Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2008
Regional Report

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These lilies of unknown origin have spread along the entire length of the porch.

The Lush Life

"Lush" and "arid" are adjectives not often used to describe a Southwestern landscape. Howevever, there are desert-adapted plant options with foliage fit for an oasis look, while still being water thrifty and blending with regional designs. Spring planting is right around the corner, so this month is a good time to consider additions. Here are some plants that will lend a bit of lushness to your landscape.

Feather bush (Lysiloma microphylla var. thornberi). This Sonoran desert native can be grown as a large shrub or small tree, eventually reaching 15 feet tall and wide with a nice umbrella canopy. The leaves are comprised of many pairs of finely textured leaflets, which gives the appearance of feathers, hence its common name.

San Marcos hibiscus (Gossypium harknessii). This plant is actually a wild cotton, although its flower resembles what we commonly call hibiscus (both are in the mallow family). It was originally collected for the landscape trade near the Sea of Cortez in San Marcos, Mexico, hence its common name. Heart-shaped foliage is shiny and evergreen, even in the heat of summer. Large, lemon-yellow blooms with red centers add color from summer to fall.

Yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata). This fast-growing ground cover can be almost too vigorous if conditions are to its liking. It takes full sun to full shade. Yellow daisy-like flowers appear like yellow dots from spring to summer.

Citrus. Although more water intensive than most desert landscape plants, citrus trees offer a lot of features in one plant. Dense, glossy foliage is evergreen, creating an effective privacy screen. Flowers are sweetly fragrant, and, of course, the fresh fruit is delectable. Allow citrus trees to generate a more lush appearance by leaving branches low on the trunk to brush the ground and create a thick wall of green. Don't prune them up and paint the trunks white just because the neighbors do. Low-hanging branches protect the trunk bark from sunburn and freezing temperatures, and fruit is easy to reach!

Bulb-type plants with strappy foliage. Amaryllis, clivia, crinum, iris, and lycoris thrive in desert gardens if located in the right spot. Plant in good garden soil, preferably where they will receive afternoon shade during summer. Try them close to the house in the oasis zone.

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