Landscaping in the southwest (Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah) is challenging. Extreme temperature variations, low seasonal rainfall and strong dry winds present issues to deal with when planning, building or maintaining a southwestern landscape. Landscaping ideas for efficient utilization of space, design techniques and use of available resources help create beautiful and healthy southwestern landscapes.
It takes time for a landscape to mature, but a little extra patience goes along way to creating a healthy, low-maintenance landscape. By allowing enough space for the plant to grow naturally, the root system and branching scaffold are allowed to mature into healthy structures, without the added chore of pruning. To fill in barren spots until the plants grow into their space, top the bare soil off with an organic mulch, or plant water-wise annuals or small perennials in drifts meandering in and out of the young plants.
Considered the most water-efficient, drought-tolerant plants for the southwest, even succulents suffer in the intense summer sun that is prevalent in the southwest. Planted in the shade of a mature juniper tree, succulents soften the surface, add color to the area and provide shade and a cooling cover to the soil and the tree roots. The tree canopy shade allows the soil beneath to hold moisture longer, so only an occasional supplemental watering is needed for the succulents, even during hottest months of the year.
When gravel, stone or rock mulches are used around plants in the landscape, it conserves moisture and to protects the soil. However, mulches of this type intensify the summer heat experienced in the southwest. To cool the area down and to provide a soft cushion underfoot, consider using a drought tolerant, non-invasive turf for pathways. Turf-type tall fescue, buffalo grass, blue gamma grass are good southwestern choices for green, lush water-wise paths.
Capture the rainwater off the roof and use it for supplementing the landscape. According to Brad Lancaster, author of "Rain Water Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond," the practice of harvesting rainwater is not new, dating back 6000 years in history. He points out that we've moved away from this tradition as new technologies were developed that we rely upon to pump, screen, and transport a depleting supply of ground and surface water. The simplest and most economical rainwater harvesting systems can be built at home and the water is free.
Build a Berm
Berms create interest in a landscape that lacks contour or grade change. By planting at the top of the berm, extra height is visually gained. Berms are also water conserving features, slowing the flow of water runoff by creating pockets of extra moisture at the base. Favored plants that might not be as water thrifty may be planted in the moist berm base.