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  This Issue:
   From Me to You
   Calendar of Events
   Things to Expect & Do
   Word Wise
   Ask A Gardener
   Tomatoes in the
              Desert Garden
   Creating A Butterfly
   Sacred Datura:
              Moonlight Magic
   Computer Corner
   Book Review
   Stories to Delight
              Young Readers
   New Publications
   BCI Celebrates 20th
   Garden Recycling
   Designing Your Own
              Desert Oasis
   Herbs for the Bath
             Evergreen Trees
   Center for Native &
              Urban Wildlife
   January Citrus Clinic

Master Gardener Journal  

B E T T E R   L A N D S C A P E   D E S I G N

Designing Your Own Desert Oasis

by Sandy Turico,
Master Gardener

Cactus BloomsImagine ... a front yard so appealing that those passing by will stop to admire it. Picture a backyard so inviting that you might consider skipping your annual vacation just to relax in your very own paradise. No matter how big or small your yard, no matter how large or limited your budget, you CAN have a beautiful landscape! All you need is a well-thought-out plan, some imagination, and patience.

T h e re are a multitude of issues concerning your home site that you need to address before picking up a shovel or buying a single plant: What do you intend to accomplish with this project? What type of ambiance or "mood" do you wish to create? How large is your budget, and how much time are you willing to give to establish and maintain your landscape?

Keep in mind throughout the design process that here in the desert, water is our most precious resource. Using Xeriscape (low-water) principles is the responsible way to protect our desert environment.

Analyze your home site: Study your yard's microclimate, which is determined by existing structures and plants. Temperature, airflow, and patterns of sunlight and shade vary by season, and should be considered as you decide how various spaces will be utilized.

Walk your home site and examine the surrounding views. Are there eyesores such as utility poles or unsightly structures you wish to camouflage...bright lights you need to block..annoying traffic noises to mask?

Check the view from the interior of your home. Do you need to move that trash bin to another area? Are your existing plantings so overgrown they're obstructing a pleasant view?

Evaluate your type of soil and current irrigation system.

Draw a plot plan: Use graph paper to draw a plot plan (a scale of 1/4 inch to 1 foot works well). Measure your site's boundaries, house perimeter, and any other existing structures. Note window locations. Pencil in existing plants as well as service, pool, play, and garden areas.

Examine your diagram care fully. Decide which features you would like to retain and which areas you would like to redesign.

List your objectives: Water and energy conservation should be a top priority for desert dwellers. Privacy, security, and sound-control issues should be addressed. Is a play area needed for children? If you intend to entertain, think about space for a patio and barbecue.

A major consideration in our desert climate is respite from the summer heat. Shade trees, arbors, ramadas, and patio umbrellas can provide this. If you wish to attract wildlife to your landscape, you'll want to offer food, shelter, and water.

Locate an area with appropriate amounts of sunlight if a vegetable or herb garden is on your wish list.

Choose a garden theme: The architecture of your home should influence the look of your landscape. Will your landscape be formal or informal? Whether you choose a native desert, Mediterranean, tropical, or rustic theme, you can incorporate Xeriscape principles by utilizing low-water plants. Look to nature for inspiration.

Finalize your plans: Use tracing paper placed over your plot plan to explore different design possibilities.

Once you are satisfied with your basic plan, transfer your ideas directly to your plot plan and figure out the details. Sketch in those details...structures, plants, and garden and turf areas.

Decide how to budget your time and money: An attractive landscape does not have to be time-consuming or costly. Your plan can be developed in stages as funds become available. Projects constructed from low-cost materials can look striking. Small plants are less costly and will rapidly catch up to more mature specimens.

Are you a do-it-your selfer, or will you feel more confident working with a landscape professional? If you decide to do the work yourself, there are many helpful resources available to you, including Xeriscape classes, books, and computer programs.

How much time are you willing to give to maintain your landscape? A low maintenance yard will minimize watering, pruning , mowing, and fertilizing. If you have questions regarding local building codes, permits, or homeowner association rules, get in touch with the proper agencies. To locate underground utilities in Maricopa County, contact the Blue Stake Center (602/263-1100). Designing your landscape should be an enjoyable process. For enthusiastic gardeners it's a never-ending project, one that evolves over time. So have fun with your endeavor, take time to relax in your own personal oasis, and above all remember that we need to be good stewards of our very special desert home.
Photography: Donna Atwood

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
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