Best Fall Flowers for the Desert Southwest

Use these woody plants to bring vibrant color to Southwest gardens.

In the Southwest, the desert heat finally gives way to cooler temperatures in fall. Although we don't grow sugar maples in this region, the following three woody plants are sure to add autumn zing to your garden.

The Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi) is one of the few deciduous oak trees native to the southwest that turns color (a vivid red!) in the fall. Its mature size is 25-30 feet high and wide, making it compatible with smaller residential landscapes. In hot desert locations, avoid planting Texas red oak adjacent to concrete, which reflects too much heat. Zones 8-10

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) produces thorny, arching canes that are flame-tipped with red flowers in the spring. What is less reported is that its leaves -- which are green during wet summer weather -- turn an arresting shade of yellow in the fall. At maturity, the ocotillo reaches 15 feet in height with a 10-foot spread. Zone 10

Desert Cotton (Gossypium thurberi) is a wild relative of domestic cotton. In the summer this deciduous shrub produces lovely white and pink flowers that resemble hibiscus blooms. In the fall, its maplelike three- and five-point lobed leaves turn a mottled green and crimson. Desert cotton will grow to 7 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide. Zone 10


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