Embracing Our Desert Landscape

When people hear the words xeriscape, they often think of rock, cacti, and flat, perhaps even boring landscaping. Xeriscaping, however, can be just the opposite of boring. When you plan and execute a xeriscape landscape using drought-tolerant plants and decorative touches, you can create a beautiful desert oasis that embraces this beautiful Southwest region we all call home. 

Principles of Xeriscaping

If you work with an expert or examine a few basic principles, xeriscaping can not only save you money but also enhance your outdoor spaces. 

1. Good Planning & Design

You have to know what suits your needs and budget. This will include the cost of materials, examining your preferences for everything from style to color. Try to find ways to add color to your design. This can include not only choosing plants that flower at different times of the year but also adding garden artwork, colorful fabrics and pillows, or paint and decorative trellises. 

2. Choose Low Water-Use Plants

The key component of xeriscaping is the use of drought-resistant plants that take less water than traditional plants. There are literally hundreds of desert-adapted plants and many have beautiful flowers, depending on the season. Mulch is important to reduce water evaporation and to cool the soil in our hot summers. Organic mulch, such as wood chips, is the best, but rocks can also be useful and decorative in certain areas. 

Eric Noyes, the owner of Arizona's Greenest Grass Turf Company, specializes in low-water outdoor living spaces. Noyes emphasizes that xeriscaping is so much more than rock, although that is a part of it. He loves to use a variety of low-water plants and trees and suggests succulents, yucca, agave, creosote, Sugar Bush, Bird of Paradise and Mexican Honeysuckle. Homeowners who want trees can consider Chinese Pistache, Palo Verde, Desert Willow and Mesquite.

3. Add Appropriate Turf Areas

Noyes recommends artificial turf instead of grass, especially for homeowners with pets and/or children. "Artificial turf is a major component if you want green grass without the water or maintenance. Real grass uses extensive water to keep it green. And remember, that's only for eight months out of the year in Arizona, because it will die off and require reseeding." 

Noyes reminds homeowners that Arizona has committed to cutting water usage because of the extended drought. In our desert environment, on a hot summer day, the average lawn needs 125 gallons of water per 1,000 square feet. The EPA estimates that nearly one-third of residential water use is for landscape irrigation.

Noyes does recommend that homeowners shop around. "The turf we use is American-made, certified lead-free and toxin-free."

4. Efficient Irrigation

Even when you plant drought-resistant plants, everything needs some water. All new plants need a bit more water until established. It also helps to group those with similar water needs and to use separate watering zones in the irrigation system. 

According to Noyes, "The key thing for xeriscaping is to design it for the most efficient water usage. That includes using the right size drippers and timers that are set up right so the plants get enough water but are not overwatered." 

5. Maintenance

Xeriscape landscapes require less maintenance than traditional landscapes. Noyes points out there are many savings for those who choose this route. "Xeriscaping is eco-friendly (little to no water usage), saves money on water, and is very low maintenance, so you save time and money cutting and edging grass."

Resources for Xeriscaping

  • AMWUA (Arizona Municipal Water Users Association) at AMWUA.org
  • Glendale Xeriscape Demo Garden, Glendale Public Library, 5959 W Brown St, Glendale
  • Peoria Desert Fusion Garden, 8401 W Monroe St, Peoria
  • Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix

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