Fast. Fabulous. FOLIAGE!

Get immediate gratification in your desert container garden by showcasing plants with gorgeous, leafy color. Follow us this month each week as we discuss foliage plants that are worth adding to your seasonal desert container gardens.

Prolific bloomers need to be plucked and pruned and fed—and then we worry about the blooms bursting in time (and not too much before) our big party. If too soon or too late, off to the nursery we go, for more blooming plants. However … what if our star performers were spectacular leafy plants, bursting with rock-star color that isn’t fickle in its bloom cycle?

I’m not saying we should totally give up on our glorious flowers, of course. The moral of today’s story is diversity: Flowering plants and non-bloomers can thrive side by side, and a clever mix of the two offers the best of all worlds.

Let’s explore a few of my favorite foliage plants that hold up in our desert climate.

Dusty Miller (above)

When I came upon this bed of “flowers” dew-kissed on a cool winter morning, my immediate reaction was: There must be frost on the plants! I never thought my design for this flower bed would create such a refreshing break: Pairing Dusty Miller with white Alyssum created a surprisingly fun entry to this restaurant.

No matter where you are from, and no matter the climate, you may have used Dusty Miller in your garden. This sultry white/gray plant with a hint of green tolerates lower-water conditions, making it a perfect addition to your desert potted garden. Dusty Miller can enhance a full white garden or add to bold colors, making them seem to lunge in your direction.

Cordyline (below)

Cordyline is another of my favorites for desert winter gardens. Many flowing, colorful, upright plants will burn up in the desert—even if placed in the shade. As growers continue to hybridize varieties of these plants to tolerate more heat (if not more sun), we’ll begin to see an increasing number in our nurseries.

Planted in a cream-colored vertical pot, the combination pictured here interrupts the long wall behind this barbecue patio. The Cordyline was originally planted in the late fall, and in this summer shot, it shows how well the plant has acclimated to full sun exposure. In the low desert, it will do better if it gets that desired afternoon shade. Underplanted with white Vinca with a red center, the Cordyline stands on its own against the pale wall.

Dwarf Pampas Grass (above right)

I was looking for something to blow in the summer breeze, next to a pool. I wanted a plant that would hold up to the intense heat and strong winds, and that could be planted in a pot that’s unlikely to blow over. The 24-inch low-bowl pot gave me an opportunity for a grass experiment. Looking for something with interesting plumes, I found Dwarf Pampas Grass.

All grasses should be treated like annuals, because you do not want to have a pot full of nothing when the grass needs to be cut back!

Follow us every Tuesday this month as I share information on other desert-loving foliage plants!

What to do in your desert potted garden this month:

  • Continue successive plantings of lettuce, spinach, chard and other fast-maturing winter greens.
  • Snip petunias to encourage them to branch and spread. Cut the ends off of stems to encourage side-branching. This will promote abundant flowering and more compact plants.
  • Remove old blooms from geranium, cyclamen, calendula and other winter flowers as they fade, by cutting them off with sharp scissors or hand pruners. This will also increase flower production.
  • Use a biweekly spray application of a water-soluble fertilizer on all flowering plants to encourage growth and a continual show of flowers.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at Follow the Potted Desert at