Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert

Plants provide many functions for the landscape

February is a great time to plant in the low desert as temperatures are still cool and roots can get established before the heat sets in. Perhaps you are looking to add or replace a few plants to your landscape, create a new focal point with sculptural cacti or accent plants, or you might be looking to completely make over your landscape. No matter what your goal, there are hundreds of desert plants available for just about any function in your landscape. Would you like to attract birds or butterflies to your yard? Perhaps you are looking for year-round color, or how about a living fence or a cool, shady retreat? Desert plants are up for the challenge!

Each low-water-use plant can save you up to 550 gallons a year.

Desert plants have special characteristics that help them tolerate our tough desert conditions including dryness, heat, alkaline soils and even winter frost. Light colored leaves help reflect sunlight to prevent heat buildup, small or waxy leaves are more water efficient, and succulent stems store water for later use. Native plants are at home in our difficult desert soils and tolerate our hot and cold extremes. Best of all they need very little water, a precious resource in the desert.

Silvery leaves of the brittlebush help the leaves reflect sunlight and stay cooler. After blooming, many native birds feed on the seeds. Photo by Donna DiFrancesco

Silvery leaves of the brittlebush help the leaves reflect sunlight and stay cooler. After blooming, many native birds feed on the seeds. Photo by Donna DiFrancesco

By selecting plants that are well adapted to our desert climate you’ll have less maintenance and more time and money while enjoying a more attractive landscape. Using desert plants instead of turf grass also eliminates the need for polluting mowers and weed trimmers.  Try the tips below for successful plant selection.

This hybrid palo verde shows two desert adaptations - small leaves are more water efficient and a green stem and trunk allow the tree to photosynthesize and make food even if dry conditions cause the leaves to drop. Photo by Donna DiFrancesco

This hybrid palo verde shows two desert adaptations – small leaves are more water efficient and a green stem and trunk allow the tree to photosynthesize and make food even if dry conditions cause the leaves to drop. Photo by Donna DiFrancesco

 

Plant selection tips

    1. Location, location, location. Check the mature plant size to ensure you are selecting the right plant for the right place. Consider other site conditions. For example, an area with reflected sun should have a plant that can tolerate extra hot conditions. Place trees to shade your home to save energy.
    2. Group plants with similar water needs to create a landscape that is easier to maintain and is more water efficient. This way plants will also have fewer problems with being over or under watered.
    3. Decide what function you want from your plants. You may want a plant for screening, shade, color, security (thorny plants), or to attract birds, butterflies, or other wildlife.
Leaf hairs reflect sun and help maintain leaf moisture on this fragrant native desert lavender. Photo by Donna DiFrancesco

Leaf hairs reflect sun and help maintain leaf moisture on this fragrant native desert lavender. Photo by Donna DiFrancesco

 

Hesperaloe blooms not only attract hummingbirds, but also native birds like this verdin. Photo by U.A. Sinclair

Hesperaloe blooms not only attract hummingbirds, but also native birds like this verdin. Photo by U.A. Sinclair

 

Find these helpful links on planting

Attend a landscape workshop

Many of our Water – Use It Wisely regional partners offer water-wise workshops. Check out all of the partner programs on our Water – Use It Wisely calendar where there will be lots of programs offered throughout the spring months.

Colorful penstemons are always a magnet for hummingbird. Photo by Jeff Lee

Colorful penstemons are always a magnet for hummingbird. Photo by Jeff Lee

A painted lady butterfly finds nectar to drink on blooming sand verbena wildflowers. Photo by Donna DiFrancesco

 


Donna DiFrancesco is a Conservation Coordinator with the City of Mesa, AZ, one of seventeen Water– Use It Wisely partners to offer water-saving advice and programs.

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