You Can Grow A Colorful Garden in the Heat

Most of us like some colorful flowers in the landscape. Something cheerful to welcome us as we look out the window with the morning cup of coffee, or something welcoming as we come home from the daily grind. Gardeners and landscape folks call this “color.” Lucky for us, “color” in the Southwest is a year round thing, especially if we use some annuals.


There are over 10,000 trees, shrubs, and perennial plants that can grow in our area. They all have various bloom times! Choose from early spring, late spring, summer, monsoon season, fall, even winter. Thus, you could have at least one plant in full glorious bloom (FGB) in any given week. (FGB is a plant nerd term you might hear as someone brags about their garden.) All this color is great, but sometimes one part of the yard lacks blooms, and thus the whole landscape canvas appears off balance. Then it is time for some annual plants to come to the rescue!

Gaillardia, also called blanket flower, blooms through the summer months. It does best in improved garden soils.

Annual plants live only a season, or maybe two, but are generally finished with their life within a single year. This is opposed to perennials, which last many years. Annuals have only one goal in life – to flower, set seed, and go to the great compost heap in the sky. Perennials are cautious, they flower, but want to store energy for next year, so their blooming is generally not as showy or as long-lived.

Celosia comes in many colors but needs afternoon shade in our climate.

Styles in annuals have fashion swings, just like hemlines. One year petunias predominate, another year marigolds are the masters. It can be fun to try the latest and greatest, but tried and true are good too. With our extreme gardening climate, I advocate bet-hedging. Try some of the newbies, but have a few tried-and-true in case the new kid fails.

Some Favorite Annuals

Sunflowers are popular and do well in the heat. I, and many other gardeners, love to try different ones from the Native Seeds/SEARCH. I like all that I have grown so far, including Hopi branched, with many smaller heads; Tarahumara white; Apache brown striped; and especially the Hopi Black Dye, whose hulls are used for wool and basket dye.


Dyssodia, also called golden threadleaf, is a native plant generally considered a wildflower, but larger forms are available in pots from nurseries as summer annuals. They like a little shade and do well under a palo verde or other tree.

Moss rose does best with afternoon shade in our area. The labels that say “full sun” are for Michigan sun.

Moss roses are not roses nor moss, but small creeping annuals with gorgeous bright flowers. There is a wide variety of color and flower size available, but the consensus opinion is the less hybridized, the better they do in our climate.

Colorful Foliage

Some color can be had from leaves alone. For our hot climate and alkaline soils, try sages such as the variegated and ‘Victoria’ sages, available with leaves of white or yellow with green. More about growing sages in my May 2018 blog post – here.

Sage can be colorful and useful in the kitchen!

I am very fond of plants that look good and are edible, like amaranth. Amaranths all have glorious magenta red pigments, which appear variously along leaf edges, leaf veins, throughout the leaf, but especially in the long stalks of millions of tiny flowers and colorful bracts. Native Seeds/SEARCH has a selection because amaranth was used by natives as a source of seeds and “greens.” Amaranth is a colorful addition to the yard, plus you can harvest young leaves for stunning salad. The leaves are high in both calcium and iron. Amaranth is a close relative of the popular annuals cockscomb and celosia.

Colorful amaranth has stalks of hundreds of tiny flowers.


Annuals are fairly easy to grow. Stick ’em in flower beds, tuck some in around other plants that are already on the drip system, or plant them in pots, pans, old shoes, or what have you. They have shallow roots, so give them extra water, perhaps even daily once temperatures are over 100 degrees. As always, enjoy!

“You Can Grow That” day is the 4th of each month, but I thought folks might be busy this July 4th, so I’m posting a few days early.

gardening-with-souleIf you want to learn more about what to do each month in the garden, consider my book: “Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada (Cool Springs Press). Note – this link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies.

© Article is copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.


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