Plants, whether native or non-native once established, that thrive with supplemental irrigation of one inch per month during the growing season under average climate conditions in clay soil if that amount of moisture has not been received.
A good drought tolerant ground cover for use in a border, in a xeristrip or a rock garden. Evergreen grayish green leaves with fine hairs (tomentose). Will grow too tall and gangling in too rich and moist a soil. Some areas of the country have noted Cerastium tomentosum to be invasive, but I have not seen those tendencies here. A good substitute for the annual alyssium. Cerastium tomentosum var. columnae is a commonly available variety.
Russian sage is a must have shrub for every low water-use landscape. Russian sage is used extensively throughout our southwest landscapes, planted along with Buddleia, Carl Forester Reed Grass, Salvia greggii cultivars, Anisacanthus quadrifidis wrightii and Hesperaloe parviflora. It is hard to beat its use where a long flowering, showy, low care, drought tolerant shrub is needed.
Nandina is one of a few single species genera, a member of the barberry family (Berberidaceae). Though one species, several cultivars are available to add texture and interest to our low maintenance, low water-use landscape in either sun or shade. I plant mine in full shade, as there are few shrubs that will flower there. I personally favor protecting Nandina with afternoon shade, if planted in a sunny location.
Dark green, semi-evergreen aromatic leaves are the feature most prized, along with the tiny yellow daisy-like flowers that bloom spring to fall. Damianita prefers full sun and lean soil and does well in heat and temperatures to zero degrees. Daminaita will lose its leaves in cold winters.
Santa Fe phlox is rarely available even at native plant nurseries, but when it is, don't pass it up. Sun loving and drought tolerant, the Santa Fe phlox blooms late spring throughout the summer with once a month watering. Five petaled, small pink flowers about an inch across with a small white eye can cover the plant. Native to canyons, mesas, and rocky desert slopes from West Texas to southeastern Arizona and into northern Mexico. Seeds of the phlox pop out when they are mature, making seed collection and propagation difficult.
Gregg's mist flower is a Southwest native for the partly shaded bed medium to low water-use bed. It's a butterfly magnet, particularly for the Monarch butterfly which passes through about the same time the mist flower is bloom in late summer into fall. Masses of lavender blue flowers top the plant for which it gets it names, the appearance of blue mist. Frequently, butterflies will be seen topping the flowers. Gregg's mist flowers will spread by roots, allow it some room.
Blue grama grass is a short, clumping warm season grass with thin blue green blades that is native throughout the Great Plains and Southwest. Able to grow in poor, dry soils, blue grama grass needs only about 12 inches of annual precipitation to survive. If seeded thick enough and with moderate irrigation, blue grama will form turf. Once establish, reduce to monthly supplemental irrigation, and mow not more frequently than monthly to a height of 4 inches. One advantage of blue grama over buffalograss is the speed of germination; it will germinate in 5-7 days.
Lavender cotton, or gray santolina is a low mounding woody subshrub that should live on the lean side. Not that it won't overgrow if fed. It will maintain its compact shape in poorer soils without amending or fertilizing. Small silver gray leaves cover the shrub. Tiny yellow button flowers appear in summer. Evergreen, the santolinas are native to the Mediterranean area. Aromatic and edible, it's leaves were used as a flavoring in broths, sauces and grain dishes. Low water-use.
Mat daisy is a low growing spring blooming plant. Drought tolerant. Not exactly a groundcover, as the top growth disappears during summer and reemerges as a green basal rosette in fall, getting ready to bloom again in the spring. Blooms late March to May with small white daisy-like flowers that have pink undersides. Forms a compact ground-hugging mat. Will self seed some, but never invasively.
The old fashioned larkspur is a drought tolerant reseeding annual, previously associated with delphiniums (now in the Ranunculaceae family). I’ve grown it in my alley, in the xeristrip, and its crept into my medium water-use zone. Deadheading keeps millions of tiny seeds from overcoming your garden next year, and also keeps the blooms coming. Larkspur can flower for six weeks. Again, deadheading is important to prevent a massive infestation throughout your landscape.
Mock orange is one of those versatile old garden shrubs you can place almost anywhere; it will even flower in deep shade. Fragrant single pure white flowers in spring that may reoccur in the fall with a much lesser show. Drought tolerant once established. The versatility and fragrance must certainly be the reasons gardeners choose mock orange, it certainly isn’t for its irregular shape. I’m afraid I haven’t shown it much respect, allowing its mostly shady corner to be littered with gardener’s menagerie of plastic pots and unused brick-o-brack.
Low growing, drought tolerant evergreen groundcover that becomes covered in tiny sky blue flowers in early spring for about 6 weeks, then sporadically throughout the year. I’ve seen a few twinkling blue blooms in every month of the year. The tiny leaves of V. pectinata are gray-green and tomentose. Allow plenty of room for the spread of this fabulous groundcover; it’ll just keep going and going and going. And you won’t want it to stop.
I prefer dwarf chamisa to the full size species. Dwarf Chamisa fits better into home xeric areas and has green leaves, rather than gray or silvery. It's silvery stems combine well with its green foliage and yellow gold flowers. Although given the species and variety name "nauseosus" it has a pleasant fragrance. Dwarf chamisa blooms profusely in late summer and will readily re-seed.
The Arizona rosewood is classified either as a quite tall shrub or short to mid height tree. One of it's best features is that it is evergreen, with slender glossy green leaves approximately 3 inches long. It puts on small white flowers in summer. One of the few drought tolerant, native, evergreen trees available in the trade. Slow growing.
Cypress vine is a native annual tropical vine of the Americas, but has naturalized in Florida and the Gulf Coast areas; said to be cold hardy to Zone 6. Fine lacy or thread-like leaves twine as it grows, putting on scarlet red flowers in summer. In addition to being a climber, it can be used as a groundcover.
Buffalograss is North America's only native turfgrass, grows well in clay soils. A warm season grass that spreads by stolons, it is our best selection for low water-use lawns. It will survive very nicely on 15-20 inches of annual precipitation. For green turf summer long, a once a month watering is all that is needed. The common species is short to 4-8 inches, light gray/green to blue/green and goes dormant in fall, greening up again in May. Many newer varieties are being developed for wider blades and deeper green colors, such as Legacy® and Turffalo®.
Green santolina is an evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region. Its grass-green color makes it a welcome addition to any landscape. Medium and low water use, cold hardy, sun and heat tolerant, it prefers poorer soil. Aromatic green leaves that resemble those of the cypress. Yellow button flowers in summer.
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 terrific variety for the prairie garden, though requiring prairie conditions -- good soil with good drainage and more frequent watering than our native, E. angustifolia. Coneflowers are all the rage right now with many new introductions every year, ranging from white, yellow, orange to the popular purple. Most of these should be located in your medium to high water-use area. The richer the soil and with weekly watering (high), you'll enjoy grander blooms. A good border plant in the transition area between turf and medium water-use. E.
This variety of cinquefoil has grown in my xeristrip for six years and flowers happily from late spring into fall, with moderate flowering during the heat of the summer. Will put on a new show of flowers after summer rain. It maintains a compact shape without pruning or any maintenance.
There are many other varieties of this wonderful North American native that grows throughout the Rocky Mountains. Other varieties require moderate watering. This variety was purchased from High Country Gardens; I have not seen this truly drought tolerant variety again.
If I had to pick my favorite plant, this is it. Long blooming and drought tolerant with only minimal maintenance of late winter cutting back, and maybe a bloom pick-me-up deadheading at mid summer. It will also re seed some so you’ll have more of them the next year. It’s fragrance is light and pleasantly of sage. Salvia greggiis are native to Texas in the Kerrville area. It is my favorite, but not the absolutely perfect plant. The stems are quite brittle and very easily break or snap off, even when you’re carefully weeding around it.
Most notable in the meadows and fields of California, the California poppy grows throughout the southwest. Considered to be both annual and perennial, it either comes back the next year or it reseeds. Once you have a stand established, it should continue in your landscape, but not invasively so. This past summer of 2012, my California poppies bloomed in both the spring and our unusual fall. Blooms in April and May. Finely cut blue-green foliage make an attract plant outside the bloom period. The foliage should die back in summer.
Arizona rosewood is one of the few native evergreen trees or tall shrubs that are low water-use. Underused in the Texas Panhandle, mostly due to lack of availability. But with searching in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, one should be able to locate a specimen. Faster growing than the Chisos rosewood. Long slender, serrated, glossy green leaves with white flowers in summer.
Lantana urticoides (horrida) is a native perennial, and cold hardy for most of the state, except for areas in the Texas Panhandle. In the Panhandle, several species of Lantana are sold as summer bedding plants. Blooms prolifically summer and fall. Colors normally available are red, red and yellow, yellow, white and purple or mauve. In rare cases they may winter over. In areas south, lantana will grow into a shrub. The blue/black fruit clusters are poisonous.
Sand lovegrass is a warm season bunch grass typically found in sandy soils east of the Rockies over a wide range of the U.S. The grass clumps themselves are usually 12-18" tall with the plumes rising to 3-4 feet. Will grow in clay and poorer soils. Very pleasing wispy, arching habit with a soft sway and rustle in the wind. Can grow in partial shade. Seed heads are somewhat purple, fine textured. Will reseed. Low or no water-use.