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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - March 01, 2014

From: Tucson, AZ
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Lists, Drought Tolerant, Shrubs
Title: Native Plant for a Sunny South-facing House Wall in Tucson
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I have a problematic block wall on the south side of the house and I what a plant to soften the look of the wall. I tried butterfly bush which I'm told died from of bounce-back heat from the wall. I have a number of bougainvillea already but hesitate to put more in because of the maintenance they take. There is very little shade and full sun all day. I prefer a blooming plant, but greenery is acceptable. Any suggestions?

ANSWER:

There are many tough native Arizona shrubs that will provide a nice softening effect for your hot and sunny south-facing house wall. As you look through the list think about what plant textures, heights and colors you would like to see in front of your house wall – fine, feathery, twiggy, soft and gray, shiny evergreen, deciduous, succulent, etc.

The first place to go to find a list of potential shrubs is our Native Plant Database.
Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.
Under Combination Search, select the following categories: Arizona, Habit – Shrub, Duration – Perennial, Light Requirement – Sun, Soil Moisture – Dry, and Size Characteristics – 3-6 & 6-12 ft. You can narrow down this search further by indicating, blooming time and leaf characteristics (evergreen vs. deciduous).

Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final planting list. Think about including plants that have interest during a variety of seasons and that have more than one attractive feature (flower, fruit, foliage, bark, etc.) so you can get more benefits out of your wall-softening plants.

Since an evergreen shrub will provide cooling shade for your house and have decorative foliage for all (or most) of the year, they have been listed here. But, there are many more deciduous shrubs that a search of the plant database will list for you.

Some of the evergreen shrubs to consider are:

Acacia constricta (whitethorn acacia)

Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush)

Celtis ehrenbergiana (desert hackberry)

Cleome isomeris (bladderpod spiderflower)

Dodonaea viscosa (Florida hopbush)

Lycium berlandieri (Berlandier’s wolfberry)

Mahonia haematocarpa (red barberry)

Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita)

Rhamnus crocea (holly-leaf buckthorn)

Rhus ovata (sugar sumac)

Rhus virens (evergreen sumac)

Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba)

The Tucson chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society is another good resource to learn about the native plants that will flourish in your garden.

 

From the Image Gallery


Whitethorn acacia
Vachellia constricta

Big sagebrush
Artemisia tridentata

Desert hackberry
Celtis ehrenbergiana

Bladderpod spiderflower
Cleome isomeris

Florida hopbush
Dodonaea viscosa

Berlandier's wolfberry
Lycium berlandieri

Red barberry
Mahonia haematocarpa

Agarita
Mahonia trifoliolata

Holly-leaf buckthorn
Rhamnus crocea

Sugar sumac
Rhus ovata

Evergreen sumac
Rhus virens

Jojoba
Simmondsia chinensis

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Bibliography

Landscaping with Native Arizona Plants (1973) Soil Conservation Society of America. Arizona Chapter

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