Plant of the Month – May

It’s hard to believe that this lush plant hails from our dry deserts. In days past, Basketbush Sumac was prized for its long, straight, flexible branches for basketmaking. Today it is treasured for its dense, dark green foliage for hedges, background plantings, or screens in water-wise southwest gardens. Birds also love the ripe berries produced on female plants.

Basketbush Sumac, Fragrant Sumac

Rhus aromatica


  • Plant Form: Deciduous Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 5-6 ft. tall x 6-8 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Shade
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May)
  • Native to: California, western U.S., Canada to Mexico (below 7,500 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to -15°F

Basketbush Sumac is a surprisingly lush plant to be found in dry desert habitats. It is a tidy shrub with arching stems and dense leaves, spreading by rhizomes to form a thicket. This extremely cold-tolerant plant is a non-irritating, non-poisonous relative of poison oak, which it somewhat resembles. Known as Basketbush Sumac for its traditional use in basketry, it is also called Fragrant Sumac due to the scent of its crushed leaves, and Three-leaf Sumac from its leaf shape. This moderately fast-growing California native has tiny, yellowish flowers in spring, producing clusters of red fruits on female plants, while retaining its deep green foliage all summer. Leaves often turn orange or red in autumn before falling for winter dormancy. The tart, edible red berries (actually hard drupes) are eaten by birds. Use this tough, lovely plant for borders, screens, windbreaks, hedges, mass plantings, on slopes, or in any areas with poor, dry soils.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for May


Plant of the Month-April

This beautiful evergreen perennial is very drought-tolerant and surprisingly rabbit-resistant. It blooms profusely with stunning purplish-blue flowers that are great in cut bouquets. You can’t have too many of these plants in your rock garden, borders, slopes, or containers.

Foothill Penstemon, Bunchleaf Penstemon

Penstemon heterophyllus


  • Plant Form: Evergreen herbaceous perennial
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 1-3 ft. tall x 1-2 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Apr-May), Summer (June-July)
  • Native to: California (below 5,500 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 10°F

Foothill Penstemon makes you smile just to look at it. Every one of its abundant blossoms appears to be stretching up to greet you personally. From its yellow flower buds, you would never guess the flower colors unveiled upon their opening – an intriguing blend of blues, purples, and pinks from spring to early summer. Needs only occasional watering after it’s established, and is remarkably rabbit-resistant. This small, shrub-like perennial forms a tufted mound of stems with linear leaves that turn from green to maroon in late summer and fall. One of the most reliable of several selections available is “Margarita BOP”, prized for its disease resistance, garden tolerance, and long, profuse bloom season. Foothill Penstemon is perfect for rock gardens, the sunny foreground of mixed borders, dry slopes, and containers. Besides its stunning garden display, its cut flowers hold up nicely in arrangements.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for April

Beavertail is a maintenance-free cactus native to California and the west that adds spectacular color to southwest gardens with its hot-pink flowers in spring.

Beavertail Cactus

Opuntia basilaris


  • Plant Form: Cactus
  • Water Use: Extremely Low
  • Mature Size: 1-2 ft. tall x 3-6 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June)
  • Native to: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Mexico (below 7000 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 10°F

Beavertail Cactus has flattened pads that truly resemble their namesake. This slow-growing California native from both the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts is dotted with clusters of tiny spines called glochids, which are set into dimples across the pads (making the pads look like a beaver’s tail). A single plant may have hundreds of blue-gray, succulent, flattened pads, which can become wrinkled in summer, but plump after rains. Hot-pink flowers in spring are stunning–and are irresistible to beetles and other pollinators. Individual pads may be transplanted to extend plantings. While being extremely low-maintenance and easy to grow, it dislikes clay soils, acid soils, shade, and too much watering. Water rarely if at all. Always wear gloves when working with or around this beauty, and keep it away from pathways. Desert rodents and birds eat the tiny black seeds. This low-growing groundcover compliments and accents rock and succulent gardens, wildlife gardens, and dry washes.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for March

This California native plant offers a long season of bright, daisy-like, yellow flowers, while tolerating heat, drought, poor soils, and even reflected heat. At the same time, it resists rabbits, but attracts butterflies, songbirds, and beneficial pollinators.


Bahiopsis parishii (Viguiera deltoidea parishii)


  • Plant Form: Semi-deciduous Shrub
  • Water Use: Very Low
  • Mature Size: 2-3 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Feb-May), Summer (June), Fall (Sept-Oct)
  • Native to: Southwestern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, northern Mexico (below 5000 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F

Goldeneye is blanketed with bright, golden flowers on long stalks, contrasting nicely with its dark-green leaves — which feel like a cat’s tongue due to their stiff hairs. A moderately fast-growing, winter-deciduous shrub that attracts butterflies, songbirds, and beneficial pollinators, but resists rabbits. This perennial sunflower will crown sprout back from its roots after winter dormancy, so don’t fret if it freezes to the ground – it is root hardy. Goldeneye will repeat bloom with some summer water. Trim back after bloom cycle for more flowers and denser, neater growth. Performs well in both high-desert and low-desert gardens, naturally growing from sea level to 5000 feet in elevation. Goldeneye is extremely heat tolerant, and doesn’t mind reflected heat or poor soils. Nice mass of color to border a fence, for a background in the garden, in dry washes and rock gardens, or to fill in a naturalized area.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for February


Besides being drought-resistant, fire-resistant, and resisting browsing by rabbits, this tidy, evergreen, California native is versatile as either a hedge, screen, border, ground cover, or bank stabilizer — and works in large containers.


Frangula californica


  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 5-12 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring – Summer (May-July)
  • Native to: California, southwest Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, northern Baja (below 7000 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 10°F

Coffeeberry is touted as looking “trimmed without trimming”, although this tidy evergreen does take pruning well. This long-lived California native, also known as California Buckthorn, grows naturally in a wide range of habitats, with many available varieties, so check with your local nursery to find the one that best fits your climate. While commonly growing in chaparral and woodland habitats just above our deserts, it performs well in high deserts if given filtered or afternoon shade, and water once a week for its first year. Coffeeberry’s fruits contain seeds that resemble coffee beans. Its light-green, 2 to 4-inch-long leaves mature to a leathery dark green. Inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers in spring produce showy berries that are green, then red, and finally ripen to black, when they are relished by birds. Coffeeberry is fire resistant, resists browsing by rabbits and deer, and makes a great hedge, screen, border, ground cover, or bank stabilizer, and performs well in large containers.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for January

Little John Dwarf Bottlebrush

Callistemon citrinus ‘Little John’


What a perfect solution to hot, dry garden sites, as well as offering the added benefits of attracting hummingbirds while repelling rabbits and deer. Besides these practical uses, this compact bottlebrush gives months of showy, red flowers for your enjoyment.

  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 3 ft. tall x 5 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring – Fall (March – November)
  • Native to: Australia
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 20°F

Little John Dwarf Bottlebrush is a hummingbird’s delight that is compact enough to fit into any garden. This slow-growing evergreen shrub holds up in hot, dry landscapes, and resists the browsing of rabbits and deer while attracting butterflies, birds, and pollinators. Flowers are heaviest in spring and summer, but can appear throughout the entire growing season. Prune only after the heaviest bloom is over so you won’t lose the majority of flower buds for the season. This dwarf bottlebrush can be lined up for a short hedge, massed like a groundcover, or used as a middle-border accent plant. Its small size makes it great in containers, which can be moved into protected areas during hard frosts. If winter temperatures dip below 20°F in your area, you might try Little John’s more cold-hardy cousin, Rigid Bottlebrush Tree (Callistemon rigidus), and keep this 6 to 8-foot-tall shrub pruned if you want a smaller plant.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for December