What comes to mind when you envision fall color in the landscape? For a many of us, trees filled with varying shades of yellows, oranges, and reds are what we think of in terms of fall color. However, in the Southwest, we get to enjoy another type of fall color in the form of shrubs that decorate the landscape with their beautiful blooms when summer blooms are beginning to fade.
If you love fall color, here are 5 fall flowering shrubs that will add beauty and color to your Southwest garden as summer fades into fall.
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) – Fan-shaped blooms add a whimsical flair to this Mexican native and decorate the dark green foliage, which is made up of tiny leaflets grouped tightly together. For those who want to attract wildlife to the garden, this is an excellent choice since the bright red flowers attract birds (including hummingbirds) as well as butterflies. Its upright growth habit makes it a good choice for planting against walls or as an informal hedge. Allow plenty of room for it to grow to its mature size of 6 feet tall and wide. Baja fairy duster does best in full sun and can even handle hot, reflected sun in west-facing exposures. Hardy to 20 degrees F.
Turpentine Bush (Ericameria laricifolia) – Dark green foliage is transformed in fall by golden yellow flowers that add a welcome splash of color. The foliage is aromatic and the yellow blooms fade to a tan color in winter and can be lightly pruned away or simply allowed to drop on their own in late winter. This fall bloomer has a nice softly mounded growth habit of 2 to 3 feet high and wide, making it a good choice as a filler plant when placed in bare areas between plant groupings. Plant in full sun for best flowering. Hardy to -10 degrees F.
Chuparosa(Justicia californica)– Brightly colored, red flowers appear throughout much of the year, including fall and spring with some blooms appearing in areas with frost-free winters. The leaves are heart-shaped and are arranged along gray-green stems. At times, the leaves may fall off, which is normal. Its tubular flowers provide a much-needed source of nectar for hummingbirds during the cool season. Chuparosa grows approximately 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide and flowers best in full sun. It is somewhat free form in shape and should be used in a naturally-themed landscape. Hardy to 20 degrees F.
Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) – Sage green foliage produces purple blossoms with a shade of blue for eye-catching color. The foliage of this California native is very aromatic and has an upright growth habit when grown in full sun. Butterflies and hummingbirds are frequent visitors to the flowers that emerge in spring and again in fall. Chaparral sage has a nice rounded to sprawling growth habit and grows approximately 3 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide. In low-desert locations, plant in an area that receives filtered afternoon shade, otherwise full sun works well. Hardy to 10 degrees F.
Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) – Delicate flowers seemingly float above the bright green leaves of this small shrub, enticing nearby hummingbirds to drink their nectar. Flowering occurs in spring and picks up again in late summer into fall. Due to its relatively compact size of 2 feet tall and wide, autumn sage looks best when grouped in three’s or more. The most common bloom color is red, but there are a number of other colors available such as pink, lavender, white, and salmon to name a few. Plant in filtered shade in low-desert locations such as underneath a tree with lacy foliage such as a mesquite or palo verde tree. Hardy to 0 degrees F.
Fall is the best time to add new plants to your landscape because it gives them nine months to grow a healthy root system before the arrival of summer. A well-established root system is how plants survive hot, summer temperatures. So if you love fall color, why not add a few of these fall flowering shrubs?
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.