These natives are tough and versatile, with low water needs and showy flowers
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans)
Glossy green foliage and large clusters of bright yellow flowers from late spring through early winter make it a showy choice for screening and for big shrub borders. In mild climates, you can prune and train this evergreen shrub, a Southwest native, as a tree to 25 ft. tall. Sunset climate zones 12, 13, 21–24; H1, H2.
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
It blooms from spring to early summer and tolerates heat. Its red, tubular blooms practically glow when backlit by the sun. Use this desert Southwest native to create a wildflower effect among agaves or grasses. A perennial, it grows 1 to 3 ft. tall. Zones 1–3, 7–13, 18–21.
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Low and spreading manzanita makes a great groundcover, forming a mat of small, leathery leaves to 15 ft. wide. Small pink flowers appear in spring, followed by little red fruits that attract birds. Leaves turn red to purplish in winter. Native from Northern California north to Alaska. Zones A1–A3; 1–9, 14–24.
Wild Lilac (Ceanothus)
With flowers in white and shades of blue, this family of plants is versatile (from groundcovers to compact bushes to tall shrubs); it also attracts butterflies. The C. ‘Concha’ (6 to 7 ft. tall; pictured) can tolerate some water in summer. Most varieties are native to California. Zones vary; C. ‘Concha’: zones 6–9, 14–24.
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
The shrub attracts hummingbirds with its brilliant red stamens that resemble powder puffs. Use it as an accent in front of a living ocotillo fence or as a backdrop for small blue agaves. Native to Baja California, it’s a favorite with Southwest gardeners and reaches 5 ft. tall. Zones 10–24.
More: Kick the water habit