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3 Colorful Desert Flowers That Thrive in the Fall

“This is my favorite time of the year,” enthuses landscape designer Chad Norris. “There’s a relaxed feeling because we’re not just trying to get out of the heat. We are enjoying being outside for the first time in several months. Gardens are returning to color. The sun protection we put in place for the summer is removed, and plants are able to spread out and take the benefit of photosynthesis, which makes them thrive.”

Here, the Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner shares a trio of his favorite garden picks that put on a colorful show just in time for the holidays.


(Plumbago auriculata)
Norris favors the pest-tolerant cape plumbago as a durable accent for smaller spaces. “The draw is definitely the size,” he reports. “This shrub stays fairly compact and is a cheerful addition to transitional flower beds, narrow planters and atriums. Clusters of vivid blue blossoms against dark green foliage make a striking visual statement.”


SIZE: 5′-6’H by 5′-6’W
BLOOMS: Clusters of blue flowers, late summer to early fall. High heat will fade blooms to a lighter whitish-blue.
WATER NEEDS: Moderate; more in extreme heat and if potted
ATTRACTS: Butterflies
SOIL: Sandy, well-drained
LIGHT: Full sun to partial shade
MAINTENANCE: Hand-prune to shape, no formal hedging


(Aptenia cordifolia)
Consider this non-woody succulentlike ground cover as an alternative to lantana. “Hearts and flowers thrives when the days are warm and the nights are cool,” Norris says, but notes that it needs a bit of extra care early on. “Make sure the soil stays moist, and start the plants out with a little fertilizer. The result is well worth the added attention when you see the fluorescent-colored blossoms, which are hard to find in most perennials. This is a great plant to incorporate within your landscape in combination with other flora. I love to use them as a base of contrast surrounding blue or variegated agaves.”


SIZE: 1’H by 3’W
BLOOMS: Magenta to reddish-purple, late spring to early fall
WATER NEEDS: Low, drought-tolerant
ATTRACTS: Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
SOIL: Well-drained
LIGHT: Full shade to partial sun
MAINTENANCE: Seasonal cutbacks; hand-prune to desired size


(Duranta erecta)
Norris gives high marks to duranta as a substitute to the ubiquitous oleander. Layered into the background of a garden, this evergreen shrub can soften walls, provide privacy and create a dense foliage backdrop to plants in the foreground. “The purple blossoms are vibrant, distinguishable and very pretty in a desert palette of predominantly yellow flowers,” he raves.  

For more information, see Sources.


SIZE: 5′-10’H by 3′-5’W
BLOOMS: Clusters of purple-and-white flowers, year-round; small golden fruits in winter
WATER NEEDS: Drought-tolerant; requires a regular irrigation in summer. Plants will show signs of wilting when thirsty.
ATTRACTS: Butterflies, hummingbirds
SOIL: Well-drained
LIGHT: Full sun
MAINTENANCE: Selective hand-pruning. Hedging will ruin its natural beauty.


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