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  A Master Gardener's guide to gardening in a hot dry climate 
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golden lantana
Imagine your front yard entirely filled with blooming color for most of the year. This golden Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) could be your answer for a drought-tolerant, easy care lawn substitute.  Even better--you can throw your lawn mower away!
Replacing your lawn with ground covers

A big mistake that people make when they remove a water-guzzling lawn is to simply spread rocks over the bare earth and call it a 'desert garden'.  What they don't realize is that the rocks can heat up to 150 degrees (Fahrenheit) in direct sunlight and that their air conditioning bills will soar.

For that reason we advocate planting drought tolerant ground covers that will grow and spread out across the rock and keep the temperature down.

One beautiful replacement for your lawn is low-growing, sturdy Lantana (Lantana montevidensis L. selowiana). It grows very fast and blooms almost year 'round. Your local nursery should have young plants in a rainbow of floral colors so you can pick one--or more--to complement the color of your home. For example, a home painted a white or sand color might look great with a front yard densely filled with brilliant yellow blooms. For a home with a pink exterior, consider purple, white or sizzling orange Lantana. There is even a newish variety, called 'Lemon Swirl' with variegated yellow-green leaves and bright yellow flowers. Lantana is very drought tolerant; too much water and fertilizer will result in fewer flowers.

mixed lantana ground cover Plant a mix of colors of low-growing Lantana montevidensis to create a front yard that looks like this for months on end. Be careful that you do NOT install Lantana camara, a shrub that grows to 6 feet tall.

Another xeriscape ground covering shrub is the Acacia redolens, especially the 'Desert Carpet' variety. This plant has narrow gray-green leaves, grows to about 2 feet in height and in early spring puts on a dazzling show with puffy yellow ball-shaped flower. An important virtue of this shrub is that a single plant can spread as wide as 15 feet. And talk about drought tolerant--Acacia redolens needs little water beyond what rain falls from the sky.

drought tolerant perennials ground covers Another plant to consider is Creeping Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), a classic in Mediterranean gardens. This photo also shows gray-green Dymondia which forms a dense, flat ground covering mat.  The owners have included an aloe shooting up red blooms, some purple statice (sea lavender) and other low growing plants.  For more about replacements in a parking median, go here.

Fast growing Rosemary is beloved by cooks and bees alike. The creeping variety will grow to about 1 foot in height with dark green, fragrant narrow leaves. In early spring bees swarm to its pale purple flowers. Rosemary needs little watering, only light fertilizer and good drainage. (A word of caution: many bees in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas have been Africanized and may be dangerous in a swarm.) 

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agaves echiverias iceplants golden sedge grass  This front yard combines both a grass and the sturdy succulent ground cover--iceplant--with a few agaves for accents.  Maintenance is ultra-easy: once a year the owner cuts back the grass to six inches in height.

No doubt your local nursery will have other suggestions of good ground cover shrubs for your area and how to care for them. Be sure to tell them you want a "low-growing drought tolerant ground cover.

Replacing your lawn -- read this for what NOT to do

Replacing your lawn with perennials

Replacing your lawn with ornamental grasses

Replacing your lawn with pavers

Replacing your lawn with mazes and knot gardens

Replacing the lawn in your parking median

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Our 8 Most Popular Hot Gardens Newsletters:  

Mixed lantana Flowering plants that reliably bloom in scorching mid-summer heat. Australian acacia shrub. Australian plants and trees that grow well in hot, dry climates
Mediterranean fan palm Weather-proofing palms for winter; cold weather palm trees. White roses for night garden A white garden for night time viewing.
Trimmed myrtle and boxwood Topiary can be easy to create and add charm to your garden. Geranium in pot on patio Techniques to combat death by heat exhaustion of plants in pots.
Octopus cactus Cactus as security barriers for your property. Aloe in bloom South African aloes for brilliant late winter color in your garden.

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