By Scott Calhoun
Extreme weather isn’t something new in our climate; gardeners here deal with it every year. Everyone knows we typically have to contend with some of the highest summer temperatures in the nation, but what does that mean for gardeners? Read on for some of my suggestions.
Bring the Heat
One good strategy for keeping a garden looking good once really hot weather sets in is to use plants that love high temperatures, such as bougainvillea, pictured above. Bougainvillea likes the very hottest spot in the garden. It doesn’t even reach full bloom until daytime temperatures climb to over 100°F and nighttime lows remain above 60.
Another heat lover and solid summer performer is red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), shown here.
For a heat-loving groundcover, ‘Gold Mound’ lantana is a favorite; however it does require regular watering for best flower production. Many lantanas attract butterflies and, like bougainvillea and red bird of paradise, they love heat. As a dense groundcover for hot locations, lantana is hard to beat.
Cooling Silver Plants
Many plants that have evolved to thrive in hot climates have heat-reflecting silver-color leaves that allow them to stay cool. The toughest have small, silver-color leaves, which also tend to conserve moisture because they don’t transpire water as freely.
A good example of a plant with small, silver leaves is the groundcover/low shrub trailing indigo (Dalea greggii), which is pictured here. Trailing indigo is one of the easiest plants to grow in a desert garden, as it loves sun and heat and, once established, requires scant water.
One of my favorite silver plants is our native brittlebush (Encelia farinosa). Brittlebush is nearly drought proof, as it changes its growth habit depending on the weather. In wet years, you get big leaves; in dry years, small ones. Regardless, every year you get loads of screaming yellow daisy flowers early in spring.
When talking about heat-tolerant plants for desert gardens, I’d be remiss not to mention cacti, which are the undisputed masters of thriving in extreme hot weather. In fact some barrel cacti can withstand highs over 150 degrees! Plants such as our native fishhook barrel, pictured, also sprout pretty fruits, which persist throughout much of the year, shown here. Most barrel cactus species are also impervious to hailstones.
All-day intense desert sun is hard on veggies, so come June provide some shade for plants such as tomatoes and peppers. As the photo illustrates, a little canopy allows plants to produce good crops even when the mercury rises above the century mark.
What are your tricks for desert gardening in extreme weather?