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5 Ways to Add Color to Your Southwest Landscape

Plants add color to Southwest gardens, but you can get creative with other color-adding strategies. We’ve got 5 ideas for adding color to your yard.

Can you spot the color strategies in this Denver front yard?

We all love a colorful garden. And those of us who grow plants in the Southwest know that beliefs about native or drought-tolerant gardens being bland or barren are just myths. Plenty of colorful plants thrive in our climate. But not everyone has room for multiple plants loaded with vibrant color. Plus, plants bloom or leaf out at different times, leaving some periods of little to no color.

So, here are 5 strategies for adding color, some of which don’t even require plants!

The yellow wildflowers in the background were planted by wind, I imagine. The Euphorbia in the front was our addition. Both give us early spring color, before other plants even form flower buds.

Succession Planting

Take a page from farmers (and serious vegetable growers), who plant or sow a second row of the same crop a few weeks after the first. This helps ensure they have ripe fruit to harvest for as long as possible within the constraints of their growing season. You can follow the same principle with ornamental plants. You probably prefer perennials, so rather than spacing apart sowing or planting time, learn when plants you have (or want!) peak. Then, try to have a few that peak during each quarter of the year.

Plenty of blue containers brighten this back yard in Denver.

Color From Containers

Growing plants in containers is a great way to add color. (See partner Noelle Johnson’s online course about Creative Container Gardening.) Aside from considering color when choosing the plants for your container, think about the container itself. It can be fun to repeat three of the same containers for a color pop, even if you lean toward neutral tones. Or splurge on one or two brightly colored or contrasting-colored pots to add to a spot on your patio or in your landscape that needs some extra color, especially in winter. Blue is my favorite, the color that seems to stand out or provide a focal point no matter where you place it!

Our friend Pam Penick in Austin has color down to a science. I love her tribute to her hometown between her backyard pool and a mostly green, woody area.

Color in Hardscape

Why not paint one accent wall? You also can add a path that is colorful or beyond neutral. Crusher fine comes in many natural colors. And I love the look of some broken glass around the soil line of a container or in a small bed. Succulents and natives to your area can handle the reflected heat of colorful stones or glass as an accent. You also can have lots of fun with yard art, adding a touch of your personality or a sense of place. I’ve seen bottles, signs, colorful bird fountains, stepping stones, lots of clever idea. Get more ideas on adding color with garden art in my previous post.

Variegated iris gives early spring color in many Southwest gardens before and after blooming.

Colorful Foliage

 Flowers are way more fun than leaves – usually. But you can choose plants that wow in fall or winter with their changing foliage. These can be tougher to find in many areas of the Southwest. But you can choose grasses that fade in late winter, evergreen shrubs other than conifers (Santolina comes to mind, especially the gray one), or plants with variegated and textured foliage. Adding color doesn’t have to mean bold and bright, especially in a natural garden. For example, cream-colored seed heads on grasses add contrast before a dark shrub, for example.

Annuals are an easy way to add plenty and varied colors, like these planted along a walkway.

Add a Few Annuals

If you need to spruce up an area of your landscape for a special event or curb appeal, add a few annuals. Landscaping with annuals as a rule is not the smartest strategy for waterwise gardening or your budget. But they are a fun guilty pleasure in moderation. If it’s too hot (or cold) to grow a favorite shrub or flower as a perennial in your area, plant one or two in a bed or container so you can enjoy them during the season they perform best in your climate. Make it an edible like basil to further justify the cost of a plant that lasts less than a year. Annuals are especially effective in entryway containers, as low groups or borders in beds, or along empty areas of fences or foundations.

Here’s a heat-loving annual that often re-seeds: portulaca.

Just to recap, that photo at the top of this post employs many of the strategies — plenty of native plants that bloom at different times, evergreens for winter foliage, red rocks, and maybe an annual tucked here or there into a crevice. Try any of these ways to add color in your yard!

Don’t shy away from color or from mixing colors.
Teresa Odle, Southwest Gardening contributor

Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest.  Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.

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