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Landscaping Tips for the Desert Gardener

Every home deserves a fabulous landscape to optimize its curb appeal. If your property is more like the set of “Lawrence of Arabia” than your lush dream garden, don’t despair.

Creating a beautiful oasis in a desert climate requires a little knowledge and planning, but it’s probably easier than you think. Here are some basic tips to help you get started.

Choose Native Plants

The desert climate is too harsh for many plants. So to create an environment that’s inviting and full of life, it’s important to choose drought-resistant trees, shrubs and flowers. Choosing native plants is the best way to accomplish this.

Native desert plants are already accustomed to the dry climate, and they can handle the almost constant sunlight they’ll have to endure. Plants that grow in other climates perish due to the lack of moisture in the environment, so although that lovely dahlia is tempting, it’s not a practical choice. It would take a lot of effort and too much water to keep it alive.


Another reason to landscape with native desert plants is their ability to thrive in nutrient-poor soil without the addition of expensive fertilizers and other treatments.

Drought-tolerant, self-sufficient plants include cacti, juniper trees and many types of wildflowers and grasses. Searching the USDA National Resources Conservation Service site is a great way to find native plants by location.

Maximize Water Efficiency

Water is the most important natural resource on earth. Using water efficiently in a desert climate is a challenge, but it’s important for practical, financial and environmental reasons.

To conserve water, group plants with similar water needs together. Make use of natural and engineered slopes; they can provide run-off areas for rain and help deliver extra water to plants that need it most.

Consider using alternatives to traditional grass. A synthetic lawn, gravel or drought-tolerant groundcover can save a lot of work and water. If you plan to use a large number of plants in your landscape, install a drip irrigation system.

Traditional sprinkler systems are only 85 percent efficient at best, but drip irrigation, which applies water slowly and directly into the ground, boasts 90 percent efficiency or higher.

Beyond the Plant Life

Plants aren’t the only important components of a landscape. To add aesthetic appeal without increasing water demands, use stone borders, stepping stones, rock gardens, statues and concrete walkways. With colored aggregates and custom stains, you can use color to create almost any look.

Avoid using dark colors; they absorb the sun’s heat, and make your desert landscape even hotter. Cut your energy consumption by installing solar lights. Choose patio furniture that stays cool and resists sun exposure.

Provide shady areas under trees, or use gazebos, awnings and umbrellas. With thoughtful planning, your landscape can be just as beautiful and inviting as those in sub-tropical climates around the world. As a bonus, it will be easier to maintain.

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