Colorless Winter Garden ? No Way!

beautiful winter color in desert garden

The Beauty of Year-Round Gardening in the Desert

One of the many blessings of living in the desert is that you can garden all year.  That means that you can have beautiful color all year, even in the desert winter (above).

beautiful garden

Embracing Winter Color in Desert Landscaping

Drive down the street during the summer, and you will see flowering plants in the common areas and gracing the front yards of everywhere you look. Texas Sage, Bougainvillea, Lantana, and Tecoma species dot the landscape as shown in the photo above.

Why, then, do people not include plants that will provide color in the winter?  You can take the same drive as you did in the summer and see nothing but green blobs and nothing else (below).  The landscape below is an unfortunate victim of ‘poodle’ pruning.  We are so fortunate to live in an area with relatively mild winters, so why not take advantage of that fact in your garden?

beautiful landscape

I mean, who thinks that this looks nice?  Countless times, when I am meeting with clients, they ask, “My landscape is so boring.  What can I do to make it look better?”  The majority of the time, I hear this from winter residents. Their landscape is a riot of color in the summer when they are gone. But, in the winter when they are there, they have green blobs and little else.

Adding Winter Color to Your Landscape

brand new landscape

The landscape (above) has potential.  The solution to a somewhat dull landscape is easy.  Add plants that bloom in the cool-season to the landscape.

When I create a landscape design for a brand new landscape, I make sure to include a variety of plants that flower at a different time of the year.  This ensures year-round color.  If you have an established landscape, add a few winter-flowering plants.  That is all it takes.

Top List of Plants for Stunning Winter Color

For beautiful winter color,  I recommend trying the following:

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) – Late Winter and Fall Blooms

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) Flowers late winter to spring and again in fall it's a beautiful winter color

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) Flowers late winter to spring and again in fall

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) – Winter to Mid-Spring Blooms

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata 'Valentine')  Flowers winter into mid-spring

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)  Flowers winter into mid-spring

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) – Mid-Winter Blooms

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) Flowers in mid-winter

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) Flowers in mid-winter

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) – Winter, Spring, and Fall Blooms

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) Blooms winter, spring, and fall

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) Blooms winter, spring, and fall

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) – Winter to Spring Flowers

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) Flowers winter into spring

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) Flowers winter into spring

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) – Mid-Winter to Spring Blooms

 Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) Flower mid-winter into spring

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) Flower mid-winter into spring

Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisoides) – Mid-Winter to Spring Blooms

Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisoides) Blooms mid-winter into spring

Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisoides) Blooms mid-winter into spring

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) – Year-Round Blooms

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) syn. Hymenoxys acaulis  Blooms off and on throughout the year

Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) syn. Hymenoxys acaulis Blooms off and on throughout the year

Add Winter Color to Any Climate

As you can tell, there are countless plants that you can use for winter color. If you are only a winter-resident, you may choose to primarily have plants that flower in winter. As for me, I love lots of color year-round.  My favorites are Purple Lilac Vine, Firecracker Penstemon, Valentine, and Angelita Daisy.

Whether you live in the Tropics or Canada, this same principle is true for any climate you live in – make sure your garden provides color for you when you are there.

What are your favorite winter-bloomers?

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
37 replies
  1. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    Your idea about color year round is a good one. I will have to really look and see the color in my yard when the snows come. We do kind of plant for only 3 seasons here. I do love the stark pictures of a winter landscape.The black trunks of trees making shadows on the white snow.Those were always the landscapes that I enjoyed painting.

  2. tina
    tina says:

    Gardening year round is a definite advantage. The winter gardens in your deserts are as beautiful as the summer gardens! Here I garden year round but the winter gardens don's look as good as the summer gardens at all.

  3. gardeningAngel
    gardeningAngel says:

    We don't have much "poodle pruning" but there are lots of "box pruned" junipers – all nicely square against the house. I love your pictures of winter blooming plants. We get too much snow for color all year, but instead use ornamental grasses, the shapes of leafless shrubs, and lots of snowmen for interest. I think that your suggestions on year round color even apply as 3 season color. So many people here seem to think all plants should flower in June and July, and then they wonder why there is no color the rest of the time. Thanks for the tips!


  4. Midwest Mom
    Midwest Mom says:

    I love the beauty of flowering plants. (And I must admit I'm a bit envious of your temperate climate!)

    We landscape with a mixture of evergreens and native flowering plants. Maintaining a balance helps to guarantee the house and garden look beautiful, whatever the season!

    – Julia at Midwest Moms

  5. T Opdycke
    T Opdycke says:

    As a northerner, I have embraced the monochromatic and earthy hues of late fall and winter, but my the photos of colorful plants growing in the south give my eyes something to feast upon.

  6. Vickie's Michigan Garden (my backyard)
    Vickie's Michigan Garden (my backyard) says:

    Even in Michigan it is good to have some color (real good because snow gets boring) like evergreen's, my crap-apple tree with the apples that stay on all winter or my holly bush.
    I like how you explained it, There is a type of plant for every season. These "winter flowers" are beautiful. But really though I didn't realize Arizona had seasons till I began to follow you!

  7. Pam/Digging
    Pam/Digging says:

    I just love penstemon flowers against stucco or adobe walls, so thanks for that picture. I think one reason people end up with boring yards is that initially they want low-maintenance landscaping. That leads you to the evergreen aisle of the big-box stores. But you are right that it's easy to add color with these xeric plants. They might require a little pruning a few times of year, but you get much in return: color, seasonal interest, and butterflies and bees, to name a few.

  8. Kiki
    Kiki says:

    Wow, truly lucky to have so much color..aaaall the time! Wonderful post…beautiful photos as delightful..! Curious..but.. what kinds of birds do you get alot of out there? Must be tons wiht all those blooms! Beautiful post!

  9. Evelyn Howard
    Evelyn Howard says:

    Thanks for the post. I've been thinking about getting some colours onto my balcony garden… Will definitely come back to this post when I go shopping for plants 🙂

  10. Canarybird
    Canarybird says:

    Hello and thank you for inviting me to look at your blog. I really enjoy reading about desert landscaping and seeing what plants will grow where you live. We have many of the same but in a more humid semi-tropical climate and with flowering plants year round. I must get in the garden soon again. We start to prune the roses in December.
    regards, Sharon.

  11. The Violet Fern
    The Violet Fern says:

    What beautiful winter color! I am so jealous. I can work on some more winter interest even in "North Country" – there's evergreens (NOT pruned into poodles), there's berries, there's seedheads … but nothing like this (sigh).

  12. The Violet Fern
    The Violet Fern says:

    By the way … go for an orchid! They really are quite tough and when they flower it is so worth it – just try! I'm sure there are varieties suited for the desert, too – they grow everywhere!

  13. says:

    Hello Everyone,

    I am so appreciative of all your comments.

    For those of you in areas with snow, part of me is envious. The look of a white blanketed landscape is so beautiful.

    Rosey, I love the idea of a red sled. Lots of color and you don't need to water it 🙂

    Tatyana, I think you can grow a lot of these plants. I am in zone 8b.

    Pam, you hit the nail on the head 🙂

    Noelle (azplantlady)

  14. James Missier
    James Missier says:

    Im surprised to see all the beautiful flowering plants that can do well in the desert climate.
    Never seen those except for the white daisy which I thought it was cosmos survive for a short season.
    Wish I could get my hands on them.

    Have a nice gardening weekend.

  15. calann621
    calann621 says:

    Those are so very beautiful. Obviously I will have to "live" over here on your blog until May or so, when it finally warms up in Virginia.

    I did splurge on orchid today at Whole Foods to make myself feel better. On sale for $9.99!

  16. Gloria Bonde
    Gloria Bonde says:

    Hi – I really enjoyed your pictures. And, I enjoyed the information about yourself. I remember when we would go to Caborca, Sonora to visit my grandparents how scared I was of the scorpions. I loved being in the dessert – Thanks and thanks for picking my post – Gloria

  17. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    You clearly have a talent for looking at gardens with a different and much enlightened perspective your customers must be thrilled with your work.

  18. fairegarden
    fairegarden says:

    Hi Noelle, such an array to choose from! Those gum drop evergreens made me cringe. I do think in addition to the colorful flowers, different textures such as grasses add much to the winter garden as well. I am familiar with some of those you name, but the Hardenbergia is my favorite. It was a plant I gave as a hostess gift to friends living in San Francisco when we stayed there a few years ago. I didn't know the name, but saw it growing on several fences and flowering its head off. The purple color is a zinger! 🙂

  19. Janet
    Janet says:

    You certainly have a lot of color and texture variety. It is very interesting to see plants from your zone. It is so different from what we have….with a few exceptions.

  20. Amy
    Amy says:

    Great post, Noelle! Maybe, the landscapers put in the basic shrubs and the owners just don't know what and how to add to their landscaping and that's when they need you to come in and help! There are so many winter bloomers out there and you have a great list of pretty ones! I enjoyed your post. -Amy

  21. catmint
    catmint says:

    Hi AZ, another great post. When you say people can have colour all year round it reminds me of something my favourite favourite garden writer Edna Walling once said: 'People talk as if green is not a colour!" Also – let us not forget that there are many shades of green. However: this is not only a personal opinion but maybe does not apply in a desert which has different light and aesthetic factors compared to other kinds of ecosystems. cheers, catmint

  22. Msrobin
    Msrobin says:

    So many gorgeous flowers for winter. I am so very jealous! We get so bleak in the winter, that I tend to buy all kinds of indoor flowering houseplants, bouquets, etc. Anything to give me flowers!

  23. Rose
    Rose says:

    Excellent advice; I bet your clients' gardens are beautiful! I remember my first visit to Arizona during the winter and being enthralled with the bougainvillea. It's hard to have that kind of color in the winter in a Midwest garden:)

  24. Mary Delle
    Mary Delle says:

    You have such good ideas. I love the variety of plants that you share and the photos are so much fun. Wish I had a little more room to try out some of these plants. But I love to look.

  25. Kanak Hagjer
    Kanak Hagjer says:

    Noelle, I just love your recommendations. The desert landscape is beautiful. And the colours make it doubly attractive. The Purple Lilac Vine seems to be a prolific bloomer. maybe it grows here too. Will be on the lookout now for the plants I see here, on your blog.

  26. Sylvana
    Sylvana says:

    It's not as easy for northern gardeners to get winter color but there are a few things that we can do: flowering kale, dogwood, evergreens, shrubs that hold onto fruit, and decorations. I like Gardening Angel's idea of using snowmen and Rosey Pollen's idea of using a red sled. I personally go for texture in my winter garden. And texture is as important as color when it comes to gardening.

  27. Kate
    Kate says:

    I'm a little jealous you can garden all year long. 🙂

    Beautiful photos – wish more of these gorgeous bloomers could handle my growing zone.

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