Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Larrea tridentata:
Creosote Bush

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Form: Shrub.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: 4-10' high and 6-12' wide.
Flowers: Yellow, with five wrinkled petals.
Bloom: Winter into spring, and sporadically after rains.
Fruit: A fuzzy white seed capsule that persists on the plant.
Leaves: Shiny green, two leaflets joined at their base, a resinous, waxy surface often sticky, and a creosote smell after rain which some find enjoyable, others unpleasant.
Stems: No thorns, gray.
Roots: Very aggressive, taking so much water from the surrounding soil that seeds and other plants cannot get established. No other plants grow underneath. New stems may sprout from its root crown after an extended drought. The offspring of this plant tend to naturally spread themselves out in orchard style in the wild. It is difficult to transplant.
Wildlife: Attracts bees and specialized insects, and is used as shade cover by desert animals.
Toxic / Danger: Poisonous to, and usually avoided by, grazing animals. The crushed leaves may impart a skin rash. It is unsafe as home remedy.
Origin: California to Texas, Nevada and Utah, Mexico.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 7-11.
Heat tolerant: Very tolerant.
Drought tolerant: Very tolerant.
Sun: Full sun.
Water after becoming established: It survives on annual rainfall alone. Supplemental water every four months in drought is beneficial. The soil should dry out between waterings.
Soil: Well drained, dry, low in organic content, not compacted, pH 6.6-9.0 (neutral to highly alkaline). It grows best on rocky ground.
First Year Care: Young plants should be extensively watered when they first go into the ground, then watered weekly thereafter, and receive mostly part shade for the first three years. Young plants experience heat-caused drought stress very easily, and most do not survive without part shade and extra care.
Prune: After the danger of frost is past, it can be sheared into a hedge, a compact shrub, or a tree form. Trimming its stem tips makes it bushier and more attractive.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Seed that is hulled, fumigated, and dried before storage, then scarified, and soaked in distilled water overnight before planting. Success has been reported with planting dried seed, not scarified or soaked, in a container in full sun, and watered regularly. Seedlings need to be transplanted to a desert location with part shade, especially afternoon shade, to survive in their first three years.
Uses: Ornamental, hedge, xeric garden.

This plant is a member of the Creosote Bush family (Zygophyllaceae). Creosote Bush is one of the hardiest plants in the desert and is thought to live for over one hundred years.

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Larrea tridentata: Creosote Bush - flowers

Larrea tridentata: Creosote Bush - plumed seeds

Larrea tridentata: Creosote Bush

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Latest update: January, 2022