Southwest Yard & Garden – Heat-Loving Flowers for Color All Summer

Jun 15, 2021 | Growing Tips, NMSU


Question: I want to try growing flowers from seed in my front yard. Which do you recommend I start with first?

  • Sylvia S. (age 10), Las Cruces

Answer: I’ve had great luck growing flowers from seed, and I think you will too. I try different combinations each year and usually forget the ones that didn’t ever come up. One tip is to get a mix of wildflower seeds the first year, pay attention to the ones that flower and thrive in your particular environment, and then buy more of those in future years. To save you the trouble, here are a few that have worked well for me: rocket larkspur, cosmos, sunflowers, blue flax, Rocky Mountain beeplant, zinnias, and sacred datura.

The trick is that they do need some moisture to get growing and keep looking good, especially in bad monsoon years (aka mon-later or, worse, mon-never). Spread flower seed around in places that are already getting watered, like within and around vegetable beds, around trees and shrubs, and at the base of vines and ornamental grasses. If you have a soaker hose, you can lay it out (straight, curved, or looped) in the desired spot and plant your seeds along the hose, so you know they’ll benefit.

For a meadowy look, add native grass seed in with the mix and water them with a soaker hose or sprinkler in the evenings about every 3rd or 4th day (check the soil occasionally and adjust if it gets bone dry sooner or if moisture holds longer). My favorite grasses are blue grama, sand lovegrass, and sideoats grama.

The sunflower is another tried and true winner for gardeners—and wildlife too. Don’t get too stressed when you see various bugs all over the lower leaves. Pests that thrive on your sunflowers are great at attracting beneficial insects and birds. Check out my blog for a link to an older column titled, “Sunflowers are Loved by Many” and other resources on attracting beneficial insects.

Sunflowers can grow from seed to full flower in as little as 70 days, depending on the variety. This is both good and bad, as spent sunflowers are a pitiful sight. Beat the “bloom and bust cycle” by staggering your plantings a few weeks apart. Try a handful of seeds once or twice a month through the summer. You’ll be glad you did, and the birds will be too.

In an archived Southwest Yard & Garden column from 2001, Dr. Curtis Smith suggested, “For drier parts of the garden, plant Rocky Mountain zinnia and desert marigold. Cosmos takes a little more water as do the biennial hollyhocks. Sunflowers, rudbeckias (gloriosa daisy and black-eyed Susan), Shasta daisy, and many others do well in New Mexico.”

Desert marigold seedling with tiny, fuzzy, blue-ish leaves at Elephant Butte Lake, February 2020 (left); mature flower stalks in a new development off Hwy-10 in Las Cruces, October 2020 (middle); and a sunny flower head soaking up the sun in Los Lunas, August 2017 (right). Photo credits M. Thompson.

I was excited, but not surprised, to see Dr. Smith recommend my favorite New Mexico wildflower, desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata). In warmer regions, these beauties can grow as perennials, and up north they’re usually annuals that grow from seed each year. As a tiny sprout, the fuzzy leaves have an almost blue hue. Later in the season, the bright yellow flowers can be found on disturbed roadsides, desert trails, lakesides, and, hopefully, in my front yard by the end of this summer.

As well as growing them from seed, annual flowers can also be purchased from local garden centers as small plants and transplanted in your garden or patio containers. I’m always on the lookout for 4- and 6-packs of prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida, aka Verbena bipinnatifida, fern verbena). If you find them, please let me know where, get a few for yourself, and leave some for me!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.  Find your local Cooperative Extension Office at

Dr. Marisa Y. Thompson, Ph.D., is the Extension Urban Horticulture Specialist in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences and is based at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas.