Did you know that you can have plants blooming in your landscape every month of the year? In the desert garden, this is definitely true!

One of the most popular programs that I teach at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is ‘Flowering All Year’. During the presentation, I teach students how to incorporate plants in their gardens so they can enjoy colorful blooms all year long.

Sadly, many desert dwellers miss this opportunity. Drive down a typical neighborhood street in winter, and you will have a hard time finding plants in bloom except for colorful annual flowers. As you’ll note, the focus in our gardens is typically on plants that flower through the warm season.

So, how can we change that? It’s quite simple – add plants that will flower in winter. Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill. 

I invite you to come along with me on a virtual tour of the plants I showed to the students in the class as we walked through the garden in mid-February.

*Before we embark on our walk, I have a confession to make. Usually, I arrive early before my classes to see what’s in bloom so I can plan our route. But, my daughter’s bus arrived late that morning, so I was running a bit late. As a result, I didn’t know what we would see. Thankfully, there was plenty to see.

Plants for Cool-Season Color:

 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

The vibrant, blooms of Purple Lilac Vine never disappoint. Blooms appear in mid-winter, adding a welcome relief to colorless winter landscapes. Here it is planted in a tall raised bed and allowed to trail downward. In my garden, it grows up against a wall with a trellis for support.

Whale’s Tongue Agave and Mexican Honeysuckle underneath an Ironwood tree

 

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

Several perennials and small shrubs do best in the desert garden when planted in filtered sunlight. Desert trees like Ironwood, Mesquite, and Palo Verde are excellent choices for producing filtered sunlight. Mexican Honeysuckle doesn’t do well in full sun. As a result, it thrives under the shade of this Ironwood tree. I love the texture contrast in this bed next to the Whale’s Tongue Agave.

Weber’s Agave (Agave weberi) and Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Desert Marigold is a short-lived perennial that resembles a wildflower. Yellow flowers appear throughout the year on this short-lived perennial. I like to use them in wildflower gardens or natural desert landscapes because this yellow bloomer will self-seed.

Firesticks (Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephants Food (Portulacaria afra)

Shrubs, vines, and perennials aren’t the only plants that add winter color in the landscape. Colorful stems of the succulent Firesticks add a splash of orange all year. I am a fan of the use of blue pots in the garden, and here, it adds a powerful color contrast with the orange.

‘Winter Blaze’ (Eremophila glabra)

 

Lush green foliage decorated with orange/red blooms is on display all year long with this Australian native. Several types of Eremophilas add cool-season color to the landscape, and this one deserves more attention. There must be a blank space in my garden for one… 

Blue Bells Eremophila and Mexican Fence Post Cactus

 

Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana)

Blue Bells is arguably one of my most favorite plants. It resembles a compact Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) but doesn’t grow as large AND blooms throughout the year. For best results, plant in full sun, but well-drained soil is a must.

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

My favorite choice for winter color is Valentine Bush. Red/fuschia blooms begin to appear in January and last into April. For maximum color impact, use them in groups of 3 – 5. They are low maintenance – prune back to 1/2 their size in mid-April after flowering. No other pruning is required.

Aloe ferox

Winter into spring is a busy time for Aloes, and many species do well in the desert garden. Most require filtered sunlight to do their best, but ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe does well in both full sun and bright shade.

Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

People from colder climates are often surprised to note that rosemary flowers. In the desert, we are fortunate that we get to enjoy their blue flowers from winter through spring – the bees like them too!

Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruiticans ‘Azurea’)

Toward the entrance to the garden, I was delighted to see Shrubby Germander. A star in my own garden, this shrub has flowered all winter long and will continue to do so into spring. The blooms are a lovely periwinkle color.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

As our walk was wrapping up, the bright red blooms of a Chuparosa shrub caught our eye. A hummingbird was busily drinking as much nectar as he could. I like to use this shrub in landscapes with a natural theme as it has a sprawling growth habit. It flowers through winter into spring and an important nectar source for hummingbirds.

Of course, blooming plants aren’t the only way to add color to the garden. Garden art can play a vital part in adding interest. The Desert Botanical Garden is host to a traveling art exhibit with various animals made from recycled plastic. This group of meerkats greets visitors to the garden.

I hope that you enjoy this virtual tour of winter color in the garden and will add some to your own.

What plants do you have that flower in winter?

When you ask most people what they want in their garden, their most common answer is, “color”. One of the best plants that I like to recommend for warm-season color is coral fountain, also known as firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis). It has beautiful, cascading foliage that resembles the movement of water.

Deep orange flowers begin to appear in spring, the attract both humans and hummingbirds. As you can see, this is not a plant for subtle color – it is dramatic.

Coral fountain paired with elephants food (Portulacaria afra).

 It looks great when paired with succulents like artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’), elephants food (Portulacaria afra), or lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). For additional interest, you can plant it alongside yellow-flowering plants from the low-growing gold lantana (Lantana ‘New Gold’) or angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) all the way to the tall yellow bells (Tecoma stans stans).

In my garden, I have three of them growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree. If you’d like to learn more about coral fountain to see it would be a good fit in your garden, please read my earlier post

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Anna’s hummingbird with yellow pollen on its head

Hummingbirds and gardens go hand in hand. We plant perennials and shrubs with colorful, flowers hoping to attract these feathered jewels where we can observe their antics closely.  

Ruby Throated Hummingbird – Photo by Bud Hensley

Residents of the southwestern U.S. are fortunate to have several hummingbird species in our area including Anna’s, Costa’s, and Black-chinned. However, these are but a precious few, as there are over 300 species native throughout the Americas.

The Hummingbird Society is an organization that is dedicated to “help people understand and appreciate hummingbirds”. Every year, they create a hummingbird calendar that helps to raise funds for their mission. Each calendar is filled with stunning photos from noted bird photographers.

Cuban Bee Hummingbird – Photo by Aslam Ibrahim Castellon Mauré

Each photograph captures the intricate detail of these tiny birds – the little Cuban bee hummer, pictured above is only 1.6 inches long.

Giant Hummingbird – Photo by Yelena Pegova

The simple act of a hummingbird sipping nectar makes most of us stop what we are doing just to watch these tiny birds. In fact, I enjoy them so much, that I created a container garden to attract more of them into my backyard.

Rare Albino Anna’s Hummingbird Photo by Sally Kimmel

The folks at the Hummingbird Society have offered to allow me to host a giveaway where three people have the opportunity to win a free copy of this excellent calendar.

 

**GIVEAWAY OVER – The WINNERS are: Laura V., Jacki, and Glenda. Congratulations! I’ll be emailing you to get your mailing addresses.

If you didn’t win, you can order your own copy here – they make great gift ideas!

 

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Do you love hummingbirds?  If asked, most people would say that these tiny birds are among their favorite bird species.

Anna’s Hummingbird whose head and throat are covered in pollen.
 
I always pause whatever I’m doing whenever I see a hummingbird nearby as I marvel at their small size along with their brilliant colors and flying antics.
 
Last weekend, I enjoyed an unforgettable experience observing and learning about hummingbirds at the annual Hummingbird Festival, in beautiful Sedona, Arizona.
 
 
At the festival, I gave two presentations on small space hummingbird gardening, showing people how they could create a mini-hummingbird garden in a container.
 
When I wasn’t speaking, I was enjoying the garden tour, visiting local hummingbird gardens along with attending other lectures given by noted hummingbird experts.
 
 
While there were wonderful events throughout the weekend, this was one particular event that I’ll never forget.
 
Immature Male Black-Chinned Hummingbird
 
Imagine being able to observe hummingbirds up close being banded and re-released. It really is as incredible as it sounds! In fact, I was able to hold and release a hummingbird myself!
 
So, what is hummingbird banding?
 
Hummingbirds are captured, tagged and re-released and is done to track hummingbird migration, the age and health of hummingbirds.
 
Mature Black-Chinned Hummingbird
This hummingbird banding site was located in the backyard of a home in Sedona.  
Multiple hummingbird feeders are set out to attract a large number of hummingbirds.
 
 
A few of the feeders are inside of cages with openings for hummingbirds to enter.
 
 
A hummingbird enters to feed from the feeder.
 
 
 
 
Each little hummer is carefully put into a mesh bag in order to safely transport it to the nearby table to be examined and banded.
 
It’s important to note this process does no harm to them and it is a very quick.
 
The tools needed for banding hummingbirds.
 
 
The birds are carefully removed from the bag and the process begins.
 
Young male Anna’s hummingbird.
 
 
 
They are carefully inspected for general health and to identify the species of hummingbird.  On this day – Anna’s, Black-Chinned and Costa’s hummingbirds were seen.
 
 
Measurements of the beak and feathers are taken to determine the age.
 
 
Feathers on the underside are softly blown with a straw in order to see how much (or how little) fat a hummingbird has.  A little fat indicates that a hummingbird is getting ready to migrate.
 
 
Special eyewear is required for the banders to see what they are doing with these tiny birds.
 
 
For the banding process itself, hummingbirds are placed in a nylon stocking so that one of their legs is more easily manipulated.
 
 
The small band is carefully placed on the leg.
 
As you might expect, it isn’t easy to band hummingbirds because of their tiny size – the bands themselves are so small that they fit around a toothpick.  In fact, hummingbird banding is a highly specialized job and there are only 150 people in the U.S. who have permits allowing them to band hummingbirds.
 
 
After the banding has been done, hummingbirds are given a drink of sugar water before being released.
 
 
This hummingbird bander is from St. Louis, MO and was so excited to see his first Costa’s hummingbird (which aren’t found where he lives). 
 
 
For me, the most exciting part is when observers have the opportunity to hold and release the newly-banded hummingbirds.
 
 
The hummingbirds would sit for a few seconds in the palm of your hand before flying off.
 
Holding a hummingbird in your hand is as amazing as you would expect!  The hummingbird that I released was a young black-chinned hummingbird that had hatched earlier this year.
 
 
One of the observers who got to release a hummingbird was a gentleman who was 100 years old + 1 month old! 
How wonderful to be able to experience new things at that age 🙂
 
 
The garden where the banding was held was beautiful – especially with the backdrop of the red rocks of Sedona.
 
 
I must admit that I was equally split between observing the banding and watching the numerous hummingbirds feeding.
 
Can you tell how many hummingbirds are in the photo, above?
 
Seven!
 
I have got to add more hummingbird feeders to my own garden!
 
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I am so grateful to the folks at the Hummingbird Society who put on a wonderful festival.  I enjoyed speaking and learning about these wonderful “flying jewels”.
 
The festival is held every other year in Sedona, AZ.  There were over 1,000 attendees this year.  I highly encourage you to consider attending this special event next year.
 

One of the things that I love about gardening in the desert is how many beautiful plants that can not just survive our arid climate, but thrive in it.  

Besides our native desert plants, many tropical plants also do very well here due to our relatively mild winter in our semi-tropical climate.  Quite a few of these plants are native to Mexico.

So far in our lesser-known plant spotlight, we have highlighted two flowering shrubs that will add interest to your garden…..Valentine and Chaparral Sage.

So now for our next featured plant.  

If you love the shape of water as it cascades from a fountain and the bright colors of coral, then you definitely want to include coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) in your garden.

Aren’t the flowers just so beautiful?

Although this beautiful plant is native to Mexico, it does exceptionally well in our arid climate – in fact, the coral fountain in the photos is planted in sandy soil.  The leaves are hard to see and are small and scale-like in appearance.
Here are some reasons that you should definitely try coral fountain out in your garden:
 
– Striking coral colored flowers continually grace this shrub during the warm months of the year.
 
– It can reach a mature size of 4 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide.
 
– Hummingbirds will be in heaven if you plant this pretty flowering shrub.

– Coral fountain is tolerant of a variety of conditions.  Well-drained soils or wet soils, arid climates or tropical climates and handles full sun or filtered shade.
 
– It grows quickly, so you do not have to wait a long time for its showy display of flowers.
 
– Because of its tropical origins, it is not cold hardy.  It does suffer frost damage when temperatures dip below 32 degrees F.  You can help to protect coral fountain from frost by covering it when temperatures fall.
Because our soils have so little organic matter, coral fountain does best when given some fertilizer.  I would recommend using a slow-release fertilizer and apply in the spring and fall months.
 
Try planting it alongside yellow or purple flowering plants for great color contrast.
 
The cascading form of coral fountain looks beautiful when used next to a water feature or in a container.  You could also use it a raised bed where the flower plumes will gracefully fall over the wall.
 
Have I tempted you enough to try this plant?
Here is another look…..
 
 
I took all of the photos at The Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park in Palm Desert, CA.  I visited there with my sister last March.
Why didn’t I take a picture of my own coral fountain?  Well, I must admit that I do not have one in my garden.
 
Okay, so you may well be asking why do I not have a plant that I highly recommend in my garden?  Well, that is an excellent question, and I must confess that I do not have a really great answer for you.  
I could say that my garden is over 11 years old and already full of plants.
 
I could then add that if I planted every kind of plant that I loved, that all sense of design in my garden would go out the door because I would have a mish-mash of too many different plants, which is not pleasing to the eye from a design standpoint.
 
But, those excuses sound kind of pitiful to my own ears.  Every time that I drive to Double S Farms (my mother and sister’s home), I pass by a beautifully designed garden which features a coral fountain shrub on the corner.  I always look for this plant, and I am still admiring it.
 
And so, I must admit the truth to myself…… I would love to have this plant in my own garden and will be on the lookout for one the next time I visit the nursery. UPDATE: I now have three of the beautiful plants, growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree.

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