| A Master Gardener's guide to
gardening in a hot dry climate
Hedges to line and cool garden walls
Cool your garden with a living green wall by choosing a
traditional shrub or select something unusual, like a tall grass
or edible plants, for your hedge. If you have concrete block
walls, a hedge will cool your garden significantly by blocking
the heat absorbed by the wall. This in turn can make your
home cooler and reduce air conditioning costs.
Traditional shrubs for hedges
Korean boxwood (Buxus microphylla koreana)
- slow growing to 2 1/2 feet high, this shrub does well in a
hot, dry climate. It can be sheared to a geometric shape or left
untrimmed and still be a tidy plant. The common boxwood or
English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) does not do well
in desert conditions.
(Photinia x fraseri),
above, moderate to fast growing shrub to 10 feet high. Has
reddish-bronze leaves in Spring and white flower heads
that can be as big a small saucer. Sometimes suffers
from lack of iron (chlorosis), which results in
yellowing leaves with green veins. Ask at your garden
center about treating this.
Pittosporum tobira 'Wheeler's Dwarf'
grows at this Photinia hedge's base.
(Raphiolepsis indica) - perhaps best known
as a low mounding plant with dark green leaves and
pretty pink blooms in the spring. There are also taller
varieties that grow to 5 or 6 feet tall--and new choices
seem to keep showing up every year. May need some
shelter from afternoon sun. Relatively low water usage.
Myrtle (Myrtus communis) hedge
takes care of itself. This shrub has fine textured,
bright green foliage that does not need much trimming. It has small white flowers and,
later, blue-black berries in the Fall. Low water
usage with good drainage required. Makes a wide
(Pittosporum tobira), comes in dwarf, shrub
and tree forms, all of them evergreen and
drought-tolerant, The dwarf size
is an excellent foundation plant. The mid-size is
ideal for a loose, rounded hedge. The Pittosporum tree grows to 25 feet
tall. The shrub and tree
forms have incredibly fragrant flowers in Spring.
Hedges full of glorious color
For color all summer
long, even in the hottest weather, plant a mix of
Lantanas side by side. Be sure to get the
Lantana camara, which grows upright to 6
feet tall. The Lantana montevidensis
low growing variety suitable for
You can have a hedge with white blooms when you
plant a Japanese privet (Ligustrum
japonicum). It grows incredibly fast--up to a
foot a year. It needs regular trimming and not much
water. The flowers have a pungent fragrance.
There is another tree called the Smoke Tree. It is
tall and virtually leafless. Be sure you get the
(Cotinus coggygria "Royal Purple") -
beautiful dark reddish purple leaves are the
hallmark of this small tree. Grows either as a
multi-trunk shrub or a single trunk tree to 15 feet
high. The hybrid C. 'Grace' has blue-green leaves
and seed pods that appear to be large airy cloudlike
puffs of cotton candy. In Fall the leaves turn to
orange and bright red. A new introduction is the
"Golden Spirit" variety, which has brilliant golden
yellow leaves. Low water usage for all three
The edible hedge
sellowiana) - have your hedge and eat it too! You will
often find this South American native plant in nurseries as
a small tree, but it can be a multi-trunk shrub for an
unusual and beautiful informal hedge. Soft gray-green leaves
with very pretty white blossoms in the spring. And fruit to
eat in the Fall. It may need some shelter from full sun. Low
to moderate water usage.
Natal plum (Carissa
macrocarpa) - another edible hedge, this one from South
Africa. A fast growing upright shrub with deep dark,
leathery green leaves that can be clipped to a formal hedge.
Blooms fragrantly year 'round and produces small fruit with
a cranberry-like taste. Most natal plums are thorny but the
'Boxwood Beauty' variety is thornless, as is the
(Punica granatum)- fast growing even in
alkaline soil and direct sizzling sunlight.
Choose the 'Wonderful' variety for its delicious fruit in
Fall when its leaves turn a golden yellow.
Grows very fast.
The grassy hedge
||This Japanese privet
(Ligustrum japonicum) has a skirt of
drought-tolerant deer grass
(Muhlenbergia rigens). Together they keep
heat away from the wall.
fast growing to 8 feet tall in one season with even
taller white or pale yellow "plumes".
Cut back every couple of years to 18 inches during
January or it may end up 20 feet high. Leaves are
toothy and will cut into skin so do not plant it
near a walkway.
Note: Do not plant the
Pampas Grass Cortaderia jubata
which is an invasive weed.
(Nandina domestica) - looks like
short bamboo but has brilliant yellow, orange and
reddish leaves. Can grow slowly to moderately to 6
feet. In the desert needs some shelter from blasting
sunlight. It may need treatment for iron-deficiency
which turns the leaves yellow with green veins. Very
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