Rose varieties for Arizona

Plant selection

Now is the time of year to plant or prune roses. Although roses are not native to the southwest, they can survive the heat. They are also an all-time favorite plant.


Peace rose

If you would like to include roses in your landscape, they will need a more frequent watering schedule than native plants. If you have an irrigation line already on a more frequent schedule, that may determine where you put a rose. Also consider planting it in the shade and on an eastern or northern exposure.

HGTV posted an article about growing roses in the southwest here.

University of Arizona also published an easy to read introduction to roses here. They include a list of favorite varieties for the southwest. If you’re shopping for a rose, consider these:


Mr. Lincoln rose

  • Mr. Lincoln – a deep red tea rose with fragrant blossoms
  • Saint Patrick – a yellow tea rose with a hint of chartreuse
  • Marilyn Monroe – a pale apricot shrub rose
  • Julia Child – a butter yellow floribunda
  • Peace – a classic tea with creamy center and pink edges
  • Fragrant Cloud – a coral orange tea
  • Double Delight – a dark pink and white multicolored tea
  • Rainbow Knock Out – a pink shrub rose
  • Sally Holmes – salmon to white climbing rose
  • Gemini – cream and pink multicolored tea rose with well-shaped blossoms

Native plants increase wildlife habitat

Plant selection, Wildlife

I’ve discovered a bonus of creating a native landscape: wildlife! I love wild animals. I think of them as low-maintenance pets. I enjoy sitting on the porch and watching birds visit my landscape. In the back yard, I covered the drainage holes in my block fence with grates, which keeps out snakes, rabbits, and gophers, while allowing birds and lizards in.

Here is some of the wildlife I’ve experienced.

Native bee house

House for native bees

Quail roam through my yard at will. This summer a young quail hen practiced laying eggs in a Wildlife_bannerpotted plant on my front porch. I love it when I see quail chicks in the spring. Quail use various native bushes for food and cover. They love eating wildflower seed before your flowers can sprout.

White-winged doves visit frequently. They like drinking from water puddles in the yard.

Hummingbirds love fairy duster flowers. The neighbors next door had a hummingbird nest in one of their trees. There are three birds that constantly fight over my yard as territory.

Migrating birds. Many more kinds of birds travel through Arizona during migration. I’ve had lots of bird nests in trees in my yard. I enjoy watching the eggs hatch and babies grow.

Butterflies visit my garden and flowering plants. I’d love to add a few more like milkweed to increase butterfly habitat in my yard. Here is a list of native plants used to create a butterfly garden.

Native bees are welcome visitors. I learned at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum you can build them homes to encourage them to visit.

Lizards and geckos. This year our yard has tons of baby lizards. They are only about two inches long and they are so cute! The lizards keep the outdoor cricket population under control. In order to avoid poisoning our lizards, we have not sprayed our home (outdoor foundation) for bugs for the past two years. I haven’t noticed any more bugs inside than before. If you are outside at night, you may also see western banded geckos.

Tortoises. To complete your native Sonoran desert habitat, why not add a tortoise? Although desert tortoises are not available for sale, did you know you can adopt one?

Snakes generally aren’t welcome in your yard. But if you see a non-venomous snake kindly escort it out without killing it.

Rabbits can be pests. They are welcome in my (unfenced) front yard, but not in the back. I put 1/4 inch wire cage around young plants to protect them from bunnies. My veggie garden is in the back yard.

Round-tailed ground squirrels aren’t welcome in my yard (even if they are native). These guys eat roots out from underneath cacti when they get hungry and dig tunnels everywhere. Rat poison has worked to keep them from colonizing my back yard, and our neighborhood population isn’t high enough to decimate any of my front yard plants.

Ants can bite, but they are termites’ mortal enemies and will keep them at bay. They also provide food for other wildlife. I prefer to allow a healthy stable number of ant colonies remain in the yard.

Termites hide underground and aren’t seen often, but they are there. Rock mulch seems to make the ground more hospitable to termites and less to ants.

Black widows love the cracks in the block wall fence. The easiest way to control them is to go out at night and squash or spray them.

Scorpions love to hide in organic leaf litter and grass thatch. I believe that having a native landscape instead of a lawn decreases scorpion habitat. One more reason to plant native!

Dead palo blanco

Plants that have failed (usually frozen)

Plant selection

My journey to a desert garden includes a few bumps. I am a fan of native plants only because I’ve tried some that aren’t native and I’ve been disappointed in the results. One reason I’ve killed so many plants is my elevation is higher than the central Phoenix valley and retailers sell plants that can’t tolerate frost. Here is a sampling of the plants I’ve killed and the reasons why.


Palo blanco

I had three Palo blancos that reached 12 feet tall when an extended (4 nights) of frost killed them. I decided not to try again because it is too hard to cover a large wispy tree to prevent frost damage. If you live somewhere without frost, these trees are lovely in groves.

Dead palo blanco


This ferny African tree dies to the ground at every frost. My husband wanted one badly enough to plant three before giving up. If you don’t mind it dying back and regrowing to look like a bush, you can try it.


Yellow bells

I have four yellow bells bushes that repeatedly die to the ground after frost and then regrow. I like them enough to allow them to stay in the ground. If one ever doesn’t regrow I won’t replant it.

Yellow bells blooming


We found hibiscus bushes on sale in the fall and planted three. The frost killed two of the three that winter. I cover the remaining one during frost, but it still dies back nearly to the ground.


I love the bright pink flowers but after my bougainvillea died to the ground two winters in a row, I didn’t want to continually retrain it every year. I also had it planted with low water plants and it needed extra watering, which I had to do by hand.




I tried a couple of lantana, but when they died to the ground the first winter I decided I didn’t want to bother with them. They are overused anyway. Another thing I didn’t like about lantana–they were always covered in tiny white flies.

Prickly pear

I over-watered one prickly pear that I transplanted. It had three arms that fell off the mother plant. I put each in pots and started new prickly pear. I didn’t feel bad about this one because I got three plants instead of one.

Design a garden that doesn’t need an irrigation system

Plant selection

It sounds like a challenge from a reality show: design a desert garden that can survive without irrigation. Obviously you need to use low-water plants. (Native plants make sense.) Utilize the runoff from your roof to provide water for your desert garden. You can sculpt berms and basins to guide the flow of water around your planting area. Plant in fall or winter to give everything a chance to get established before the heat hits. The first year or two you can water by hand with a hose to supplement the rain. My yard has areas on a drip system and areas off–it is interesting to experiment and see how the plants fare (once you are confident enough that you won’t kill them!).

Here are some plant choices suggested by Scott Calhoun:

Next to a basin


Ironwood, Western Soapberry, Desert Hackberry. I would add Foothills Palo Verde.


Baja fairy duster and pink fairy duster, Bee bush, Chiltepin, Desert honeysuckle, Desert lavender, Globemallow, Southwest coral bean

Other plants

Desert milkweed, Prairie zinnia, Sundrops, Trixis

Almost all cacti and agaves do well above a basin where their roots won’t ever sit in the water.

In a basin


Desert willow, Velvet mesquite


Apache plume, Arizona wild cotton, Limber bush, Mariola, Oreganillo, Wolfberry, Shrubby senna, Tarbush, Yellow bells

Other plants

Deer grass, Flattop buckwheat, Goodding’s verbenia, Penstemon, Sacred datura, Wright’s goldenrod.

Woolly butterfly bush

Toughest drought-tolerant plants for your desert garden

Plant selection, Plants

In order to maximize the number of plants in your garden without overloading your drip system, you may end up planting things that you expect to survive on their own. Luckily, there are some un-prissy plants that can do this. These survivors deserve a medal, instead of being overlooked and under-appreciated. After all, this is the desert! When I moved to Arizona, the house I bought had been vacant for two years and some of the plants in the yard were still alive. That is the kind of landscaping I want.


Natives: Foothills palo verde, Ironwood, Joshua tree

Non-natives: Catclaw acacia, Whitethorn acacia, Elephant tree (frost sensitive), Smoke tree.


Creosote bush, Desert holly, Four wing saltbush, Jojoba, Las Vegas buckwheat, Limber bush, Mormon tea, Pink fairy duster, Shadscale saltbush, Warnock condalia, White bursage, Yerba santa

Woolly butterfly bush

Woolly butterfly bush

Wildflowers, agaves, yuccas, others

Bahia, Desert sunflower, Prickly poppy, Variegated century plant, Bear grass, Banana yucca, Our Lord’s candle yucca, Candelilla, Slipper plant, Bush muhly grass, Medicinal aloe