Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2004
Regional Report

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A wildlife habitat blooms in spring.

Can Lush and Green be Water Thrifty?

Some people think desert landscapes are dry and barren, not lush, lacking in green, or similar laments. I would argue that those people are misinformed! There are many ways to enjoy "green" in a desert landscape, and it isn't necessary to break the water bank to do it.

Lush and green would be accurate adjectives for many landscapes in our region. Wildflowers are in full bloom now, including golden California poppies, lavender lupine, and scarlet flax. Closely planted, their foliage creates a field of green.

Once established, wildflowers can get by on natural rainfall, although they'll be more vibrant and bloom better with occasional supplemental watering. These flowers will reseed themselves for future seasons of bloom. As spring bloomers die back, summer bloomers assert themselves to fill in the blanks.

The fat orange spires of aloe blooms are a favorite of hummingbirds. Most start blooming in winter -- December to February -- some continuing through March. Succulent aloe plants are also water thrifty, storing moisture in their fleshy leaves. Aloe foliage comes in a variety of attractive greens, light and dark, bluish-green, grayish green, some with speckled or striated markings. Note the columnar cacti in the background. They provide a sculptural focal point in the garden and year-round green.

Desert Favorites
There are numerous choices of low-water-use trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers that add handsome green color to a landscape. A few of my favorites include Texas ebony (Pithecellobium flexicaule), chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), little leaf cordia (Cordia parvifolia), Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), trailing rosemary (Rosemary officinalis 'Prostratus'), yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata), lilac vine (Hardenbergia violacea), and yuca vine (Merremia aurea).

With a little planning and perhaps experimentation to find a plant's preferred location, it's possible for desert gardeners to create an attractive green landscape and conserve precious water resources at the same time!

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