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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?

Although it is still technically winter here in the desert, the signs of spring are everywhere….

The plum tree at Double S Farms begins to flower.
Earlier this week, I noticed the plum tree that sits in front of the house at Double S Farms, is just beginning to unfurl it’s flowers.  I cannot wait to have some of my mother’s plum preserves in a few months :^)
Yesterday, I traveled up to an area north of Fountain Hills, AZ, which is approximately a one hour’s drive from my home.  It is also the place where I worked for over 5 years.  I was asked to do a landscape consultation for a client and so I brought my camera along to see what signs of spring I could capture in the surrounding area.
 
I went for a drive on one of the golf courses that I used to work on and immediately headed for one of my favorite places.  This area of the golf course borders the desert, with only a barbed wire fence separating the natural desert from the golf course.
 

The desert was lush and green as a result of the winter rains we have received.  Snow can be seen melting from the top of Four Peaks Mountain in the distance.
 
Flower buds are beginning to form at the tips of the Buckhorn Cholla.
 
 
Tiny blue flowers grace this Rosemary shrub.
 
Next, I went on a drive around the beautifully landscaped homes and took pictures of the plants that were in flower. 

Threadleaf Cassia (Senna nemophila)
Cassia shrubs, a favorite Australian native of mine, are beginning to flower showing off their bright yellow blossoms.
 
Trailing Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii)
Tiny purple petals are just beginning to peek out from the Trailing Indigo Bush.  Their vibrant purple color contrast so beautifully with the gray-green leaves of this groundcover.
 
Sweet Acacia Tree (Acacia farnesiana)
This native desert tree is encased in fragrant, golden puffball flowers. 
Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana)
This Octopus Agave, which I planted years ago, is working towards achieving it’s crowning glory – rapidly growing it flowering stalk, which will produce hundreds of new ‘baby’ agave plants.  Once it has finished flowering, it will die.
 
Gopher Plant (Euphorbia glandulosa)
An ugly common name, graces this beautiful succulent plant.  In spring, they are covered with vibrant, chartreuse colored flowers.
  
Valentine Shrub (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)
I would like to finish this post by showing you a photo that I took yesterday of my favorite shrub, Valentine.  They were in full-bloom yesterday and it was obvious that they are my favorite as they were present in most landscape areas that I had designed years ago.
Thank you for allowing me to show you some of the beautiful plants that I have been so blessed by seeing this week.  This is such a wonderful time of the year in the desert and it isn’t even spring yet!  
As winter ends and spring begins, there will be more to see….wildflowers, flowering Palo Verde trees, cactus flowers and much more!   
 Community Center landscape which I was honored to have designed along with renown landscape architect, Carl Johnson.
This past weekend, I participated in a landscape discussion panel as part of a “Living Green in the Desert” seminar.  Attendees were able to submit their questions ahead of time as well as ask their questions directly to us.
 
Golf Course Feature Area with Bougainvillea, Gold Lantana and Purple Lilac Vine grown as a groundcover (2002).
I was looking forward to being a part of this seminar because I had worked in this community for over 5 years as a horticulturist.  So I arrived early and drove around the community and golf course areas looking at the areas that I had designed and planted over 7 years ago.
Plants that I had set out ready for the crew to come and plant (2005).

I look at the landscape areas as old friends.  Of course, as living things often do, many had changed.  Some areas had matured and the small plants that I had set out had matured into beautiful specimen plants.  Other areas looked a little bare since flowering perennials had not been replaced, but the areas were well-maintained.
Desert Marigold, Firecracker Penstemon, Eremophila Valentine and Desert Spoon were planted in this feature area (2002).
   There were 3 of us on the desert landscape panel.  Although I knew one of the other participants, I always enjoy the instant camaraderie that occurs between fellow landscape professionals.

We had three different landscape sessions and the focus was on ‘living green’ in the desert landscape but all gardening questions were welcomed. 

This feature area consists of only succulents such as Soaptree Yucca, Purple Prickly Pear, Desert Spoon, Opuntia robusta, Agave colorata among others.  There is no regular irrigation in this area.  We hand-watered the cactus monthly during the first two summers until they were established.

There were some excellent questions, and I will highlight the most popular ones.

Question #1- When and how do we prune our shrubs.  Are they supposed to look like ‘balls’?

There is an epidemic in the Arizona desert where desert shrubs are pruned into round ball shapes, or as we in the landscape industry refer to as “poodle or cupcake” pruning.  Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile have seen me get up on my “high-horse” more then once, and rail against this practice.  I will not repeat myself here, but you can read my previous post where I dealt with this unfortunate practice – Shrubs Aren’t Meant To Be Cupcakes. 

This was my favorite part of my job; designing new landscapes and seeing it all come together.  
Although the plants are very small when first planted, they grow very quickly in our climate.

Question #2 – When should I fertilize my plants?

Actually, most of your arid-adapted plants do not need to be fertilized.  I only fertilize my plants if they show signs of a nutrient deficiency.  We do fertilize our container plantings and fruit trees.  Compost can be applied to all plants as this ‘feeds’ the soil.

Purple Trailing Lantana, Mexican Bird-of-Paradise, Parry’s Penstemon, Desert Spoon and Angelita Daisy brighten the entrance to the clubhouse (2005).

Question #3 – Is it possible to have plants in my landscape that do not require any water?

 The answer is yes you can if you use native plants.  But, you will have to water them until they become established.  Keep in mind that all native plants will look much better when watered periodically.  That is what is done to the plants at the Desert Botanical Garden

For excellent guidelines as to how long and often you should water your plants, please check out this excellent site, which has information about irrigating your plants in the Arizona desert, including a schedule you can put in your irrigation controller – Landscape Watering Guide

The native plants were watered in this area monthly until they were established.  Periodic water was supplied during the summer months (2005).

 Question #4 – Is it possible to have a winter landscape with flowering plants?

The answer is absolutely! Many residents of this community are winter visitors and are away in the summer when most plants are flowering.   You can read more in a previous post of what types of plants flower during the winter months – Colorless Winter Garden…No Way! 

This area was planted with Eremophila Valentine and Cassia shrubs.

Question #5 – How often do I need to water my citrus trees?  They are currently being watered twice a week. 

  When I am asked to consult with a homeowner regarding their landscape, over 90% are watering their citrus too frequently and not deeply enough.  For example, in the winter months, citrus trees should only be watered once every 3 – 4 weeks.  Many were shocked.  I will cover citrus irrigation in more detail in the future, but there is excellent information which can be found here –  Citrus Irrigation Guidelines.

One of my favorite views from the golf course.

I had a wonderful day and enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones.  I was able to spend the day doing one of my most favorite things –  help people learn how easy it is to have a beautiful, low-maintenance garden in the desert using plants that thrive in our climate.
Gardening in the desert is not difficult, it is just different….
Summer time brings a riot of color to our desert gardens, which are but a distant memory in December.  However, cooler temperatures do not mean that our gardens have to take a holiday.  In our desert climate, there are many plants that flower reliably in December.  Here are some of my favorites….
Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
Beautiful flowers and a magnet for hummingbirds.  Need I say more….?
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
The delicate light blue flowers are so beautiful.

Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
I just love this shrub and it’s pretty purple flowers.  Most blooms are produced in spring, but some flowers are still produced in winter.
Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
Reliable bloomer fall through spring.  Hummingbirds will appreciate this small shrub in the garden.
Pink Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Blooms fall through spring.
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
Flowers year-round.  Slows down in the winter, but continues to flower in protected areas.
 
 Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
My favorite plant in the garden.
Angelita Daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis)
Year-round bright color.  Heaviest blooming occurs in the spring. 

Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)
This is what my Valentine looks like in December.  However, peak flowering occurs in February, hence the name ‘Valentine’.
So, just because it is December, it does not mean that you have to resign yourself to a landscape without flowering plants.  Try one or more of these and see the difference a little color in December adds to your desert garden.