By Scott Calhoun
What “practical” means in a desert garden. At a basic level, practical desert gardens teem with plants that are visually interesting, attract wildlife, and survive without too much pampering -- not as easy as you think, come June! These gardens comprise plants that don’t use an excessive amount of water, and can tolerate all the intense heat and light a summer Tucson afternoon can throw at them. Below are some of my tips for making such a garden:
Practical containers. One challenge nearly every desert gardener faces is how to keep container gardens thriving over the hot months. My advice: For hot exposures or areas far from hose bibs, plant up containers with tough cactus and succulents. Those require much less-frequent watering, which saves you from dragging a hose or hauling a watering can to the far reaches of your yard. Golden barrel cactus and many agave species (like those in the photo above) are among those up to the task.
A practical and relatively inexpensive method of making a garden look “designed” is toss out your aging, crumbling, and otherwise mismatched pots. Replace them with a matching set in a variety of sizes and height, as shown in the photo.
Practical hummingbird gardens. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy viewing hummingbirds dart around outside windows. People love them so much that they set out feeders with sugar water in front of windows so they can watch the action. Nothing wrong with that, except it can be a bit of work to keep those feeders clean and topped off with fresh nectar.
But what if you could get the hummers just by planting the right plants? You can! Plant penstemon, aloe, chuperosa (Justicia californica), slipper plant, Mexican honeysuckle, and any red tubular flowered plant, and you’ll have your own share of visiting hummingbirds.
Practical veggie beds. Desert soils are notoriously low in organic matter and are often highly compacted. Those conditions make it hard to grow rich-soil-needing plants such as veggies and annuals. For those plants I recommend building raised-bed planters from simple and readily available materials such as concrete block.
Or you could use a large container, such as a stock tank, as a veggie garden. If you use a stock tank, poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Both methods allow you to add generous amounts of composted material to create a rich, well-drained growing area.
Those are just a few of the ways I keep my gardening manageable and sensible in the desert. What are some of your tricks for practical desert landscaping?
See all Desert Gardening Articles.