Spring never comes quickly enough for many gardeners — we delight in having spring blooming plants in our garden to celebrate the season. To ensure early blooms, many flowering trees and shrubs should be planted in the fall, which allows plants to establish roots and gain the strength to provide a spring extravaganza.
The spring color palette includes white, pink, purple, burgundy, red, and yellow. From the bright yellow winter jasmine, which blooms in January, to the honey scent of mesquite flowers, which appear in late April, your fall planting will provide months of these colorful spring blooms.
In the desert Southwest, native trees and shrubs are prime choices for the garden. Native plants are more adapted to our unpredictable spring weather, wide range of soils, droughts, and summer monsoons. Native blooming trees for spring include Texas or Mexican redbud, Texas honey mesquite, Texas mountain laurel, and New Mexico and purple robe locust.
Each spring, my garden features every shade of pink, beginning with blooming redbuds. For this area, the Texas (Cercis canadensis v. texensis) and Mexican (Cercis canadensis v. mexicana) redbuds are the best choices for reliable color. These small trees grow about 20 feet tall, with dark pink blooms on the branches followed by large heart-shaped leaves with wavy edges.
Texas honey mesquite (Prosospsis glandulosa) and many native acacias bloom in late spring with dangling yellow catkins or with tiny ball-shaped flowers. These thorny trees can be pruned to make a spreading canopy. The honey mesquite grows 25 – 30 feet tall, and the acacias are generally half that size. They are wonderful pollinator attractors, and the flowers have a delightful honey scent. Though the leaves are small, these trees provide filtered shade for wildflowers and wildlife. Seed pods are nourishment for turtles, rabbits, and other wildlife.
Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) is an evergreen with green or silver leaves that grows 15 feet tall and can be pruned into a multi-trunked tree or left as a shrub. The clusters of violet flowers smell like grape gum.
New Mexico locust (Robinia neomexicana) and the adapted purple robe locust (Robinia ‘Purple Robe’) have hanging clusters of scented pink or violet flowers in the spring. They grow quickly if water is abundant. I don’t often recommend these trees, since they develop suckers and will form a thicket, creating work for the gardener to keep it from becoming invasive.
My mix of spring-blooming shrubs ranges from hardy natives to adapted plants. Native blooming shrubs include Mexican buckeye, Apache plume, creosote bush, damianita, pink fairy duster, autumn or cherry sage, and Texas ranger sage. Plants adapted to our climate include Spanish broom, rock rose, winter jasmine, flowering quince, and Lady Banks rose.
Mexican buckeye (Ugnadia species) blooms with rose-pink flowers along the stems. This large native shrub endures harsh conditions and produces a decorative seed pod with showy black seeds.
Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) and creosote (Larrea tridentata) are large shrubs that create quite a show in the desert and in gardens. They have small leaves and are semi-evergreen. Apache plume blooms with white, wild-rose-shaped flowers and creosote bush blooms with dainty, fluffy yellow balls.
Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) is covered with daisy-like yellow flowers in the spring and again in late summer. This petite evergreen with needle-like foliage has a piney scent when crushed. Daminaita prefers sandy soil.
Pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) has fluffy pink flowers in spring followed by seed pods that curl when they release their seeds. This rugged plant needs a warm spot in the garden, as it can be cold tender.
Although autumn or cherry sage (Salvia greggii) and Texas ranger sages (Leucophyllum frutescens) share the designation of “sage,” only autumn sage is a true salvia. Texas ranger sages are called a sage because of their herbal-scented leaves. Autumn sage is available in a wide range of colors, from the traditional red to blue, purple, pink, and white. The salvias bloom both long and early, beginning in March, just in time for hummingbirds. Texas ranger sages grow to six feet tall and generally bloom after the spring and fall rains or when the humidity is high.
Wonderful native succulents for spring bloom include claret cup or hedgehog cactus, pincushion cactus, banana yucca, red yucca, and bear grass.
Who could miss the bright red claret cup or hedgehog cactus plants (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) that wear a crown of red to pink blooms in spring? The diminutive pincushion cactus (Mammillaria crinita) also dons a tiara of pink blooms.
Several native yuccas, such as the banana yucca (Yucca baccata), put up stalks of dangling white blooms in spring. The red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is not a true yucca, despite its name, and it puts up multiple arching stems of red and coral blooms in the spring.
Bear grass (Nolina macrocarpa), which when mature is a four-foot mound of evergreen arching stems, pushes up a fat stem covered in blooms in the spring. This is a good pollinator plant, as bees swarm to the flowers.
Not all trees and shrubs that thrive here are native. Many plants come from similar climates or can grow in a broad range of conditions. Adapted trees for this area include purple leaf plum, as well as almond trees and fruit trees, such as peach, plum, apricot, apple, and pear.
The first shrub to bloom is winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), gleaming with yellow flowers on arching stems by late January.
Many gardeners find a spot for Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), though it may grow to ten feet tall. It dresses itself with heavily scented, yellow blooms, which provide a massive show.
Two lovely, adapted shrubs are rock rose (Cistus purpurea) and flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa). I enjoy sightings of vintage flowering quince bushes scattered through the historic districts — which suggests they prefer a heavier soil and more regular water than is available in the desert. In my own garden, I treasure the pink poppy-like blooms of the rock rose.
Possibly one of the largest spring bloomers is the Lady Banks rose (Rosa banksia). This thornless rose grows 20 feet tall, with arching branches covered with delicate yellow roses for weeks in the spring.
While we may live in a desert, nature provides a spring show — if the gardener has chosen spring-blooming trees and shrubs! Plant now to enjoy the colors and scents of springtime flowers and the pollinators and wildlife they attract.