Answer: Congratulations on your move! You need to determine your sun exposures throughout the year, as that will determine what plants will thrive. For example, there are no lawn grasses that thrive in shade in the low desert. Is your backyard shady? That might contribute to the poor looking grass, as well as how it was cared for (watering/fertilizing/mowing/aeration/dethatching). Is the yard full sun part of the year, but mostly shady the rest of the year or vice versa? Keep a notebook with this info, marking sun exposures in different areas at different times of the year.
There are two distinct growing seasons in the low desert with different annuals thriving in each season. There's a cool season from approximately the end of September through April. Annuals can be installed from late September to February. Some gardeners prefer to wait until October, as cooler temperatures also help kill off whitefly populations which can quickly decimate plants.
The warm season starts with planting in mid to late February. Some plants will make it through the summer's heat; others will end their growth when the heat arrives in May or June.
Desert wildflowers, for example, wouldn't need any soil improvement, whereas non-native annuals would. As you can see, many variables come into play, and without more info, it's difficult for me to provide a direction. However, you are also in luck because Tucson has an excellent group of Master Gardeners, with a fine demonstration garden. Since you have so many plans and will undoubtedly have numerous follow-up questions, I'm going to refer you to them, so you can gather a wealth of info in one visit. Their gardens will also give you plenty of ideas on what thrives here (even though the midst of summer is not the best time for many plants). Pima County Cooperative Ext., 4210 Campbell Ave, Tucson, 520-626-5161. Feel free to send future specific questions that we can help you with.
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