The desert can seem like an inhospitable growing environment, but those who live there know differently. Cactus, succulents, wildflowers, grasses and trees still proliferate where moisture is scarce, providing eye-catching shapes and colors. If the desert is your dwelling, incorporate native plants into your landscape for easier growth and care, but ensure the soil drains well before you plant. DesertUSA.com suggests replacing heavier clay soils with a lighter soil that drains easier and using walls and other structures to provide shelter and funnel more water to plants.
Grow a Joshua tree as a landscape focal point. The largest of all yucca varieties, it has a twisting trunk and branches punctuated by palm-like leaf clusters at the tips. It grows at elevations from 2,000 to 6,000 feet and is found in the Mojave Desert in California, and in Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Cultivate it in dry soil. Germinate a seed in a wet medium and keep growing the young plant in a tall “pot,” like a PVC pipe, to prepare the root system, or transplant a young tree. Joshua Trees take several years to develop their distinctive appearance. Certain transplants have been known to grow 5 feet in one decade.
Showy milkweed, like other plants of the same species, are desert perennials, found from Canada to Texas, that attract butterflies. They grow from 3 to 6 feet tall. The rose-colored flowers grow in a five-point star pattern, appear in clusters and feature slits that contain pollen sacks. Monarchs lay their larvae on the undersides of plants and the larvae consumes the foliage, which is toxic, to make themselves less tasty to predators. Sow the seeds that have been moist stratified for three months at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the late fall or early spring. Plant them in full sun and well-drained soil and keep the plants moderately watered.
This slender annual herb has little foliage but bright yellow flowers atop multiple-branching stems. These flowers bloom February to May and are found in desolate stretches along roadsides and mesas in Arizona, Nevada, California and Utah where the weather is notoriously hot and dry. Sow desert sunflower seeds in full sun and in well-drained, sandy soil.
Organ Pipe Cactus
Organ pipe cactus is a classic desert plant that grows up to 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide. A ribbed evergreen, it has erect green stems separated into various sections, and is covered in spiny clusters. Its white flowers bloom at night in the spring and summer, and its red fruit that is between 2 and 3 feet long is edible. Plant organ pipe cactus in well-drained soil and in full sun. Cultivate seeds or rooted cuttings. Protect the plants from frost, which damages the growing tips.