Desert landscaping, or xeriscaping, takes advantage of drought- and heat-tolerant plants to create a beautiful residential or commercial building setting while minimizing water use and maximizing harmony with the surrounding environment. Indigenous plants, exotic desert species from around the world, and a mix of hardscape materials including sand, gravel and colored stones can be combined in myriad ways to create unique desert landscaping plans.
One key desert landscaping idea is eliminating turf, because keeping a lush green lawn requires considerable amounts of water. A student environmental organization at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas converted about 19 acres of campus lawn to desert landscaping, saving the college over $250,000 per year in maintenance and water costs. The students converted small areas at a time, assessing the success of the desert plantings selected before moving to the next plot--a wise course for home and business owners interested in xeriscaping.
Turf areas can be converted to ground mulched with organic material (bark) or inorganic material (stone) and punctuated with plants. Turf can also be converted to low-water ground covers. The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association recommends Trailing Acacia or Trailing Desert Broom as green ground covers for desert conditions.
Flowers in the desert are rare and precious--they also act as a beacon for hummingbirds and butterflies. The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association provides advice for planting waves of successive color in your desert landscape. For example, a red and yellow desert garden year round could include: red hesparaloe and yellow lantana in spring; for summer, the yellow desert marigold provides a striking contrast to cherry red sage; for autumn, sage and Mt. Lemmon marigold can replace the red and yellow summer flowers, to be followed in winter by firecracker penstemon and angelitz daisy.
While many gardeners design xeriscaping plans around native, indigenous plants for greater harmony with the surrounding environment, there are many exotic species which will thrive in suburban or urban desert landscapes. McPherson and Haip, writing in the journal Geographical Review, report that large Mediterranean trees--like the Aleppo pine and the Italian Cypress--have continued to flourish in Tuscon, Arizona, long after most other exotic landscape species have died off due to the low-water conditions. The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association desert-tolerant plant list includes numerous other Mediterranean plants, such as trailing rosemary, butterfly bush and pomegranate.