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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?

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 winter (above).

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?

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.

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.
 
For beautiful winter color,  I recommend trying the following:

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

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

 

 

 
purple flowering vine

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

 

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

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) Flowers winter into spring

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

 

 

yellow flowering shrub

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

yellow flowering perennial

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

 

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?

The weather has warmed into the low 70’s this week and the flowers are beginning to burst out of their buds….

 Pink Beauty (Eremophily laanii)
 The first few blooms are beginning to appear on this Australian native.
Grows up to 6 ft. high and blooms spring through fall.
Desert Senna (Senna artemisiodes sturtii)
Another of my Australian favorites and are drought tolerant and extremely easy to grow.
Grows up to 6 ft. high and flowers in the spring. 

 
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
This Southwest Desert native has reached full bloom, causing hummingbirds to eagerly drink of it’s nectar.
Grows up to 2 ft. high, when flowering.  Blooms winter through spring (removing spent flowers, will cause more blooms to form and prolong the flowering period).
 
‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’)
It’s early, but the first few blooms on my Palo Verde tree are starting to appear.  
This beautiful tree grows approximately 30 ft. high and wide.  In late spring, the tree will be a mass of beautiful yellow flowers.
 
 Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides)
This blossom is ready to open and join it’s neighbors and reveal its magenta heart.
Grows on a trellis for support and blooms fall through spring in the desert. 

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)
My second favorite Australian native, is in full bloom and is buzzing with bees.
Grows on a trellis or as a groundcover.  Blooms in February. 

 
Violas and Alyssum
My annuals have bloomed non-stop all winter and show no signs of quitting any time soon.
 
Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)
My favorite Australian native who is aptly named for the time of year when it reaches full bloom.
Grows approximately 3 ft. high and wide.  Blooms December through April.
This is my monthly contribution to Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, which occurs on the 15th of each month.  Please visit Carol of May Dreams Gardens to see what is blooming in other gardens around the world.