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Desert Gardening: What’s the Right Shrub for You?

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Lowe’s regional gardening contributor talks about using woody shrubs in your Desert Southwest yard.

yellow wall and purple-blooming shrub

By Scott Calhoun

The number one reason to plant desert-adapted shrubs in your garden? They are easy to grow. Think of them as workhorses that labor tirelessly on your behalf. Try the plants below and let them do some heavy lifting.

Shrubs for Bold Color
Because Texas rangers are such durable, bulletproof evergreen plants, I talk about them a lot. Come midsummer they explode with color. The plant featured above is ‘Green Cloud’. It grows 6 to 8 ft high and wide and is a great choice for screening in a full-sun location. In the photo, it is shown screening a courtyard from sidewalk passersby. Shrubs can create intimacy when used this way.

Red bird of paradise

Hot Screening
Another much-loved seasonal screening plant is the red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima). This shrub takes all the heat you throw at it, showing off hot orange and red flowers throughout the warm months. (It does go dormant to the ground in winter). In the photo, its ferny foliage lends a tropical feel to the adjacent front porch. The red bird sits in front of another variety of bird of paradise, Mexican bird (Caesalpinia mexicana), which grows larger and bears gold flowers.

red-flowered shrub

Shrubs for Birds
Many shrubs bring desirable wildlife to your garden. The flame anisacanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus wrightii), pictured, blooms summer through fall and attracts lots of hummingbirds. Many shrubs provide ideal garden habitats for birds and butterflies.

magenta bougainvillea

More Color
Perhaps the most popular shrub in the low desert garden is bougainvillea. This vigorous heat lover, with deep-pink blooms, entrances all who see it. Because the shrub loves heat, make sure to plant it in a spot that gets plenty of sun. (South and west exposures are best.) In cooler spots it dies to the ground in winter but comes roaring back with the heat. My favorite use is cascading over a low wall.

Littleleaf cordia

Shrubs Used as Small Trees
One of the challenges of using shrubs in small gardens is the plants can get too big and overwhelm the spaces. Sometimes it is better to think of them as small trees. In the photo, littleleaf cordia (Cordia parviflora), usually considered a shrub, with bright-white flowers and small, olive-green leafs, is pruned into a tree shape and screens a veggie garden.

What are your creative ideas for using shrubs in your garden?

See more by this author.