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No matter where you live, you will see the same shrubs being used over and over again in countless landscapes. While the shrubs may be attractive, their overuse throughout neighborhoods creates a boring appearance because they are so common.

 

In California, Nevada, and Arizona, oleanders have held a prominent spot in the landscape for years. Their popularity is due to their lush evergreen foliage, ability to withstand intense heat, and their pretty flowers.

However, their overuse in many areas makes their beauty less impactful and frankly, almost forgettable.

 At a recent conference, this point was put quite succinctly by the head of horticulture for Disneyland who said,

“When things are expected (in the landscape), they become less powerful and impactful”.

His statement sums up what happens when we use the same plants over and over.

In the case of oleanders, there is another problem.

 
 Oleanders are susceptible to a fatal disease called, oleander leaf scorch. This disease has come from California into Arizona where it is popping up in neighborhoods in Phoenix and also Lake Havasu. I have consulted with several cases affecting large, mature oleanders in Arcadia, Biltmore, and Moon Valley areas in Phoenix. 

This bacterial disease is spread by leaf-hopper insects and there is currently no known cure or control available. Infected oleanders slowly decline over 2-3 years before dying. To date, dwarf oleanders have not shown signs of the disease, only the larger forms. But, that could change sometime in the future.

Objectively, there’s a lot to like about oleanders; they thrive in hot, dry climates with minimal fuss, have attractive dark green foliage, and add color to the landscape when in flower. However, their overuse in the landscape makes them less impactful and coupled with their susceptibility to oleander leaf scorch, people want an alternative. 

You can learn more about this disease that affects oleanders here.

Hop Bush: 

 
When asked for another option for the large, tall forms of oleanders, I recommend Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa), also known as Hopseed Bush.
 
This native desert shrub has attractive, evergreen foliage and a similar growth habit to oleander. They grow up to 12 feet tall or prune to a shorter height.
 
 
Use Hop Bush in the same ways as oleanders to provide a nice green hedge or privacy screen.
 
Hop bush flower
 
While they don’t have colorful flowers; they have lovely foliage that is only mildly poisonous as opposed to oleanders which are highly toxic.
 
 
Hop bush has a lovely natural shape or prune as a formal hedge.
 
Want to learn more about this oleander alternative? In my latest Houzz article, I share what types of plants look nice next to hop bush, how to care for them and show a purple-leaf form.
 
I hope that you find a spot for this lovely shrub in your landscape.

Have you ever seen hop bush growing in the landscape?  

What type of plants comes to mind when you are planning what to plant in your containers?
 
I’m willing to bet that purple hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) and bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) probably weren’t the first plants that came to mind.
 
Admittedly, I tend to think of using plants known for their flowers or succulents in my containers.  That is until a trip to California that I took this past April.

 

In the Napa Valley region of northern California, sits Cornerstone Sonoma, which describes itself as “a wine country marketplace featuring a collection of world-class shopping, boutique wine rooms, artisanal foods, art-inspired gardens.”
 
Believe me; it is all that and more.  There was so much to see, but what caught my attention were some unusual, yet beautifully planted containers.
 
Purple hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’), shrubby germander (Teucrium fruiticans), and violas.
There were square steel containers filled with plants that are well-known for their foliage and are seldom used in pots.
 
I was intrigued, especially when the plants used were also popular in the desert Southwest.
 
There were quite a few things about this type of container planting that appealed to me.
 
One, it is low-maintenance – no deadheading required.  Just some light pruning 2 – 3 times a year, to control their size. Second, the plants are all drought tolerant (with the exception of the violas). Lastly, I like seeing new ways of doing things and using plants prized for their foliage in containers is something we don’t see too often.  
 
Fast forward a few months, and I decided to rethink what to add to the large, blue planter by my front entry.  So, I thought, why not try the same arrangement?
 
 
Granted, the plants are smaller than those I saw in California, but given a few months, they should grow in nicely.
 
As you can see my new plants are rather mall, however, the purple hopbush will grow taller and its evergreen foliage will add shades of purple and green to this space. Furthermore, this shrub is one of those highly-prized plants that do well in both sun and filtered shade.
 
The silvery-gray foliage of bush morning glory creates a great color contrast with the darker greens of the other plants. While it may not flower much in this semi-shady corner, I want it for its silvery foliage.
 
In addition, I want to use a plant that has bright green foliage, so I have a single foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus Myers), which will thrive in this semi-shady exposure. 
Maintenance will be relatively simple with periodic pruning to keep wayward branches in check. Fertilizing in spring and late summer with a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote will be all that’s needed to keep my container plants happy.
 
Do you have any plants with attractive foliage that you would use in containers? 

 

 
I am always on the lookout for great examples of plants in the desert landscape. In my work as a landscape consultant, I drive through countless neighborhoods, which allows me to see lots of ideas.
A few years ago, I drove by a house that had a beautiful Hop Bush shrub (Dodonaea viscosa).  
 
 
This evergreen, drought tolerant shrub does wonderfully in our southwestern climate, and it is a frequent addition to landscapes I design. 
It’s versatility is one of the reasons it is near the top of my favorite shrub list.
  • Hop Bush is a great substitute for Oleander shrubs.
  • They can grow up to 12 feet tall or be maintained at a shorter height – basically you can decide how large it gets.
  • Their height makes them a great choice to screen out an unattractive view in spaces where a tree won’t fit while providing shade for for windows.
  • Hop Bush can be allowed to grow into their natural shape or pruned more formally.

 

 
Native to the Southwest, Hop Bush is quite versatile and relatively fuss-free, especially if maintained by pruning every 6 months or so, as shown above. Here is another example of a hop bush shrub that has been pruned more formally, which it handles well.
 
 
 Of course, you can always let it grow into its more natural form as a large shrub.
 
For more information on hop bush including what its flowers look like and why it’s becoming a popular substitute for oleanders, you can read my earlier blog post – “Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Hopbush the Alternative to Oleanders.”

Now, the title of this post does NOT apply to me.  My ancestors hail from Northern Europe and so whenever a sunny day beckons me outdoors, you will find me with my hat and my sunscreen.

What this title does refer to are plants that not only thrive in our full desert sun, but those that can even thrive in areas with hot, reflected heat.  Just picture a brick wall, facing west, getting the full force of the sun in the afternoon.  Believe it or not, there are quite a few plants that do quite well in the summer sun and seem to be saying “Bring it On”.

Most people either hate or love Bougainvillea.  If you have a pool – do NOT use this plant as they can be quite messy.  That being said, I do love Bougainvillea and have two planted along the back wall that receives afternoon sun.  They do extremely well and actually flower more when in full sun.
For those who prefer using native plants, Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) provides beautiful yellow flowers in the winter and spring.  Their gray leaves provide a great color contrast to your other plants throughout the year, even when not in flower.
Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), a native from our neighboring Chihuahuan Desert, is a favorite of mine to use in hot, sunny areas.  There are quite a few different Leucophyllum species that come in a variety of leaf colors and offer flowers in shades of purple, pink and white.  They can grow up to 6 ft. high and are great for covering up a large expanse of a brick wall.
Red Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) is a wonderful plant to use in sunny locations.  Red flowers are produced year-round, although the heaviest bloom occurs in the spring and fall months.  They are a great favorite of hummingbirds.
Cassia species are a wonderful export to us from Australia.  There are four different species that are commonly found in our area, but my two favorites are Silvery Senna (Senna phyllodenia) and Desert Senna (Senna artemisioides sturtii)Beautiful flowers appear in winter and last through spring.
It is no surprise to those who have read my blog for any length of time that I would add Globe Mallow Sphaeralcea ambigua) to my list of sun-loving plants.  The shrub above, is located in my front garden and I will soon be planting some seeds along the wall in my back garden, which faces west and receives full sun all afternoon.
Whether you prefer the green or purple leafed Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa), both types will grow upright and produce an evergreen shrub that will thrive in the sun.
 Many succulent plants do well in areas with hot, reflected heat.  But a word of caution – just because a plant is a succulent (stores water in it’s leaves), does NOT mean that it can handle full sun.  However, Soaptree Yucca (Yucca elata) does very well in the hot sun.


This is one of my favorite succulent plants.  Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is actually not a yucca at all.  But it’s succulent leaves make it look like an ornamental grass.  In spring and summer red flowers start to bloom.


Chuparosa (Justicia californica) can be seen along the roadsides throughout the desert.  They are decorated with orange/red tubular flowers that hummingbirds just love.  If they can thrive out in the open desert, they can do very well in your garden.

I hope this list is helpful to those of you who have an area that receives hot, reflected heat that desperately needs a plant.  By adding a plant to areas such as these – actually help to cool that area down because the plant actually absorbs the sun’s rays and keeps them from heating up the surrounding wall, rock, etc.

**Please stay away from planting plants such as Hibiscus, Roses, Citrus and Heavenly Bamboo in these areas.  They do not do well in areas with hot, reflected heat.  However, all of these plants will do very well in north, south and eastern exposures.

If you are reading a plant label at the nursery to see what type of exposure the plant requires, please keep the following in mind.  Full sun in the desert is quite different from the full sun experienced in other areas of the country.  For example, a Hibiscus shrub that is growing in San Diego, can handle full sun.  However, the intensity of the sun coupled with the heat of desert, will make it difficult for a Hibiscus to handle being planted in a western exposure in Arizona.
And so in closing, I hope this list will prove helpful to you as you search for the right plant for that particular area in your garden.