There are a number of large, native shrubs that grow well in the desert’s alkaline soil, low water availability, and extreme summer temperatures. Following are three such shrubs that can flourish in our desert environment.
Hopbush, also called Hop Seed Bush, is found throughout Africa, Australia, and the Americas in various forms. Currently finishing its spring bloom cycle in our area is the Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia. This evergreen shrub with long, narrow, medium green leaves matures at 12 to 15 feet high by 10 to 12 feet wide. It is cold hardy down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another popular Hopbush variety is “Purpurea” with bronze to purple foliage. Its leaves turn a colorful darker hue in winter; however, it is a bit less cold hardy than the green variety.
In spring, Hopbush produces somewhat inconspicuous creamy-yellow flowers. Resulting fruit resembles the papery, pinkish, winged fruit of true hops from which beer is made. With an appealing natural form, this shrub requires little pruning other than to reduce size as desired. Fertilization is not necessary; water every two weeks in summer, once monthly in winter.
Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) is a shrub that will take all the heat and dryness that the desert offers. It is evergreen, also with a natural global shape. Its gray-green leaves are coated with a wax-like substance and turn inward to further protect from the sun. Experience has shown that this shrub is a bit slow growing the first year after planted, but matures at 6 to 10 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide.
With a long bloom period lasting from winter through spring, the yellowish flowers are pretty much inconspicuous. The resulting fruit is a large, dark brown nut that is most known for its oil, which is extensively used in manufacturing lotions and cosmetics.
Cold hardy into the low 20s, this native shrub flourishes in intense reflected heat and when established is able to thrive on rainfall only. Jojoba is especially adapted for planting in areas of the garden that do not require routine care.
Looking much like Oleander from a distance, Arizona Rosewood (Vauquelinia californica) is another large evergreen shrub with a rounded form. In early summer it is covered with showy clusters of small, creamy white flowers.
Maturing up to 25 feet high by 15 feet wide, with careful springtime pruning Arizona Rosewood can be trained into a small tree for a small garden area. It is cold hardy down to 15 degrees, requires no fertilizer and is not susceptible to pests or disease.
All of these large native shrubs are low maintenance, drought tolerant choices. Several can be grouped for an informal hedge, screen, or border. Individually, each also is a good specimen plant, fitting into most any Southwestern landscape.
Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in Sahuarita. Her articles are featured weekly.