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5 Tips for Desert Gardeners in 2013

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Make better gardening decisions for the new year. Southwest garden expert Scott Calhoun shares five tips for smarter gardening in 2013.

Claret cup cactus dapples a rock garden with spots of red.
Drip-irrigation systems are essential for thrifty desert gardens.

You might call me a lazy gardener, but I prefer using plants that don’t require constant primping and watering to look their best. Each year I try to weed out some high-maintenance plants and replace them with tougher species. Below are five tips for easier gardening in the new year.

1. More Cactus

With around 2,500 species to choose from, cactus is probably the most underused category of garden plants. And those of us in the Southwest can grow a great variety of cactus species in the ground. Plants, such as the claret cup hedgehog (Echinocereus triglochidiatus), provide a blast of late-spring color as other early bloomers fade. No desert garden worth its salt should be without a few cactus species. Did I mention that you don’t need to put these on an irrigation system? Well, you don’t.

2. Go Drip

Although your cactus won’t need it, many other plants in your garden will, and drip irrigation is the gold standard for landscape watering conservation. Installing a drip system will save you hours and hours watering by hand and shave dollars off your water bill. You can secure a simple system that attaches to your hose bib, or something more complex that has electronic valves and a timer. Either way it is an efficiency you will appreciate in nearly every month of the year in a desert garden.

Gardens are for outdoor entertaining as well.

3. Kick Back Outside

Being a gardener is not just about getting dirt under your nails and mud on your shovel; it is also about enjoying your own outdoor spaces and making retreat areas. My garden is my own mini resort, and sometimes I like to sit outside and enjoy a cold one and listen to the radio and not get dirty. Or in the afternoon have friends over for barbecue and sunset viewing. This next year I’m going to add more outdoor furniture to the garden, including a fire pit. I hope to spend more time in my garden with people I care about.

Succulent aloes bloom early and need little maintenance.

4. Aloe for Early Color

African plants, particularly aloes, such as the medicinal aloe (Aloe barbadensis) featured above, are great additions to the early-spring garden. They bloom and provide hummingbird nectar before most other plants have broken dormancy. Aloes are tough succulents, and when they are grown in warm microclimates, they need little care save a bit of covering on the coldest nights. I plan on planting more aloes in the garden this next year.

Chocolate flower, mixed in with other perennials, smell just as you would expect.

5. Fragrant Plants

Our brains are wired for scent, and some of my most persistent childhood memories are of favorite smells. Chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) ranks high as a really good smell. As its name suggests, this tough perennial does smell like chocolate. Its scent is particularly powerful in the early-morning hours. Plant it near the front of a bed where you will brush against it as you walk by.

What will you do to make 2013 more fun in your garden?