October 22nd, 2012

Desert Yardening 101


Yellow Bells or Trumpet Bush – Photos by Terry Aley

Mexican Bird of Paradise


Purple Sage

Since I grew up in the Midwest, all you ever had to do was dig a hole in the ground, put in a plant, and it basically grew. Probably not that easy, but compared to desert gardening, or yardening as I’m calling it, it was a cakewalk.

It took me three years of killing things before I established a group of plants in my yard that are more than struggling or dying, some are actually thriving.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona, is probably one of the most extreme temperature zones in the U.S., during the summer that is. The other 8 months of the year, it’s weather bliss. Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear you complain about your snowstorm in January, while I’m wearing shorts. If you like cacti, you’re in luck. Those do quite well here. Though I have to say, in the beginning, many of the cacti I’ve planted haven’t done well. Even they require some trial and error, with some research thrown in.

Here’s what I’ve learned. My basic summary for a desert green thumb. The way to grow a desert landscape, and create envy in your neighborhood. (All of these photos were taken in my yard.)

1. Don’t plant during the summer months. It’s just too hot. Your plants need a few months to get established, and then they are much MUCH more likely to handle it when the 126F August weather hits. October through April is generally a good time to plant. It’s a bit of a mind game here because December is considered planting season.

2. Desert soil is completely devoid of any nutrition. Think the surface of Mars, only without all the water. So here’s the secret. Dig a much bigger hole than the plant’s pot. You’ll need a PICK AXE to chop your way into the soil. Then a shovel to scoop out the dirt. Add a layer of bagged compost/manure/bagged soil to the bottom of the hole. Place your unpotted plant in the hole. Then fill the rest of your hole with either all bagged soil (i.e., soil imported from the Midwest where it’s full of nutrients) or a mostly mix of rich compost/manure/bagged soil along with some desert soil added (to give it some weight). It’s extremely difficult to get a plant established in desert soil, so what this does is get it established with a lot of nutrients. Once it’s established, you then switch to feeding your plants fertilizer sticks every couple of months.

3. Only desert plants thrive here. Everything else will die, or barely cling to life. You can rig the system if you, for example, plant a really hardy rose in a place that’s shielded from direct sunlight part of the day. I have a few rose bushes in the yard that aren’t doing too badly. Though I’ve killed a lot of rose bushes in the process. But there are tons of great desert plants that rival all the usual plants you’re used to in color and impact. As you can see from the photos, desert plants aren’t too shabby.

Those are the basic rules, and I wish someone would have told me this when I first moved here. But now I know, and now you know.


One Comment

  1. MaggieG

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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