Colorful discoveries for desert gardens

Five new plants with strong seasonal interest

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Colorful discoveries for desert gardens

Clusters of rose-purple flowers cover [I {Dalea frutescens}] 'Sierra Negra' for several weeks in fall.

Terrence Moore

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  • Colorful discoveries for desert gardens

    Backlit by afternoon sun the wispy flower heads of [I {Muhlenbergia capillaris}] 'Regal Mist' set a Tucson slope aglow.

  • Colorful discoveries for desert gardens

    Daintily poised on 1-foot stems, golden angelita daisy is backed by reddish orange penstemon in this Phoenix landscape.

Southwest gardeners can draw from an ever-expanding palette of desert-adapted plants, thanks to the efforts of devoted plant collectors and nurserymen like Ron Gass of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery in Glendale, Arizona, and Greg Starr of Starr Nursery in Tucson.

We asked Janet Rademacher, marketing director for Mountain States, to name her favorites among the newly introduced plants discovered by Gass and Starr. "There are so many good ones," says Rademacher, "but these plants are outstanding for their toughness and attractive bloom." Look for them at local retail nurseries or―by appointment only―at Starr Nursery (520/743-7052).

Spring through fall color

Angelita daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis). Native to Arizona and Texas. Perennial with bright green leaves grows 12 inches tall by 15 to 18 inches wide. Daisylike golden yellow flowers appear over a long season, but are heaviest in spring (for repeat bloom, shear off flowers before seeds form). "Tuck into tight places or use en masse," says Rademacher. Full sun, well-drained soil, moderate water. Sunset climate zones 10-13.

Spring and fall color

Dalea capitata 'Sierra Gold'. Collected in Mexico by Gass and Starr. Lush-looking, semideciduous ground cover grows 8 to 12 inches tall by 3 to 4 feet wide. Yellow flowers are borne on 1-inch-long spikes. Cut back halfway in late winter. "One of the most durable ground covers for desert gardens," says Rademacher. Full sun, low to moderate water. Zones 10-13.

Eupatorium greggii 'Boothill'. Collected by Gass in southeast Arizona. Herbaceous perennial with fuzzy light green leaves grows 2 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide. Fuzzy lavender-blue flowers appear on the ends of branches in late spring and fall (also in summer in areas where temperatures stay below 100°). "Attracts clouds of butterflies," says Rademacher. Cut back nearly to the ground in late winter. Full sun or partial shade, moderate water. Zones 10-13; plants die back to the roots when temperatures fall to the mid-20s.

Fall color

Dalea frutescens 'Sierra Negra'. Collected by Starr in west Texas. Partially deciduous shrub 4 feet tall by 6 feet wide, with 1-inch-wide compound leaves and nearly white branches. Brilliant rose-purple flowers are borne on 11/2-inch spikes. "One of our best fall bloomers," says Rademacher. Prune severely in late winter to encourage bushiness and flowering. Full sun, low water. Zones 12-13.

Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Regal Mist'. Native to southeast Texas; collected there by Benny Simpson, Lynn Lowrey, and Shannon Smith. Clumping grass 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide, with glossy dark green leaf blades. Deep pinkish red flower spikes rise 1 foot above the foliage. Prune in late winter to remove flower spikes and brown foliage. Tolerates a wide range of soils. Full or filtered sun, moderate water. Zones 10-13.

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