Best high desert plant - Knowledgebase Question

China Lake, CA (Zone 8A)
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Question by ekhause1
May 15, 2006
What plants survive the direct sun of summer in the high desert of California? (Ridgecrest, CA)
I assumed that any plant sold by Home Depot locally is meant for planting in the same town. I have bought a weeping cherry (it died), a lilac bush (died), tulip bulbs (never flowered), wild flower seeds (never sprouted)and I just purchased a Sago Palm which after reading your articles on it I will return it before the sun kills it. NOW, I NEED AN ANSWER: WHAT PLANTS CAN SURVIVE ALL YEAR and why does Home Depot sell plants here in Ridgcrest, CA that cannot survive here? I know Home Depot will give me a refund on all my plants, but I do not usually keep receipts and I can't get a refund without proof of purchase date etc. If you would notify me by e-mail I would greatly appreciated hearing from you. Home Depot is the major plant supplier here in Ridgecrest for most of us.

James C.

Answer from NGA
May 15, 2006
I can address the first part of your question - what plants will survive in your gardening region - but here at the Q & A forum we cannot address the second part of your question. I can only suggest you take your concerns to your local Home Depot.

In your high desert gardening region, the following plants are good choices:
Agapanthus species, Lily-of-the-Nile, an adaptable evergreen perennial to 2 feet in height with white or blue flower stalks. Does well in full sun or partial, shade. Drought tolerant when established. Can freeze back during High Desert winters but should return in spring.

Atriplex canescens, Saltbush, silvery leaves, fire retardant, with 3 - 6 foot growth, good for erosion control. Likes full sun. Use as a naturalizer to native surroundings. Tolerates saline soils.

Caesalpinia gilliesii, Bird of Paradise Bush, open, sparsely leafed shrub grown for interesting shape and spectacular flowers, long blooming--spring through summer. Fast growing to 10 feet, does best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Centurea cineraria, Dusty Miller, annual or perennial, with silvery white leaves and spring and summer yellow flowers. Use as a border plant and as a foliage contrast. Cut back if leggy.

Cercocarpus betuloides, Mountain Mahogany, native to the west, sun or light shade, good under tree canopy, evergreen with open growth 5 - 10 feet, white spring flowers.

Chamaerops humilis, Mediterranean Fan Palm, hardy to 6 feet, slow growing to 15 feet, use as accent, near pools, sun to partial shade.

Chilopsis linearis, Desert Willow, deciduous large shrub or small tree, drops leaves early and holds seed capsules until removed, showy summer flower clusters pink to white trumpet shaped. Use in full sun, does well in highly exposed and difficult situations.

Coreopsis lanceolata, Coreopsis, perennial herb to 5 feet with bright yellow daisy-like flowers spring to summer, start by seed then spreads by reseeding, water increases plant size. Use anywhere to get bright color--near buildings or as a naturalizer.

Cotoneaster species, Cotoneaster, evergreen, semideciduous or deciduous groundcovers and small shrub, arching branches with small leaves and red winter berries, good for erosion control, give north or east exposure with some shade, do not prune, looks best with natural growth, give room to spread.

Elaeagnus angustifolia, Russian Olive, large shrub or small tree to 20 feet, 10 - 15 foot spread, deciduous. Attractive silver gray leaves with pale yellow flowers in summer, producing olive-like berries. Hardy, takes nearly any conditions. Use as a screen shrub, small tree, or pruned on a trellis or fence.

Elaeagnus pungens, Silverberry, evergreen shrub to 10 feet with grayish foliage and rust colored undersides, can be shaped with pruning or allowed to naturally sprawl, could be hedge or screen. Sun to partial shade. Alkaline soils may need amendment to adjust pH for successful growth.

Eriogonum fasciculatum, California Buckwheat, shrub native to the west, hardy, takes heat and wind, but likes well drained soil. White flowers late spring to fall. Low growing to 3 feet, use in rock gardens or as a naturalizer to native surroundings. Prune back after flowering.

Fremontodendron californicum, Flannel Bush, native to California, fast growth to 20 feet with showy yellow spring flowers, needs good drainage and little or no summer water, use as espalier, against walls or as large shrub. Likes sun to partial shade. Various cultivated varieties available, including some low-growing forms.

Hemerocallis species, Daylily, bulb-like small shrubs with showy summer to fall blooms, generally yellow to orange, use in borders, as mass plantings, near pools, best in shade or east exposure. Very successful in the High Desert, but may suffer some winter freeze damage and wind burn.

Heteromeles arbutifolia, Toyon, evergreen shrub native to California, use as screen or large shrub, red winter berries, give some summer water, fire retardant with consistent water, good far erosion control. Full sun or partial shade of large trees.

Juniperus species, Juniper, many varieties from prostrate form to medium sized shrubs, use as accent, on slopes, as a barrier, for desert appearance, avoid pruning, give each variety the proper room to grow, will do well in light shade or full sun. J. californica and J. ostosperma are native to the High Desert. Juniperous chinensis is more readily available in High Desert nurseries.

Larrea tridentata, Creosote Bush, evergreen to 12 feet, native to North American deserts. Use as a natural desert plant, in a hedge, or as an accent.

Leucophyllum frutescens, Texas Ranger, evergreen, slow-growing shrub 4 - 10 feet high, 4 -5 feet wide. Tolerant of full sun, heat, wind, and alkali sail, lavender flowers in summer and fall. Needs no pruning, use as a hedge, or as an accent with other shrubs. Native to Texas and Mexico.

Mahonia species. Oregon Grape, western natives, low to medium shrubs, yellow spring flowers, fall berries, use in shade or north exposure site. Large varieties make good barrier plants because of their spiny leaves. Mahonia "Golden Abundance" is particularly attractive. Can freeze back during High Desert winters.

Rosa banksiae, Banks Rose, evergreen to deciduous climber to 20 feet, thornless, large clusters of yellow or white flowers spring to summer, use on slopes, fences and arbors. Full sun to partial shade. Can freeze back during High Desert winters.

Rosa damascena, Damask Rose, deciduous oldstyle spreading rose with pale to deep pink 3 - 4 inch fragrant flowers, grows 6 - 8 feet, prickly stoma, hardy and green during the hot season, good for erosion control on banks or as hedges. Full sun. Can freeze back during High Desert winters.

Salvia species, Sage, evergreen shrubs with fragrant foliage to 4 feet tall, flowers spring to fall in a range of colors from reds to blues, attracts hummingbirds. Remove dead blooms to prolong flowering. Some species are frost sensitive.

Simmondsia chinensis, Jojoba, evergreen to 10 feet, slow growth, can be trimmed to large screen, can take reflected sun from walls or streets. Full sun.

Yucca species, Yucca, recommended species include both Yucca chidegera (Mojave Yucca) and Yucca whipplei. These plants are native to Southern California, featuring a cluster of spine-tipped leaves, and white blooms on tall stalks. Fire retardant, needs full sun. Use as accent with other desert plants. Each rosette dies after flowering, but the colony remains.

Hope this list provides with enough ideas to make your landscape look spectacular!

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