Plants that are native to the American Southwest that exist without supplemental irrigation once established.
Tansy aster is an annual native to the Southwest and throughout the Plains even into Canada. Fernlike, or tansy-like (tannacetifolia) light green foliage with beautiful aster-like lavender flowers with yellow disks about 1 1/2 to 2 inches across. Blooms from late spring through fall. A once a month watering will keep the blooms coming throughout the summer. It will keep its compact shape in lean, poor soil but will become much larger in well amended soil. Minimal amending is recommended. Tansy aster is another example of our natives plants giving so much, asking so little in return.
Switchgrass is one of the best native ornamental grasses of our tall prairies. Switchgrass forms upright bunches of wide 1/2 inch green blades, with open pale purple inflorescence arising another 2 feet in late summer to fall. Switchgrass will thrive with every other week supplemental irrigation. There are many varieties of switchgrass, 'Prairie Sky' is the most drought tolerant (low, xeric) with blue blades. Other fine selections are 'Heavy Metal' with metallic lavender blue foliage turning reddish towards fall, and 'Shenandoah' with leaf blades tipped in red.
Bear grass is similar in appearance to yucca and clumping grass, but is neither. Usually found growing in high desert areas, along cliffs and rocky slopes. Thin succulent grasslike yellow-green leaves emerge from a trunkless center, are pointed and sharp edged. A plume-like inflorescence with many tiny cream colored flowers emerges early summer. Cold hardy, drought and heat tolerant.
Desert never equates with drab. The flowers on Desert Bird of Paradise are simply stunning! Though classified as a Zone 7 plant, I’ve grown Desert Bird of Paradise for 3-4 years near a south facing wall and have seen several others around Amarillo, without it dying back it to roots. However, if it does, just prune out the dead wood. Eye catching flowers bloom continually from June into fall and attract hummingbirds. Finely divided green leaves. It is said to survive on 8” of rainfall, but monthly soakings enhance it. C. mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise and C.
Russian sage is a must have shrub for every low water-use landscape. Russian sage is used extensively throughout our southwest landscapes, planted along with Buddleia, Carl Forester Reed Grass, Salvia greggii cultivars, Anisacanthus quadrifidis wrightii and Hesperaloe parviflora. It is hard to beat its use where a long flowering, showy, low care, drought tolerant shrub is needed.
Black dalea, an autumn blooming southwest native shrub, should be used more in the home xeric landscape. Growing only to about 3 feet, black dalea spreads out with thin, wiry branches and small, green, compound leaves. The shrub becomes completely covered with tiny purple flowers as to be enshrouded in a purple cloud.
Many references are unsure of its cold hardiness to zero, and it had thrived nicely in my city garden in Amarillo. However, it does not seem to be reliably cold hardy. It's a beautiful shrub that provides stunning late fall color that is worth replanting.
You can't have just one. As soon as you plant one, you'll have a drift, then a sweep, then a field if you have the space. But I still don't consider the prairie coneflower to be invasive, merely pleasant. Next to the Indian Blanket, the Mexican Hat shouts Southwest prairies. And its a tough hombre. If your stand becomes too dense or too much, just weed some out. They're adaptable to most native soils and will thrive on available or once a month supplementation. Coneflowers bloom yellow, reddish or brown late spring into fall and make an attractive display when mixed.
Bigelow's tansyaster is easy to confuse with Tahoka daisy but is not as showy. Bigelow's aster is a fall blooming biennial, with far fewer purple rays and a smaller, yellow brown center disk. It populates plains in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. In the fall, whole fields will wear a purple haze due to this tansyaster.
Alkali sacaton is a perennial warm season bunch grass native to the Southwest. In late summer to fall, airy triangular seed heads wave above the silver green grass blades. Grows in alkali soils, many say in locations where there is moisture nearby, prefering heavy clay soils. It is quite drought tolerant once established, and long lived. It will, of course, grow bigger or smaller depending on water resources.
Littleleaf mockorange is native throughout the foothills, dry rocky slopes and open woodlands from 4000 to 8000' in the Southwest usually growing to only 4 feet. This native mockorange is similar in form to the European import, they are fragrant, but not of orange. Attractive white, 4 petaled flowers bloom in early summer, small slightly glossy green leaves. Coldy hardy, heat and drought tolerant.