Top 5 Shrub Choices

by Mike Dooley

Top 5 Shrub Choices for High Desert Gardening by Mike DooleyPicking the top five shrubs for the high desert brings lots of controversy to the table. Everyone has their favorites. I pick for toughness and year round appeal. For example, I eliminate lavender — even though it is certainly more beautiful and fragrant than a nandina. But a hybrid nandina is much tougher and looks much better than lavender in the winter.

The average homeowner is looking for a carefree year-round shrub and the following plants fit the bill.

Fern Bush. I love the fact that the individual leaves look like ferns and it blooms white spikes in the early summer. Used in full to part sun, it will get about four feet high by four feet wide and loses its leaves in the winter.

Upright Rosemary. I have lost “prostrate” rosemary to freezing conditions and no longer recommend it in my designs. The upright varieties are evergreen. Upright rosemary gets three feet tall by four feet wide at maturity. The sky-blue flowers in early spring only add to the wonderful fragrance of the foliage.

Hybrid Nandina. Nandina from years gone by got very “leggy” over time and has been replaced by the much fuller hybrids. This evergreen shrub will take full sun or shade and it is one of the few plants that will attain a little height (three to five feet tall) but only gets two feet wide without having to prune it. Look for “gulfstream,” “moonbay,” “firepower” and “compacta” as the best varieties.

Dwarf Indian Hawthorn. Very easy to grow with minimal pruning IF you grow the dwarf varieties. Hawthorns are pink or white spring bloomers. “Ballerina” is my pick because it is only three feet tall at maturity but it will get five feet wide. This plant is surprisingly drought tolerant when established.

Apache Plume. Not that great in the winter but a true native to the high desert. Apache Plume is related to roses and produces a white “rose like” bloom in spring.

Happy Gardening!