red flowering shrubs and cactus

5 Plants for Winter Color in Desert Gardens

red flowering shrubs and cactus
‘Valentine’ Bush and Golden Barrel cacti add winter interest to a low-desert garden.

Living in the low to the mid-altitude desert can be a challenging place to garden in with hot, dry summers. However, it’s also a place where we can enjoy year-round color in the landscape – even in winter!

The key to providing year-round color around your home is to incorporate plants with overlapping bloom seasons. Often, winter-blooming plants are overlooked but SWG’s Noelle Johnson is here to share 5 plants for winter color that you can add to your desert garden.

red flowering shrub
‘Valentine Bush’ (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

1. ‘Valentine’ Bush

This is arguably Noelle’s favorite shrub in her Phoenix-area garden. ‘Valentine’ Bush is a type of Eremophila, which are native to Australia. They have attractive, dark green foliage and produce red/fuchsia colored flowers in winter into spring. It’s fairly low-maintenance as well, requiring pruning once a year in spring, once the flowering stops. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun or reflected sun.

Hardy to 15 degrees F., ‘Valentine’ Bush grows approximately 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide.

purple flowering vine
Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae)

2. Purple Lilac Vine

When winter is at its bleakest point, this lush green vine bursts forth with vibrant purple blooms. Another Australian native, this vine adds a lovely vertical element in the garden and requires a trellis or other support to climb upon. Unlike its name suggests, the flowers aren’t fragrant but do resemble lilacs. Its flowering season is relatively short, lasting 4 to 6 weeks, but its attractive foliage adds a visually cooling element throughout the year. Plant in full sun or filtered sunlight; avoid west-facing exposures.

Hardy to 20 degrees F. and grows up to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide, but is easily managed at a smaller size.

purple cactus yellow flowers
Santa-rita Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia violaceae santa-rita)

3. Santa-rita Purple Prickly Pear

Cacti and other succulents add texture and interest in the desert landscape throughout the year. Some provide color as well as this type of prickly pear does. Blue-gray pads have a lovely shade of purple that intensifies in times of drought AND cold weather. In spring, they produce yellow flowers that contrast beautifully with the cool purple tones. Use in areas with full or reflected sun.

Hardy to 15 degrees F. and grows approximately 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

red flowering perennial
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

4. Firecracker Penstemon

Native to the western United States, Firecracker Penstemon is a great choice for desert gardens. In late fall, colorful spikes of orange/red flowers appear beckoning hummingbirds. Blooms last well into spring, making this the longest-flowering penstemon for hot, dry climates. They also grow in upper elevation gardens where they bloom in summer. To increase the bloom period, prune off flowers at the base of the stem when they just begin to fade for a new flush of blooms. Plant in full sun.

Hardy to -20 degrees F. and grows 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide.

yellow flowering perennial
Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) formerly Hymenoxys acaulis

5. Angelita Daisy

This pint-sized perennial packs a powerful punch of color in both desert and upper elevation gardens. Angelita Daisy blooms off and on throughout the year in desert gardens and thrives in full to filtered sun. They look best in groups of three or more to maximize their colorful impact. Periodically prune off spent blooms to keep them neat and tidy. Prune Angelita back severely if they become woody to rejuvenate.

Hardy to -20 degrees F. and grows 1 foot tall and wide.

Don’t settle for a colorless, bleak winter landscape. Incorporate one or more of these plants into your desert garden for cool-season beauty.



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