How to Grow & Care for Calliandra eriophylla (Fairy Dusters)

Calliandra eriophylla (fairy duster) plant in bloom

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Calliandra eriophylla plants, also known as fairy dusters, are native to the deserts and grasslands of the western United States and Mexico. These shrubs offer evergreen, bipinnate, gray-green foliage similar to that of a fern. Their blooms are the star of the show and are unique, feathery, pink balls. These attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and a wide array of other desert bird species. After flowering, the fairy duster produces long, bean-like pods. These attract quail and other wildlife.

Though these desert plants produce delicate-looking blooms, they are quite hardy. Their dense root structures make them ideal candidates for erosion control

Common Name  Fairy duster, false mesquite
Botanical Name  Calliandra eriophylla
Family  Fabaceae
Plant Type  Perennial, shrub
Mature Size  1-5 ft. tall, 1-3 ft. long, 1-3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full, partial
Soil Type  Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral
Bloom Time  Spring
Flower Color  Pink
Hardiness Zones  7-11, USA
Native Area  North America

Calliandra eriophylla Care

The fairy duster has easy care requirements and does not demand much attention. With plenty of sunshine, heat, and a bit of water, these unique plants will thrive in dry desert areas. In their native habitat, they are often found on dry slopes and mesas. 

Their hardy nature makes them perfect for desert and rock gardens. They do not often contend with pests or diseases, but deer and other wildlife love to nibble on these plants.

Light

Like most desert plants, the Calliandra eriophylla does best in bright sunshine. Plant these shrubs in full sun for the best results. 

Soil

The fairy duster enjoys well-draining, sandy, gravelly soil. Soil that retains too much moisture can be detrimental to these plants.  

Water

Calliandra eriophylla has low watering needs. Although they are acclimated to desert areas, they are often found where underground water can be accessed. So keep in mind that this desert plant plant will need more water than some other varieties of drought-tolerant plants.

Water these plants about once a week during the growing season. Allow the soil to dry between waterings. Once established, these plants are better equipped to deal with dry spells. However, extreme droughts can cause these plants to drop their leaves.

Temperature and Humidity

Equipped to withstand the harsh climate of the desert, the fairy duster is tolerant of heat, cold, and drought. These hardy plants can even survive seasonal flooding.  

Fertilizer

Fertilizing in the late winter or early spring just as the fairy duster begins to bloom will give this plant the food and energy it needs to produce its famous flowers. Use a well-balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10. 

Pruning 

Light pruning keeps the fairy duster clean and lush, though it is not necessary. To do this, simply prune away the tips of the branches during its growing season. This will maintain the shrub’s shape as well as encourage thicker growth in the middle of the plant. 

How to Grow Fairy Dusters From Seed

The blossoms of fairy dusters produce flat seed pods. To grow fairy dusters from seed, follow these steps:

  1. To germinate, the fairy duster seed’s thick hull must be processed. To do this, boil a kettle of water, wait for the water to cool slightly (just below boiling), then pour the water into a bowl with the seeds.  
  2. Soak the seeds for 24 hours or until the seeds become plump. Keep the seeds moist until you're ready to plant.
  3. Sow the seeds in well-draining, sandy soil about 1/4 inch deep. 
  4. Keep in a warm area with filtered light. Temperatures should stay above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  5. Moisten the soil, then allow it to dry out. Keep it dry for a day, then water again. Repeat this process. 
  6. Germination should happen in 4 to 6 weeks. Once seedlings appear, move them to a sunny area and water them when the soil dries out. 
  7. Once the seedlings are several inches tall and have healthy, mature foliage, move them to a sunny, well-draining area in the garden. There should be at least 3 to 4 feet between each plant.

Overwintering

When grown in USDA hardiness zones 7 to 11, there is not much additional care required to overwinter the fairy duster. Simply cut back on watering, giving water every month or two during the cold season. The fairy duster may lose its leaves during times of very cold temperatures, but new leaves should grow in their place in the spring. 

How to Get Calliandra eriophylla to Bloom 

Fairy duster blooms are best known for their long, colorful stamens which give the flower a feathery appearance. They are seen in an array of pink shades, measure about 2 inches in length, and are not fragrant.

Typically, these feathery blooms appear every year from late winter into late spring but may appear sporadically in the summer or fall. For the most abundant display, be sure to give these plants full sunshine. Though they can live in partial shade, they will not flower as abundantly. 

Common Problems With Calliandra eriophylla

The fairy duster is a very hardy desert plant and often thrives on neglect. But even very hardy plants can sometimes run into problems.

Leaf Discoloration

One problem often seen with fairy duster plants is leaf discoloration, specifically yellowing leaves. This is most often caused by overwatering or because the plant is exposed to standing water. If this occurs, cut back on your watering schedule and allow the soil to dry out before resuming.

FAQ
  • Do hummingbirds like fairy duster plants?

    Yes, the feathery blooms of fairy dusters are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. The seed pods will also attract quail and other wildlife.

  • How big will fairy duster plants grow?

    The fairy duster can range anywhere from 1 to 5 feet tall by 1 to 3 feet wide. Plants grown in partial shade often grow taller than those grown in full sun.