Gardening in the Desert Southwest

Gardening in the desert southwest presents its own set of challenges and rewards. At Modern Botanicals, you’ll find expert staff, sound advice and the answers to all your desert landscaping questions with our one-stop resource designed to help and support you. Here, you’ll find everything you need from our gardening and horticulture specialists who are dedicated to:

  • Supporting the Garden’s commitment to the community
  • Conserving desert plants of the world with an emphasis on the Southwest
  • Educating the community about good gardening practices
  • Providing a resource that can help people tackle desert landscaping issues

Keep your desert landscaping looking healthy and vibrant all year long with resources from the Garden:

Gardening Tips from the Experts


The spring blooming season is coming to an end as the temperatures begin to increase and the impending summer is fast approaching. Many spring-blooming annual wildflowers have expired and gone to seed. You can collect the seed and store in paper bags until fall or allow plants to reseed in the landscape. Rake up the departed annuals or cut back rather than pulling from the ground. By doing this, you will not disturb the soil and will allow the remaining root system to decompose.

Leaves of the Boojum Tree (Fouquieria columnaris) and Elephant Tree (Pachycormus discolor) will continue to yellow and drop. The Boojum Tree and Elephant Tree are summer-dormant. Periods of active growth begin from about November through May. When the leaves of both succulents begin to drop, less water is needed.

Many other winter-growing succulents including Live Forever (Dudleya saxosa ssp. collomiae), Succulent Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), Iceplants (Malephora spp., Drosanthemum spp., Cephalophyllum spp.), Living Stones (Lithops spp.) and crassulaceous plants (Kalanchoe spp., Cotyledonspp., Echeveria spp.) will also begin to drop their leaves or shrink in size. These summer-dormant succulents need to be watered less during the summer months.

The iconic Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) and the majestic Ironwood (Olneya tesota) will be blooming. The Saguaro flowers open in the evening and will remain open throughout the following day. Many animals and insects are attracted to the white, fruit-scented flowers. The Ironwood will produce blush pink to white, pea-like flowers that are also sweetly scented and attractive to many animals and insects.

Many Elephant Trees (Bursera spp.) will be producing new leaves throughout the warm months. If damaged by a previous frost, wait until new leaves appear before pruning.

Karoo Roses (Adenium spp.) should be “waking” from their winter dormancy. Leaves and flowers should start appearing on the succulent stems. You can water and fertilize your Karoo Rose throughout the warm season.

Other winter-dormant succulents that should be exhibiting renewed growth with increasingly warmer weather include,  Limberbushes (Jatrophaspp., Uncarina spp., Pachypodium spp., Fockea spp., Adenia spp., Cyphostemma juttae), Carrion Flower (Stapelia spp.), Madagascar-ocotillo (Alluaudia procera), and Globeberries (Ibervillea spp.). Allow your succulent plants to produce new stems and/or leaves to determine whether or not any pruning of frost damaged stems will be needed. Regular and careful watering can resume for many of the warm-season growing succulents.

Plant your Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) from March through May as these are the ideal months to achieve greater transplanting success.

Look for signs of water stress exhibited in cacti and warm-season growing succulents. A few symptoms to look for include:  shriveled or shrinking stems and/or leaves, pale green to yellow epidermis (skin) and in the case of many Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.), wilted or limp stems and fallen pads. See the watering section below to find out how to water your cacti and warm-season growing succulent plants.  Keep in mind there are winter-growing succulents that can exhibit the signs of water stress but are actually going dormant for the summer season. It is imperative you do not overwater these winter-growing succulents during this time.

If you have not applied organic mulch to your vegetable and herb beds, now is the time to do so. Applying a layer of composted mulch can help conserve moisture thus requiring less watering during the summer months.

• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

• Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata)

• Pineleaf Milkweed (Asclepias linaria)

• Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

• Paperflower (Psilostrophe cooperi)

• Desert Senna (Senna covesii)

• Arizona Foldwing (Dicliptera resupinata)

• Dogweed (Thymophylla pentachaeta)

• Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

• Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)

• Desert Four O’clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

• Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

• Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)

• Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

• Blanket Flower (Gaillardia pulchella)

• Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica)

• Desert Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)

• Marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa)

• Yellow Dots (Sphagneticola trilobata)

• Coral Fountain (Russelia equisetiformis)

• Plumbago (Plumbago scandens)

• White Woolly Twintip (Stemodia durantifolia)

• Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea)

• Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

• Desert Zinnia (Zinnia acerosa)

• Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus)

• Arizona Grape Ivy (Cissus trifoliata)

• Yuca (Merremia aurea)

• Yellow Orchid-vine (Callaeum macropterum)

• Passionflowers (Passiflora spp.)

• Old Man’s Beard (Clematis drummondii)

• Snapdragon-vine (Maurandella antirrhiniflora)

• Fern Acacia (Acaciella angustissima syn. Acacia angustissima)

• Oreganillo (Aloysia wrightii)

• Beebrush (Aloysia gratissima)

• Flame Anisacanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii)

• Woolly Butterfly Bush (Buddleja marrubiifolia)

• Showy Menodora (Menodora longiflora)

• Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)

• Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

• Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

• Tree Ocotillo (Fouquieria macdougalii)

• Little-leaf Cordia (Cordia parvifolia)

• Silver Dalea (Dalea bicolor)

• San Marcos Hibiscus (Gossypium harknessii)

• Yellow Bells (Tecoma spp.)

• Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

• Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

• Sugar Sumac (Rhus ovata)

• Guayacán (Guaiacum coulteri)

• Fire Bush (Hamelia patens)

• Graythorn (Ziziphus obtusifolia)

• Flattop Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)

• Bush Germander (Teucrium fruticans)

• Mexican-honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)

• Mexican-oregano (Lippia graveolens)

• Sweet Almond Verbena (Aloysia virgata)

• Silver Nightshade (Solanum hindsianum)

• Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)

• Rock-rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

• Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha maderensis)

• Arizona Rosewood (Vauquelinia californica)

• Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

• Catclaw Acacia (Senegalia greggii  syn. Acacia greggii)

• Crucifixion Thorn (Canotia holacantha)

• Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis)

• Bitterleaf Condalia (Condalia globosa)

• Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa)

• Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens)

• Palo Blanco (Lysiloma candidum)

• Texas-olive (Cordia boissieri)

• Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

• Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina)

• Whitethorn Acacia (Vachellia constricta syn. Acacia constricta)

• Smoke Tree (Psorothamnus spinosus)

• Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)

• Golden Leadball Tree (Leucaena retusa).

• Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)

• Horse Crippler (Echinocactus texensis)

• Engelmann’s Hedgehog (Echinocereus engelmannii)

• Claret-cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

• Green Hedgehog (Echinocereus viridiflorus)

• Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus)

• Pencil Cholla (Cylindropuntia arbuscula)

• Teddy-bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

• Santa Rita Prickly-pear (Opuntia santa-rita)

• Arrastradillo (Opuntia stenopetala)

• Grizzly Bear Cactus (Opuntia polyacantha var. erinacea)

• Indian Fig (Opuntia ficus-indica)

• Christmas Cholla (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis)

• Diamond Cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)

• Buckhorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)

• Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor)

• Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata)

• Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei)

• Sina (Stenocereus alamosensis)

• Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

• Coast Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus viridescens var. viridescens)

• Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)

• Senita (Pachycereus schottii)

• Organ Pipe (Stenocereus thurberi)

• Common Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria tetrancistra)

• Mammillaria albicans

• Mammillaria blossfeldiana

• Mammillaria guelzowiana

• Straw-spine Cactus (Thelocactus bicolor)

• Snowball Cactus (Mammilloydia candida)

• Arizona Beehive Cactus (Escobaria vivipara)

• Bishop’s Cap (Astrophytum myriostigma)

• Cleistocactus spp.

• Easter Lilies (Echinopsis spp.)

• Torch Cactus (Echinopsis candicans)

• Desert Agave (Agave deserti)

• Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata)

• Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

• Mohave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)

• Our Lord’s Candle (Yucca whipplei)

• Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)

• Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

• Sotols (Dasylirion spp.)

• Giant Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera)

• Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

• Manfredas (Manfreda spp.)

• Beargrasses (Nolina spp.)

• Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

• Euphorbia xantii

• Globeberry (Ibervillea tenuisecta)