Southwest Regional Reports

Shopping-List Plants for the Southwest

If you’ve run into a garden rut, we’ve got you covered. It’s time to start planning for your first trip to the local nursery or garden center. What plants will you need for a new garden area? Are you noticing a lack of excitement or color outside (we call this the mid-spring slump)? Just itching for an exciting new addition to a well-established bed? Now is the time to make a list of the perennials, shrubs, and/or trees that will fill those needs.

To help you make the best choices, we’ve asked regional garden experts to tell us what plants are on their spring shopping lists. These plants serve a range of purposes in the garden, but all are region-specific stars. From out-of-this-world flowers to show-stopping foliage and everything in between, discover fantastic plants that would be a welcome addition to any garden in the region.

Find great shopping-list plants for the Southwest below, and check out this comprehensive collection of articles to discover more springtime planting and planning inspiration.


1. ‘Margarita BOP’ foothill penstemon

Margarita Bop foothill penstemon

Name: Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’

Zones: 5b–10

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Native range: California

One of the most popular California-native penstemons in cultivation, ‘Margarita BOP’ is extremely versatile and is used in a wide variety of garden conditions. It flowers in spring, but with a little extra water it will flower through summer. The blooms are electric blue to purple depending on soil pH; alkaline soil produces purple blossoms, and more-acidic soil produces blue. Deadheading encourages more flowering. With an abundance of vibrant blooms, ‘Margarita BOP’ provides the perfect pop of color for any southwestern garden. And this spectacular penstemon is just as popular with hummingbirds as it is with gardeners.


2. Pointleaf manzanita

Pointleaf manzanita

Name: Arctostaphylos pungens

Zones: 5–10

Size: 5 to 10 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Native range: Southwestern United States, Mexico

Pointleaf manzanita is a striking silver-leaved shrub with stunning red bark. With a unique, columnar form, this manzanita is a great option for long and narrow planting beds where a taller shrub is required but not a lot of width is available. Its upright shape also places its shiny red bark on full display. During winter this shrub has clusters of delicate white flowers, making it a great nectar source for pollinators (including hummingbirds) during the coldest months when food sources are few and far between. Like most manzanitas, this plant needs little to no maintenance. It looks clean and tidy year-round.


3. Desert globemallow

Desert globemallow

Name: Sphaeralcea ambigua

Zones: 6–10

Size: 2 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Native range: Southwestern United States, northwestern Mexico

This midsize native perennial has soft gray foliage, and its flowers can add a bright spot of color to a hot xeric garden. Desert globemallow has a long flowering period, with blooms lasting all year in mild winter climates. Native to the desert, this mallow prefers dry soil whether sandy or clay, and it thrives in extreme heat with occasional monsoonal rainfall. In the garden, it appreciates a little summer irrigation to be at its best, and it is easily managed with occasional deadheading. Additionally, this perennial’s cheerful orange blossoms are great for attracting pollinators.


4. ‘Celestial Blue’ salvia

Celestial Blue salvia

Name: Salvia ‘Celestial Blue’

Zones: 7–11

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Native range: Hybrid of Southwest-native species

This salvia is an eye-catching hybrid between Cleveland sage (S. clevelandii, Zones 8b–11), which is native to the mild Californian coast, and rose sage (S. pachyphylla, Zones 5–9), which hails from the rocky crags of the southwestern high desert. ‘Celestial Blue’ combines the best of both salvias’ environmental tolerances. It thrives in garden conditions but can also tolerate cold, heat, drought, and most soil types. Its stunning blue and purple flowers emerge in summer, attracting hummingbirds as well as butterflies and other pollinators. This cultivar’s silver foliage has a unique fragrance and is deer resistant. You can cut the blossoms back when they finish blooming, but remember to leave some stubble for pollinators that use the stalks for overwintering.

Penny Nyunt is a biologist for Las Pilitas Nursery in Santa Margarita, California.

Photos: courtesy of Penny Nyunt

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