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For The Garden

Showstopping Winter Foliage

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: November, 2011, Page 152
Purple Prickly Pear
(Opuntia Santa-Rita ‘Tubac’)


Purple Prickly Pear
(Opuntia Santa-Rita ‘Tubac’)

Best traits—Bluish-gray pads turn deep purple in cold or dry weather. Easy to grow, very drought-tolerant and hardy to 15 degrees, this native cactus is covered with creamy yellow blooms from late spring to early summer. The plant’s fruit attracts native birds.

Growing tips—Plant in full sun or reflected heat in well-draining soil. Water deeply once a month from April through September. Once established, rainfall usually is sufficient. However, if pads appear wrinkled or shriveled during long dry spells, apply water. Prickly pear is susceptible to white cottony cochineal scale, which can be controlled by periodic blasts of water from a hose.





Aloe vanbalenii

Aloe vanbalenii

Best traits—Arching foliage transforms from green to rusty-orange in response to cold weather and sometimes drought stress. Color intensity varies. An entire aloe may change color, or only its leaf tips or margins may be tinged. These rosette-shaped aloes multiply in clumps. Its blooms attract hummingbirds.

Growing tips—Foliage remains green when shaded, so for more color, site where it will receive full sun in winter and protection from hot afternoon sun in summer. Or, grow in containers that can be moved seasonally. Water as needed, taking care not to over-water in winter, when cold, wet soil encourages root rot. Protect plant if temperatures dip below 30 degrees.





Blue euphorbia
(Euphorbia rigida)
Blue euphorbia
(Euphorbia rigida)


Best traits—Succulent blue-green leaves are arranged spirally around upward-curving stems. From midwinter to spring, stems are topped with neon-bright chartreuse bracts that hold tiny red flowers. Also known as gopher plant, this evergreen self-sows, producing seedlings to create an eye-catching ground cover.

Growing tips—Plant in full to partial sun in well-draining soil. Water every month or two, taking care not to over-water in summer. When night temperatures cool in fall, water as needed to promote winter growth. After blooming, cut back stems to the base to rejuvenate. Euphorbia’s milky sap can irritate skin and eyes, so wear protective glasses and gloves.





Fire barrel cactus
(Ferocactus gracilis)
Fire barrel cactus
(Ferocactus gracilis)*


Best traits—For a bright blast of “foliage” color, consider red-spined fire barrel cactus. Barrel cacti are extremely drought- and heat-tolerant and require no maintenance. Flowers and fruits add seasonal interest and attract pollinators and birds.

Growing tips—Plant in full sun in well-draining soil. Locate where the sun’s low morning or afternoon rays backlight the spines, enhancing an overall glow of color. Water monthly from April through September until established in 1 to 2 years. Future watering is unnecessary except in times of prolonged drought. Pair fire barrel with golden barrel for intriguing color in xeriscapes.

*Barrel cacti with red spines are sold under various common and Latin names. Look for Mexican fire barrel, red barrel and devil’s tongue, as well as Ferocactus gracilis, F. gracilis sp. coloratus, F. latistinis, F. pilosus, F. pilosus v. pringlei and F. stainesii.
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