In general, the phrase “high desert” identifies desert regions that are situated inland at high elevations. Even though these regions are dry, they do receive more precipitation than lesser lying desert regions and are not quite as alluring. In California, the high desert goes to the geographic region northeast of the San Gabriel Mountains. Gardeners living in California’s high desert or in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 and 9 can develop several climbing high desert plants to cover unsightly chain link fences. Many of these climbing plants are vines, but a few are shrubs with vine-like tendencies.
Evergreens and Semievergreens
Primrose jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi), yellow orchid vine (Mascagnia macroptera) along with pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) are excellent options for evergreen vines to cover a fence. Primrose jasmine offers yellow flowers in late winter and spring, while the yellow orchid vine blossoms in late spring and early summer. Planting these two together generates an evergreen fence with yellow flowers continuously from late winter to early summer. The pink trumpet vine flowers in late summer and fall along with its blossoms have a light, pleasing scent. The yellow orchid and pink trumpet vines are semievergreen and might die back temporarily during cold winters. All these plants do best in full sun.
For year-round blossoms, bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis) is just a vine-like shrub that likes full sun or part shade in exceedingly hot areas, requires very little water once established and comes in a wide array of bright colors. However, bougainvillea includes thorns and might not be suitable for fences near sidewalks or heavily traveled areas. A thorn-free option for flower lovers with a fence in full sun is the potato vine (Solanum jasminoides), which provides white flowers and purplish green foliage annually when grown in a frost free environment. Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) also flowers during the year. As an additional bonus, the vibrant red-orange blossoms of the cape honeysuckle will attract hummingbirds to your garden.
If your fence is close to a pool, you will want plants that won’t fall a whole lot of leaves or spent flowers which shake pool filters and stick to wet bare feet. Low litter plants are also a wise option for fences next to walkways, so guests don’t drag messy plant components into your home. Low litter options include grape ivy (Cissus trifoliata) and lilac vine (Hardenbergia violacea). Grape ivy is semievergreen and although not showy, offers attractive green foliage and will grow in full sunlight in addition to deep shade. Lilac vine is a evergreen shrub-like plant that can climb fences and produce purple flower clusters in the winter and spring. The evergreen primrose jasmine and year old flowering potato vine also create hardly any litter.
Two Noteworthy Plants
Even though they defy categorization, there are two other exceptional options for gardeners wanting to conceal a fence. One is the hacienda creeper (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). Also called Boston ivy, the hacienda creeper is a semievergreen vine with glossy leaves and attractive leaf color options. In areas where the plant will not lose its leaves in the fall, the leaves turn shades of crimson, orange and burgundy in the fall. This is only one of the few climbers that can be grown in the high desert which produces such stunning fall color reliably. Another option is Lady Banks’ rose (Rosa banksiae). Although this plant isn’t particular to the high desert climate, it will not grow well there. This rose is an appealing, vigorous evergreen with white or pale yellow flowers and requires hardly any attention or water, making it perfect for active gardeners on the move.