Flowers are the workhorses of the garden. They'll dazzle any landscape and they radiate a warm or cool feeling, depending on the colors selected. Here are flowering shrubs and ground covers that are perpetual bloomers through the summer that anyone can rely on to put zip into a landscape.
Pomegranate is easy to grow, lives long, withstands neglect and produces bushels of pomegranates to eat fresh or use to make jellies and jams. It offers year-round appeal: In the spring, beautiful bronze leaves cover the bush, later turning glossy green. Bell-shaped red-to-orange carnationlike flowers two inches across later adorn the shrub. During the summer, fruits three inches in diameter glisten while filling themselves with seeds. Fall leaves turn golden yellow as the crimson fruits ripen and weigh down the branches, creating a weeping effect. Finally, the plant undresses itself to reveal gnarled wintry branches. There are dwarf varieties available.
Baja fairy duster is a real charmer. It is a small airy shrub with slender branches and lacy green foliage covered by bright-red fairy duster flowers. It is striking at close range, but the real treat is peering through blossoms into the evening sunset. That's when I stutter for words to describe their glow. A frost may freeze it, but it bounces back next spring, providing it gets full sun.
Tecoma stans combines lush tropical foliage with showy flower clusters until a heavy frost. If it does freeze, cut the plant back to live wood and it will rebound next spring into a larger plant, like an orange bird of paradise. These large clusters of flowers provide choice nectar for hummingbirds, followed by long, narrow seedpods. Pods tell us it is a legume, and we don't need to fertilize it. This remarkable shrub tolerates extreme heat from reflected walls, asphalt and concrete and still looks fresh and lush. There are many new varieties available.
Texas ranger plays an increasing role as a workhorse shrub throughout the valley. It goes almost unnoticed in a landscape until it blooms. It's called a barometer plant because any time the humidity increases around it, bell-shaped flowers explode. You'll find new selections every year with their own unique colors. A close look at its leaves reveals dense hairs that channel air past the leaves to cool the plant. When the xeriscape movement started, Texas ranger was the first plant on the water-conservation palette, and is still used extensively.
Trailing lantana can make any brown-thumber look like a pro. It is a constant bloomer with 1-inch, verbenalike, lavender flowers spread across the foliage. And in the winter, the leaves color themselves purple to add to the display. This plant shows off best cascading over walls or from window boxes. It roots where stems touch moist ground and stops blooming when soils dry, so keep the soil moist for a thick, lush plant.
Bush lantana is another plant for the lackadaisical gardener to consider. It blooms as heat intensifies and sheds its blooms to always look fresh. It provides blooms of many colors into fall and numerous mixtures in between. This perennial bush may frost down, but quickly returns next spring. In this case, be like the experts. Cut the bush back and plant pansies in the vacant area. Next spring, lantanas will crowd out the pansies and you're back in business. Under normal growing conditions, this bush will get about waist high and spread as much.
Oleander is a love-it or hate-it plant, and I happen to love it. Yes, it's poisonous, but so are other plants. It comes in all colors, sizes and shapes, from knee-high to 20-feet tall, with flowers in single or double forms showing until frost. Its fragrance is sweeter than roses. The single-petal blooms shed to always look fresh; double petals hang on to become unsightly. It has upright and pendulous branches to form mounds of dense growth, or you can trim it to be a tree. Leaves are rough and trap pollen from other plants.
Red yucca is a clumping plant with stiff, swordlike leaves, rising from its base, that curve back. Numerous white fibers curl along the leaves to add even more interest to the plant. My first reaction to this plant was negative, but when red to coral bell-shaped flowers showed up on tall, arching stalks, I became its strongest advocate. These blooms appear in the late spring and continue through the summer. It makes an excellent accent plant and an attractive addition to any desert landscape.
Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 822-7754.