This "purple" dusty miller perennial takes center stage.

We get more than 360 days of sun in the desert, so we don’t often have gray skies—but there are some great gray- or silver-leafed plants that can jazz up our potted winter bouquets.

Almost any color scheme has space for silver. It is a contrasting color that plays a supporting role to bright jewel-tone colors, and it makes pastels pop more than they might on their own. Silver can also look like dew drops in the winter morning sun. Most silver-leafed plants can take our sun and will also thrive in the shade. I especially enjoy using gray foliage with shades of blue and purple.

Readily accessible gray or silver-leafed plants include the dusty miller; the gopher plant; and lamb’s ear. These plants not only have stunning appearances; many are also drought-tolerant.

One of my favorites is artemisia, which is a perennial of the Asteraceae family. Valued for its beautiful, slender, gray-to-silver leaves on tall arching stems or low mounds, it is pleasantly soft to the touch and critter-resistant, and it responds well to pruning.

With its soft, silvery leaves, dusty miller is typically grown as an annual foliage plant—despite the fact that it’s actually a perennial that will flower after the first year.

Your typical bedding plant of dusty miller has yellow flowers. I do not let mine complete the flowering process, because it weakens the plant in our desert heat. However, in recent years, I have found another variety of dusty miller, Velvet Centaurea, that has beautiful artichoke-like purple flowers.

Since the dusty miller truly is a perennial, you might want to see how long you can maintain it in your potted garden. Trim it to shape, and enjoy the role it plays with your flowers.

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at, and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.