The California creosote bush is the very face of the desert. The creosote is renowned for its many medicinal uses among Native American tribes. But it's so common that it's easy to miss the creosote bush for the spectacular ornamental shrub that it is. With its pretty yellow flowers and great heat and drought tolerance, the creosote makes a low-maintenance and attractive addition to your desert garden. Whether you're in Arizona or Southern California, learn how to grow creosote to brighten your landscape.
The creosote is renowned for its hardiness. It's able to tolerate up to 3 years between watering. Newly planted creosote needs to be watered just as any other woody shrub does, about once a week and generously until established, unless rainfall in your area is more abundant. Creosote achieves its finest form in full sun, and it's hardy to 0 degrees F.
As a garden plant, the creosote is unrivaled not just for its toughness and beauty but for the connection it provides to its desert surroundings. Many other plants can grow alongside the creosote. Its loose branches and lean watering requirements make it a particularly suitable companion to sun-loving small cacti, aloes, agaves and other succulents.
Creosote blooms in the spring and is in bloom for up to 2 months. Its flowers are small, with bright yellow petals. Its fruit is contained in pods covered with tiny white hairs, and attracts many bird species.
The creosote's chief strategy for enduring a long, dry summer is to shed its leaves, which are small, rigid and coated with an aromatic resin. Growing in winter and spring, the leaves are shed when the weather is hot. The plant essentially becomes dormant for the rest of the summer.
California creosote can be found at good nurseries in desert climates, or online. Buy several, as they're slow-growing. The creosote grows best on well-draining slopes or flat areas at low to moderate elevations. Though they can take several years to grow a few feet in height, plant creosotes several feet apart, as the branches tend to grow upwards in a 'V' shape. For more tips on planting creosote, check out "Planting Trees & Shrubs in Fall."
Pruning the creosote is difficult, as its wood is extremely hard. Fortunately, pruning is rarely necessary. In long spells of dry weather, the creosote tends to lose a branch or two. Removing these dead branches is generally the only pruning your creosote will require.