It’s no surprise that the biggest challenge to growing plants in our region is the intense heat and dryness of summer, which is a stressful environment for plants. Thankfully, there are several plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate. Here are a few of Southwest Gardening’s Noelle Johnson’s favorite plants that can take the Southwest heat.
1. Bush Lantana (Lantana camara)
Color and lush green foliage unite in bush lantana to create a welcome splash of color in the landscape. This medium-sized shrub can handle full sun and reflected heat. Lantanas flower spring through fall and make excellent container plants. Both butterflies and hummingbirds like to visit their colorful blooms. Bush lantana is available in different color combinations, including ‘Radiation’ shown above. Although frost tender, they grow back quickly in spring. Hardy to 20 degrees F., this lantana can be grown all year round in USDA Zones 9 and above, while treated as an annual in colder climates.
2. Spanish Lavender (Lavendula stoechas)
The fragrant foliage and beautiful flowers of lavender delight gardeners throughout the world. However, many species of lavender can struggle in desert gardens in the intense heat of summer. Spanish lavender is one species that does reliably well through hot, dry summers and its blooms add lovely spring interest. Like most lavender, it attracts bees and butterflies and does best in full or filtered sun. It is hardy to 0 degrees F. and can be grown throughout most areas of the Southwest.
3. Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
This colorful ornamental grass adds varying color to the landscape depending on the season. Pink muhly is a fine-textured ornamental grass with medium green foliage in spring and summer. With the arrival of fall, burgundy plumes appear, adding a delightful color element. After that, as the weather cools, the plumes fade to an attractive wheat color that lasts through winter. Pruning them back to 3 inches tall in early spring is the only maintenance required. This grass is grown throughout the U.S. in full sun or bright shade and is hardy to 0 degrees F.
4. Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)
Penstemons are found throughout the western half of the United States, and firecracker penstemon is one of the most colorful. Orange-red, flowering spikes attract hummingbirds and appear winter through spring in desert gardens while waiting to bloom later in upper elevation landscapes. Above all, they do best in full sun and need very little care other than pruning away faded flowers. When not in bloom, they fade into the background, and warm-season flowering plants take center stage. Firecracker penstemon can handle intense cold and heat and is hardy to -20 degrees F.
5. Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
The petite size of the flowering perennial makes it an excellent choice for smaller areas where gardeners want color. Angelita daisy blooms almost all year long in low desert gardens and provides welcome color throughout the warm season in colder regions of the Southwest. They look best in groups of three or five for maximum color impact and are a favorite companion for boulders in the landscape. Also, although Angelita daisy can grow in filtered sun, the plants will flower best in full sun. And don’t let their delicate appearance fool you — they can handle frigid temperatures down to -20 degrees F. and shrug off temps over 110 degrees.
These plants are a few that can handle intense heat as well as add beauty to your garden. However, if you would like to see more, we have a FREE list of “20 Plants That Can Handle the Heat” for subscribers to Southwest Gardening.
Did you know that up to 70 percent of water use is outdoors? That’s why we love desert plants and feature them each month. Find even more beautiful plants on our Arizona Low-Water-Use Plants page, and visit our page on Choosing and Planting Low Water-Use Plants for tips on plant selection and how to plant properly
This blog originally appeared on May 7, 2019, and is being reprinted with permission. Water – Use It Wisely is proud to feature guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. The author of this blog, Noelle Johnson, is an urban horticulturist, Certified Arborist and freelance garden-writer who helps people create beautiful, low-maintenance gardens through helpful advice on her blog www.azplantlady.com. She is passionate about teaching people about the amazing desert plants that thrive in our landscapes.