The Best Plants for a Southwest Garden

Gardening is Easier When You Have the Right Plants

Gardening in Las Vegas can be difficult because of the heat. There are certain plants that I have found, over the years and through trial and error, grow well in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is considered Zone 9 for cold-hardiness. I will discuss the Cold-hardiness Zone Map in a moment. Unfortunately, many of the plants that were originally planted when we landscaped the backyard either didn’t survive the extreme heat of the summer or the sudden cold in the winter. So, in this article I discuss best plants for Southwest Gardens.

Cold-hardiness zone designations were developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to indicate the minimum average temperature for an area. A zone assigned to an individual plant indicates the lowest temperature at which the plant can be expected to survive over the winter. Of course, these zone designations are a guide and there are some plants that didn’t survive the summer even though they were zoned for Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is in Zone 9 which means plants that will survive best in Las Vegas can endure average minimum temperatures of 25 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I will now discuss the plants that I have had the most success with.

Plants that Work Well in My Garden

Centennial Broom can become a large plant unless it is pruned often. It mounds and spreads and can tolerate the heat, which makes is work well in Las Vegas. It is a ground cover and is bright-green in color. In the fall it has white blooms that look a bit like cotton. When everything else, except the weeds of course, isn’t doing well, the Centennial Broom is thriving.

In Las Vegas, there are a lot of palm trees. I chose the Mediterranean Fan Palm for my garden. It doesn’t get very tall and grows well in the heat. The Mediterranean Fan Palm can have one or many trunks. I personally like one trunk so I have to constantly trim the multiple trunks that begin to grow at the base of the tree. Another benefit is that the Mediterranean Fan Palm doesn’t require a lot of water, one thing that is scarce in the desert. So, not only do you have to make sure your plants will survive the heat and the cold in the desert, but you also have to consider the drought.

Roses also do very well in my garden and, Martha Stewart wasn’t kidding when she said, Epsom salts work well at fertilizing roses. One thing I have learned is to cut the dead blooms off of my rosebushes to make room for new ones.

Pruning is Important

I take time to prune everything in my yard just before Spring and again before Winter. This keeps my garden from becoming overgrown and gives the plants a clean canvas to grown new and fresh foliage and blooms. I believe that if you get rid of the old, you make room for the new. A great example of this is seen on rosebushes … if you pluck away the old roses that have bloomed and shriveled, it makes room for a new rose to grow in its place. It is important to prune trees and shrubs also to allow the sunlight to shine on the branches which help it thrive.

Heavenly bamboo is another of my favorite plants that does very well in the extreme heat of Las Vegas. Despite its name, it is not bamboo. It is actually Nandina demestica if you want the technical name. Berries come out in the spring and turn shiny red in the fall. It can grow to 6 feet tall and, like most other plants in my garden, don’t need much water and can withstand the extreme heat.

A lot of my garden includes mock orange plants which serve as shrubs and are planted throughout the garden. They produce yellow, creamy-white flower clusters which smell like oranges when they are blooming.

Fertilizing is Important Too

I can’t say enough about Miracle Grow which I use in the Spring and Fall to feed, as well as fertilize, my garden. I also have red-tip photinia bushes planted throughout my garden. In the fall, the new foliage is red and they do very well in my garden. They get large enough to use as a hedge on the back wall.

Rosemary is another plant that grows well in Las Vegas. It does have to be pruned often or it can get big and out of control. Bees love rosemary so aware that there will be lots of bees that admire your rosemary bushes.

In addition to the Mediterranean Fan Palms, I have two plum (non-fruit bearing) trees as well as a Swan Hill Olive tree, which is the focus of my backyard. The Olive tree is also non-fruit bearing. They are all doing very well and grow slowly so they don’t need to be pruned as often as some of the other plants in my garden. I avoid perennials or plants that lose their leaves in the winter because the winter is even gloomier when the trees have no leaves and everything cold and bleak.

I have had some plants that didn’t do well, however, like the Butterfly Bush. They are really pretty and when they bloom, like their name suggests, they attract butterflies. But, they didn’t do well in my garden.

Gardening for Stress Relief

Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has been injecting mice with Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil, and has found that they increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood — much like serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs do. That explains why I feel so happy after working in the garden.

So, I encourage everyone to garden and, if you are gardening in Las Vegas or other hot and dry climates, do some research and plant the plants that will do best in your garden. When doing research, I highly recommend anything written by Linn Mills.

Centennial Broom
Mediterranean Fan Palm
Swan Hill Olive
Mock Orange
Rose Bush