Last Updated on February 2, 2023
Desert gardening can be a challenge, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. The Southwest region of the United States is home to some of the most unique and beautiful desert landscapes in the world, and incorporating native plants into your garden can help to bring out the natural beauty of the area.
Below, an overview of the benefits of using desert native plants in your landscaping and provide tips for creating a beautiful and functional garden that will thrive in this arid climate.
Why Use Desert Native Plants?
Advantages of Desert Native Landscaping
There are many benefits to using native plants in your desert landscape, including:
- Plants from arid climates are superbly adapted to local climate, soil, water, and ecosystem conditions and, therefore, require less resource input.
- A native garden will require 70-90% less water than lawns and non-native plants as desert plants have adapted to conserve water in their leaves, stems and roots.
- Native plants support local wildlife and attract populations of birds, insects, and pollinators.
- Properly selected and sited trees can reduce cooling costs by 10 to 30%. Shade canopies can lessen the urban heat effect of our paved world and offer some much-needed cover from the desert sun.
- Natives require less maintenance as they are less prone to disease, insect infestation, or stress from weather conditions.
Attractive and Colorful
Water-efficient doesn’t mean colorless. Native gardens can be attractive both in design and as habitat to local wildlife. There is an incredible variety of succulents and accent plants available for use, including cacti, euphorbias, agaves, aloes, yuccas, nolinas, dasylirions, and ocotillos. With staggered bloom times, your native garden can provide continuous splashes of color and critical resources for pollinators year-round.
Desert Native Plants
The Saguaro Cactus, scientific name Carnegiea gigantea, is one of the most iconic plants of the Southwest Desert. This majestic cactus can grow up to 70 feet tall and live up to 200 years. It’s also a great source of food and shelter for many desert animals, including birds and pack rats. Growing Saguaro Cacti in your garden will not only add beauty and interest, but also provide habitat for the local wildlife.
The Ocotillo, scientific name Fouquieria splendens, is a striking desert shrub that can reach up to 20 feet in height. With its bright green foliage and bright red flowers, the Ocotillo is a popular choice for Southwest Desert gardens. This versatile plant is also drought-tolerant and requires very little maintenance, making it an ideal choice for gardeners who want a low-maintenance garden.
The Palo Verde, scientific name Parkinsonia florida, is a small tree that is native to the Southwest Desert. With its delicate green branches and yellow flowers, the Palo Verde is a beautiful addition to any desert garden. This tree is also drought-tolerant and provides food and shelter for a variety of desert animals, including birds and insects.
The Agave, scientific name Agave spp., is a large succulent that is native to the Southwest Desert. With its sharp spines and rosette of sword-like leaves, the Agave is a striking addition to any desert garden. This plant is also drought-tolerant and requires very little maintenance, making it a great choice for gardeners who want an easy-to-care-for garden.
The Cholla Cactus, scientific name Opuntia spp., is a type of cactus that is native to the Southwest Desert. With its bright green stems and vibrant yellow flowers, the Cholla Cactus is a beautiful addition to any desert garden. This plant is also drought-tolerant and provides food and shelter for a variety of desert animals, including birds and reptiles.
How to Create a Desert Native Landscape
Desert native landscaping is becoming an increasingly popular trend in the US Southwest. By incorporating native plants into your garden, you can create a beautiful and sustainable landscape that requires less water, maintenance, and attention than a traditional garden.
With a little bit of planning and care, you can have a beautiful desert garden that will provide you with years of enjoyment.
Desert native plants are generally low-maintenance, but they still require some care and attention. Regular watering, mulching, and pruning will help to keep your plants healthy and thriving.
In the desert, there should be informal spacing and separation of plants or groupings of plants that look most natural. Use rocks and hardscape elements to embellish un-planted space and balance out your landscape. Rocks can fill voids and add interest to your garden, from large boulders to cobble to decomposed granite.
Along with planting drought-tolerant species, the most critical step in reducing water use is managing your irrigation schedule. Change your irrigation schedule with the seasons and shut it down when significant rain events occur.
Approximately 70-80% of domestic water use goes to landscapes and gardens, so it’s important to be mindful of water usage in your garden. Installing low-flow irrigation or retrofitting existing systems can help to conserve water, as can grouping plants with similar water needs together so that they can be irrigated separately.
When planting in the desert, it’s important to follow proper techniques to ensure the health and survival of your plants. A common technique is to dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the root ball, and to amend the soil with compost or other organic matter.
Additionally, make sure to plant your desert native plants at the same depth as they were growing in their previous container, and water them deeply and thoroughly after planting.
Mulching helps to conserve water and regulate soil temperature. Use a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or bark, around the base of your plants. Make sure to keep the mulch away from the stem and trunk of the plant to prevent rot.
Desert native plants generally only require minimal pruning, but it may be necessary to remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Pruning is best done in the spring or fall, when the plant is not actively growing.
The right plants in the right spots should lead to minimal upkeep and pruning. When pruning is necessary, use selective pruning rather than shearing, which will reduce maintenance time, green waste, and increase flower production.
Desert Native Landscaping FAQs
What are the most common types of desert native plants for gardening in the Southwest?
There are a variety of desert native plants that are well-suited to gardening in the Southwest region of the United States. Some of the most common options include the barrel cactus, the prickly pear cactus, and various species of yucca, agave, and mesquite. Many types of wildflowers and trees are also native to the desert.
What are the benefits of using desert native plants in landscaping?
Desert native plants are well-adapted to the hot, dry conditions in the Southwest, which means they require less water and maintenance than non-native plants.
This helps to conserve water, reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and creates a natural, sustainable landscape.
How can I create a desert native garden in my yard?
To create a desert native garden in your yard, start by researching the type of plants that are native to your area and select those that suit your garden style and space requirements.
Then, prepare the soil by removing any grass or weeds, and amend it with compost or other organic matter.
Next, plant the desert native plants in well-drained soil and water them regularly until they are established. After that, you can reduce the frequency of watering and enjoy your beautiful, low-maintenance garden.
How do I care for desert native plants?
Desert native plants are low-maintenance, but they still need some care to thrive. The main things to keep in mind are watering, pruning, and protecting them from extreme weather conditions.
Watering should be done regularly until the plants are established, after which you can reduce the frequency of watering.
Pruning can be done to remove dead or damaged growth and to maintain the shape of the plant. Protecting plants from extreme weather conditions may involve covering them during frost or harsh winds, or shading them from intense sun.
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