Nine Options for Sunny Desert Landscapes, from Flowering to Evergreen and Everything In Between

By Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s garden gal

Ground cover plants are beneficial in so many ways. The foliage provides visual interest across hills, between boulders, and down slopes. They also reduce yard maintenance by fighting erosion and suppressing weeds.

Here is the definitive list of local groundcovers grown in the brutal sun or dense shade. Many offer an evergreen solution to bare landscape plots.

Creeping Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis, performs best in full sun (six or more hours). Creeping junipers resist drought once established. Not only are they low-maintenance shrubs, but they also save work by holding back the soil on erosion-prone hillsides, thanks to their sturdy root system

Creeping Phlox has needle-like foliage that makes it drought-hardy in sunny gardens, but it’s most valued for its thick mat of flowers. Red, pink, white, blue, rose, lavender, even purple are all possible flower colors for this early-spring bloomer. Plants spread over time. If the excess is unwanted in the original garden area, divide them and spread the wealth to another plot in the yard.

Creeping Rosemary … imagine growing Rosemary that tumbling over a wall or spreading across a dry rock lawn. This tough little gem is the perfect plant for garden walls, pots, banks, or a dry, sunny patch of ground in the garden. It is a superb ground cover for hot, dry locations. Its habit is low and mounds just 12 inches tall, and it spreads vigorously. Deep blue flowers arise in great masses that are both deer and pest resistant.

Cotoneaster is ideally suited to flow over embankments and raised beds. It’s an outstanding ground cover with dense foot-tall branches covered with shiny evergreen leaves. The foliage is tinged in purple through autumn, which enhances the profusion of cranberry-type berries. Give this low water user plenty of room because she spreads over six feet wide by one foot tall. Good on banks and to cover large open areas of rock in hot sunny locations. Plant with confidence, this cute evergreen rarely gets bugs, while rabbits, deer, and other vermin don’t like the taste.

English Ivy is the only evergreen vine that stays green in shady gardens. Large lustrous foliage stays waxed green through winter, forming a lush blanketing ground cover under large shrubs and trees. Quickly climbs walls, pillars, arbors, and fences without support. One of the best vines uses is dangling from the edges of hanging pots and baskets or cascading off the edges of tall urns planted with upright fillers. And, it’s animal resistant.

Moonshadow Euonymus, Euonymus fortunei, is a broadleaf evergreen shrub with trademark bright variegated leaves. The bicolored pattern can be thought of as an inside-out version of the more popular Euonymus fortunei Emerald ‘n’ Gold. The green is in the middle of the leaf and the brighter color on the edges. The best colors are in full sun and grow knee-high by four feet wide.

Sedum, Angelina Stonecrop, has several varieties to choose from. The entire group of plants are considered “succulents.” One of the most widely grown upright sedums is Autumn Joy growing to 18 inches. To grow something different, try Chocolate Drop for its deliciously dark leaves. Most all sedums resist drought.

Vinca is most often seen with blue flowers; the Alba cultivar of Vinca minor offers white blooms. Because this flowering vine can take dry shade, it’s a problem solver. Many plants don’t like such conditions.  Super easy to grow and javelina, rabbit, and deer resistant.

Virginia Creeper is an Arizona native vine specially selected to dress up those miles of stockade fence. A mountain vine with rich green foliage turns fire engine red through October with blue fruit accents. When spaced at eight-foot intervals, this fast-growing vine covers a boring fence within a season. Plant red walls of beauty that are absolutely deer and javelina proof!

Until next week, I’ll be helping gardeners here at Watters Garden Center.

Lisa Watters-Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd. in Prescott, or contacted through her website at or