How to Have a Green Thumb in an Arizona Summer

By Melissa

I love, and I mean, LOVE planting flowers. I love yard work in general, but the satisfaction of growing and keeping alive lovely foliage is seriously next level happiness. Over the years, I have had a lot of trial and error, and as great as it is to have pretty flowers growing, it is equally frustrating to have your plants die. So now I have learned to focus on spending my money on the plants that will give me the most bang for my buck. I am by no means an expert, and I continue to have plants that randomly die or won’t thrive. But! For the most part, I have found a few outside plants that anyone can plant and will turn those black thumbs back to green pretty quickly!

Also, we live in Arizona. Have you been here? Do you live here? If so, you know it’s HOT in the summer. Like you wake up in the morning and it is already 95 degrees and you can get a sunburn after seven seconds. So this post is specifically for Arizona, because I’ve bought plants more than once that say they need full sun, but then just cook in our 14+ hours of insane heat and direct sunlight. So here are a few tried and true varieties that I love that have been doing pretty a-okay for us.  

Sweet Potato Vines

I could honestly stop the list here and this would get you through the summer. These are a go to for any professional landscaper and also novices like myself because they survive the heat. And they don’t just survive, they THRIVE. We’re talking like take over your planters and walkways thrive. They grow and spread easily, and for the cost of less than $5 per little plant, you will fill your spaces.

Sweet potato vines come in bright green and purple, I typically get both and mix them up a bit to add a little variety. They take a little while to start to grow and spread, so give them a little time. (Picture above and picture below are only about a month apart!) And of course, like every other plant, I’ve randomly had a couple die when they were still little, which is annoying, but once they decide to grow big, they really show off.

So if you only want to buy one thing and you want it to be good, let it be these.

Vincas

Now if you wanted more flowery plants than just vines, Vincas are for you. They are cute, happy little flowers that can tolerate full sun and summer heat. And even if you forget to water them for a couple days, they will get wilty, but come right back when you water them again. These are perfect as the main attraction, but I use them as filler in the summer. I put them in my above ground planters where we need a little color (they are usually varieties of white and pinks) and trust that they will grow and flourish.

Last year, I even left a couple of them in the in ground planter where my jasmines are over the winter and while they don’t look phenomenal, they survived the winter too! But yes, these are easy, cute and you can get a pony pack with six little plants for about $3. I had a handful of extras this year (you could say that my eyes are bigger than my flowerbeds), so I stuck them all in with the jasmines and I can’t wait to see how big and bushy they get!

Elephant Plant

This is another one that I reserve for my above ground planters. It has the look of a succulent, but is hearty enough to survive almost anything. I bought four last year and not only did they survive the summer and winter, but they are getting bigger, fuller and spilling over the edges of my planters, which I just adore. They add amazing texture to a planter as well and just make me so so happy. It will usually cost around $5-8 to buy smaller ones, (larger ones are more, obviously) but they are plants that you won’t have to replace seasonally and that take up a lot of space, which saves you having to buy a ton more plants.

Basil Plant

I know this isn’t technically a plant you’d normally see with flowers, but if you enjoy eating or cooking with basil, it is so nice to have it on hand. And bonus, it does great in the summer! I’ve always bought my plants from Trader Joe’s, where they are about $4, keep it inside and water it for a couple days before planting, and then just keep it in a planter that doesn’t get a ton of direct sunlight. I like the height that it adds, and that I can run and pick a few leaves every time I want something tasty.

To be completely honest though, that I’ve had a few die when I either ignored them too long, or one that I tried to plant right away without keeping it inside first. I don’t know if I shocked it or what, but I now have a plant that I’ve had about a month and it is doing great! However, I know that it probably won’t last through the winter, as they seem to not love the cold.

Dusty Millers

I’m not 100% positive that you can find these at a nursery right now, (I bought mine in the fall) but I thought they were worth mentioning. These add some fun texture and a different green color than most flowers. I planted mine in the fall and they are so giant and doing great now. In past summers I have left them in the ground and the sweet potato vines covered them completely, and when it was time to pull out the vines in the fall, the Dusty Millers were still hiding happily underneath, growing like crazy! I have several in my above ground planters that I anticipate doing just fine in the heat this summer.

Gazanias

These are new to me this year! I grabbed a few to plant around my vegetable garden to hopefully bring bees, and they are just thriving. And then when my gardener cousin stopped by and saw them, he reported that they are almost impossible to kill. So, fingers crossed! Also, they close up a little in the shade/at night and for some reason I love when flowers want to sleep as much as I do. What little charmers. I got them at Home Depot for about $3 each.

Seeds

If you aren’t wanting to break the bank on plants, you can always start with some seeds! I am growing sunflowers from seeds and also zinnias. A packet of seeds usually costs less than $2, and depending on the flower, may have much more than you need that you can save for future years! My sunflowers are almost two feet tall now and I can’t wait for their happy little faces to bloom. The zinnia seeds I just threw down a couple weeks ago and have popped up all over my vegetable garden. Again, I’m hoping to bring bees and help with my vegetables. Which brings me to my next subject…

Vegetables

Ask me next year. This year I’m grumpy about the fact that nothing is producing except one little tomato plant that has three tomatoes on it. These are going to be $15 tomatoes! And this little tomato in particular looks pretty smug about it:

But really, this is my first year trying a summer vegetable garden. I feel like it should be easier than it is, but I’ve had very limited success. I’m trying to decide if I should set a goal to get at least one zucchini, one cucumber, one bell pepper and 10 tomatoes (I started with ten tomato plants, so let’s hope I can average one per plant). But, I’m confident that it is just going to take some learning and figuring out. And if not this year, or next, maybe by 2025 I can have a thriving vegetable garden. Perhaps by then I can recoup some of my costs too.

Wrap Up

Honestly, figuring out the right plants to use in the right spaces and climate makes all the difference! When we first bought our house I would plant fussy, needy, high maintenance flowers and then would be ticked when they would only last for a month or two! Now I plant twice a year and I love to see my plant babies grow and thrive!

If you’re unsure, start small. Buy one sweet potato plant and one Vinca flower and stick them in a pot to see if you can keep them alive! And then see if you don’t fall in love with them and start talking softly and sweetly to them. It’s even okay to tell them how proud you are of how well they are growing, because come on, aren’t they being so wonderful to you?

Also, I know there are a lot of other varieties that do well, several of which I’ve tried. I just thought this was an easy get started list. Now get planting! It will make you so so happy!

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