Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
November, 2001
Regional Report

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Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) provides vibrant orange color in fall. Its tubular shaped flowers attract hummingbirds.

Colorful Plants for Cool Weather

Low desert gardeners are so lucky! With a little planning, we can have colorful plants blooming in our landscape year around. Take a moment to notice what is in bloom each month in your neighborhood, around your place of work, and even along the freeways, which are planted with low-water-use plants adapted to your area. Jot them down in a notebook to help with your decision making.

Sometimes transplanted gardeners from four-season climates miss the color show provided by deciduous trees. We don't grow sugar maples in the low desert, but there are some attractive, easy to-grow trees and shrubs that can provide plenty of autumnal orange, yellow and red.

Plant Choices

Chinese Pistache tree (Pistachia chinensis). If you miss fall foliage, this is the tree for you. Leaves turn a bright shade of scarlet, orange, yellow or gold, depending on the tree. Buy it during the fall when the leaves will show you what color they are. This is a large tree and needs room to reach its mature size of 40 feet tall and wide.

Cascalote tree (Caesalpinia cacalaco). This tree is starting to become better known and available at nurseries. Fabulous yellow flower clusters burst forth in fall. It is related to the more common Mexican bird of paradise shrub. This is a smallish tree, usually reaching about 25 feet tall and wide. It provides an attractive canopy, but it has thorns so plant away from walkways and play areas.

Plumbago scandens is a perennial or small shrub. Its deep green leaves turn burgundy when weather turns cold. It also sports a tiny delicate white flower. I've found this plant to be susceptible to powdery mildew, so plant where it has good air circulation.

Clumping grasses provide a colorful accent in the landscape in fall when their flower stalks bloom. Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Regal Mist' has burgundy flower spikes and Muhlenbergia lindheimeri 'Autumn Glow' is yellow-golden. The flower stalks are tall and willowy and look stunning when backlit by the sun.

Don't forget cacti and succulents in your quest for color. Opuntia santa rita is a prickly pear with pads that show off a deep purple color when temperatures drop in fall and winter.

These are just a few choices that can provide color during cooler weather. Once you start looking, you'll no doubt see many more.

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