5 Heat-Tolerant Container Ideas for the Desert Garden


Let’s face it. The summer heat in the Southwest is extreme, particularly in the low to mid-desert regions. The combination of low humidity and intense heat can wreak havoc on potted plants. Thankfully, there are a number of plants that can take the heat and decorate your outdoor space.

Noelle Johnson, lives in the greater Phoenix area and is no stranger to challenging summer conditions. Here are five examples of container plantings that she recommends that will thrive through hot, dry weather.

Bush Lantana and Sweet Potato Vine

Bush Lantana (Lantana camara) comes in a multitude of colors and are Noelle’s favorite choice for summer pots. They bloom spring through fall and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas) is a wonderful trailing plant that is prized for its lush green (or deep purple) foliage. 

This combination does well in full sun and adds a lovely splash of color. In fall, you can remove the Lantana and plant it elsewhere in your garden, or keep it in the pot and protect it from freezing temperatures.


Groups of Potted Cacti and Succulents 

Cacti and other succulents are fabulous choices for heat-proof container gardens. They look great when grouped together in different-sized pots. The brightly-painted blue wall really brings attention to the unique shapes and textures of these succulent beauties.

Because succulents store water within their leaves, they are easy to care for and require infrequent watering. This makes them a great option not just for summer, but year round interest in the landscape.


Bougainvillea in Containers

One of the best heat-tolerant shrubs in the desert garden are Bougainvillea. They come in a number of different colors with dark pink being the most popular. This Brazilian native makes a surprisingly excellent container plant that thrives in the heat.

Many people have a love-hate relationship with this tropical shrub – they love the colors but hate the thorns and mess. But, by growing it in a pot, the shrubs stays smaller, so you can enjoy its beauty with little mess.


‘Firesticks’ and Elephant Food Succulent Container

The unique textures that succulents provide to the garden is one of the reasons they are so valued. In this pairing the differences between ‘Firesticks’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) and Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra) create wonderful contrast.

‘Firesticks’ is notable for its orange-tipped stems and is a popular favorite in the desert landscape. They do well in both pots and in the ground. Elephant Food is a succulent that is prized for its trailing habit and is very easy to grow. It does well in shade but can handle brief periods of sun.



Sun-Loving Herbs

Imagine having a supply of fresh herbs just steps from your kitchen. Herbs can serve double duty in the desert garden. Yes, they flavor our favorite dishes but they also make an attractive filler for your summer pots.

Most popular herbs such as basil, chives, oregano, and thyme do well in the heat. Noelle confesses that she also enjoys the flowers of the herbs and the bees in her garden do too! For additional color, plant them in a colorful container.

So, if the summer heat makes you think your container garden options are limited, think again! There are so many heat-proof options available that will add beauty to your outdoor space.


Noelle Johnson, aka, AZ Plant Lady, is a horticulturist, landscape consultant and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the Phoenix area. She is the author of the popular blog, Ramblings From a Desert Garden, and instructor at the Desert Botanical Garden. Noelle is a noted speaker throughout the Southwest and teaches people how to garden in the desert with her popular online course, ‘Desert Gardening 101’ and membership club

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