By Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
If you garden in the hot, arid desert, you'll be happy to hear of the fairy duster plant. Their unusual, puffy blooms and feathery foliage is perfect for this type of climate. Read this article to find out more about it.
Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is a must-have for the desert garden. There is so much to love about this shrub.
My favorite attribute is that it flowers off and on all year. Its red flowers are shaped like miniature feather dusters. Also, this plant attracts hummingbirds, is low-maintenance, drought tolerant and great by swimming pools because of its low litter.
Baja fairy duster has a vibrant red flower, which is often a color missing in the desert plant palette. The majority of flowering occurs spring through fall, but some flowering can occur in areas that experience mild winters.
It is native to Baja California, Mexico and is also called red fairy duster by some. It is evergreen to 20 degrees F. During some unusually cold winters when temperatures dropped into the high teens, I have had some killed to the ground, but they quickly grew back from their roots.
USES: This shrub grows to approximately 4 – 5 ft. High and wide, depending on how much you prune it, so allow plenty of room for it to develop.
It makes a lovely screening shrub, either in front of a wall or blocking pool equipment, etc. It also serves as a colorful background shrub for smaller perennials such as damianita, blackfoot daisy, Parry’s penstemon, gold or purple lantana and desert marigold.
Baja fairy duster can take full sun and reflected heat but can also grow in light shade. It is not particular about soil as long as it is well-drained.
Baja fairy duster in the middle of a desert landscape, flanked by desert spoon to the left and ‘Torch Glow’ bougainvillea to the right. Red yucca is in the foreground.
MAINTENANCE: As I mentioned before, this is a very low-maintenance shrub. Some people shear this shrub, which I DO NOT recommend. This removes most of the flowers and takes away from the natural shape of this shrub. However, it’s size can be controlled with proper pruning. Pruning should be done in late spring and should be performed with hand-pruners, NOT hedge clippers.
Baja fairy duster does require regular irrigation until established but then is relatively drought-tolerant. However, proper watering is needed for it to look its best and flower regularly, which is what I do.
Other than adding compost to the planting hole, no other amendments or fertilizer is needed. Most native desert plants have been adapted to growing in our nutrient deficient soils and do best when left alone in terms of fertilizing. I tell my clients to fertilize only if the plant shows symptoms of a nutrient deficiency.
So, go to your local plant nursery and get some of these beautiful shrubs for your garden. Then, while you sit and enjoy its beauty, you can debate what you love most about it….the beautiful year-round flowers, the hummingbirds it attracts, it’s low-maintenance, or come up with your reasons.
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
|A commonly asked question by homeowners in Arizona is. "What can I plant that rabbits won't eat?". There are many people who will tell you that rabbits eat any plant if they get hungry or thirsty enough. This answer isn't very helpful to anyone trying to put in attractive landscape plants or grow a vegetable garden. So let's categorize some plants as "Favorite Food" and "Usually Won't Eat."|
young fruit tree bark
Usually Won't Eat:
aloes ( Aloe spp.)
Arizona yellow bells ( Tecoma stans )
asters ( Aster spp.)
autumn sage ( Salvia greggii )
black dalea ( Dalea frutescens)
blanket flower ( Gaillardia grandiflora )
brittlebush ( Encelia farinosa )
California fuchsia, a.k.a. hummingbird flower ( Zauschneria spp.)
chuparosa ( Justicia californica )
creosote ( Larrea tridentata )
desert marigold ( Baileya multiradiata )
desert milkweed ( Asclepias subulata )
desert spoon, a.k.a. sotol ( Dasylirion wheeleri )
dicliptera ( Dicliptera resupinata )
emu bush ( Eremophila spp.)
fairy duster ( Calliandra californica (Baja) and Calliandra eriophylla )
feathery cassia ( Cassia artemisioides )
gazania ( Gazania spp.)
golden fleece ( Dyssodia tenuiloba )
hesperaloe ( Hesperaloe spp.)
hummingbird bush ( Justicia ovata )
Indian mallow ( Abutilon palmerii )
Justicia spicigera a.k.a. Anisacanthus thurberi
little-leaf cordia ( Cordia parvifolia )
Mexican bird of paradise ( Caesalpinia mexicana )
Mexican oregano ( Lippia graveolens )
Penstemon eatoni , Penstemon superbus and Penstemon parryi (may try flowers, not plant)
plumbago ( Plumbago auriculata )
prairie zinnia ( Zinnia grandiflora )
queen's wreath ( Antigonon leptopus )
rosemary ( Rosmarinus officinalis )
Texas mescal bean a.k.a. Texas Mountain Laurel ( Sophora secundiflora )
Texas rangera.k.a. Texas sage ( Leucophyllum frutescens )
trailing indigo bush ( Dalea greggii )
verbena ( Verbena spp.)
yuccas ( Yucca spp.)
NOTE: This information taken from an article originally published in The Horticulture Communicator , Spring 1996.
PLANT OF THE MONTH: FAIRY DUSTER
Nectar at the base of the flowers attracts hummingbirds to your landscape. Photo: Robin O’Donnell
The name calliandra refers to the beautiful stamens which make the tufted or ball-like flowers on these loosely branched shrubs. Their colors, ranging from pale pink through deep red, are indeed beautiful. These small to medium sized shrubs produce their flowers against a backdrop of finely divided, lacy-looking foliage. Calliandras can be used in a wide variety of landscape situations. Fairy dusters are a natural for wildlife gardens, adding a bright spot of color and a good source of nectar for hummingbirds. Calliandras are also well suited to a more traditional yard, where their nearly evergreen foliage and delicate blossoms provide color and interest. Fairy dusters require very little pruning to maintain their naturally rounded form, are extremely drought tolerant, and bloom profusely in full sun. They tolerate most soil types and recover quickly if damaged by frost.
Calliandra eriophylla, Pink Fairy Duster/False Mesquite
Dainty pink flowers add a pop of color in the spring. Photo: Donna DiFrancesco
Pink fairy duster is a small shrub native to the desert southwest, where it can be found abundantly on dry, rocky and gravelly slopes between 1,000 and 5,000 feet in elevation. This fine-textured shrub matures to about 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide with supplemental watering. In late winter and early spring it will be covered with masses of fluffy pink flowers, and often reblooms in the fall.
Calliandra californica, Baja Red Fairy Duster
The extraordinary color on these flowers comes from dozens of stamens (male flower parts) clustered tightly. Photo: Donna DiFrancesco
Baja red fairy duster is a medium-sized shrub with a delicate, ferny appearance. It grows to about 5 feet high by 5 feet wide and can be used as a natural hedge, screen, foundation planting, or garden accent. The deep green foliage and bright red flowers are especially attractive when viewed close-up. The exceptionally long flowering period attracts hummingbirds throughout the year. Baja red fairy duster works well when contrasted with yellow-flowering plants such as desert marigold.
Top right featured photo taken by Scott Millard.
This feature is based on a concept and text originally developed jointly by the Arizona Nursery Association and the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) with partial funding from the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Learn more about these and other great desert plants at the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert plant database.
Tag: Fairy Duster
What is that blooming sage shrub or plant that is overflowing with purple flowers in the AZ desert? Humidity from Monsoon season brings a purple explosion for the Arizona Desert. The Texas Sage, Texas Ranger Plants are in full bloom! Take a look at the gorgeous purple sage pictures.
Picture of The Texas Ranger Plant. In Arizona it is commonly called Purple Texas Sage.
One of the best drought tolerant, heat resistant desert plants is the Purple Texas Sage bush / shrub (Texas Ranger Plant). Texas Sage is mostly evergreen (meaning it keeps its leaves), drought resistant, perennial, cold resistant, hard to kill and fits well in a low maintenance xeriscape garden. These blooming desert plants thrive in the hot, humid monsoon season of Arizona.
Flowering Texas Ranger Shrub (Texas Sage Bush) in our yard. Gorgeous Purple!
Because the showy purple flower display coincides with high humidity, Texas Purple Sage is sometimes nicknamed a barometer plant.
Purple flowering bushes in the desert
Mostly you will hear this Arizona desert plant referred to as Texas Sage. Actually it is not a true sage. Texas Ranger Shrubs are related to penstemons and snap dragons. This desert bush is native to Mexico and Texas.
Chihuahuan Sage – Leucophyllum laevigatum
The picture above is a variety of desert Sage bushes, called Chihuahuan Sage, Leucophyllum laevigatum. All of our sage bushes are blooming with brilliant purple flowers and lots of bees. These desert bushes are perfect for bees.
I could even say that the Texas Ranger Shrub is the best plant to attract bees! We have so many bees in our purple shrubs that you can hear the buzzing from across the yard. Texas Ranger plants and all the different varieties of sage would be a great benefit to bee hives.
Purple Sage bush, Chihuahuan Sage
Our Chihuahuan Sage, more commonly called Texas Purple Sage, is along the back of our yard where it receives full sun. The hotter it gets the more this drought tolerant flowering shrub loves it!
The Chihuahuan variety of sage has an informal, relaxed growth habit. You can see in the pictures that I missed this seasons pruning. The best time to prune your Sage bush is in the spring because the summer desert heat brings a flush of new growth.
Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season. Once your Arizona Desert bush establishes a deep root system you can reduce the water. Feed your Texas Sage with a general purpose fertilizer before the new growth in spring.
Our Purple Sage Bush alongside a Red Fairy Duster blooming desert plant
It is amazing to wake up and see your desert yard explode with purple flowers and the loud symphony of buzzing bees. One of the best parts of Monsoon season is the blooming desert plants with our Chihuahuan Sage, Texas Purple Sage, Texas Ranger Plant, whatever you choose to call it, being at the top of our favorites list.
Purple Texas Ranger Plant
To grow your sage bush – plant them in full sun with lots of room to grow. If you prune your Purple Sage, do it in the spring. They prefer well-drained soils and will rot if given too much water. There are many different varieties of Texas Ranger Plants (Leucophyllum frutescens), Texas Sage, Sage bushes. Your desert landscaping will look beautiful with these fragrant lavender flowers.
In the photo below I included a picture of our Red Fairy Duster plant. Fairy Duster, Calliandra, is an evergreen, desert shrub that I recommend for people who want plants that are perennial (you need to plant them only once), low maintenance, hardy, drought tolerant, and provides lovely color next to your sage bush.
White flowering Texas Sage bush Purple Sage and Fairy Duster, blooming Arizona Desert plants
Once these desert plants bloom, get your camera and take pictures. The sage flowers do not last long especially if an AZ monsoon rain comes.
Texas Sage Purple flowering sage bush
Tips & Information about Calliandra Fairy Duster - garden
I am busy putting the finishing touches on my presentation for an upcoming speaking engagement this Monday evening…
The women’s ministry at Cornerstone Church in Chandler, AZ asked me to speak about desert gardening.
Now, I love talking about how easy it is to have a beautiful and low-maintenance garden in the desert – yes, I said easy.
We are the ones that make our landscapes high-maintenance by making the following mistakes:
– Not allowing plants enough room to grow, which leads to over-pruning.
– Pruning plants more often then they need it.
– Selecting plants that aren’t well-adapted to our climate.
– Using fertilizer on plants that almost never need to be fertilized.
The event begins at 7:00 with the main speaker and afterward, attendees are given the choice of going to one of several ‘labs’ being offered at 8:00 pm.
I will be heading up the lab, “Creating a Beautiful, Fuss-Free Garden”.
The main speaker, is Lysa TerKeurst, who is fabulous.
And, did I mention that the entire event is FREE. There is no need to register. Just show up. Here is a link for more information.
I’d love to those of you who live in the greater Phoenix area!
On another note, I have been talking about attending plant sales and sharing with you about new varieties of some popular plants available along with a few of the newest plant introductions.
I had mentioned that I had come away with 3 new plants from the Desert Botanical Garden’s Spring Plant Sale.
So today, I thought that I would share with you the plants I chose and why…
1. The first plant I chose is one that I have never grown before – Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephla). As indicated on the plant sign, it is new to the market.
It is related to Red & Pink Fairy Duster shrubs, (which are great plants for the desert landscape, by the way).
I was entranced by the photo of large, puff-ball flowers. I also liked that I could grow it as a small tree, if I wanted too.
I like that is hardy to 20 degrees, which should make the occasional dips into the low 20’s in my garden no problem.
I planted it along the eastern side of my backyard, against a patio pillar. It will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Growing to its right is a 15 ft. tall Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) that I’ve pruned into a tree form. So, I think that they will look great next to each other.
The next plant I chose is Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha).
Years ago, I planted this shrubby perennial in a parking lot of a golf course I worked at. It did beautifully and attracted hummingbirds. It would die back to the ground every winter, but quickly grew back in spring.
I have also seen Mexican Bush Sage grown in a variety of other areas during my travels, including Santa Barbara, CA and Miami, FL where it is grown as a perennial.
During a tour of the White House in Washington DC, I saw it grown there as well, where it is treated as an annual.
As much as I have liked this plant, I’ve never grown it in my own garden.
I planted it against the outside of one of my vegetable gardens where it will get morning and early afternoon sun. Two other factors were important in choosing this area for my new Mexican Bush Sage – I didn’t have to add drip irrigation for it because it will get residual moisture from the vegetable garden AND it will also attract pollinators to my vegetable garden.
The last plant that I chose is one that many of you may be familiar with, just with a different flower-color.
Purple Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Purple’) was evidently a very popular plant at the sale because there was only one left, which went home with me.
It will grow much like the red variety, pictured above, enjoying filtered shade or afternoon shade.
Flowers will appear in fall, winter and spring in low-desert gardens.
Other varieties of Autumn Sage are available with different-colored flowers like white, pink and salmon.
My new Purple Autumn Sage is also happy in its new home outside the vegetable garden where it will receive afternoon shade.
I will keep you updated on how well they grow in my garden.
Watch the video: Fairy Duster