Desert Plants for Mountain Landscape

11/13/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Flowers, Plant Care, Uncategorized

Seasonal residents are back up to their mountain summer homes and gardens. It has been so nice in the deserts that they stayed an extra few weeks to enjoy spring at the lower elevations. Many of our summer-only neighbors try to keep their predominantly cactus-based winter landscapes as the dominant themes of their mountain yards. This is difficult to do at the higher elevations of Arizona. However, there are attractive low maintenance, low water using alternatives.

Here are some fun mountain plants to expand your summer gardening palette:

It’s fun to watch customers react to the fragrance of Spanish Broom. This plant is in bloom now and fills the landscape with a fragrance so sweet that it really is comparable to the scent of lilacs. Clumps of quill-like erect green stems form this interesting,practically leafless shrub. The showy pea-shaped flowers remain solar yellow long into summer. Spanish broom is an excellent choice for dry locations, hillsides, and where an interesting specimen is needed in full sun.

Used frequently in low water landscapes, Spanish broom does well on a drip system. Russian sage, salvias, barberry, ground cover juniper, and yuccas are good complements to this consistent bloomer. Each of these companion plants is unique in its foliage and texture, and the varying bloom cycles deliver season long color to the landscape.

Prescott Purple Locust offers flowers, shade, and low maintenance all in one tree! Although it loves sub-zero winters and blistering hot summers, this stunner is in bloom from May through the first of June with fragrant purple flowers that cluster together like wisteria blossoms. Its sweet-scented blooms are wonderful additions to indoor bouquets. It’s the perfect mountain plant for profuse, cooling shade on a back patio, or in a west-facing courtyard and west walls where it supplies summer-long color. It is fast growing so you can buy the smaller size and wait for it to grow. Of course, you can choose the larger size for instant shade.

Manzanita is the classiest of the low-water-use natives. Its dark glossy leaves contrast against the bright red stems and dainty white flowers, making for year round interest. The only way to kill this bush is to over water it, or to plant it in clay soil with inadequate drainage.

Hummingbirds dream at night of the sweet nectar from the rich red flowers that form on Autumn Sage. Every landscape should have at least one of these knee high mountain beauties. Flowers bloom from May through November, which is an amazing feat for such a tough little plant. This salvia’s red blossoms and airy branching are a perfect contrast to the violet flowers, gray leaves, and upright stems of the Russian sage.

Apache Plume and the Brake Light Yucca are two companion plants that coexist and look well together. Apache Plumes have tiny white season-long flowers on branches with an interesting tassel that is the signature of this true native. This drought hardy plant makes a classy sight when its white flowers are seen against the deep red flowers of the Brake Light yucca stalk. Flowers hover at the three-foot level, and dance with the stirrings of every monsoon storm. Both plants bloom through autumn until the flower stalks fade, leaving the interesting evergreen leaves stabbing into the sky. Only low water, low care requirements could produce such an interesting contrast in mountain plants.

For more mountain gardening ideas, ask for my free Yavapai Friendly plant list the next time you visit us. Most varieties listed can be viewed, touched, and smelled in our garden center’s new Native and Drought Hardy displays. Also included are all the cacti that are right for the higher altitudes of Arizona.

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As we head into June our plants will appreciate a little more water, especially those that are new to the yard this spring. The arid climate combined with afternoon winds cause plants to use more moisture than usual during other months. Until our monsoon season arrives with its July rains, plants can use an extra irrigation cycle. This is a good time to re-familiarize yourself with your irrigation clock and add an extra cycle per week at each station.

New trees and shrubs in the yard depend on drip irrigation, but they appreciate a supplemental hand watering once a week as well. Try to saturate the soil surrounding the new root ball. Again, this is a good practice until the extra humidity from our summer monsoons.

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My summer series of gardening classes begins next Saturday. The free classes are held in Watters’ upper greenhouse, beginning at 9:30 a.m. and lasting about an hour. The first class, on June 9th, is “Bountiful Vegetable Gardens”. Its focus will be on the best care, feeding, and watering for the most generous harvest possible. The June 16th topic is “”Containers that Bloom like Crazy!” We will explore techniques that will keep container gardens’ blossoms vibrant and colorful all summer long. The complete schedule of June’s class topics can be viewed on my Facebook page,, and at

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GARDEN TOUR – This is your chance to visit the gardens of some of the best gardeners in the region! The Alta Vista Garden Club sponsors local garden tours every other year, and this year’s event on June 9th promises to be one of the best. This is a self-guided tour of six different gardens for only $10 per ticket. I have just shy of 30 tickets left here at Watters Garden Center. On the day of the tour purchased tickets are swapped for the tour map under the gazebo at the Sharlot Hall Museum. Join in the fun and take home many inspiring ideas for your own gardens and landscapes. Hope to see you there.

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Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.

One Reply to “Desert Plants for Mountain Landscape”

  1. Thank you SO much for hosting your weekly classes! They are filled with great info and it is easy to see Ken’s passion for what he does! On Saturday he mentioned a list of “Yavapai Friendly Plants”…I was wondering if I could have a copy of that list? Thanks!

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