Shrubs

Shrubs are a mainstay of Desert Friendly landscape gardens. Rooting deeply, they often require less water per square foot of the space they cover than other plants. They shade the soil, and some have colorful flowers, foliage and fruit. Native shrubs also provide layers of cover as well as nectar and seeds that make habitat for birds and butterflies.

What kind of Shrubs should i choose?

Shrubs can become the walls of the garden, creating smaller outdoor rooms within the larger landscape, screening utility areas that you need but would rather not look at most of the time.

Shrubs provide wind protection and many have aromatic leaves and scented flowers that perfume the air around them.

The many shrubs in the plant list marked as “Rainwater Only,” “Low”+ and Low under the water heading should be watered weekly the first summer after they are planted, every two weeks in autumn and spring, and monthly or less in winter. As you water less often, water more deeply so that the moisture penetrates three feet into the soil. After a year or two, water twice a month in summer as well as in spring and autumn, and after three or more years you may be able to water once a month year-round.

Deciduous Shrubs

Shrubs that shed their leaves annually in the Fall.

Coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Exposure: Full shade in the Albuquerque area

Water: Medium

Height and Spread: 2’ x 6’

Blooming Season: Spring

Region: All Areas

A great shade loving plant for the Fall and Winter months, Coralberry is best planted where water collects in the yard. It can be found along stream beds, making it a great plant for beneath the runoff of down spouts. Lined with pink flowers in the summer and pink berries in the winter, Coralberry is a great used underneath trees. Their foliage keeps the soil cooler for tree roots. The stems of this plant arch when loaded with berries and will root where they touch the ground, making more plants. Deep water established plants twice a month for vigorous growth in drier gardens.

Dwarf Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii nanhoensis

Dwarf Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii nanhoensis

Exposure: Sun / Shade

Water: Medium

Mature Size (H x W): 5’ x 5’

Blooming Season: June – September

Flower Color: Purple

Region: All areas of Greater Albuquerque

Noted for its ability to handle alkaline soils, the Dwarf Butterfly Bush is a magnet for its namesake garden visitors, including the majestic Monarch. Some gardeners consider these the absolute best plants for attracting butterflies (though Asclepias is a strong contender for that award), as they are known to attract as many as 25 North American butterfly species. Panicles nearly 6” long emit a light fragrance vaguely reminiscent of honey, and produce a nectar that attracts not only butterflies, but hummingbirds!

Like most plants, the Dwarf Butterfly Bush is most susceptible to pests and disease if stressed by drought. Irrigate these plants according to our Watering Guidelines (look to the middle of the range recommended for shrub irrigation frequency). Tolerant of urban pollution, this plant prefers well-drained soils. To best take advantage of the fragrant flowers, locate these in groups along a path or near a window or porch, or in the front of a bed where their petite size can be appreciated. And take heart, these will not require pruning like the standard Butterfly Bush.

In recent years, breeders have produced plants with a variety of flower colors and mature sizes. Look for cultivars including “Nanho Blue,” which has mauve-blue flowers, and “Nanho Purple,” which has a more traditional, distinctively purple flower. Enjoy a cascade of flowers from June to September.

Photo Courtesy of Hunter Ten Broeck with WaterWise Landscapes Inc.

Whitethorn Acacia, Acacia constricta

Whitethorn Acacia, Acacia constricta

Exposure: Full Sun

Water: Rainwater

Mature Size: (H x W): 10’ x 10’

Blooming Season: Spring

Flower Color: Yellow

Region: All parts of the Greater Albuquerque area except the East Mountains

A member of the pea family, the Whitethorn Acacia is long-lived and able to survive only on rainwater in the Albuquerque area. It becomes either a large shrub or small tree. Naturally occurring on rocky slopes and drainage washes from Arizona to Texas at elevations from 1,500 to 6,000 feet, Whitethorn Acacia produces fragrant, yellow puffball flowers from April through June that develop into 2”-5” long capsules with clear constrictions between the beans (thus the Latin name). Branches range from dark grey to reddish-brown, with a distinctive zigzag shape and deciduous, fern-like foliage. Whitethorn Acacia is hardy to -10 degrees.

Site this plant with an understanding of mature size, and a realization that pruning will require interaction with numerous slender, white spines. With diligence, it can be pruned into a small tree that casts filtered shade. Well-adapted to life in an arid location, the Whitethorn Acacia will not produce leaves or flowers during drought. It’s a great plant for wildlife, as the flowers attract butterflies and bees and the seed pods are favored by quail.

This versatile plant, whether trained as a small tree or allowed to grow naturally as part of a low-maintenance buffer, asks for little and gives much. Select it for any of its numerous positive qualities, including its showy flowers, whimsical form, and excellent drought tolerance.

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Exposure:

Full Sun, Part Shade

Water: Medium+

Mature Size (H x W): 6’ x 6’

Blooming Season: Spring

Flower Color: Yellow

Region: All areas of the greater Albuquerque area

As the seasons begin to change and the signs of Spring appear in the landscape, be on the lookout for a remarkable shrub with small, fragrant yellow flowers: the Golden Currant. A native to New Mexico moisture catchments at elevations from 2,500 to 8,000 feet, this plant is suitable for many Albuquerque landscape situations if sited and cared for properly.

A standout in terms of multi-season interest, fragrance and wildlife garden value, Ribes aureum has few botanical peers. In late Spring, five-petaled flowers – with a scent said to resemble the aroma of cloves or vanilla – attracts hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. The flowers develop into edible currants, a favorite of birds, which by June will mature from a red color to deep blue. Small green leaves turn a bright red in autumn before falling.

Tips for success: Golden Current may succeed in sunny or shaded locations, but will require less irrigation (link to new Efficient Irrigation Consultation tab) in lower elevations if sited in at least partial shade. However, it is likely to fruit most heavily in sunnier locations. Golden Current is adaptable to a wide range of soil types, but is not tolerant of salt. It also benefits from a substantial layer of organic mulch for moisture retention. Water every few weeks in summer. It may try to spread via suckers so be careful when choosing a location.

A useful specimen in any edible or wildlife garden, Ribes aureum is also suitable for the edge of a rain garden or beneath a shade tree. Grow it for its ornamental properties or simply for the fruit, which can be eaten raw or used in juices, jams or pies.

Cliff Fendlerbush, Fendlera rupicola

Cliff Fendlerbush, Fendlera rupicola

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 6’ X 4’
Blooming Season: Spring
Flower Color: White

Cliff Fendlerbush grows wild in rock outcrops where it is a pleasantly compact shrub with small pale green leaves. Plant it near a window or patio where you can observe its pink buds as they open to pure white flowers. It is an elegant complement to summer flowering plants. Some plants shout out their presence, but Cliff Fendlerbush whispers that it’s finally spring.

Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii

Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 24”X 36”
Blooming Season: May-September
Flower Color: Red

Autumn Sage (sometimes called Cherry Sage for its cherry-red blossoms) is a valued xeric plant for its twiggy mounded form and its profusion of flowers that begin in early summer. Culturally undemanding, Autumn Sage tolerates a wide range of soils as long as they are quick draining. Just a bit of extra water during dry spells encourages more flowers.

Yellow Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii

Yellow Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 10’X 10’
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Yellow with thread-like red stamens

Yellow Bird of Paradise is a favorite of hummingbirds and provides months of color with a miserly amount of water. Plant it where it receives extra runoff from a canale or gutter downspout, and within a few growing seasons, you can put away the hose and enjoy the show.

Three-Leaf Sumac, Rhus trilobata

Three-Leaf Sumac, Rhus trilobata

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 3-6’X 3-6’
Blooming Season: April
Flower Color: Yellowish-green

An ornamental native shrub that is well adapted to a wide range of soils from sandy to rock to heavy clay. Three-Leaf Sumac is a moderate to fast grower, depending on how much water it receives. The unremarkable tiny flowers are followed by tart, red berries that are much sought after by wild birds. A good choice for screening and wind breaks, its leaves turn glorious shades of red and orange in the fall.

Fernbush, Chamaebatiaria millefolium

Fernbush, Chamaebatiaria millefolium

Full Sun,
Low Water

Mature Size: 4-6’X 5’
Blooming Season: Mid-Summer
Flower Color: White

Fernbush is an unusual native rose that’s great used as a single specimen or clustered in groups or rows for visual screening and hedges. The showy flower spikes resemble those of white lilacs and attract butterflies all summer. Its aromatic olive green foliage is soft and fern-like and its upright stems with their peeling bronze bark create a pleasant, rounded silhouette without shearing. This hardy plant loves south- and west-facing exposures and well-drained soil.

Blue Mist Spirea, Caryopteris clandonensis

Blue Mist Spirea, Caryopteris clandonensis

Full Sun, Part Shade
Medium Water

Mature Size: 2’X 3’
Blooming Season: July-August
Flower Color: Blue-purple

A very popular, low-care shrub that’s perfect for landscape or flower beds. It needs only average garden soil to thrive. Hundreds of purple-blue flower spikes cover the mature plant in late summer. Cut back 1/3 of its previous year’s height in spring to encourage heaviest flowering. Butterflies love this shrub!

Evergreen Shrubs

Shrubs that remain green all year long.

Pointleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos pungens

Pointleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos pungens

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size (H x W): 3-6’X 3-6’
Blooming Season: Early Spring
Flower Color: White

Region: New Mexico

A dramatic member of the Heath family native to New Mexico, the Pointleaf Manzanita is one of the few true broad-leafed evergreens that can handle the challenges of our cold, dry climate.  It’s found in open pine forests and piñon-juniper woodlands, from 3000’ to 8000’ elevation, with a native range from California to Nevada to Texas.  Hardy to at least -20 degrees.  Tolerant of some alkalinity, and of soils ranging from sand to clay.  Birds love the summer display of pea-sized bronze-colored fruits, which follow clusters of urn-shaped soft pink flowers.  This eye-catching native also attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.  This plant can stand alone as a specimen or be clustered with other evergreens as part of a hedge or screen.  Its exfoliating mahogany-colored bark and matte green leaves lend contrast when planted near sage or blue juniper foliage.

 

Tips for success with this sometimes-challenging plant: Start with small plants, and make sure to choose a good long-term location, as Manzanitas don’t like to be transplanted.  If you plan to highlight the Pointleaf Manzanita’s sinewy structure, begin pruning up at a young age to develop an open structure, since they tolerate pruning of mature branches poorly.  This plant should be watered deeply every 2 weeks in summer and monthly for the rest of the year.

 

The only thing missing with this wonderful shrub may be easy availability, so be sure to mention to your local garden center that you’re interested!  North America boasts around 60 plants in the Arctostaphylos genus, and numerous cultivars are available, so also keep an eye open for the Pointleaf Manzanita’s botanical relatives during your travels!

Arizona Rosewood, Vauquelinia californica

Arizona Rosewood, Vauquelinia californica

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 12’X 10’
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: White

Arizona Rosewood is a handsome large shrub at its best in open windy spaces where evergreen wind protection is especially welcome. Extreme exposures seem to increase its density and, unlike most broadleaf evergreens, its foliage stays crisp and attractive through heat and cold. Lacy umbels of small white flowers crown Rosewood in summer, turning a deep cocoa brown and persisting well into winter. This is a useful native rose with no off season.

Upright Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis “arp”

Upright Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis “arp”

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 6’X 6’
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Light Blue

Known primarily as an evergreen shrub, Rosemary is a bushy plant featuring stiff upright stems and soft blue flowers in summer. Rosemary officinalis “Arp” has proven itself to be a cold hardy selection, extending its use into New Mexico’s higher elevations. A great choice for hot walls and corners and other areas that get intense reflected heat. Plant in combination with other heat-loving plants like Zauschneria californica (Hummingbird Plant), Lavandula and Calylophus (Sundrops).

Cowania Cliffrose, Purshia syn

Cowania Cliffrose, Purshia syn

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 8’X 6’
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Yellow

Cliffrose makes an excellent companion for perennials because its open-branched form casts light shade. Its irregular shape lends a native touch to landscapes which is appropriate since this plant is a New Mexico native. Fragrant flowers cover the branches in early summer, a few of which remain virtually all summer long. Feathery plumes form in mid-summer and persist into winter (consequently, Cliffrose is often mistaken for Apache Plume). It can handle the hottest south- and west-facing garden locations.

Blue Algerita, Mahonia fremontii

Blue Algerita, Mahonia fremontii

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 5’X 7’
Blooming Season: Spring
Flower Color: Yellow

The masses of fragrant yellow flowers that grace this native barberry are enough to earn it a place in the garden, but by midsummer its bright red fruits attract the attention of songbirds for another season of interest. Although the stems aren’t thorny, the beautiful but prickly blue holly-like leaves of this Algerita offer feeding birds a safe haven from predators.

Apache Plume, Fallugia paradoxa

Apache Plume, Fallugia paradoxa

Full Sun
Low Water

 

Mature Size: 4-5’X 4-5’
Blooming Season: April
Flower Color: White

This is one of the showiest of our native shrubs. In spring it’s covered with tiny white, five-petaled flowers that look like miniature white roses. (Apache Plume is in the rose family.) But this shrub really stands out when the pink, silky-plumed seed heads cover the tips of its branches from late summer through fall. Plant it in well-drained soil in any hot, sunny location. Needs virtually no supplemental water once established.

Joint-Fir, Ephedra species

Joint-Fir, Ephedra species

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 2-6’X 3-5’
Blooming Season: Spring
Flower Color: Yellow

Joint-firs are grown for the color of their broomy evergreen stems which, depending upon the species, may be pale blue (Ephedra equisetina), blue-gray (Ephedra nevadensis) or bright green (Ephedra viridis). All add year-round color and interesting texture to gardens and require minimal water once established. Joint-firs native to the Southwest have brown papery seed-cones while the Asian species have pea-sized red fruits that are quite showy.

Grayleaf Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster buxifolius

Grayleaf Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster buxifolius

Full Sun, Part Shade
Medium Water

Mature Size: 2’X 4-6’
Blooming Season: Spring-Summer
Flower Color: Pink

Grayleaf Cotoneaster, like most species of Cotoneaster, is a low-spreading shrub that is sometimes used as an informal groundcover. Can be pruned back to create a more formal hedge shape. The small pink flowers become red berries that persist throughout fall. Its small gray leaves clothe 3- to 6-foot arching stems year-round. Grows well in moderately fertile soil.

Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius

Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius

Full Sun
Low Water

Mature Size: 10’X 6’
Blooming Season: Early Spring
Flower Color: Yellowish

A shrub-like tree that’s native to dry mountain slopes between 4,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation. Because it is very slow growing, it can make an excellent hedge or small character tree. Small flowers appear briefly in spring, then yield to seeds with 2- to 3-inch-long plumes. The bark is light gray, almost white, and the small leathery leaves are dark green above and fuzzy white below. Water to establish, then the tree can go unirrigated except in the hottest, driest weather.

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