In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2013
Regional Report

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Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is a fuss-free desert-adapted plant that blooms almost year round. Its red powder puffs attract hummingbirds.

Easy Care Desert Flowers

If you don't count gardening in the hot sun as a fun activity, know that many native plants will keep their looks through the summer with only a minimum of effort on your part. Even though they're growing in the blazing sun with little water (or wide-brimmed hats) to help them, they brave the heat quite nicely. Desert plants have adapted well to the Southwest's harsh conditions over thousands of years. They've tolerate the alkaline soil, limited rainfall (about 7 inches annually in the Sonoran low desert), and soaring temperatures that can plunge to freezing in just a few hours. Because they're so versatile, summer doesn't stress them as it does many non-native plants. For the gardener this means less maintenance is needed to provide proper soil or moisture conditions.

Fewer Pests
Pests and diseases somehow know to attack a stressed plant. Of course, the more stressed a plant, the more likely it will succumb to an attack. Since natives aren't easily stressed by our conditions, they seem less attractive to many pests and diseases that bother non-native plants.

Plant in Summer
Another good reason to go native is to be able to buy and plant on a regular. Native plants can be installed during the hot summer. They require supplemental water only until temperatures cool, if at all, because the summer monsoon season often provides the moisture they need. It's one more adaptation they've made. When summer rains come, they perk right up, providing greenery and often flowers in summer. Yes, the desert does bloom in summer.

Here are a few of the many native desert-adapted flowers that will flourish with minimal care. Experiment and find a few favorites of your own!

Desert Marigold
Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) has delightful yellow, daisy-like blooms. It is native throughout the desert Southwest, growing in small rounded clumps with grayish-silver foliage. It flowers spring and fall (and sometimes summer), self-sowing prodigiously if conditions are to its liking. Be aware that if you don't like "volunteer" plants, you will need to weed out the excess seedlings if rains are plentiful. Sow seeds or transplant from one-gallon pots.

Angelita Daisy
Angelita daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis) is another yellow, daisy-like flower. It also grows in small rounded clumps, but its foliage is greener and has a more lush appearance than the desert marigold. Angelita daisy blooms almost year around, taking a break in late summer. It is usually transplanted from one-gallon pots.

Mexican Hat
Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) blooms profusely all summer into the fall, providing an intense spark of color. Petals can be yellow or a deep maroonish-red and drape downwards from a prominent cone, supposedly resembling its namesake. Mexican hat is native across the Southwest and is easily grown from seed.

Spreading Fleabane
Spreading fleabane (Erigeron divergens) is a low-growing plant with charming white to pale lavender flowers, about a half-inch in diameter. The light-colored flowers lend a cool splash to the garden and contrast nicely with brighter colors. Fleabane is usually grown from seed.

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