If you are looking for desert natives to plant in your Tucson area landscaping for fall and winter color; one shrub to try is the Compact Mt. Lemmon Marigold, Tagetes lemmonii ‘Compacta’. This small shrub, about 2 or 3 feet tall and wide, is an evergreen perennial with medium green leaves. The flowers are bright yellow-orange, and appear in the fall through winter.
The Mt. Lemmon Marigold has lemony smelling leaves that rabbits do not care for. Although frost hardy down to 5 degrees, if the leaves are nipped you can shear them off, producing a more compact and bushy specimen.
Nice companion plants for Mt. Lemmon Marigold include those with silvery leaves or bold textures. Silvery leaved plants such as the Texas Ranger and the Texas Mountain Laurel ‘Silver Peso’ are hardy options, and bold textured plants such as the Fishhook Barrel, Ocotillo or Prickly Pear are hardy cactus and succulent options.
Reference: Mountain States Wholesale Nursery and Gregg Starr Nursery Plant Info Sheet, 1999.
The Ocotillo is a wonderful desert native for a tall, vertical accent to desert landscaping. When buying an Ocotillo, avoid any bareroot plants. These do not have enough of a root system to ensure survival. Look for seed-grown container plants, and you will have a much higher success rate. Ocotillo need occasional water, especially during the hot, dry months. Water at least twice a month in the summer.
The Fishhook Barrel is a native to the Tucson area, and perfect for desert landscapes since its water requirements are minimal. Like all plants, however, it does need some water to get it through its first summer. After planting do not water right away; wait a few weeks, then water deeply. For the first summer, give it a drink once a month, especially if monsoon rains are sparse.
There are many Texas Ranger varieties to choose from. Before you buy, it pays to do some research first and find out which one best suits your needs. Not all Texas Rangers mature to the same size, and flower colors vary per species. While most have purple to rosy purple flowers, there is a white flowered variety. Texas Rangers grow anywhere from 3 feet tall and wide, to over 6 feet tall and wide.