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Master Gardener Journal  


E A R T H - F R I E N D L Y   G A R D E N I N G



Go Native with Xeriscape!

by Cathy Rymer,
Master Gardener, Water Conservation Specialist, Town of Gilbert


We are so lucky here in the Southwest. We can enjoy being outside in our yards nearly year-round. Imagine relaxing in your lounge chair under the shade of a large tree, sipping a refreshing drink while you watch butterflies and hummingbirds visit the colorful and fragrant flowers in your landscape. This is the vision most of us have of a perfect afternoon in our backyards, right?

If you have been unsuccessful trying to create your own oasis, you're not alone. Trying to re-create the Midwest here in the Southwest can be very frustrating. The rules here are different, and the plants you grew "back home" just aren't happy here in our salty soils and challenging climate!

But don't give up! Our Sonoran Desert is the most diverse desert anywhere, with lush plants and a variety of wildlife. Desert plants from around the world can be incorporated into our landscapes, creating a variety of colors, textures, forms, and even fragrances. With a little planning you can have plants blooming all year that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. You can celebrate the seasons with fragrant flowers and colorful foliage, even bringing some indoors as cut flowers. All this can be accomplished by using drought-tolerant plants! Using native and desert-adapted plants just makes sense. Plus, you can help conserve our most precious natural resource in the process. It's all part of the technique know as Xeriscape. Here are some simple tips for success.

DESIGN TO SAVE ENERGY AND WATER
Save on energy costs by placing trees on the west and east sides of your home.

As you contour your property, create depressions or swales that capture rainwater. Trees and shrubs located near theses areas will benefit from the moisture, and you won't need to water as often.

Group plants with similar water needs. Put them on the same irrigation line if possible. This way, moderate water users won't overwater less thirsty cacti and succulents

CHOOSE APPROPRIATE PLANTS
There are hundreds of colorful, attractive or fragrant plants that are also desert-adapted. These plants are happy in our salty soils and challenging climate.

Put the right plant in the right place. A Texas sage that matures to 6 feet in height by 6 feet in width will never fit into the 3-foot space between your wall and sidewalk without constant maintenance. Choose a 2- or 3-foot plant for this area instead. You can get more information about appropriate plants by contacting the Cooperative Extension or your local water conservation office.

USE APPROPRIATE TURF AREAS
Lawns that aren't used may not be necessary. Limit grassy areas to places where children and pets play, or areas that are used for outdoor recreation. If the only time you walk on your grass is when you mow it, you probably don't need it.

IRRIGATE EFFICIENTLY
Water only as much as necessary. Most plants die from improper watering, not diseases or insect damage. It is always better to water deeply and infrequently than to apply a little water every day.

Adjust your irrigation schedule periodically according to the seasons. Operate your system in the early morning hours. This way you are more likely to notice water spraying from missing emitters or running down the driveway or road.

PREPARE YOUR SOIL
Loosen soil with a spade or shovel to help compacted areas. Try amendments like gypsum to free salts so that they can be flushed down into the soil, away from tender roots.

USE MULCHES
Organic or inorganic mulches applied on top of the soil acts like an insulator, and will help reduce evaporation and keep soils cooler, especially in the summer. Don't pile mulches against the trunks of trees or shrubs; it can suffocate the tissues and lead to decay.

Mulches can effectively reduce weed growth by blocking sunlight. Organic mulches (mulch, compost, leaves, etc.) will decompose and release nutrients into the soil.

MAINTAIN YOUR LANDSCAPE APPROPRIATELY
Prune only when necessary. Over-pruning stresses plants and increases their demands for water. Fertilize only when necessary. Many desert-adapted plants don't need fertilizers. Overfertilizing can lead to excessive plant growth and higher water consumption. Provide adequate irrigation by not over or under watering.



Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated October 4, 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
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092