by Eugene Garcia
It’s wintertime, the garden is coming to a close and you’re thinking about going inside to keep warm. Keep your jacket handy because there are several native and adaptive plants that keep the garden an enjoyable place during our coldest season. Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), also known as Lamb’s Tail and Feather Sage, is a great addition to your winter garden. From September to December, Winterfat’s flowers turn into seeds that are fluffy and cottony looking (female plant being showier). Winterfat softens the area with a snow covered look. It reaches about three feet high by three feet wide. It is adaptable to El Paso’s sandy or clay soils and prefers morning over afternoon sun. To really make this plant stand out, try backlighting it.
Barberry (Berberis trifoliolata) is beautiful in the winter with its yellow flowers. In the spring the birds are attracted to its bright red berries. This evergreen has dual interest and is often used as an informal hedge. Barberry is able to tolerate full sun. Its mature size reaches up to five feet tall by five feet wide.
The winter garden can get a splash of purple color with the Purple Prickly Pear, the Red-joint Prickly Pear, or the Longspine Prickly Pear (Opuntia macrocentra or Opuntia violaceae var macrocentra). These cacti deepen in color in cold weather. In the spring they show off yellow flowers. They like well-drained soil in a sunny spot. At maturity, they can reach three feet tall and three feet wide. The Purple Prickly Pear is a great alternative to the standard green prickly pear because of its winter color, but it is less cold hardy than its green counterpart and care should be taken during very cold weather.
A more subtle purple than the Prickly Pear is the Bush Dalea (Dalea pulchra). Bush Dalea is an evergreen shrub with tiny gray, fuzzy leaves. It blooms in late winter with tiny purple flowers on the tips of its branches. At maturity it reaches five feet high by five feet wide. Bush Dalea can tolerate shade, but blooms more in the sun. It can also tolerate any well drained soil. Bush Dalea is also used as an informal hedge, and often as a background for more showy plants.