Plants that do well in southwest desert gardens are not only drought tolerant but also heat tolerant. Some native plants grow only in shaded canyons where they avoid full sun conditions. Part shade lowers the water needs of many plants in our extreme summer heat.
For desert climates, in the mountains, select plants that accept pH 7.0 (neutral) soil. In valleys, select plants that accept pH 7.5 - 8.5 (alkaline) soil. Acid-loving plants will require heavy soil modification and periodic soil maintenance to survive. Water supplies in the desert are also slightly alkaline, putting further stress on acid-loving plants.
Choose desert-compatible plants that desperately hungry wild critters dislike. These drought resistant plants are less tasty to wildlife and often grow back quickly when nibbled.
Because climate change is producing greater temperature extremes, consider choosing plants that will survive in a hardiness zone range beyond yours. For example, if you live in USDA zone 9a, plants with a hardiness range from zone 8b to 10a will more likely survive long-term.
For fruit plants, choose varieties that need 300 winter chill hours or less. Chill hours are those hours in winter below 45°F and above freezing. Some fruit trees, especially Sweet Cherry, will not set fruit in hot desert climates because of insufficient winter chill hours.