Colorful flowers! Yes you can easily have them in the desert Southwest. And yes, you can have them ALL WINTER LONG in USDA zones 8 and warmer. This equates to Low Desert, Middle Desert, and High Desert. Sorry Upper Elevations and Mountains – too cold where you live. But you get to play in snow.
Kinds of Flowers
Botany nerd says, “If you are a plant, you will have flowers.” While technically true, today we are looking with plants with showy flowers.
Wildflowers – wildflower seed should be planted in fall for spring color.
Bulbs – bulbs should be planted in fall for spring display. Summer bulbs are different.
Perennials – non-woody plants, like – perrenials for pollinators
Flowering Shrubs – so many to choose from, like: autumn sage, or desert goji,
Flowering trees – like citrus
Annual Flowers – these live their life out within a year. Now is time for the cool season annual flowers.
Cool Season Annuals
Colorful winter flowers in the Southwest winter is provided by blooms from the forests and fields of the northern regions of the world. Winter is time to protect our tropical plants such as colorful canna and heat loving hibiscus. Time to start planting pretty pansies and splendid sweet peas.
And how lucky we are to have flowers in winter! Arranged in large clay pots, hanging baskets, or planted in the ground, annuals create cheerful color on (hopefully) the cloudy wet winter days ahead of us.
An Alphabet of Choices
Colorful flowers for our cool season include many of the best-sellers from “Back East.” Almost an entire alphabet of annuals can be planted right now. The plants can be found as seedlings (young plants) in most local nurseries. Or you can grow them from seed.
For a comprehensive list – see this post with my List of Cool Season Annuals
You can select from: alyssum, bells of Ireland, bachelor’s buttons, borage, calendula, carnation, corn flower, dianthus, dusty miller, echinacea, fringe flower, foxglove, globe amaranth, heliotrope, Johnny-jump-up, kale (flowering), linaria, lobelia, monk’s hood, nasturtium, nigella, ornamental cabbage, pansy, petunia, pink, rudbeckia, snapdragon, stock, sweet pea, toadflax, violets, and wormwood. Well, wormwood is not showy but I needed something towards the end of the alphabet. I couldn’t quite find something for every letter of the alphabet – but I tried 😉
Planting Winter Annuals
Since these annuals are short lived plants, you do not need spend as much time preparing the soil as you do for a tree. (Yipee!) Some preparation is helpful though, since they do need at least some good soil to grow in.
Flowers in Flower Beds
You will need to make a flower bed that is rich in organic matter, since none of these annuals are desert natives. A new bed should be one half compost and one half regular yard soil. You can buy “compost” at the nursery or garden center. You don’t need potting soil – it’s fro growing things in pots or “containers.” No need to buy “top soil,” your yard has soil already. You just need to enrich the yard soil somewhat. Most of these annuals are shallow rooted, so the bed only need to be about one foot deep. Only as deep as the pot they come in from the nursery.
Flowers in Containers
Here’s where you use potting soil. A general potting soil will do. I add some clean (weed-seed-free) playbox sand to be sure the soil does not get waterlogged. Plan on containers at least one foot deep for best floral growth.
Fill your container (almost) completely full with potting soil. No rocks in the bottom! No packing peanuts either! Rocks, pebbles, or anything else at the bottom of the pot has been shown to do more harm than good for overall plant health. (I shall have to do a post on this.)
That said, you will want to cover the hole at the bottom of the pot with a piece of window screen. Why? Because there is a mosquito that survives in warmer Southwestern gardens all year around – and breeds in constantly moist soil. Also, a piece of window screen helps keep the soil from dribbling out the bottom.
Placement of Your Flowers?
When planting, the mature height of plants always should be considered – be it towering trees or short little annuals. With annual flowers – plant the tall ones in back! Foxglove stands taller than most, as does delphinium and bells-of-Ireland. These tall plants form a nice backdrop for shorter plants such as snapdragons and stock. Shorter still are nasturtiums, pansies, and calendula. A carpet of low growing alyssum or lobelia can be used to fill in at the base.
Colorful annual flowers are relatively inexpensive. They are also fun and easy to grow. Give them enough organic matter in the soil, enough sunlight, and regular water. These obliging annuals will reward your efforts with cool color from now into the hotter days of April.
About Your Southwest Yard & Garden
On advice of a business manager – I was told to more actively sell my “products.” I responded, “Start blowing my own horn more?! I’m a gardener and a writer, not a sales agent!” but here goes:
As well as writing about plants, I offer classes online and in person. Then there is the fun and informative Membership site the Gardening With Soule Membership Club. There are many wonderful features to the Club site – in-depth detail on topics (more than mere blog posts) – specific plant profiles – care videos – monthly live Q & A sessions, and much more.
Why do I do all this writing and teaching?
So that you will succeed with your gardening goals, and enjoy gardening here as much as I do!
More about growing colorful flowers every month of the year in this book:
“A great reference book is key to successful gardening in the region where you live. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening takes the guesswork out of gardening for anyone residing in the Southwest. With this book, you’ll know what to do each month to enjoy a thriving garden all year, from January to December. Chronologically organized, this guide is full of critical gardening when-to and how-to advice, along with illustrated step-by-step instructions.
The book’s author is Jacqueline Soule, a Tucson-based gardening expert. She knows this arid region inside and out, and she’s written several articles and books packed with her gardening advice. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening showcases Soule’s expertise in one easy-to-read guide.”
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