5 Purple Perennials for Your Sunny Southwest Garden


Pantone’s color of the year for 2018 is purple. More precisely, it’s Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet. Pantone, which provides color matching for printing and design, says the deep purple color mimics colors in nature. Gardeners agree, of course. Here are my 5 favorite purple perennials to grow in a Southwest garden.

Lavender (Lavandula and Lavandin)

Lavender loves sunny, warm and dry weather.

I consider lavender the perfect xeric plant. English lavender tolerates some heat and cold and loves full sun. It’s happy in rocky and alkaline soils like we have in the Southwest. Lavandin are hybrid varieties with stronger aromas. Just check the variety for its heat and cold tolerance. And once your plant is established, it takes very little water. Too much water in cool or super-hot temperatures can harm the plant. See, perfect!


Rosemary blooms complement all the yellow natives in a desert garden.

Rosemary is another woody shrub/herb perfect for a Southwest garden. It’s supposed to be cold tolerant only up to zone 7, but I’ve got a few established plants that I can harvest from in zone 6B winters. What I love about rosemary is its versatility – you can grow it as an evergreen hedge, sculptured shrub or natural-looking low-growing shrub. The leaves are delicious and tiny purple flowers appear in early spring and mid-fall. Snipping sprigs for cooking does most of the pruning, unless you want to control their shape.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)

Butterflies love the large flowers of Buddleia.

Hardy in zones 5 through 8, Buddleia handles heat and drought. Most of all, it provides a stopover in your garden for butterflies and hummingbirds. The large, cone-shaped flowers are really clusters of many tiny purple blooms. They’re drought tolerant and require pruning only once a year. I cut mine nearly to the ground in spring and it is 5 to 8 feet tall by end of summer. Birds use the old branches as landing pads in winter. There is plenty of criticism of buddleia around the country for its invasive nature. But it just doesn’t apply in much of the Southwest; it hasn’t happened in my garden in five years of leaving flowerheads on all fall and winter. I’ll take its butterfly nectar any day!

Salvias (Sage)

Dark purple salvia in a meadow.

I couldn’t narrow this one down to just one salvia. Deep purple salvias such as May night and Ultra Violet resist deer, handle drought and are perennial in about zones 6 through 9. Give them full sun and cut back dead stalks in spring. I often cut the dead stalks off in early summer for a second, though less prolific, bloom.

Variegated, or tricolor, sage has purple tints in its edible leaves and purple flowers in summer.

And then there is the culinary version – sage. The tricolor variety has a hint of purple in the leaves, which makes it as attractive as it is delicious smelling and tasting. If blooms are left on, they’re purple summer bee magnets.


Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

The tiny purple flowers of Russian sage in an Albuquerque garden.

Not a salvia, but actually in the mint family, Russian sage has tiny purple blooms atop long, thin and woody stalks. To grow to full mature height, bushy shape and develop bright flowers, young Russian sages need a little more water than some Southwestern plants. But it survives drought and only needs a near-ground pruning after your last frost; the flowers bloom on the new growth. Bees and birds love the plant.

Our Russian sages (center) flower, but grow smaller in zone 6B with really no water but rainfall.

Although I’ve seen Russian sage spread to nearly invasive when or overwatered and not controlled, trimming off faded flower stalks can help. Cut back on water a bit if it starts to develop runners and either remove the small runners each spring or divide the plant every four years or so.

Ultra-violet blooms on a perennial salvia.

This year, go purple in your sunny yard or garden with a perennial plant that will come back for many years. What are your favorite purples in the Southwest garden?

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  • Sharon

    Is there a lavender that grows well in Phoenix? I’ve seen spanish/french lavender in big box stores but no ‘angustifolia or intermedia. Is it too hot here?

    • Teresa Odle

      Hi Sharon. Many of the lavandulas will grow in heat; you might want to put them in a spot where they get some shade just in peak afternoon heat. A bigger problem is humidity or overwatering, especially when hot. Lavandula stoechas Anouk (a Spanish lavender) also will make it. For the English varieties, I would check with a local nursery or on High Country Gardens’ site.

  • Deane Alban

    I absolutely love purple flowers! I have a lavender in a pot that I planted last spring. The leaves look fine but there are no signs of flowers so far this year. When does lavender generally bloom in Tucson?

    • Teresa Odle

      Jacqueline would know better, but probably in early spring in Tucson. The one I have in a container does not bloom as well as the ones in the ground. I keep it for culinary use, so it’s enough. Flowering should improve as it matures, depending on growing conditions. Our season is so short, I only get one full bloom and a second sort-of-bloom!