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GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: Year-round Blooms With Desert Globemallow & Threenerve Goldenrod

By Susan Lewitt for Let’s Talk Plants! April 2023.

Desert Globemallow photo courtesy

Enjoy Four Seasons of color with Sphaeralcea ambigua, Desert Globemallow, and Solidago velutina, Threenerve Goldenrod

There are very few reasons to avoid using native plants in your landscaping. Many people avoid them because of misunderstanding and lack of planning. One misconception about native plants is that they all look somewhat lifeless for part of the year. While there are many that are deciduous, with careful planning, you can have a well-balanced attractive native garden with year-round blooms. For example, Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) shows off its flowers in winter and spring, while Threenerve Goldenrod (Solidago velutina) enhances the landscape, with its yellow flowers, in summer and fall.

Desert Globemallow photo courtesy

Desert Globemallow, a perennial herb, is widespread through the western United States including Arizona, California, and Nevada. It is also found in Sonora and Baja California in Northwestern Mexico. Look for it in semi-desert areas, desert chaparral habitats, and with creosote bush scrub. It is often near boulders and can get up to five feet tall and four feet wide. It is a fast-growing evergreen that comes in a variety of colors including orange, lavender, red and pink. This plant, with its beautiful color choices, will warm up your garden in winter when there are fewer plants in bloom and give you brightness in the spring also.

Desert Globemallow photo courtesy

Desert Globemallow does best in full sun with very low moisture. Once established, it will need no more than a once-a-month watering during the summer. The soil type should be fast draining, but can be alkaline, sand or clay. It is very easy to take care of and tolerates temperatures as cold as 15° F. To keep it from getting too woody, prune it back after it has finished blooming.

Desert Globemallow will also help bring colorful native pollinators to your garden such as the Painted Lady, the Gray Hairstreak, the Common Checkered Skipper, the West Coast Lady, the Green Emerald, the Northern White Skipper and the Orange Tortrix Moth and possibly seven others. This makes this plant great for butterfly gardens, and it is also used in bee gardens.

There are many native plants that work well with Desert Globemallow. They include the following trees: Parkinsonia spp., Palo Verde, Olneya tesota, Ironwood, Pinus monophyla, Pinyon Pine, Psorothamnus spinosus, Smoketree, Washingtonia filifera, California Fan Palm,Yucca brevifolia, Joshua Tree, and Juniperus californicus, California Juniper. Other plants that do well as companions include Atriplex hymenelytra, Desert Holly, Larrea tridentata, Creosote Bush, Hyptis emoryi, Desert Lavender, Agave deserti, Desert Agave, Fouquieria splendens, Ocotillo, Encelia farinose, Brittlebush, Quercus cornelius-mulleri, Desert Scrub Oak,Yucca species, and various cactus species. There are fifty-one nurseries that usually carry these plants.

Threenerve Goldenrod photo by Keir Morse.

Threenerve Goldenrod photo by Keir Morse.

I enjoy seeing my favorite color, yellow, in the garden and that is what Threenerve Goldenrod, another very easy to grow native, delivers summer through fall, giving you a bright splash of sunshine in your garden. In the wild you will find it throughout Western North America, and many regions in California in varied settings and habitats of sage scrub, woodland, forest, grassland, and damp vernal areas. There are a few varieties that at one time were considered different species such as S. californica and S. sparsiflora but are now considered subspecies.

Threenerve Goldenrod photo by Keir Morse.

This perennial herb does well with low moisture, medium draining soil, and once a month summer watering when established. It is very easy to care for and will survive temperatures down to 0° F. It works well with many other California native plants depending on the part of the state and the conditions of the garden. This plant is great as part of a wild or natural garden, as ground cover, or in bee gardens. It draws in many charming insects and birds including the Northern Checkerspot, the Sierra Nevada Checkerspot and a beauty called the Field Crescent. Eighteen nurseries generally stock these plants.

Threenerve Goldenrod photo by Keir Morse.

By now I hope you have enjoyed the CNPS-SD Garden tour, which was the first weekend of this month, but there are more native related experiences to see and enjoy.

Check out CNPS_SD for activities during Native Plant Week running from April 15 to April 22.

Experience the wonderful native gardens of Oceanside presented in a free walking tour on Sunday, April 23rd. Contact the website or call 760-439-2473 for more information.

You may also want to see the desert in full color this spring. There are quite a few places to see this awe-inspiring super bloom that started in some places as early as February. Here is a link to a guide for some excellent views:

When you go, please do your best to preserve these wonderful sites by staying on the trails and not trampling the plants.


Susan Lewitt is a member of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), participating in their Native Gardening Committee, and their Conservation Committee.


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