By Scott Calhoun
Finally, summer is winding down. It’s time to exhale and enjoy one of the best times of the year for desert gardeners. Temperatures have gone from the 100s to the 90s and even 80s. Nighttime temperatures also have cooled, from the 80s to the 70s and even 60s. It is time to reassess, replant, and get ready for the long, glorious cool season in the desert Southwest.
One of the easiest ways to get fall going is to refresh your pots and containers. Here are a few tips:
Annuals for Quick Color
When the fall weather arrives, it is time for pansies, snapdragons, Johnny jump-ups, sweet alyssum, lobelia, and stock. If daytime temperatures remain hot into fall, you might want to wait on pansies, which don’t really begin to thrive until nighttime temperatures remain consistently in the 60s. That said, a nice full bowl of annuals (such as those featured in the photo above) announces we are back to comfortable outdoor temperatures.
I’m a fan of planting succulents any time, but come fall you may want to consider certain plants adapted to winter conditions. Succulents, such as Echeveria, tend to grow over the cool season in the Southwest. As shown in the photo, Echeveria (in the tallest pot) comes in colors including green, silver, gray, and burgundy. In desert gardens I have the best success with Echeveria agavoides and Echeveria x ‘Topsy Turvy’.
With their rosette shapes and striking spiky leaves, agave plants look good year-round. Several cold-hardy species, such as the Parry’s agave featured in the photo, work great in containers. The photo also illustrates a technique you can begin in summer that carries you into fall—combining a trailing plant with an agave. In this case the trailing ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra cascades over the side of the pot, providing interesting textural contrast with the agave leaves.
Similar in appearance, aloe is agave’s African counterpart. While most agaves die after blooming, aloes bloom annually and return year after year. Aloes typically bloom early in spring. You can use the sap of some species (such as the medicinal aloe featured in the photo) to treat sunburns. Aloes generally are less cold-hardy and sun-tolerant than agaves, so place containers accordingly.
What are some of your best fall and early-winter container plants?
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