This west coast native is a perfect choice for a drought-tolerant, shade tolerant evergreen shrub for southwest gardens. Blue, grape-like berries in summer attract songbirds, and make tasty jams and jellies for humans when cooked.

Oregon Grape, Holly-leaved Barberry
Mahonia aquifolium

  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 3-6 ft. tall x 3-7 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Part Sun, Filtered Sun, Full Shade
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May)
  • Native to: California, Oregon, Washington, Canada
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to -10°F 

Oregon Grape offers a brilliant solution to a landscape dilemma: finding a drought-tolerant plant that can live in full shade in southwest deserts. This easy-care, evergreen shrub is excellent in dry shade or part shade as a single, colorful accent, or in mass plantings as a hedge or screen. Also called Holly-leaved Barberry, this native of Canada and the Northwest U.S. has bright, fragrant, yellow flowers in spring, followed by lovely blue, grape-like berries in summer. The spiny foliage yields extra drama as new leaves emerge with bronze-red colors, turning purplish-red in winter. In our region, can be used hedge-style against shaded walls and fences, or freestanding as a hedge or screen if sheltered from harsh sun and drying winds. Both rabbit- and deer-resistant, Oregon Grape is useful for borders, containers, hiding water valves, and in fire-wise and wildlife gardens. Birds and wildlife love the berries; to humans, the berries are not tasty when fresh, but are great in jams and jellies.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for January

Holly-leaf Redberry maintains a tidy, compact shape in full sun, but becomes more open and tree-like in shade. Either way, it grows happily with very little added water, maintaining lush, dark green leaves all year. Female plants produce red berries that birds can’t resist.

Holly-leaf Redberry
Rhamnus ilicifolia

  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Very Low
  • Mature Size: 3-9 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June)
  • Native to: California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Baja California (500 – 6,600 feet elevation)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 0°F 

Holly-leaf Redberry is a handsome, mounding, evergreen shrub with dark-green, glossy, holly-like leaves. Tiny yellowish flowers are inconspicuous, but female flowers produce bright red berries relished by birds and small mammals. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants, so male plants will not produce berries. Redberry loves dry, rocky slopes, but prefers part shade in the drier parts of its range. Plants growing in full sun maintain a dense form, while plants in shade are usually more open and tree-like. This tidy, moderately slow-growing plant needs very little water or care. It can tolerate some summer water up to once a month, but usually prefers no supplemental irrigation after becoming established. Its small red berries are colorful in summer, and its shiny foliage is attractive all year. Holly-leaf Redberry performs well as an ornamental plant on dry banks, as an informal screen or low hedge in hot, sunny areas, or as an accent anywhere.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for December

The smooth, white bark of this drought-tolerant, long-lived plant is a beautiful benefit of this cold-hardy, heat-tolerant, tree-sized shrub. Mountain Mahogany is useful for erosion control on slopes, as a screen or border, or as a specimen plant.

Mountain Mahogany
Cercocarpus betuloides

  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Very Low
  • Mature Size: 8-15 ft. tall x 10-12 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May)
  • Native to: California, Oregon, Baja California (below 6,000 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to -30°F 

Mountain Mahogany is a large, upright, evergreen shrub or small tree with beautiful, smooth, light gray bark. Small, wedge-shaped leaves with toothed edges resemble birch leaves, giving this plant its other name, Birch-leaf Mountain Mahogany. Its small, cream-colored, rose-like flowers are inconspicuous, but its seeds create a spectacular display in late summer and fall. Each seed has a feather-like tail that curls up like a corkscrew as it ripens; when backlit, the abundant seeds create an ethereal glow to the whole plant. Its roots are nitrogen-fixing, making the plant good for revegetation. Mountain Mahogany tolerates drought, poor soils, extreme cold and heat, and is free from pests. It does appreciate some supplemental water, especially during the summer. Useful alone as a specimen plant or massed along parkways.This long-lived plant can be pruned into a compact shrub, hedge, or tree form. Great on slopes for erosion control, as a screen or border, or as an accent.

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This tough and tidy perennial sub-shrub brings long-lasting color to borders, rock gardens, and even containers and flower boxes. Since the flowers turn a rusty color in age, you get a variety of hues with each plant.

Sulfur Buckwheat
Eriogonum umbellatum

  • Plant Form: Evergreen Sub-shrub
  • Water Use: Very Low
  • Mature Size: 1-2 ft. tall x 1-3 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
  • Bloom Time: Summer (June-Aug), Fall (Sept-Oct)
  • Native to: California, Western North America, Central Canada (4,000 feet – 10,000 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F

Sulfur Buckwheat creates a big garden impact despite being such a diminutive plant. This exceedingly variable species can vary from a small perennial herb only 3 inches tall to a sprawling shrub over 3 feet across, with flowers white, cream, or sulfur-yellow depending on the variety. All have loose mats of mounding grey foliage, with blankets of umbrella-like flowers on short stalks. Blossoms mature to orange or rusty red in fall and persist on the plant, giving the illusion of an extremely long bloom season of variable color. These low, mat-forming perennials from dry mountain slopes are extremely tolerant of both heat and cold, and thrive in dry, hot, exposed sites, needing good drainage and very little water after becoming established. Check with your nursery for the best variety for your particular garden. Sulfur Buckwheat shines in rock gardens with other compact, evergreen shrubs, and in the front of dry, sunny, mixed borders, as well as in containers.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for October

Desert Willow is not a true willow, but its graceful linear leaves have the appearance of a willow. Despite this tree’s willow-like leaves, its orchid-like flowers show its catalpa origins. This long-blooming, sturdy desert tree attracts hummingbirds to its lovely flowers, and uses very little water in your yard. Our desert tortoise LOVES eating the flowers, which bloom until he returns to his den for hibernation each fall.

Desert Willow, Desert Catalpa
Chilopsis linearis

  • Plant Form: Deciduous tree
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 15-25 ft. tall x 18-20 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Apr-May), Summer (June-Aug), Fall (Sept-Oct)
  • Native to: California, Arizona, Mexico (below 5000 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 0°F

Desert Willow is a fast-growing, multi-trunked tree or large shrub that twists and leans as it reaches skyward, creating an interesting, open crown in age. Its long, narrow, bright green leaves give a willowy appearance, but this deciduous tree is actually a catalpa. Orchid-like, nectar-rich flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, and are followed by long, tan seedpods, which persist on the branches throughout winter dormancy. Ruffled, funnel-shaped flowers range from white to dark pink to burgundy, depending on the cultivar (pale pink in our local natives). Tolerates extreme heat and drought, but appreciates some summer water up to twice monthly. Great for sites where you need summer shade, but want winter sun, such as on a south-facing side of your home. Train into a shade or specimen tree with single or multiple trunks, or direct its growth as a large shrub with many branches as a windbreak, screen, or background planting.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for September

Jojoba-plant-3566-RK

This under-appreciated southwest native plant is one of the most hardy, drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant, frost-tolerant, pest-free plants available for southwest gardens. Useful as an evergreen hedge, as a backdrop in naturalistic gardens, in mixed plantings, or as a specimen…you are sure to be pleased with this unfussy native plant.

Jojoba, Goatnut
Simmondsia chinensis

  • Plant Form: Evergreen shrub
  • Water Use: Extremely Low
  • Mature Size: 6-8 ft. tall x 8-10 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Winter (Feb), Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June)
  • Native to: California, Arizona, Mexico (between 0 – 4,900 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F

Jojoba is a long-lived, slow-growing dense evergreen shrub that is one of our most drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant native plants. Thick, leathery leaves grow upward so that only their edges face the sun during the hottest part of the day, reducing heat gain and moisture loss from leaf surfaces. Non-showy flowers on female plants produce acorn-like fruits containing a liquid wax prized as a stable lubricant for industrial applications, and for cosmetic and scalp preparations. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants, so fruits only develop on female plants with male plants nearby. Although wind-pollinated, bees collect pollen from male plants. This undemanding shrub has no pests, needs no maintenance, and requires no added water after it is established. Young plants may be cold sensitive, but mature plants are cold hardy. Jojoba’s dense foliage is perfect for screening or informal hedges. Great in naturalistic landscapes, in mixed plantings, or as a specimen.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for August