Consider Going Native (Plants, That Is)

Bonnie Nowicki

The hot, dry weather is here. As we stroll through our yards and think of possible changes or additions, perhaps going native would work in a particular area of our landscape. Native plants or plants from other desert regions are adapted to withstand long, dry periods. When planting native or desert-adapted plants, there is no reason to amend the soil in an effort to improve the root environment. Native shrubs such as the tough, waxy leaves of the creosote bush, the hairy leaves of the brittlebush, and the thick outer coating and spines on cacti are adaptations to their environment. All adaptations help reduce moisture loss. Most desert plants are light green or grey to reflect sunlight. Also, angled leaves or pleated ribs and spines usually cast enough of a shadow to prevent sunburn.

Native trees such as desert willow, palo verde, ironwood, and mesquite often have a multiple trunk structure that is attractive in the landscape, and most are legumes (producing a bean or peapod). Here’s a quick chemistry tidbit: Our atmosphere is almost 80 percent nitrogen and must be converted or “fixed” into a form available for plants to use. Non-desert plants obtain their  fixed nitrogen from the soil. Most legumes and a soil bacteria (rhizobium) work together to create usable nitrogen. The bacteria enters the roots and feeds on the sap, which forms nodules on the roots, which provides nitrogen to the plant.

A few native desert plant suggestions are San Marcos hibiscus (Gossypium harknessii), 3 feet by 4 feet rounded evergreen shrub with yellow flowers; violet silverleaf (Leucophyllum candidum), 3 feet by 3 feet mounding evergreen with deep violet flowers; and Langman’s sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae), 5 feet by 5 feet dense, rounded evergreen with significant lavender summer flowers.

If you are really serious about going native, xeriscaping may be for you. It takes a holistic approach to landscape water conservation. It stresses the use of native and drought-tolerant plants and involves proper planning, design, and maintenance. Look into many online resources. Happy gardening, dear Quail Creek residents.