In the warm, dry regions of the United States such as the southwest deserts, more and more homeowners are electing to plant desert landscaping rather than the traditional grass and trees design found in the Midwest or East. Water conservation efforts have driven this trend. Many municipalities in sunny, desert regions have encouraged the water conservation trend by educating the public about the diversity, beauty and functionality of desert plants.
Desert landscaping involves selecting plants that are adapted to the climate and soil of the desert. They are low-water usage plants that can tolerate long days of hot sun. They can thrive in the desert soil, which many times has low levels of nutrients and minimal drainage properties. The term xeriscape is used to describe a landscaping design with plants requiring very little, if any, irrigation. Plants native to the region are important components of a desert landscape, but plants native to arid climates in other parts of the world are also used.
Cactuses are a mainstay in a desert yard, but there are numerous low-water usage shrubs such as the superstition mallow with its yellow-orange flowers that can add a splash of color in the spring. Lantana is a fast-growing colorful plant, with gold, orange yellow or lavender flowers. Native desert wildflowers such as the bright red firecracker penstemon help make the landscape come alive.
Plants suitable for a desert landscaping design vary widely in the color of their foliage and flowers, shape of the plant, texture of the leaves and size. By mixing these variables, the homeowner can create a landscape with great visual interest, even striking in appearance.
To get the most functionality out of a desert landscape requires careful planning. Draw a plot map of the area and sketch in existing structures such as patios, walkways and existing plants in the yard. Visit a nursery or garden store to see the choices available. Pay particular attention to the height and width of the plants when they are full grown. Sketch the plants into your design plot and experiment with different locations, groupings and color schemes. Desert plants are often placed in clusters, with gaps between the groups, emulating the open feel of the natural desert.
The Oasis Concept
Homeowners installing a desert-themed landscape still need an area for relaxation or entertaining. A popular trend is to have a small area with turf grass, perhaps 20 to 30 feet in diameter, surrounded by annual flowers either in beds or in pots. Adding a few shade trees and a water feature creates a small oasis in the yard.
Protecting Children and Pets
Cactuses are well known for their thorns, but other plants that fit well in a desert landscaping design such as the Texas ebony tree and the bright bougainvillea plant also have dangerous thorns. These plants should be located well away from the paths that children and pets take through the yard, or placed behind fencing.