When you invest in Utah native plant species, you never have to wonder if they’ll grow well in our climate region. Over the millennia, these rugged plants have evolved to become perfectly adapted to the local soil, rainfall and temperature conditions.

So, unlike exotic varieties, plants that are naturally found in this region are perfectly suited for Utah gardens. As long as they get enough sun and a little water they should thrive.

Utah's Climate

The unique nature of northern Utah’s climate means that, in order to survive, plant species must endure an ongoing cycle of heat, cold and wind. 

Hot and dry

Utah summers are hot and dry, and it’s now common to have multiple 100+ degree days in July and August. High temperatures can dry out some plants more quickly than others, especially plants that aren’t cooled by large shade trees. Plants that require more water to foliate and flower generally have a harder time thriving in such hot conditions.

Utah also has a high UV index, meaning that full sun here is actually too sunny for many plants that can handle full sun in Oregon or California. Certain trees and shrubs will wilt, or their foliage will be scorched and crisp up, their leaves turning sickly yellow then brown as they drop prematurely. High winds are common also and can exacerbate drought conditions by drying out plants, especially new plantings that don’t have established root systems yet.

Cold and dry

Another important consideration for gardening in Utah is winter watering. You might think that because there’s snowfall at various times in the winter that your garden is getting enough hydration, when in fact it isn’t. Utah’s snowfall is sporadic and inconsistent. It’s very powdery, which is fantastic for skiing, but not nearly wet enough to hydrate your thirsty plants. Although this can be helped with monthly watering, Utah native plants are already adapted to survive winters with only what Mother Nature provides.    

Water Conservation

In an effort to conserve water, many people are interested in gardens that are more “water-wise” and drought-tolerant. Low-water plants can thrive with limited natural precipitation, requiring little or no extra water. Although some species require full sunlight, others can thrive in the shady areas of your property. Most experts agree that selecting native plant species provides the best chance of success with the least amount of maintenance and supplemental water. 

Xeric, not Zero

Conserving water is certainly a top priority for any xeriscape in Utah, the second driest state in the country. BUT THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU STOP WATERING, nor does it mean ROCKSCAPING. Instead, the key to sustainable water conservation is to keep your soil healthy, because if it is, your plants are healthy as well. Healthy soil absorbs rainwater and irrigation water like a sponge, it sequesters carbon, and it provides habitat for all kinds of beneficial microbes, fungi, and critters. Unhealthy dry soil, especially soil covered in rocks and landscape fabric, will repel water like Gore-Tex, and is essentially devoid of life, exacerbating drought conditions even more.

Building Healthy Soil

To help protect local water quality, native plants better control soil erosion and moderate the effect of droughts and floods than many non-native options. And, because these varieties stay greener longer, using them throughout your landscape could help slow the spread of wildfires.

The first step in building healthy soil is to plant native plants because they have deep root systems to help hold water in place. Ditch the landscape fabric and instead spread a nice, 4 inch thick layer of wood bark mulch to help retain water, keep soil temperatures cooler, prevent soil erosion, and prevent weeds! And remember: drought does not cause bare, dry soil; bare, dry soil causes drought.

Local Wildlife

Native plant species coexist with the natural environment, providing important food and shelter for the region’s wildlife. Using these plants to beautify a landscape can help reverse the disturbing trend of species loss.

Supporting Local Wildlife

Utah is home to over 900 native bee species, all of them living a solitary life far different than our typical conception of a busy bee colony. Planting native flowers will help to support these native bees, which still play a major role in pollination, just like their European cousins. Native bees do not nest in hives; they are not gregarious, but solitary, so by planting food for native bees, you help to support their food and habitat. 

Low Maintenance

When Utah native plant species are properly planted and well-established, they don’t require much long-term care. Native plants prefer to be neglected (once established of course) and are perfect for the busy gardener with other landscape priorities. 

Compared with exotic ornamental plants, Utah native varieties need less water, fertilizer and maintenance. These outdoor plants are better able to resist damage from drought, disease, freezing temperatures and hungry herbivores too, so you won’t have to spend much time or money on their continual care. You’ll also cut down on water use – and the associated costs.


Flowering Perennials



Non-native durable

In addition to plants that are native to Utah and the Intermountain West, there are a great variety of flowering plants, trees and shrubs from around the world that can tolerate Utah’s dry climate. These ‘exotic’ plants can grow among the natives in xeric landscapes and add unique textures to your home and garden.

Big Blue Sea Holly

Eryngium x zabelii is a great drought tolerant perennial with electric blue flowers that look like they have been spray painted! These spiky plants love hot, dry conditions with good soil drainage. The flowers last all through summer on the plant, and they cut very well, fresh or dried. Butterflies love the flowers too! Grow in full sun to 24-36” tall and 12-18” wide. Hardy to -30° F. 


Olympia Sunfern Wormwood

Artemisia gmelinii is a unique wormwood native to southern Russia and Central Asia, areas with a climate much like our own here in the Intermountain West: hot, cold, high, salty, and dry. These non-invasive fern-like plants provide an interesting lacy texture to the xeric landscape, replete with dark green. Interesting camphor-like smells emanate from this deceptively tough plant. Grow in full sun or partial shade to 18” tall and wide. Hardy to -30° F. 




Thinleaf Mountain Alder
Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia is one of our lovely native trees, often found in riparian areas. So, you will want to plant this near a canal or stream. Check out the edges of Silver Lake in Brighton to see a vast swathe of them. Smooth gray bark and persistent female catkins lend this graceful tree some winter interest. Multi-stemmed growth from 10-20 ft. tall by 10-15 ft. wide. 


Curl-Leaf Mountain Mahogany
Cercocarpus ledifolius is a small, shrubby tree with nice open habit, very slowly reaching 15 ft. tall and wide. Exfoliating bark and evergreen leaves provide year-round interest, and in the summer months this plant is covered with fascinating hairy fruit. This native is highly sought after due to its durability and excellent performance in the Utah landscape. Mountain Mahogany can fix its own nitrogen, allowing it to grow in very poor soil, and improving the soil in the surrounding area! Plant this as a focal specimen, where it will live for centuries. 


True Mountain Mahogany
Cercocarpus montanus is the lesser-known cousin of the popular Curl-Leaf Mountain Mahogany. This gem only grows 6-10 ft. tall and wide, with a dense and full habit. Can grow larger with plentiful water. Semi-evergreen leaves are accompanied by interesting twisty fruit, which burrows itself into the soil in Archimedean fashion. Exfoliating bark provides year-round interest. Extremely heat and drought tolerant, this robust native ought to be grown more. Can be grown at up to 10,000 ft. 


Gamble Oak
Quercus gambelii, also known as the Scrub Oak, is one of our most common intermontane trees. Highly adaptable: these can grow anywhere from 5-50 ft (depending on moisture), but in our area, they are usually around 20 ft tall. Drought tolerant once established, but these can handle water as well. Plant these to support other native plants and wildlife with its built-in habitat!


Western Redbud

Western Redbud
Cercis occidentalis is the western native version of the popular Eastern Redbud! This one has the same stunning flowers in spring, but on a smaller, multi-stem, rather drought tolerant tree. The glossy green leaves are held on graceful gray stems. Perfect small tree for a dry corner of the yard, or in a drought-tolerant planting. Grow in full/partial sun to 12’ tall and wide. 



Desert Willow
Chilopsis linearis
is a very showy summer-blooming plant with tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant is only semi-hardy in the valley, so may have some dieback each year; you’d be better off treating this like a large shrub than a tree. Site this one in a protected micro-climate for best results. Very xeric once established. Only hardy to 0°F. These don’t get that big in SLC, usually only 6-10’ tall and wide.



Pink Dawn Chitalpa
x Chitalpa tashkentensis is a hybridized plant, born in the Soviet Union of two related genera: the Southern Catalpa of the SE US, and the Desert Willow, of the SW US. This unique pairing led to a plant with delightful intermediate characteristics: smaller and more floriferous than the catalpa, yet cold hardier and more tree-like than the desert willow! A wonderful combo for the Intermountain West! Blooms for months in the summer, with tubular flowers that hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees are sure to love. Very xeric! Grows 15’-20’ tall and 10-15’ wide. Hardy to -10° F. 



Sapphire Skies Beaked Yucca
Yucca rostrata is one of the hardiest trunk-forming yuccas, much like the famous Joshua Tree! This one forms a stout single trunk – after years of growth – topped by a crown of powder-blue spears. Evergreen foliage is complemented by creamy white flowers in early summer. Nearly perfectly symmetrical in shape, this plant would even make a nice specimen plant in a conventional English garden, just as they fit naturally into the xeric landscape. Slowly grows 5-10’ tall and 3-6’ wide. Hardy to  -25° F.



Conifers are magnificent evergreens, but not every conifer was built to take on extreme heat and drought conditions. Some pines do better than others, and even some cedars and cypress can take the heat. Junipers, though, were routinely planted in the postwar period when landscapes were not widely irrigated, and they provide great texture and greenery with very minimal water requirements.



Single Leaf Pinyon Pine
Pinus monophylla is a rare find for a Northern Utah and Idaho native pine. Pinyons needs very good drainage but perform surprisingly well in urban landscapes, as well as outside the cabin in the canyons. You can expect slow growth but long life out of this small pine, with a distinctively tapered shape in youth but an eventual flat-topped crown, and with a height of no more than 20’ tall & 20’ wide and a wild but upright habit. The foliage is bluer than the double leaf species.



Incense Cedar
Calocedrus decurrens is a common sight throughout the Sierra-Nevadas, always forming a perfect upright cone shape. In California and Oregon, these could be 100 ft. tall; in our area, they typically grow 50 ft. tall and 10-15 ft. wide. Adaptable to a wide range of soils and conditions, able to handle cool, moist sites, as well as hotter, dryer locations. Fast growing! Always a lush, deep green through winter. Hardy to -20° F.


Arizona Cypress
Hesperocyparis arizonica is a very drought-tolerant tree native from southern Utah down to northern Mexico. Lovely blue-gray foliage stands out in the winter landscape of greens, and it contrasts very well with the reddish-brown bark. Foliage is deer resistant as well. Plant this tree in a tough site and it will perform well, but remember to water thoroughly until it is established. Expect growth to 25 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. 


‘Skyrocket’ Juniper
Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’ has beautiful, semi-soft, slate blue foliage and a narrow, columnar shape that gives this evergreen a formal look. Makes a great privacy screen, a flanking plant for entrances or a dramatic vertical element to the landscape. Will require wrapping in the winter. Grows to 15’ tall and 4’ wide.  


‘Wichita Blue’ Juniper
Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita Blue’ is a Rocky Mountain juniper (cold hardy and heat tolerant) with an upright, pyramidal habit and year-round silver-blue foliage. Plant against buildings to soften the scale of blank walls, for a massive hedge or windbreak, or as a cool accent to a garden bed. Wrapping in the winter is preferred to ensure their shape. Grows to 15’ tall and 6’ wide.