Great Native Plants for Western Gardens

These easy-care species can take dry soil and harsh conditions while supporting local wildlife

Video by Diana Koehm, Edited by Jack Coyier

In his article Weaving Vignettes Together, horticulturalist Dan Johnson gives us a look into his home garden in Denver, where he uses repeated plant groupings and consistent hardscaping to unify the design of a wide diversity of plants. Dan considers himself a collector, and if he finds a new and interesting species that will thrive in his garden, then he will find the perfect place for it. When I visited his home garden, he showed me some of his favorite natives endemic to the Western United States. Having lived in both Tucson and Denver, Dan is familiar with a wide range of species that thrive throughout both the Southwest and Mountain West, including:

  • Large penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus, Zones 3–9), a gorgeous prairie species with electric lavender blue flowers on tall, straight stems.
  • Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis, Zones 6–11), a mid-size tree with short, grasslike leaves and stunning pink to purple flowers that bloom in late spring and early summer.
  • Harriman’s yucca (Yucca harimaniae, Zones 4–9), which often stays less than 1 foot tall and forms a spherical rosette of thin foliage.
  • New Mexico agave (Agave parryi neomexicana, Zones 5–10), a blue-green succulent growing up to 1½ feet tall that will produce a 10-foot-tall flower spike at the end of its lifespan.

These species each have a wide native range, help to support local pollinators and wildlife, feature stunning foliage and flowers, and can easily survive the harsh conditions found in western states. For even more exciting western natives, check out:

And to hear more from Dan Johnson, take a look at his Southwest regional reports or ask him your gardening questions on the Southwest Gardening Answers forum.


Learn more

Plant picks for western gardens that anyone can grow

See more interviews monthly on the Fine Gardening Podcast


Diana Koehm is the assistant editor.

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