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Plants That Can Survive the Arizona Heat

Red Mexican sunflower
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)

Don’t let Arizona’s brutal summers deter you from upgrading your yard. You can find numerous plants and flowers that can withstand triple-digit heat—and some even thrive in the scorching weather.

Of course, you won’t need much soil or water if you xeriscape your Phoenix yard. This type of landscaping is perfect for Arizona’s climate and uses drought-tolerant plants.

From cacti to milkweed, here are the plants that will raise your curb appeal and survive in the heat.

Parry’s Agave (Agave parryi)

Parry's agave

Add personality to your space with Parry’s agave. The large succulent is native to Arizona and requires little attention during the blistering summer.

Estate garden designer Jeff Berghoff recommends plants like Parry’s agave for responsible planting. He suggests planting “desert natives at the edge of the property” with “lusher plantings in private spaces.”

Parry’s agave thrives in an arid climate with little water and only needs a drink every two weeks. The best time to water? During a heatwave. Try to water your agave and other plants early in the morning, before the sun gets too hot and absorbs the moisture.

Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro cactus in the desert

Arizona’s state plant, the slow-growing saguaro cactus, is known for its unique white blooms. This cactus has a thick stem to store water during long periods of hot temperatures and drought.

Adding a saguaro cactus to your yard will cost you a pretty penny, depending on what you’re looking for. A young cactus, around 5 feet tall, costs about $100, but a 24-foot saguaro with arms sells for more than $3,000.

You will have to wait a while to see the Saguaro flower. It only blooms once it has been around for 35 years. It also takes several decades for the thick branches to appear, sometimes as long as 100 years to grow.

Don’t want to wait around that long? There are other, less expensive flowers to consider.

Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)

Yellow fruit of the Staghorn Cholla cactus with red rocks mountains
Yellow fruit of the Staghorn Cholla cactus with red rocks mounta

This cactus comes in a variety of colors, including red, yellow, purple, or a mixture of those shades. The green or purple stems also add color to your garden during the heat of the summer. The staghorn cholla prefers 90-degree temperatures.

The best thing about this plant? It blooms in late spring, and the flowers last well into the summer—needing little water. In fact, too much water will cause root rot.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Monarch butterfly feeding from orange butterfly weed wildflowers

More than 25 species of milkweed are native to Arizona, including the butterfly weed. It’s a perennial wildflower with large clusters of tiny orange and yellow flowers that grow 2 to 5 inches across. They make excellent cut flower arrangements.

The butterfly weed thrives in the Arizona heat, blooming from May to December. The blossoms attract native honeybees and butterflies (including the endangered monarch butterfly) to your garden.

More Desert-Adapted Plants

Other plants native to Arizona that can stand the heat include:

  • Claret cup cactus
  • Small-flower agave
  • Palmer’s century plant
  • Santa Cruz beehive cactus
  • Elephant tree
  • Soaptree yucca
  • Desert spoon
Red flowers on a claret cup cactus
Claret cup cactus

Flowers that prefer the heat include:

  • Cosmos
  • Desert marigold
  • Desert milkweed
  • Gaillardia
  • Globe amaranth
  • Gloriosa daisy
  • Mexican sunflower
  • Spider flower
  • Statice
  • Yarrow

Before planting, be sure to analyze your soil. The soil in Phoenix contains a lot of clay and silt, which will help your plants retain water. Many plants can survive in the Arizona heat as long as they have moisture.

Most native plants are heat- and drought-tolerant, but that doesn’t mean they can tolerate neglect. Garden maintenance is still key when designing a landscape, even if you choose plants that don’t need a lot of water. Don’t forget to prune, pinch off dead buds, and give your plants the occasional drink.

Joyce Moore is a gardener who insists she’s not an expert—she just plants native plants that are easy to care for. Her office is filled with native blooms which she transplants every fall from her home flower beds. When she’s not planting flowers, she’s arranging them.


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