent realm that works silently underground every day, read the feature article, “The Desert Under Our Feet” written by Robin Kobaly in the March 2019 issue of The Desert Report.


Check out our other events and workshops!  

Robin will help you plan YOUR yard — including identifying
your plants…both native and exotic,
and recommending new problem-solving plants and ideas,
from pathways to yard design!


Do you long to know more about your own yard and property? Would you like to walk through your yard/property alongside a plant expert to identify any plants you don’t know, both native and non-native, and get ideas for other plants that would thrive in your yard? Would you like to get suggestions about planting hardy, drought-tolerant, attractive, desert-friendly plants, including trees, shrubs, and perennials that can help you reach your highest dreams for your property?


Landscape planning with views in mind

Landscape planning with views in mind

If you want to achieve your goals for enjoying your yard to its fullest potential without having to contract an expensive landscape architect, consider inviting botanist Robin Kobaly into your yard for a personal consultation. Robin will help you appreciate and identify what you already have, and suggest what plants, pathways, or other structures you could incorporate into your landscape to solve issues you may have with landscaping, views, privacy, wind, hot walls, soil challenges, or problem spots. Robin will share easy, concrete steps to help you successfully plan out a functional, sustainable, low-maintenance, attractive landscape plan to empower you in creating your own dream yard – yourself!


Robin identifies yard plants, and shares traditional and modern uses of native plants.




Robin will bring plenty of supporting materials to help you envision your yard’s potential, and supply photos of suggested plants to fit your yard’s needs. She will suggest a variety of methods that are easy but effective in achieving a landscape plan that suits your individual desires, personality, passions, moods, entertainment essentials, as well as considerations if you have children or pets, while providing suggestions to help you solve persistent problems on your property. Robin also can share homemade remedies that you can easily make yourself to solve common garden problems such as powdery mildew, insect attacks, rabbit munching, etc.




Imagining a new backyard plan


Your yard consultation will normally last 2-3 hours, during which Robin will answer your questions, offer ideas about how to plan your yard to achieve your dreams and desires, present ideas about what plants would do well on your property to achieve those goals (and where you can buy those plants), and give you valuable tips on irrigation for success. She will share secrets about how you can discover your best approach for getting the most enjoyment from your yard by knowing what to focus on to achieve great results. Robin will also identify all the native plants you may have on your property, and introduce you to some of your native plants’ special qualities and uses that you can incorporate into your own life.



Making yard plans with Robin

Creating yard plans with Robin

The fee for this personal yard consultation is based on yard acreage and distance for travel. Please call for a quote for this service on your yard or property. We are excited to meet you and your yard, and to discuss and brainstorm your dreams and goals for your yard. We love helping people get excited about reaching the potential of their yard. This is a very fun experience for both of us!

 To discuss your personal yard consultation, call (760) 363-1166 or email for a quote and to schedule a fun journey into your own yard through the eyes and experience of a seasoned botanist, Robin Kobaly.

You will love searching here for the best plants to satisfy your landscape needs for your Southwest yard! Click on the image below to search all categories. Our Water-Wise Plant Data Base includes hundreds of plants, both native and non-native, that are water-wise, drought-tolerant, available at Southern California nurseries, and that are cold-hardy in our cool desert winters but still stand up to our extreme summer heat. We have included a special category of “California Native Plants”, so gardeners who want to grow plants native to our area can find them all in one location in our database. See below for a discussion of USDA Hardiness Zones, Sunset Climate Zones, and cold hardiness, and how they each relate to our region.

Start your plant search here:


~ USDA Hardiness Zones are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature. This system divides North America into 11 separate zones. Each zone is 10°F warmer, or colder, in an average winter than the adjacent zone. Zone 1 is the coldest; zone 11 is the warmest. In the Mojave Desert, we are predominately within USDA Zone 8, based on our winter low temperatures that indicate where a plant may survive the winter. Our lower, Colorado Desert is predominately within USDA Zones 9 and 10.

~ Sunset Climate Zones are based on the combination of climatic factors that affect a plant’s total performance, including length of growing season, timing and amount of rainfall, winter lows, summer highs, wind, and humidity. Sunset climate zones indicate where a plant will thrive year-round. Sunset magazine classifies 33 western zones, numbered from harshest (Zone 1) to mildest (Zone 33), and organized by region from north to south. The boundaries of each of these unique zones are a function of six geographic and climactic factors: latitude, elevation, ocean influence, continental air influence, mountains and hills, and local terrain. Taken together, these factors determine what will grow well in your garden and what won’t. In the Mojave Desert, we are predominately within Sunset Zone 11 (“Medium to High Deserts of California”), based on many climatic and geographic factors that influence where a plant may perform the best year-round. Our lower, Colorado Desert is predominantly within Sunset Zone 13 (“Low or Subtropical Desert Areas”).

~ Cold Hardiness is shown in degrees Fahrenheit. This is the minimum temperature the plant can tolerate without suffering lasting damage.