Create a landscape design. Pick trees for the backbone, then fill in main lines with bushes. Here are some great picks!
The unloved creosote bush
I can’t figure out why nobody loves creosote. It is low maintenance, requiring no pruning and no extra water. It has a vibrant green color most of the year, turning reddish brown during drought. I love the little fuzzy white seeds. One of the pest parts about creosote is the smell. Every time it gets wet, it emits a delicious clean smell (think the smell of fresh laundry). This bush is why the desert smells so good after a rain storm. Creosote is common in desert habitats all the way to Nevada. No need to baby this baby. Actually, over watering makes it grow into a monster.
The pretty Jojoba
The jojoba is so pretty. Its leaves are oval and feminine. They are a soft grey-green color and they never drop off. The overall shape is nice and round without needing any pruning. If it gets too large, it can be pruned to stay smaller. It is hardy, growing all over Arizona, and needs minimal water. The plants you buy in a nursery are male, so no messy flowers or fruit.
The fluffy Baja fairy duster
I love these bushes with their feathery foliage. It is small, perfect for spaces where a larger bush would not work. The flowers are like little pom-poms and continually bloom all summer. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They are so green and lush, they don’t look like a desert shrub, but they are. I water it twice a month and it looks great. It is sensitive to frost, and stems will die and need to be pruned off, but it will grow back from the roots in the spring.
The durable Texas sage
Texas sage is so common it gets a little boring. And I prefer native plants. But it has beautiful purple blossoms whenever the humidity increases. It can be pruned to any size. (Although the large varieties are hard to keep small.) The leaves are evergreen and constantly regrowing. They get a little sparse by the end of winter, but then sprout new foliage as spring comes on. This bush does not freeze. It is happy with once a month water. There are lots of different varieties with grayer or greener foliage and different shades of purple blossoms.
The wildflower Brittlebrush
Some categorize brittlebrush with the wildflowers, but it grows large enough to consider it a shrub. It has silver foliage, a great combination for plants with lime green or deep green leaves. In the desert, brittlebrush goes dormant in the summer and looks dead, but in a landscape with minimal irrigation its leaves stay full. You may cut it back after blooming to keep the plant tidy. This is one plant that is fairly easy to grow from seed.
The Woolly Butterfly Bush
This bush survives on very little water. It bears little orange pom-pom flowers in spring with a distinct sweet smell and attracts butterflies. Less commonly found, I got excited when I saw some at a nursery. Max size is 5 feet. When I water it twice a month, it stays about the same size. More water makes it grow. Newly planted bushes required more frequent water (about every 5 days) for the first year until established.