Plant of the Month – May

You don’t have to wait until spring to enjoy color from this beautiful cactus. Colors of the fleshy pads transform from blue-gray to rich purple depending on seasonal temperatures. Yellow flowers in spring just add to the lively palette.

Santa Rita Prickly Pear,
Purple Prickly Pear
Opuntia violacea var. santa-rita

  • Plant Form: Cactus
  • Water Use: Very Low
  • Mature Size: 2-6 ft. tall x 4-6 ft.wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June-Aug)
  • Native to: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 0°F 

Santa Rita Prickly Pear defies the convention that plants are only showy when they are in bloom. This cactus is colorful year-round. In winter, the fleshy pads attain a rich purple color, lending its other name, Purple Prickly Pear. Warmer weather coaxes out soft blue-gray pads. Spring entices yellow rose-like flowers along the edges of each pad. Tufts of tiny spines dot each pad, and sparse, long spines line the upper edges of the pads. White cottony patches on the pads may appear if affected by cochineal scale, an insect that sucks juice from the cactus and covers itself with white fluff for protection. Easily removed with a strong spray from a garden hose, these insects were the source of purple fabric dye for royalty in times past, and are used today to color food and cosmetics (check for “carmine” in the ingredients). This beautiful cactus is used in succulent and rock gardens, as a barrier or accent, and in containers. Santa Rita Prickly Pear makes a great gift plant, as pads root easily in loose, well-draining soil.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for May

This striking accent plant has lots going for it: sculptural beauty, interesting movement in response to breezes, low water use, easy care, and tolerance to heat and cold.

Mexican Grass Tree
Dasylirion longissimum

  • Plant Form: Succulent
  • Water Use: Very Low
  • Mature Size: 4-6 ft. tall & wide (to 10 feet tall in age)
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June-Aug)
  • Native to: Northern Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F 

Mexican Grass Tree is neither a grass nor a tree, but that doesn’t detract from its superb qualities for landscaping. Stiff but arching grass-like foliage seems to flow out of the center of this tidy, sculptural succulent related to agaves and nolinas. Besides being prized for its easy care and low water use, Mexican Grass Tree is captivating as a living kinetic “sculpture”, serving as yard art whenever breezes animate its numerous 4-foot-long leaves. Its large woody trunk grows very slowly to 6-10 feet tall, and in late spring to summer, both male and female plants produce a 9-foot-tall spike of small creamy flowers. This spectacular accent plant asks only for good drainage (it hates soggy soil), and some protection from harsh afternoon sun in extremely hot regions. A beautiful accent or specimen plant, but also useful in rock gardens, as a border, or in mass plantings. It is stunning in raised planters or large containers.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for April 

The large, delicate, white flowers of Little-leaf Cordia might fool you into thinking this is not an especially hardy plant. This plant actually exceeds expectations, being the perfect combination of heat-tolerance, cold-tolerance, drought-tolerance, long blooming season, low-litter, and low maintenance. Sit back and enjoy this plant.

Little Leaf Cordia
Cordia parvifolia

  • Plant Form: Evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 4-8 ft. tall x 6-10 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June-Aug), Fall (Sept-Nov)
  • Native to: Mexico, Baja California
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F 

Little-leaf Cordia blooms so profusely with showy clusters of white, crepe paper-like flowers, it is hard to believe it is such a low-water-use, low-maintenance plant. Arching branches can be slightly open to dense, covered with small, leathery, deeply veined leaves. The dark foliage creates the perfect backdrop for the 1 – 1 ½-inch flowers that appear in spring and fall, but may also appear in summer with monsoonal rains, since heat and humidity trigger blooming. This easy-care shrub is evergreen except when exposed to severe drought or extreme cold, when it may drop its leaves. Resistant to nibbling by rabbits and deer, this Mexico native is useful as an informal hedge, screen, flowering accent, foundation plant, or background planting, especially with low-growing plants in the foreground. The only maintenance it may ever need is pruning in early spring for shape. Its low maintenance and low water-use have made this a favorite in medians and parking strips.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for March

While some gardeners may avoid Rosemary because it so commonly used, there is a reason it is chosen so often to solve hot, dry, poor soil situations: it works! Rosemary has so many gifts to give to your garden, including aromatic joy as you pass it, pest resistance, rabbit resistance, drought tolerance, culinary use in so many recipes, tolerance to both heat and cold, and screening of unsightly utility or irrigation systems…why wouldn’t you want at least one rosemary plant in your yard?

Rosmarinus officinalis

  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 2-5 ft. tall x 2-6 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Winter (Dec-Feb), Spring (Mar-May)
  • Native to: Mediterranean Region
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F 

Rosemary has been prized for centuries for a multitude of reasons, including its aromatic properties, flavorful herbal use, picturesque form, and rugged landscaping uses.  This drought-tolerant native of Mediterranean climates endures hot sun, reflected heat, and poor soils, and all it asks in return is good drainage. A mint-family evergreen shrub that has wonderfully aromatic, needle-like green leaves, this fragrant plant resists browsing by rabbits and deer, while producing tiny, two-lipped blue to white flowers that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. In winter-hardy regions like ours, it grows 4-5 feet tall, and blooms from winter through spring. Rosemary’s leaves are harvested for culinary use, toiletries, and sachets. In the garden, Rosemary adds value to borders, low hedges, herb gardens, foundations that need to be hidden, slopes that need to be stabilized, and pots to accent any patio. This versatile plant is pet friendly, pool friendly, and easy care. Low-growing varieties are used to trail over walls and banks.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for February

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