Gardening and Landscaping in a Desert Climate

The dramatic beauty of the desert, with its blasting heat—dry air, high winds and occasional cold nights, does not usually encourage a traditional gardening landscape. But a few basic tips will put you on the path to a gorgeous garden, desert style.

Soil and Water

Typically, desert soil is composed of sand and clay, high in minerals and low in organic matter. You can amend the soil, which is costly, or you can work with what you’ve got. It will take some serious elbow grease to dig up the clay, but the desert plants that have adapted to the region will be perfectly happy in it.

In this time of water conservation, the desert leads the way. Drip systems are perfect for potted and in-ground plants. Your trees will need to be on a sprinkler system, but if you choose trees adapted to the heat, you can have a stunning garden without astronomical water bills.

Trees and Flowers

In the desert, trees and shrubs don’t just provide beauty, they serve as much-needed windbreaks and screens. Creosote, Palo Verde and many varieties of beautiful, fast-growing Acacias thrive here and can be used to frame your garden with green while providing the privacy and wind protection you want. Consider replacing grass with sand or colored gravel, as is often done around homes in Southern Utah and other desert areas to conserve water.

Make your flowerbeds and edgings pop with color using red, violet or blue Salvias, multicolored pink and yellow Lantanas, gorgeous magenta Bougainvillea and the brilliant red-orange Desert Honeysuckle. Surprisingly, roses love this climate and bloom profusely! They do require deep watering – sometimes 3-4 times a week during the summer – but the upside is that the heat makes them more than usually resistant to pests and mold. And definitely consider putting in a few native plants and decorative grasses for added interest and dimension.

Pots and Patios

In the desert, shaded patios are like extra rooms. Tile and flagstone are great choices for patio floors in this climate, and you’ll have fun choosing different shapes, sizes and colors for pots of succulents that will love the partial shade. While cactus also does well in pots, it needs full sun, and their needles can be dangerous to young children and pets. You may just prefer to let the cactus bloom in the open desert.

There is a wealth of desert garden information available, but these simple tips should get you started on creating your own desert paradise.

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