With the gardening season upon us again we narrow down the most suitable plants for our climate.
1. Flame tree (Delonix regia)
The Delonix regia, or flame tree, should be your go-to if you’re looking to add a splash of colour to your garden. Sprouting fiery red, orange or yellow flowers, the flame tree, native to Madagascar, is typically found in tropical or near-tropical climates. It can grow in open, free-draining sandy or loamy soil enriched with organic matter (avoid heavy or clay soils). The tree itself can reach a height of 12 metres, but spreads widely, growing dense foliage, making it highly useful for providing shade in UAE gardens. The Delonix will lose most of its foliage at the end of each winter, before flowering. Propagation is best carried out from seeds that have been scarified and soaked in hot water before planting.
2. Frangipani (Plumeria)
Plumeria, or frangipani, is the perfect tree for UAE gardens. Its dark-green leaves and delicate white-and-yellow flowers make it a beautiful addition to any garden; it has a sweet and heady fragrance; and is also extremely easy to grow. Plumeria does well in direct sunlight, can tolerate drought and flourishes in poor soil quality. It works either as a shrub or a small tree. Propagation is from cuttings of freshly elongated stems or aseptically germinated seeds.
3. Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
The Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, or China rose, is one of the few species that flourishes in sand (as long as it’s regularly fertilised with a balanced feed), which makes it ideal for UAE gardens. The China rose can be grown as a shrub or as a container plant. It is recommended that, if planted in a container, it is replanted and its roots are pruned at least every three years. Susceptible to a variety of pests such as spider mites, which cause a mottled yellowing of the leaves, and thrips, resulting in bud drop, the China rose also attracts mealy bugs, which infested the region in 2000.
4. Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
A consistent presence in traditional Bedouin life, the UAE population of Phoenix dactylifera, or date palms, is responsible for 6 per cent of the world’s date production. But be warned – if you are looking to introduce this emblematic species into your garden, you’ll need a lot of space, as one single palm can grow as tall as 23 metres, with leaves spanning four to six metres. Date palms can either grow individually or by forming a clump with several stems from a single root system.
The bougainvillaea is one of the most UAE’s most popular plants – and rightly so. The plant tends to have few, if any, pest problems, and because of its varied and bright hues, it makes a welcome addition to any garden that’s in need of a bit of colour. Native to South America, the bougainvillaea is a genus of thorny ornamental vines, bushes and trees. The plant can grow from one to 12 metres tall, and is typically used as an ornamental plant in areas with warmer climates. It produces white flowers, often surrounded by three or six brightly coloured bracts (a modified leaf). It’s ideal for UAE gardens: it grows best in dry soil, thrives in full sunlight and requires little water once established – although it should be noted that growth rate varies depending on the variety. Propagation can be done easily with tip cuttings.
6. Yellow trumpet flower (Tecoma stans)
The flowering perennial shrub Tecoma stans, or yellow trumpet flower, is native to the Americas, and the official flower of the US Virgin Islands. It grows as a large shrub or multi-stemmed tree and reaches up to five metres high. Its foliage is bright green and made up of five tooth-edged fingers. Flowering occurs repetitively during the winter months, leaving the plant or tree covered in bright yellow clusters. The plant can flourish in less-forgiving landscapes such as roadsides, so it’s ideal for the harsh climate of the UAE. Its ability to thrive in full sun means it will hold up during the hot summer months, while its moderate salt- and drought tolerance also makes it suitable for UAE gardens. Propagation from seeds, which are produced in beanlike pods, takes longer, so it’s best to use cuttings.
7. Mother’s tongue (Albizia lebbeck)
The Albizia lebbeck, or mother’s tongue, is a flowering tree native to Indomalaya, New Guinea and northern Australia. It can grow up to 30 metres tall, with a trunk that’s 50 centimetres to one metre in diameter. Its bipinnate leaves are dense and dark green, while its flowers are round, fluffy, pale yellow and produced in abundance during the early summer. Large pods, each containing six to 12 seeds, develop following the growth of the flowers. The rattle of the pods in the wind is what gained the tree its alternative name, mother’s tongue. It’s an ideal tree to grow in the UAE thanks to its high level of salt tolerance and drought resistance. Propagation is easy and can be done from seeds.
8. Damas tree (Conocarpus lancifolius )
The Conocarpus lancifolius, or Damas tree, is fast-growing and tolerant of heat, drought and salt, making it a perfect landscape tree and shrub for the UAE. Native to the coastal and riverine areas of Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen, the tree is also found throughout the Horn of Africa and South Asia. The Damas has proven effective in cleaning oil-contaminated soils and is often used in soil stabilisation and reforestation projects. As the tree has a symmetrical growth habit, it can easily be shaped into a variety of different forms, making it particularly effective for creating a visual or noise barrier. However, it’s dropped leaves, flowers and seeds make a considerable amount of mess and its roots can cause damage to walls and drains, so do proceed with care.