Desert gardening is an excellent choice for the plant lover residing in a drought zone. Has your city has instituted watering restrictions that leave lush lawns looking sickly? Are hot summers simply not conducive to growing lush vegetation? There are plenty of ideas for the desert garden to fit any budget. Learn about the initial setup, basic desert gardening, tips for plant selection and easy maintenance regimens.
How to set up a desert garden: Tools and Supplies
If desert gardening involves the use of an already tilled plot, consider yourself lucky. All others must make do with rocky, difficult-to-turn and frequently alkaline soils. Assemble your tools carefully.
- Shovel and rake. Turning the soil is unavoidable. Remove as many rocks as possible to give plant roots a chance to spread out.
- Soil pH test kit. The neutral pH measurement is seven, but plenty of plants require alkaline or acidic soils for best growth. Know the makeup of your soil before amending it or choosing plants.
- Irrigation system. A drip system is the best choice for easy maintenance.
Tip: Work with — not against — your desert garden soil. Sure, you can change the pH level dramatically, but do you really want to commit to a rigorous maintenance schedule for years to come?
Plant options: Gardening Tips for Trees and Flowerbeds
Choose your desert garden inhabitants with an eye on sun exposure and soil acidity.
- Washington palm. Known in horticultural circles as Washingtonia robusta, Floridata warns that this sun-loving tree grows to more than 100 feet in height. It accepts virtually any type of soil and lives through cold temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) only grows to about 60 feet but withstands even sub-zero temperatures, if well established.
- Native wildflowers. Which wildflowers are native to your area? For residents in the Phoenix area, the Desert Botanical Garden has some suggestions. Arroyo lupines, Mexican gold poppy, desert bluebells, thistles and devil’s claw are just some of the many gorgeous blooms that thrive in somewhat alkaline soils. Residents of other locales should check in with a local nursery to find out which flowers are native to the area.
Tip: For very inhospitable soils, consider a layering approach to raising a flowerbed. Pile up the soil and keep it in place with decorative rocks, brick or wood. Add sand, compost and soil. Mix it together and firm the soil. Water and mix the soil again. After firming the soil once more, your raised flowerbed is ready to go.
Desert gardening 101: Planting and Maintaining the Desert Garden
Planting your desert trees calls for a hole as deep as the root ball and two to three times as wide. Gently loosen the roots, hold the tree in place and fill the hole with previously removed soil. Introducing flowers into the desert garden can be as simple as sowing seeds or planting already established flowers from pots. Watering is crucial until the plants are well established. Once the plants and trees had a chance to grow a sizable root network, water deeply once a week. Extremely hot weather — and very sandy soils — calls for more frequent watering sessions.
Tip: It is not necessary to fill every open space with trees and flowers. Instead, put down some garden paths with colorful rocks or tiles. Use large rocks as eye-catching focal points and do not shy away from a cycling water fountain as a centerpiece.
What about cacti?
Desert garden ideas frequently suggest the introduction of various cactus plants. While it is true that the cactus — and its cousin, the succulent — is the quintessential desert garden plant, I have found that palms and desert flowers are far more attractive and offer opportunities for plenty of combinations. Flowers let you change the color, scent and look of the desert garden whenever you choose. Cacti are somewhat more permanent.
Floridata; “Washingtonia robusta”
Desert Botanical Garden; “Planting Desert Wildflowers”
More by Sylvia Cochran
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