A 1-acre desert yard has nearly the square footage of a football field, and a square 1-acre piece of land has dimensions of just over 200 feet on each side--a lot to work with. To landscape this 43,560-square-foot area requires an imaginative design plan. On the one hand, this is enough space to create any mix of uses you want. You can emulate the rugged beauty of the natural desert, and still incorporate a small oasis for entertaining or for children to play. The negatives are the cost of plants, hardscape materials and installation for this size property, and the challenge of creating an overall effect that is memorable.
Choose a Variety of Plants
Plants that grow well in desert regions come in an exciting variety of shapes, sizes, foliage textures and flower colors. Take advantage of all the choices available to bring this 1-acre space alive, particularly in the spring when many desert plants bloom. Try the perennial shrub desert senna with its bright yellow blooms. The bush dalea has violet flowers and blooms earlier in the spring than other varieties. Firecracker penstemon has unusual spikes of bright red flowers, and reseeds itself each year. Groundcovers, such as lantana, are widely used to fill in bare areas of a desert yard with attractive foliage and bold flowers. Flowering plants and groundcovers also attract hummingbirds to your desert landscape.
Use Zones in a Creative Way
Vary the look of the 1-acre landscape by creating distinct zones with different plant types and uses. Plant cacti and succulents in one zone. Put in an area of citrus trees such as lemons, limes and oranges--all of which thrive in the desert with adequate soil preparation and water. Put shade trees, such as the ironwood and mesquite trees, in one area, and incorporate a small patch of grass for additional relief from the summer heat. With a full 1-acre property, consider designing and installing the zones in phases rather than trying to do it all at once.
Water Features or River Rock
Ponds, waterfalls and streams all help to create the look of an oasis in the middle of a desert landscape. Plant flower beds near the water feature and you have created a tranquil and colorful place to relax or read, enjoying the sound of moving water. River rock helps to break up a large space into zones, but also to creates the illusion of a stream without having to build and maintain a water feature. Because many of the natural desert rock materials have sharper edges, the smooth texture of river rock also provides interesting contrast.
Use Curves and Height
Curves help break up a large space. Build winding walkways with a native materials such as flagstone--thinly cut slabs of sedimentary stone--between the zones of vegetation. Use these pathways to create visual links to each grouping of vegetation. If your property has areas of slope, build retaining walls and create elevated plant beds. Plant taller bushes such as the hop bush and oleander that can screen off parts of the yard, further dividing it into zones. Use boulders to add their mass and size to your design. Group three or four boulders together and plant colorful shrubs around them to create a focal point.
Emphasize Water Conservation
A design that features low water usage plants still requires an irrigation system. Summer temperatures in the desert soar above 110 degrees F, and there are long stretches without rainfall. Create a design plan where plants with similar water needs are placed together. You might want to have xeriscape plants, which get by just fine with almost no irrigation, in the back of the property. Put more lush foliage that has greater water requirements nearer the house. When you install the irrigation system, onnect the low water usage plants to one tube or station, and higher usage plants to another. Each station is put on its own timer and all the plants get the water they need without waste.
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