Caliche is defined as a crust or a succession of crusts of calcium carbonate that form within or on top of stony soil in arid and semi-arid regions and is often combined with clay. Caliche is lacking in organic matter. Its crusting tendencies often prohibit drainage.
Utah serviceberry is a quite beautiful shrub extending from the Southwestern states northward throughout the Rocky Mountains and through various ecosystems between 4000 and 8000 ft in elevation. Deep green leaves, large oval shaped and toothed at the margins, many intricately branched, smooth gray to maroon bark. Large white flowers with five widely spaced petals open in May and June. Berries appear in the summer, ripening to pink, then red, then finally dark blue. Leaves turn red and orange in the fall.
Gayfeather is one of the High Plains jewels of autumn, sending up grasslike leaves or stalks that bloom gloriously in September and October to fuzzy purple spikes. At maturity, one plant can grow a dozen or more, size and number depending on rainfall amounts. Drier years, the stalks are few and short, but with monthly or twice a month watering, the plant displays much more vitality. The purple flowers contrast nicely with the many yellow flowers that bloom on the plains. Liatris punctata is the most drought tolerant of the genus.
Native wildflower that likes it lean and mean. Over watering and well amended soil will usually cause Blackfoot daisy to die a premature death, even for a short lived perennial, such as it is. It would be an ideal border plant, similar to alyssum, if not for its tendency to move about where it will (that is, die where you plant it and seed somewhere else). Still, it’s worth a try. Our Panhandle xeric gardens should never be without Blackfoot Daisy. In fact, once you plant Blackfoot daisy and let it seed, you should never be without it (and that’s a good thing).
Verbascums make a presence in the wildflower or cottage garden and mixed border, whether it be this common mullein, or another species with showier flowers. Verbascums can be either biennial or perennial, but will make enough seeds you’ll never be without. Some are drought tolerant and thrive in poor, but well drained soil, others may need medium water use and a richer soil.
Small but tough is Perky Sue. Woody base with thin short green leaves from which many stems shoot up to display many yellow daisy like flowers from April into fall. Many people know this plant by the genus name Hymenoxys, but has been changed to Tetraneuris in the last decade. There are a few relatives that look quite similar and are all equally valuable in the garden: T. acaulis and T. odorata.
Rounded mounds of green leaves on multi-forked stems put forth multitudes of fragrant purple/magenta flowers from summer into autumn. Flowers open in late afternoon (perhaps around four o'clock) and close in early morning. Cold hardy and heat and drought tolerant, after freezing in the fall, the top growth breaks away. Desert four o'clock emerges in the spring from a large root. Will not transplant well once established. Southwest native perennial is usually found in somewhat shaded areas.
Littleleaf mountain mahogany is the shortest of the mountain mahoganies usually sold. Small, narrow, leathery looking evergreen leaves on many intricate branches. Small yellow flowers in springtime and feathery seed plumes in the fall. The shrub is densely branched and slow growing.
Prairie verbena is one of my favorite plants, it is one of the first to bloom in the spring and one of the last to be affected by freezes in the fall. Small in stature, but it has my respect for giving so much with so little given (from me) in return. It's short lived, maybe just one year or three. Green, finely cut hairy leaves, with several branched stems that put on clusters of tiny lavender, purple, violet or pink flowers. Blooms from spring to fall. Readily reseeds, not invasively so. Its volunteer seedlings are easy to dig up and transplant.
Echinacea angustifolia is the herbal echinacea. Native throughout most of the Midwest, and the Texas Panhandle. Very drought tolerant. It can be seen growing along roadsides and in nature generally. A good cut flower. The common name Black Samson refers to its roots. Not as showy as E. purpurea and newer introductions.
Lower growing Southwestern native shrub, both cold and heat tolerant. Finely cut greenish silver leaves. Flower stalks with insignificant flowers. Grows best in soils with good drainage. Will grow in heavy clay soil if grown among grasses.
You can't have just one. As soon as you plant one, you'll have a drift, then a sweep, then a field if you have the space. But I still don't consider the prairie coneflower to be invasive, merely pleasant. Next to the Indian Blanket, the Mexican Hat shouts Southwest prairies. And its a tough hombre. If your stand becomes too dense or too much, just weed some out. They're adaptable to most native soils and will thrive on available or once a month supplementation. Coneflowers bloom yellow, reddish or brown late spring into fall and make an attractive display when mixed.
Virginia creeper, one of our pernicious native creepers, is a worthy low care vine for brilliant fall foliage and deep blue berries (highly toxic to humans) loved by birds. Virginia creeper normally spread by seeds in bird droppings, which is the method it came to my landscape. When spotted early, Virginia creeper easily pulls out, but if not spotted, within no time, it will cover a fence, climb a pole or cover an area. Which can be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on one's view.
Mountain mahogany is native to the Texas Panhandle and throughout the Southwest, found in elevations from 3000-9500 ft. Another common name is Alderleaf mountain mahogany, because its leaves resemble that of an alder. Mountain mahogany, whose wood is very hard (Palo Duro) is found in Palo Duro Canyon. Extremely drought tolerant, it will survive on 10 inches of rainfall. An aromatic shrub with shredding reddish bark, but can grow to tree size. Mountain mahogany's flowers are small, rayless and insignificant, as they are in the other species.
Beautiful xeric sage with aromatic soft gray green leaves, mostly evergreen. Summer to fall blooming with mauve/purple sticky but fragrant flowers. Takes a few years to reach mature height. Requires good drainage and dry soil in the winter. A Plant Select® Plant. Native to California and will grow in the High Desert regions. Cold hardy to Zone 5 and quite heat tolerant.
A mid height grass suitable for any low water-use garden, city or country. It does self-seed somewhat, but I hadn’t noticed it to be a problem in a xeric setting (simply remove or transplant them). It's greatest attribute is it's gently flowing nature int he wind. It is native to Texas and the southwest. I saw it growing along the slopes of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. It pairs well with yucca, agave, Calylophus and any native shrub.
Black dalea, an autumn blooming southwest native shrub, should be used more in the home xeric landscape. Growing only to about 3 feet, black dalea spreads out with thin, wiry branches and small, green, compound leaves. The shrub becomes completely covered with tiny purple flowers as to be enshrouded in a purple cloud.
Many references are unsure of its cold hardiness to zero, and it had thrived nicely in my city garden in Amarillo. However, it does not seem to be reliably cold hardy. It's a beautiful shrub that provides stunning late fall color that is worth replanting.
Mexican blue sage is a native of Mexico and in many references labels it cold hardy to USDA Zone 8, however, it has wintered over in Amarillo many years now, even in full northern exposure. It has died back to the ground once or twice, but comes back up from the roots. If good to well drained soil is provided, it should do fine. And I hope you can provide that, as Mexican blue sage is one of my top plants to include in xeric gardens. True bright blue flowers bloom summer and fall with once a month watering. Butterflies are attracted to it. Indispensable.
Texas, or scarlet sage is a perennial to the Southern U.S. and Texas. In the Texas Panhandle, it is sold as a bedding plant, since it is not cold hardy. Some varieties will come back due to re-seeding. Many varieties are available, some are more drought tolerant than others, such as 'Forest Fire', while 'Lady in Red' requires medium water-use beds. Summer long blooming, choose your color among scarlet, red, rose, pink, coral and white. As with most sages, hummingbirds, butterflies and bees are attracted to them.
Ephedra minimus is a dwarf version of E. viridis. Woody base with many thin, branched evergreen stems. Rare to find in nurseries, it is appreciated for is evergreen presence and rarity. No leaves or flowers
Golden sulfur buckwheat is one of those plants you'll come across while hiking in the West and wonder why it isn't in your garden, its so adorable!
The leaves are gray-green, spatula shaped and woolly underneath, to about 2-3 inches. They form a rosette at the base. In early spring, tall, stout stems extend upward up to 2-3 feet. The bright golden flowers are nearly luminescent, appearing first as ball-like umbels (clusters), then each ball opening up to a circle of golden flowers. As the flowers age, then turn orange.
Drought tolerant perennial with white cup shaped blooms usually found growing in poor soils. I planted it in heavily amended soil, and I think it was too rich for it. It was eaten up during the heat of the summer by flea beetles. I thought the too rich soil was the cause; however, Judith Phillips in Plants For Natural Gardens, wrote about this same occurrence in native soils. Phillips hypothesized this may be a way for tufted evening primrose to escape summer’s heat. However, my plant died, rather than just going to ground.
If you find yourself in Palo Duro Canyon at the end of April or beginning of May, the purple haze dotting the cliffsides is feather dalea. Sporadic blooms will open after showers throughout summer, though never as profuse as in springtime. With monthly irrigation in a xeric garden, feather dalea adds color and texture with it's twiggy, but sturdy, appearance. Small purple flowers combined with white plumes carries the haze impression from a distance.
Shadscale lives in alkaline caliche soil in most of its native range throughout the Southwest and has a high tolerance of saline or sodic soils. Given improved soil conditions, it will grow larger. Do not improve the soil to insure it keeps its neat, compact shape. Shadscale blooms yellow flowers in early summer which mature into seed heads. Its silver-gray leaves are semi-evergreen.
Purple or desert sage prefers leaner, quick draining soils. It is said to grow 2-3 feet tall and deeply branched with silver gray foliage and a profusion of violet bluish flowers atop spikes in late spring and summer. Low water-use, but does better with once a month irrigation. One of the finest flowers of the desert, it is the sage of Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey. Grows throughout the Great Basin Desert.
Turpentine shrub is an evergreen shrub native to the southern parts of the Southwest, and only marginally cold hardy on the Caprock. It will survive when in a sheltered location and soil with excellent drainage, along rocky cliffs, outcrops and arroyos. Avoid compact clay soil, or amend clay soil very well for drainage with inorganic amendments. Yellow autumn flowers.