Creating a landscape in the desert can be both exciting and challenging. An easy, low-maintenance yard can bring hours of enjoyment and turn your outdoor living space into a desert oasis.
The secret to back (and front) yard bliss is selecting low-water plants that thrive in the desert environment.
The State of Arizona Department of Water Resources recommends seven xeriscape principles for creating a beautiful, healthy, water-efficient garden and landscape.
- Good landscape planning and design. Whether you intend to complete your landscaping design all at once or in stages, a plan will serve as a guide and help prevent costly mistakes. Your plan should consider cost, function, aesthetic preferences, maintenance requirements, and water and energy efficiency.
- Low-water use plants. Create a colorful, low-maintenance yard without taxing our limited water resources by selecting from hundreds of native or desert-adapted plants from a local nursery. Choose plants based on shape, size, seasonal color, shade, or ability to screen unsightly areas.
- Appropriate turf areas. Turf requires more water than low-water-use plants, but sometimes it is a necessity. Pets and children need a comfortable place to play in the yard. A small turf area that is properly planned, installed, and maintained can fit nicely into your xeriscape plan. Or you can opt for artificial turf.
- Efficient irrigation. Almost all new plants require regular watering until they are established. Even a mature plant may need water from time-to-time when the rains are delayed. For better efficiency, put trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and turf on separate valves and set each according to their watering needs. Your irrigation schedule should be adjusted at least four times a year to meet the seasonal requirements.
- Soil improvements. Most low-water native plants thrive in our desert soils if there is good drainage and the soil is loosened at the time of planting. Water thirsty plants such as the vegetable garden and turf will need soil amendments to thrive. Contact the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension to get specific information for your yard.
- Use of mulches. Mulches reduce water evaporation and inhibit weed growth and erosion. The most popular types are decomposed granite, crushed rock, bark chips, and wood grindings. Leaves, flowers, and fruits that naturally fall from trees also create a natural mulch when left on the ground.
- Appropriate maintenance. Xeriscape designs save water, time, and money when properly designed and maintained. But all landscapes need care and supplemental water from time to time. Learn proper pruning techniques, maintain irrigation system regularly, and use fertilizers prudently.
Learn more about low-water plants at the Desert Botanical Garden, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, local xeriscape demonstration gardens like the one located in Fountain Park, Maricopa County Cooperative Extension office, local nurseries, and books from your local library.