Tag Archive for: USDA Hardiness Zones

Trees and Shrubs for a Neglected Area

In my last post “A Long Forgotten Area Ready for Transformation”, I told you that I would share what plants I was going to have put in this neglected area.

Criteria for Plant Selection

The selection of these plants has been guided by specific criteria:

  1. Personal Experience: Many of these plants have thrived in my own home garden or in landscapes I’ve overseen.
  2. Low Maintenance: I’ve opted for varieties that require minimal upkeep.
  3. Drought Resistance: These plants are well-suited to dry conditions.
  4. Year-round Beauty: The chosen plant palette guarantees a vibrant display of colors throughout the year, with at least one plant in bloom at any given time.

Trees for the Area

So are you ready to see what I chose?

Let’s start with the trees…

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

The area has two large Foothills Palo Verde trees along with a Wolfberry tree, so I chose one other type of tree to add.

Desert Willow

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is one of my favorite desert trees.  It is not a true willow, but is named for the fact that its leaves are willow-shaped.

Colorful flowers appear throughout the summer that add a vibrant punch of color to the landscape.

Hardy to zone 6, Desert Willow requires well-drained soil and full sun or filtered shade.

Shrubs for the Area

Now for the shrubs…

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

Valentine Bush

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is my favorite shrub of all time. I will never forget the day when I was first introduced to this red-flowering shrub, by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.  It was 1999 and I was a horticulturist fresh out of college.

I was given 2 Valentine shrubs from Mountain States to plant in the landscape area I managed.  Ever since then, I have been hooked.

Trees and Shrubs

Red flowers appear on this shrub, beginning in January and lasting until April.  If you haven’t noticed it before, there isn’t much blooming in winter, which is one of the reasons I love Valentine.

The foliage is evergreen and Valentine are hardy to zone 8.  Better yet, they only need to be pruned once a year – in spring after flowering.

Plant in full sun and well-drained soil.

For more information about Valentine, check out my post about this great plant.

Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

Baja Ruellia

My second choice for shrubs is Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).

Now, this isn’t its rather invasive cousin Ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana), pictured below…

Trees and Shrubs

Baja Ruellia is what I like to think of as a smaller version of Texas Sage species (Leucophyllum sp).  It doesn’t get as large and has a longer flowering season then Leucophyllum.

Trees and Shrubs

The flowers of Baja Ruellia are tubular and appear spring through fall, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

The foliage is light green and rarely suffers frost damage in our zone 9b climate.  Hardy to zone 9, Baja Ruellia should be planted in full sun and well-drained soil.

Silvery Cassia (Senna phyllodenia)

Silvery Cassia

The third shrub for this area will be Silvery Cassia (Senna phyllodenia).  This Australian native does very well in arid landscapes.

The silvery foliage will provide contrast to the darker greens present in the landscape.  Evergreen to 20 degrees, this shrub flourishes in zone 9 landscapes.

Yellow flowers appear in late winter and into spring.  Pruning is needed after flowering, to remove seed pods in managed landscapes.

Like the other shrubs, Silvery Cassia enjoys full sun and well-drained soil.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

Autumn Sage

The smallest shrub for this area will be Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).  This plant is hard to zone 7, so remains evergreen during winter here.

Flowers appear fall through spring in the low desert.  The most common colors are red or pink, although there are other colors such as white, lavender and peach. 

I like to use Autumn Sage around trees like Palo Verde, where the filtered shade shelters it from the intense summer sun.  I first saw them planted around a tree at the Desert Botanical Garden and I really liked the way it looked, so I have repeated this design in many of my landscapes.

The Autumn Sage above, was planted by me around a Foothills Palo Verde about 12 years ago and they are still going strong.

I still have perennials and accent plants to show you that I have included in the design and I’ll share them with you next time.


An Update on my Family

Life around our household has been busy lately….

School is back in session (for which I am extremely grateful for 😉

My son Kai, has ditched his wheelchair for a walker and will soon be able to walk without it.


My daughter, will soon come home after leaving 5 months ago for the Navy.  She is graduating from her Equipment Operator School next week and will be an official ‘SeaBee’.  She will be on leave for 2 weeks before she reports for combat training in Mississippi, where she will be stationed for a month.

The BEST news is that her permanent base will be in Port Hueneme, which is where she wanted to be.  What is even better for us, is that it is in Southern California, just 7 hours from home!!!

We are getting ready to celebrate her homecoming, which I will share with all of you 🙂

I asked this question years ago, to a room full of people as I was giving my first landscape presentation.  I was quite nervous as I began my presentation, but once I asked the question, “Raise your hand if you have ever killed a plant,”  almost everyone raised their hands.  A few people also laughed when my hand also went up and I immediately felt a little less nervous.

I think it would be very hard to find anyone who has a garden who has never killed a plant, don’t you?  Over the years, I have heard many stories, some very humorous about mishaps in the garden which ended with dead plants.  I would like to share mine with you….

Raise your hand if you have ever killed a plant

Over 18 years ago, we  moved into our new home in Phoenix.  It was a small, older, ranch style house that had quite a few roses and a lot of room for a garden.  I was so excited to have my own piece of land to grow plants in, I could hardly wait to get started.  I sent for plant catalogs and couldn’t wait to select what I would grow.

I selected a beautiful Clematis vine and some Shasta Daisies.  It seemed like it took forever for them to arrive in the mail.  As soon as they arrived, I opened the box and was a little disappointed at how small the plants were.  But, I planted my Clematis and Daisies and had visions of how wonderful they would look once they started flowering.

Shasta Daisy

*Courtesy of Wikipedia

You may notice that the picture of the Shasta Daisy above is not mine.  There is a good reason for that….I killed all of my Shasta Daisies.  You see, I decided that the tiny plants that arrived in the mail needed a little help growing.  So, I gave each 2″ plant a handful of lawn fertilizer. 

I was sure that the added fertilizer would work miracles and I couldn’t wait to see how much faster they would grow.  Well, most of you are probably already laughing at my mistake, but I was so surprised when I went out into the garden the next morning to find little brown, dried out plants.  So, lesson #1 that I learned was to read the directions on the fertilizer bag and that more is definitely not better when it comes to fertilizer.  I burned my little plants by adding too much fertilizer.

So, now that I learned my first lesson, I was sure to fertilize my new Clematis vine carefully.

Raise your hand if you have ever killed a plant

*This is my photo, buy NOT my Clematis vine.   I took this photo in a garden full of flowers in Wales.

Again, I do not have a photo of my Clematis vine flowering for one very good reason….it never flowered.  It did grow foliage, but after a year, it was only about 3 ft. high and kind of sad looking.  Lesson #2, just because a plant says it will grow in zone 9, does not mean that it will thrive in my desert climate.  The USDA Plant Hardiness zones is based on the lowest average temperature of a given region.  Phoenix is in zone 9.  But, the zones do not take into account the heat of a particular area.  It turns out that Clematis does not like the intense heat of our summers and as a result, mine never flowered.  

And so, a recap of what I learned….

First – a tiny amount of fertilizer goes very far and amending the soil with organic matter is preferable.  I now only fertilize when a plant that shows a specific nutrient deficiency (I make exceptions for citrus trees and roses, which fertilize regularly).

Second, just because a plant looks pretty in a catalog and says it grows in zone 9, it doesn’t mean that it can handle the heat of our summer.  Sunset magazine has created a new hardiness zone map that factors in many different variables of a given region: low and high temperatures, humidity, soil type, length of growing season and rainfall.  You can access this information, which covers all regions of the United States.  *Many nurseries and those in the plant industry in the western US use the Sunset zones instead of the USDA hardiness maps since they are much more accurate.

 Well, for those of you who may be new to gardening, I hope my experiences will help you so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.  Many beautiful plants are very easy to grow in our desert climate….you just have to do a little research to find out which ones.  

I would like to offer one last bit of advice….wherever you live, don’t rely on the plants you see offered in the big box stores – they are notorious for selling bright, flowering plants that will soon turn brown and die after you plant them.  This doesn’t mean that you have a black thumb….it means that some of the plants that they sell do not necessarily thrive in your climate.

Now, I would love to hear your stories…..have you ever killed a plant?