Do you have a tough spot in your yard where everything dies from the heat and the sun? Maybe it’s next to your driveway, or up against a south-facing wall. Many plants (even native ones) can’t handle reflected sun and heat, particularly during our pre-monsoon summer. If you have such a spot in your yard, you may want to consider the plants listed below.
These plants are not always commonly seen in nurseries, and thus are ones that you may not have considered for your yard. Most are either natives or near-natives. I have not included native cacti such as saguaro, prickly pear, cholla, barrel, and others, which would also work, depending on the space you have.
Palo blanco (Acacia williardana): This lovely native tree has long, weeping leaf structures and paper-thin peeling bark. It is very striking. It does not tolerate frost, becoming damaged below 28 F. Plant it in a warm area with some heat from a wall or similar structure. It makes a great centerpiece for a patio, or can be planted in a group to form a grove.
Smoketree (Psorothamnus spinosus, Dalea spinosa): This unusual sculptural small tree is usually bare, showing off its unique gray-green spiky branches. It has spectacular deep violet pea-like blooms in the summer. It only grows to about 20 feet, and is shrublike in its natural shape. It will require some space, due to its spiky nature.
Tenaza (Havardia pallens): This near-native from Texas and Mexico has lush green leaves and interesting light-grey bark. It is evergreen, and can grow quite tall (20-50 feet). It’s also a fast grower, so it’s a good candidate if you need some shade in your patio quickly.
Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica): This tough, large native shrub is a slow grower, but will reward you with creamy white flowers and dark green foliage. It’s a great native, nonpoisonous replacement for oleander. It can grow huge (up to 20 feet tall), though it will take a while to do so. It is extremely heat and drought tolerant and can take temperatures down to 10 F.
Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata): While common in our surrounding desert, this wonderful native shrub is underused in our residential landscapes. It is extremely drought and heat tolerant and will require little or no water when established. It can flower year-round when water is available. Best of all, it gives of a wonderful, spicy scent when it rains. It also has medicinal properties.
Little leaf cordia (Cordia parviflora): This medium-sized shrub is native to Mexico, but does well here. It has pretty white flowers and a natural form.It’s relatively cold-hardy (to 18 F) and does not require pruning. It is also very low litter, making it a good option for hot pool deck areas.
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa): Another underused common native shrub, the brittlebush is a boon for our native pollinators. In spring and late summer, it has a profusion of large yellow flowers. Its rounded form and grey-green foliage give a lovely background for taller plants. If watered regularly it will grow faster and bloom more.
Small perennials and groundcovers
Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana): This little spreading low shrub is very tough, with cold tolerance to 0 F and high drought and heat tolerance. It flowers from March to November, and will grow to its full size in about 3 years. It even tolerates caliche soils.
Bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum): This Mediterranean native does well in our full sun and reflected heat. It has large, glowing white flowers and attractive deep green foliage. It can be grown on rocky sloped areas.
Trailing dalea (Dalea gregii): This low spreading shrub has lovely purple flowers from May to September and attractive sage-colored small leaves. It is very tolerant of heat and is tolerant of cold down to the mid-teens. It’s native to the Chihuahuan desert, and will look its best with a little supplemental water during the driest part of the year.
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