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For The Garden

Native Plants for the Desert Garden

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: July, 2012, Page 98
(Dodonaea viscosa)

(Dodonaea viscosa)

Type: Evergreen shrub

Blooms: Greenish-white flowers (early spring); ornamental seedpods (summer to fall)

Size: 10-15'H and 10-15'W

Soil: Tolerant of all soil types

Light: Part, full or reflected sun

Water needs: Little needed once established, although supplemental water improves ornamental quality.

Maintenance: Prune to shape

Attracts: Birds

Note: Also known as hopseed bush, the plant comes in varieties that produce purple- to bronze-color foliage. Can be used as an alternative to oleander.

Why we like it: This versatile, cold-hardy shrub tolerates wind, poor soil and heat. It can be grown as a small tree or clipped hedge, for screening or espaliering, or as a poolside plant.

(Fouquieria splendens)

(Fouquieria splendens)

Type: Deciduous shrub

Blooms: Bright to deep orange; spring

Size: Up to 25'H and 10'W

Soil: Well-draining

Light: Full sun

Water needs: Water weekly in summer and every 3-4 weeks in cooler months, until established.

Maintenance: Place rocks at the base of newly planted ocotillos to prevent them from blowing over.

Attracts: Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds

Note: Purchase ocotillos with roots that are 1-2' long, and transplant immediately. March through May are the best months for planting ocotillos.

Why we like it: This drought-tolerant favorite adds height and unique form to the garden. Although leafless most of the year, it comes to life after it rains, and in spring when its red-orange flowers appear.

(Berlandiera lyrata)

(Berlandiera lyrata)

Type: Perennial

Blooms: Yellow; summer to fall

Size: 1-2'H to 3'W

Soil: Tolerant of most; well-drained is best

Light: Full sun with afternoon shade

Water needs: About once a week in summer; less in winter

Maintenance: Deadhead to encourage reblooming; shear back after flowering to create a fuller plant.

Attracts: Birds, bees and butterflies

Notes: If grown from seed, chocolate flower may not bloom until the second year. Flowers droop in heat of day then drop. Self-seeds freely.

Why we like it: In the morning, foliage on this fast-growing plant smells like sweet cocoa. Good for wildflower and xeriscape gardens, and as a ground cover. Deer-resistant.

(Ruellia peninsularis)

(Ruellia peninsularis)

Type: Evergreen shrub

Blooms: Bluish-purple; spora-dic flowering year-round, but most profuse spring to early summer

Size: 4'H and 6'W

Soil: Well-drained, light soil

Light: Full sun, reflected heat; tends to get leggy in shade

Water needs: Survives on rainfall once established, but looks best with supplemental watering.

Maintenance: Shear plant back after frost.

Attracts: Birds and lizards

Note: Also called Mexican petunia, ruellia may drop its leaves in response to cold. Can be used as a screening or hedge plant.

Why we like it: This hardy, fast-growing shrub produces pretty petunia-like flowers that have a low pollen count, making it ideal for people with allergies.

Other Favorites
Apache plume, barrel cacti, chuparosa, Dalea sp., desert milkweed, foothills palo verde, Mexican buckeye, organ pipe, saguaro

Note: Some of the more unusual Sonoran Desert plants can be found at local botanical garden sales, as well as such places as Desert Survivors Nursery in Tucson and Shady Way Gardens in Apache Junction, Ariz.
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