Most of us enjoy color in our life, including colorful flowers in the landscape. Something cheerful to greet us as we look out the window with the morning cup of coffee, or something welcome us home from the daily grind. Gardeners and landscape folks (members of the Green Industry) 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 the Southwest, and they all have various bloom times! Unlike the snowy climates our season includes mostly snowless winter, not to mention early spring, late spring, summer, monsoon season, early fall, and late fall. In Low and Middle Desert, you could have at least one plant in full glorious bloom (FGB) in any given week. “FGB” is a garden nerd word you might hear as someone brags about their garden.
All this color throughout the seasons 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!
Annuals for Color
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 nor as long-lived.
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
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.
Gaillardia, also called blanket flower, blooms through the summer months. Originally from prairie areas, it does best in improved garden soils or in containers.
Echinacea is another prairie plant that is best as an annual in the hotter areas of the southwest. It blooms prettily, but doesn’t seem to come back after winter in my desert soils.
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 in afternoon and do well under a tree with patchy shade, like a palo verde.
It’s a tad late to plant sunflower – but you can try it. I usually plant mine the first week of April. Since we are getting some monsoon rains this year, they may grow for you.
Castor is an unusual annual to consider. I have two posts about it – growing castor, and the botany of castor. Meanwhile, castor as an herb is on the site I also write for, Savor the Southwest.
Color & Edible
I am very fond of plants that look good and are edible. Sage is one such. Color is from the 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.
Amaranth has lovely edible leaves, plus seed for humans or birds. 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.
Annuals are to Enjoy
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 cowboy boots, or what have you. Annuals have shallow roots, so give them ample water – like daily when temperatures are over 100 degrees.
As always, enjoy!
More about overall care of your land and landscape in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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