Signs that fall is on its way begin to appear in late summer. From less intensely hot days to gradually lengthening shadows, this is a time that many in the Southwest refer to as a “second spring,” which is when people venture back out into the garden and plants perk up as temperatures begin to cool. While many plants bloom throughout the warm season, some plants wait until summer begins to wane before they put on their big floral show. Black dalea (Dalea frutescens) is a reliable indicator that colder weather will soon be on its way as the plant bursts out in flowers, which creates a lovely violet haze of color.
Black dalea is a beautiful, low-growing shrub that has a natural mounded growth habit and grows 3-4 feet tall and up to 5-feet wide. It adds a touch of fine texture to the drought-tolerant garden with its tiny leaflets that are grouped together, creating a lacy look. Vibrant violet flowers begin to appear in late summer, lasting through fall, and adding a welcome splash of color when many other plants are beginning to cease blooming.
Don’t let its delicate appearance fool you; this Southwestern native is sturdy, efficiently handling temperatures down to 15 degrees F, and does best when planted in full sun. It thrives in locations that receive hot, reflected heat, such as next to a wall or near pavement, where many other plants struggle to survive. Maintenance for black dalea is low – prune back to 1 1/2 feet tall and wide every other year, in spring.
Black dalea is a great addition to pollinator gardens as bees and butterflies are attracted to the purple flowers.
The ability of black dalea to thrive in full sun makes it extremely versatile in the Southwest landscape. Highlight its cool color palette by pairing it with pink or white gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), or white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis ‘Alba’). You can highlight its airy texture by planting it near boulders, or next to your favorite agave species such as Weber’s agave (Agave weberi). This low-growing shrub is most effectively showcased in groups of three or five in a naturalistic planting pattern.
I encourage you to add black dalea to your outdoor space where its beauty coupled with its ability to handle the heat and cold of the Southwest make it an asset in the garden.
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, certified arborist and garden writer. Also known as ‘AZ Plant Lady’, she’s the author of the popular garden blog, Ramblings From a Desert Garden and received her B.S. in Plant Biology with a concentration in Urban Horticulture from Arizona State University. Originally from California, Noelle now makes her home in the Phoenix area where she helps clients create attractive landscapes focusing on using beautiful, drought tolerant plants that thrive in arid climates. As a garden writer, she contributes to Heirloom Gardener, Houzz, and Phoenix Home & Garden magazine. She is a noted speaker and appears on local television programs focusing on a variety of gardening subjects. When Noelle isn’t writing or helping other people with their landscapes, you’ll find her ‘playing’ in her own desert garden – growing fruits, vegetables, planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.