Desert Landscaping Tips

Desert Landscaping Tips

Desert Yard Lounging

Desert Yard Lounging

The Southwest is incredibly diverse, with different elevations and desert types defining the landscape. Popular desert landscape Themes like earth-colored stucco, shade ramadas, and plants like cactus, desert spoon and native yucca give Southwest landscapes their unique character.

David Cristiani is who you would consider a Southwest Landscape Expert. As owner of Quercus, Cristiani’s Albuquerque based landscape architecture practice, he has over 20 years of experience designing different regions of the Southwest. Here are Cristiani’s professional Dos and don’ts for creating a beautifully-designed Southwest landscape.


  • Do select native or well-adapted species that reflect the beauty of the region and will perform well with little water. Native plants like penstemon, agave, and mesquite add regional flair, while Mediterranean plants like rosemary, germander, and thyme also thrive under the hot sun.
  • Do group plants according to their water needs. “You can’t marry a North Carolina tree and an Arizona shrub,” says Cristiani. When plants are grouped by their water needs, it’s easy to use different irrigation zones to water each type of plant appropriately.
  • Do tailor your mulch selection to your plants. Desert natives with a finer leaf texture show up beautifully against gravel and grow well when mulched with it. Plants with larger leaves like roses, Indian hawthorn, or photinia are adapted to soil with more organic matter, so mulch them with a shredded cedar or cypress mulch.
  • Do create low areas in the landscape to plant trees. Since trees need more water to establish than do groundcovers and perennials, but are usually on similar hydrozones, this is an easy way of ensuring that any excess water naturally flows where it’s needed most.


  • Don’t landscape with all rocks. While rocks are certainly low-maintenance, they become so hot and bright in the sun that the landscaping can become unpleasant to live with, or look at. As Cristiani points out, “Who wants to live in the bottom of a terrarium?”
  • Don’t start with mature specimen trees, unless local codes require this. A young 5-gallon tree will need less water to establish than a 48″ boxed specimen, and it will grow to the same size within five years.
  • Don’t use water-hogging plants like queen palm, cottonwood, willow, sycamore, aspen, ash, Bradford pear, or purple-leaf plums. All of these species need either heavy irrigation, richer soils, or humidity to be happy, and simply don’t perform well in the Southwest.
  • Don’toverwater. “Water can be a life-giver oran herbicide,” saysCristiani. Within one to two years, transition all plants to deep, infrequent watering. Watering deeply every two weeks in summer and once a month in winter is just right for the Southwest.

 Desert Gardens

Not a surprise when you consider the popularity of organic fruits and veggies that almost everyone has their own desert vegetable garden. Not only do they have them, but many desert gardens are thriving and full of life. Beautiful desert gardens are possible with the right care and accurate knowledge, and with the right planning, your desert garden can be fully functional.

In order to have a fully functional desert garden you will want one that requires low water and maintenance. Along with the correct plant choices, you will need to make correct hard-scape choices.

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