Signs that fall is on its way begin to appear in late summer. From fewer hot days to lengthening shadows, this is a time that we refer to as a “second spring,”. This is when people venture back out into the garden and plants perk up as temperatures begin to cool. While many plants bloom throughout the warm season, some plants wait until summer wanes before they put on their big floral show. Black dalea (Dalea frutescens) is a reliable indicator that colder weather is soon on its way as the plant bursts out in flowers, creating a violet haze of color.
Black dalea is a beautiful, low-growing shrub that has a natural mounded growth habit. It grows 3-4 feet tall and up to 5-feet wide. This lovely shrub adds a touch of fine texture to the drought-tolerant garden with its tiny leaflets that are grouped together, creating a lacy look. Vibrant violet flowers begin to appear in late summer, last through fall, and adds a welcome splash of color when other plants slowdown blooming.
Don’t let its delicate appearance fool you; this Southwestern native is sturdy, handles temperatures down to 15 degrees F, and does best in full sun. It thrives in locations that receive hot, reflected heat, such as next to a wall or near pavement, where many other plants struggle to survive. Maintenance for black dalea is low – prune back to 1 1/2 feet tall and wide every other year, in spring.
Black dalea is a great addition to pollinator gardens as bees and butterflies are attracted to the purple flowers.
The ability of black dalea to thrive in full sun makes it extremely versatile in the Southwest landscape. Highlight its cool color palette and pair it with pink or white gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), or white trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis ‘Alba’). You can highlight its airy texture by planting it near boulders, or next to your favorite agave species such as Weber’s agave (Agave weberi). This low-growing shrub is most effectively showcased in groups of three or five in a naturalistic planting pattern.
I encourage you to add black dalea to your outdoor space. Its beauty and ability to handle the heat and cold of the Southwest make it an asset in the garden.
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, certified arborist and garden writer. Also known as ‘AZ Plant Lady’, she’s the author of the popular garden blog, Ramblings From a Desert Garden. She received her B.S. in Plant Biology with a concentration in Urban Horticulture from Arizona State University. Originally from California.
Noelle now makes her home in the Phoenix area where she helps clients create attractive landscapes focusing on plants that thrive in arid climates. She contributes to Heirloom Gardener, Houzz, and Phoenix Home & Garden magazine. She is a noted speaker and appears on local television programs focusing on a variety of gardening subjects. You’ll often find her ‘playing’ in her own desert garden – growing fruits, vegetables, planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.