No-Fail Perennials of the Southwest

Beloved, hardy, low-maintenance pass-along plants are the best friend-makers a gardener can grow.

By Felder Rushing and Kelly Roberson


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Optunia
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    Every region has its share of extra-easy plants. These time-tested favorites have become classics of country and cottage gardens and are full of heirloom charm. Pick these perennials and you can enjoy a colorful, almost carefree yard. We've pulled together some of the easiest-to-grow perennials in the Southwest. Add them to your landscape for season-long color.

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Datura

    A sprawling native wildflower with pretty trumpet-shape flowers, datura blooms all summer long. The beautiful white flowers are fragrant in the evening hours and the gray-green leaves make a nice foil.

    Note: All parts of this plant are extremely poisonous.

    Plant Name: Datura meteloides

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 4 feet tall and wide

    Grow it with: Salvia, which offers wonderfully contrasting spiky blooms.

    Zones: 7-11; often grown as a self-seeding annual in colder areas

3/11
Agave

    This dramatic, shrublike succulent offers interesting texture and foliage. It's no wonder agaves are becoming favorites of gardeners everywhere -- their bold, architectural form really stands out in the landscape.

    Plant Name: Agave americana

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 25 feet tall in bloom and 6 feet wide

    Grow it with: Western columbine for a bold combination of color and texture.

    Zones: 9-11

4/11
Mexican Tarragon

    Enjoy this perennial's aromatic foliage all year long; the charming golden-yellow flowers are a great autumn bonus. Mexican tarragon, also called Mexican mint marigold, is rather tasty and can be used for cooking and baking.

    Plant Name: Tagetes lucida

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 30 inches tall and 18 inches wide

    Grow it with: The lush blooms of desert primrose.

    Zones: 8-10

5/11
Penstemon

    You can't go wrong with penstemons. These plants are as tough as they are beautiful. There's a huge variety; look for selections to bloom in just about any color. All are great plants for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies; most are great cut flowers, too.

    Plant Name: Penstemon heterophyllus

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 2 feet tall and wide

    Grow it with: Salvia; the two have a similar shape and texture.

    Zones: 7-10

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Salvia

    Salvia, like penstemon, is another surefire winner for the garden. Salvias bear spikes of blooms in a wide array of colors -- from bold red to true blue -- on heat- and drought-resistant plants. Many have extended bloom seasons, too, and are favorites of hummingbirds and butterflies. Try one and it's likely to become one of your favorite plants.

    Plant Name: Salvia farinacea

    Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 2 feet tall and wide

    Grow it with: Creeping phlox, which makes a great skirt for the plant.

    Zones: 8-11

7/11
Prickly Pear

    Not all cactuses are created the same. Look for easy-growing prickly pear in a wide variety of colors -- as well thornless selections! This plant is a great choice for gardeners in high elevations; certain prickly pears are among the hardiest cactuses.

    Plant Name: Opuntia selections

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 5 feet tall and wide

    Grow it with: Echeveria, another easy-care succulent, for a fun mix of color and texture.

    Zones: 5-11, depending on type

8/11
Western Columbine

    Add a soft, delicate texture to shady spots in your yard with Western columbine's colorful red-and-yellow springtime blooms. The blue-green, soft-textured foliage is a perfect way to add interest when the columbine isn't blooming.

    Plant Name: Aquilegia formosa

    Growing Conditions: Partial shade and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

    Grow it with: Pasque flower for a topnotch springtime display.

    Zones: 4-7

9/11
Four o'Clock

    All summer long, this easy-growing perennial will fill your garden with fragrance in the afternoons. Plus, it's a favorite of dusk-feeding hummingbirds and many beautiful moths.

    Plant Name: Mirabilis jalapa

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 2 feet tall and wide

    Grow it with: The morning blooms of coneflower.

    Zones: 10-11; often grown as a self-seeding annual in colder areas

10/11
Primrose

    This low-growing ground cover is a great choice for adding a spring-to-fall carpet of color to hot, sunny areas. The cheery yellow blooms shine against the perennial's rich evergreen foliage.

    Plant Name: Calylophus hartwegii

    Growing Conditions: Part shade in dry soil

    Size: To 1 foot tall and several feet wide

    Grow it with: Salvia -- the yellow and blue color combination is a garden classic.

    Zones: 5-9

11/11
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