In the 1960s and 1970s, before water conservation became a critical issue, many Phoenix homeowners had yards landscaped to resemble those in the Midwest or East, featuring large areas of grass and non-native species of trees. This practice has changed significantly in the past 20 years to the point that most homeowners use low-water-usage plants native to the desert. These gardeners have found that they can bring the beauty, mystery and variety found in the natural desert into a residential environment to create memorable and functional landscapes.
Don't Mix Different Water Usage Plants
Different water-usage plants might work well together visually, but you will end up giving the low-water usage-plants too much water wile not providing enough to the plants that require more water. Some desert trees can sustain damaged from overwatering; the tree grows at a faster rate than it should, and the roots do not develop at the same rate. Without a strong enough root system to support them, these trees can blow over during one of the powerful storms that blow into Phoenix in late summer.
Use Container Plants to Vary the Scenery
Most landscape plants are set in the ground to remain there permanently, or at least as long as the annual growing season. You can accomplish a change of scenery by using container plants, which you can rotate from the patio to the pool area, for example. You'll need to move some plants into the sun in winter and partially shaded areas during the heat of the Phoenix summer.
Many Phoenix yards are relatively flat. One solution for this potential mundane quality lies in creating elevated beds that have flowers or desert plants. With soil and blocks designed for retaining walls, you can complete this project in one weekend. You could also make the structure permanent by using cement or bricks. Add stepping stones up to the elevated bed to create the illusion of a slope
Shrubs and Ground Covers Provide Color Contrast
Particularly in the spring and fall, many desert shrubs and ground covers have vibrant flowers that can add striking color combinations to your yard. Color choices include rich blues, scarlet, yellow and orange. When doing your design plan, visit the nursery or garden store and look at all the choices available. Choose varieties with color combinations that work well together.
Use Rock Materials to Emulate the Natural Desert
Many homeowners use small-diameter gravel and crushed granite to cover bare ground in a Phoenix yard. Choose colors that look as close to the natural desert as possible---earth tones rather than boldly colored gravel. If you use boulders as an accent in the design, cluster them in groups of three or four as they would appear in nature---not just strewn across the yard.