Gardening in the Desert

The extreme desert heat and rocky landscape can seem like daunting obstacles for Las Vegas homeowners eager to try out their green thumbs. However, don’t lose heart. Gardening in the desert can include more than just rocks and cacti. In fact, there are lots of low-maintenance options for those who want to add color and beauty to their yard.

Before you get started, you should know that the United States is divided into 11 planting zones based on each region’s minimum temperature. It’s all laid out on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Gardeners and growers use this map in order to figure out what plants will grow easily in certain locations. Most areas of Las Vegas are in zone 9 (with an annual extreme minimum temperature of between 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit). Many dealers and nurseries label their products based on the USDA zones, so it’s good to know where your landscape falls before you head down to your local garden center.

Native plants (like cacti) are popular choices for desert gardens. But if you’re interested in branching out, here is a peek at a few other plants you might consider. They all require such little maintenance that even a novice gardener won’t be intimidated and they all thrive in the desert landscape:

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Purple Ice Plant – Image from landscaping.about.com

1. Ice plant – The “hardy ice plant” (Delosperma) is a flowering, succulent perennial that can serve as a great year-round groundcover. It grows in zones 5-9. Their light purple flowers bloom during the summer and into the fall and look similar to daisies. According to gardening website, Gardening Know How, the ice plant gets its name from the fact that its “flowers and leaves seem to shimmer as though covered in frost or ice crystals.” In terms of size, they grow to be 2-4 feet wide and about 3-6 inches tall. While there is some foliage dieback in the winter, the plant is mostly evergreen.

Ice plants like full sun and well-drained soil. They hate to be sitting in water, so make sure you plant them in a place that has excellent drainage. They can tolerate some light shade too and need little to no fertilizing. They grow great in drought-like conditions.

Besides the purple version (Delosperma cooperi), you can also find them with yellow flowers (Delosperma brunnthaleri), with pink flowers and a white center (Delosperma floribundum), and an all-white variation (Delosperma herbeau).

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Sedum “Autumn Joy” – Image from FineGardening.com

2. Sedum – More commonly known as Stonecrop (since gardeners joke that stones are the only things that last longer and require less maintenance), Sedum grows extremely easily, even in less than ideal conditions. Its hardiness depends on which variety you choose, but overall they can survive in zones 3-10. Sedum grows best in full sun and can tolerate drought-like conditions. Its flowers don’t open until late summer/early fall. They start off green and then slowly change in color. Like hardiness, size also depends on the variety that you choose, but generally speaking, mature sedum plants range from 12-24 inches wide and 6-24 inches high.

Since the plants look good all season (not just when they are in bloom), they work great as edging, in mass clumps and even in containers. They are also great for attracting butterflies. As for the colors of the blooms, you can find them in pinks, reds, whites, and yellows.

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Hens and Chicks – Image from ndsu.edu

3. Hens and Chicks – Hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) are succulent plants that might remind you of rubbery roses. They get their name because the original plant (the hen) has little offsets or babies (chicks) attached to it. All they need to grow is full sun and well-drained soil. They can grow in the ground, in pots and even in rock crevasses. They do best in zones 3-11. In terms of size they get to 6-12 inches wide and 3-6 inches high.

When the mother plant reaches maturity, she will produce a thick flower stalk with star-shaped flowers. Once the plant blooms, the hen will die. The mother plant should then be removed and the chicks should be divided (snapped off) and replanted. Other than removing the old hens and dividing the chicks as needed, not much other regular maintenance is needed.

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Desert Willow Tree – Image from horticultureunlimited.com

4. Desert Willow Tree – If beautiful blooms and some summer shade is what you’re after, then the Desert Willow Tree (Chilopsis linearis) might be just what you need to add to your desert garden. It usually only grows about 25 feet wide and 30 feet tall, so it’s still a viable option even if your backyard is on the smaller side. From spring through fall it features trumpet shaped flowers that are shades of pink, violet and white. Those flowers are also known to attract hummingbirds and bees. Desert Willows thrive in zones 7b-11. It’s native to the desert, so give it full sun and excellent drainage and it will do just fine. The trees can also provide summer shade. In fact, if you plant them in groups they can even act as a privacy screen in your yard. You can grow the trees from seeds or from cuttings as well.

 

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