Try to think of the UAE’s hot summer as a challenge rather than a deterrent when it comes to maintaining a beautiful garden all year round. Yes, thirsty tenders will gradually wither and wilt if left outside under a hot, harsh sun, but your garden doesn’t have to lose its aesthetic appeal if you chose your original planting scheme wisely. By thinking ahead and planting a few hardy flowers, trees and grasses in choice locations around your plot you can create a thriving desert haven that you can admire whatever the weather. In addition, plants that are not so hardy in the UAE’s harsh climes can be given a helping hand. Firstly, species that require similar irrigation should be grouped together so you don’t run the risk of under or over watering them. When it comes to your tender plants, try relocating them to a shady spot, or potting them and bringing them inside for the summer. If they cannot be moved or potted, erect a canopy or garden umbrella over them to create shade, or cover with a mesh. And if all else fails, take a cutting and nurture the species as a house plant until the winter season comes back around. However, all this rethinking can largely be avoided if your landscaping is thoughtfully designed from the beginning, with tender plants positioned in shady spots, pergolas and awnings designed into your scheme, and hardy plants interspersed for the summer. Which plants are the hardiest? We’ve highlighted six of the best varieties that can stand up to the UAE summer.
Golden barrel cactus (echinocactus grusonii)
Be warned, even cacti can get sunburned! However, if you tend to leave the country during the summer or prefer extremely low maintenance plants, you can rely on the cacti family for providing appealing options. These prickly plants can still be pretty, with small flowers budding amid the spikes. The golden barrel cactus hails from the deserts of southwestern North America and is widely found in the UAE. It’s rounded shape, which can reach up to one metre in diameter, is edged with pronounced “ribs”, in turn covered with long yellow spines. Typically in April, bright yellow or orange flowers appear on the top of the cactus but only after several years – however, they can live for over a century so you’ll get to see several cycles during its lifetime. They also produce small pineapple-shaped fruit that aren’t the tastiest – they’re dry and bitter so they’re best left to the birds. The golden barrel cactus (or Mexican barrel cactus as it’s also commonly known) is particularly attractive if you plant several together, adding a prickly punch to a rockery.
Desert or foxtail grass (cenchrus ciliaris)
You’ll no doubt recognise this tall grass growing along roadsides and in public areas (or the wild), as it’s an easy, cheap and fast growing grass that can quickly spruce up a vacant spot. It grows up to one metre in height, with long bushy tendrils sprouting upwards from its thick grassy base, which stays green even in summer. Plant several next to each other along an empty fence or wall to add a degree of wabi-sabi wildness to your garden. Native to Africa and the Gulf, it’s a hardy grass with a high drought tolerance and requires little watering and maintenance.
Frangipani tree (plumeria)
Along with a palm, this should be a staple tree in any Gulf garden. It thrives in direct sunlight, has a good tolerance to drought and poor soil quality and is easy to grow, propagated from stem cuttings or aseptically germinated seeds. Simply plant a cut branch in soil and once its rooted it will grow fast – you may even need to cut it back after a few years and you can replant those cuttings or give them to a neighbour. Frangipani can grow as a shrub or a small tree and produces fragrant white, yellow or pink flowers, mostly in the winter.
Elephant bush (portulacaria afra)
Widespread in South Africa, the elephant bush favours dry, rocky outcrops and its tolerance to drought makes it an ideal plant for UAE gardens. Once established, this hardy plant will endure the desert heat and sun admirably. The elephant bush grows as a shrub or a tree between 2.5 and 4.5 metres tall, with sturdy branches cultivating a dense thicket of leaves that provide resourceful shade. Propagate from cuttings, which root easily in pots, and move to a bed or a larger pot once it’s bigger.
Purple heart (tradescantia pallida)
Native to Mexico, the purple heart is used to hot, dry conditions, however, it is a tender perennial so keep an eye on it during the hottest months; you may need to provide some shade or move pots inside for a while. Its wonderful deep purple colour provides excellent contrast against other plants and is popularly used for groundcover and edging for borders and rockeries, while its downwardtrailing stems lend themselves nicely to hanging baskets; stems can trail to 18 inches and longer. The purple heart plant can be quite weedy so containers are a good option to curb it spreading and will add a nice pop of colour to a balcony. This plant can be propagated easily from cuttings.
Mother’s tongue tree (albizia lebbeck)
This flowering tree benefits from a high level of salt tolerance and drought resistance, making it an ideal species for coastal Gulf regions. While they can start off as small, potted house plants, mother’s tongue can grow up to 30 metres with a thick trunk that’s between 50cm and one metre in diameter, making it a good choice for larger gardens, adding greenery to corners and boundaries. The pods the tree produces can be quite large with six to 12 seeds that rattle in the wind – the noise of which coined its nickname of mother’s tongue. Use these easy-to-find seeds to propagate in beds and pots, inside and outside.
Vinca flower (catharanthus roseus)
At its best in hot, humid conditions and in direct sunlight – even the hot summer sun – the vinca flower is a UAE gardener’s delight. This annual plant blooms all year round even in the harshest of conditions, producing white, pink, red and purple variations with an “eye” at the centre of the flower that’s in a contrasting colour. They grow quickly, and up to 30cm to 60cm high, with the flowers nestled amid a thatch of glossy dark green leaves. Plant vinca seeds approximately 10 inches apart and expect to see results two to three weeks later.
Yellow trumpet flower (tecoma stans)
The bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers of this perennial shrub bloom in clusters repeatedly during the winter. In the summer, its leaves will remain spritely as it’s a sun-loving plant and has a moderate tolerance to salt and drought. A hardy shrub, there’s no need to worry about it being planted in direct sunlight or by dusty roadsides at the front of a villa in a busy residential community. The yellow trumpet can grow as a large shrub or as a small tree with multiple stems, reaching five metres tall, and is also known as the yellow trumpetbush, yellow bells, yellow elder or ginger-thomas. For faster results, propagate from cuttings instead of the seeds from its bean-like pods.
Where to buy: Our top 5 garden stores and plant nurseries in Dubai
1) Dubai Garden Centre
With a store on Sheikh Zayed Road and a new one set to open in Jumeirah, Dubai Garden Centre is the place to go for convenient shopping for plants, freshly made floral bouquets, decorative garden accessories and features, plus indoor and outdoor furniture to suit many tastes. While you're choosing your plants, enjoy a coffee and cake in their conservatory. Sheikh Zayed Road on the Al Quoz side, 04 590 4333.
2) Al Warsan Plant Nurseries
With more than 100 plant shops you're spoilt for choice when it comes to plants - both indoor and outdoor - vegetables, flowers, trees, shrubs plus decorative items like pots and fountains. With huge quantities of many varieties, from potted plants to large-scale landscaping solutions, you'll find affordable prices at Al Warsan Nurseries. Located in Al Warsan 3. >
3) Wahat Al Sahraa Nursery
Wahat Al Sahraa Nursery is one of the largest plant nurseries in the UAE. Managed by Desert Group (which also manages Dubai Garden Centre) this is a great place to shop for exotic and native varieties. Al Khawaneej, 04 289 1063.
Of course, nothing is more convenient than online shopping, and while you can see the quality or assess the exact size by shopping for plants online, PlantShop.ae deliver quality and affordable plants direct to your door. The online garden boutique offers indoor and outdoor plants, vegetables, palms, and a small selection of pots and planters.
This online garden centre is focused on urban farming with indoor and outdoor plants, vertical gardens, artificial plants and grass, as well as garden tools and outdoor furniture. As its name implies, My Green Chapter offers some eco-friendly garden solutions, such as solar lighting and composting ideas. You can also find feed and houses for pets such as rabbits, birds and even chickens!
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