What Are the Best Arizona Plants for Xeriscaping?
We have to be conscious of how much water we’re using in an arid climate like Arizona’s. Lush, green lawns, while beautiful, are simply not sustainable in the desert. Luckily, there are several plants and other natural décor that are equally eye-catching, require less water and support a thriving ecosystem.
Xeriscaping (a term coined in the early 1980s by combining “landscape” with the Greek prefix “xero-,” meaning dry) is the practice of landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, cacti, stones and other sustainable features, thereby reducing reliance on irrigated water.
Some xeriscapers incorporate rocks, gravel, flagstone or the like, to add a decorative flair and assist in preventing runoff and excess evaporation. These additions can be easily used to create unique plant borders, cactus walls, rock gardens, walkways, patios — perfect for enjoying the Arizona sun and pleasant year-round temperatures. Planting native grasses can support healthy soil and a thriving insect or bird population.
Xeriscaping has already been adopted in many places across the southwest, with a positive impact. Some benefits include:
- Less water usage – According to the City of Mesa website, xeriscaped yards use one-half to two-thirds less water than a lawn.
- Reduced maintenance – Desert plants are generally low maintenance — and you won’t have to regularly mow your lawn.
- Eliminate pollutants – Pristine lawns often require a huge amount of fertilizers, including phosphorous and nitrogen, which encourage the growth of harmful algae in waterways.
Looking to “green” your yard (but without the green grass)? We highlighted some of the best — indigenous, low-impact and aesthetically pleasing — plants to incorporate into a desert landscape.
- Century Plant – At the top of our list is the regal century plant. This quintessential southwestern plant is recognizable by its tall stalk that can often be seen extending above the horizon. It only blooms once — in a show of yellow flowers — before dying. Learn more about these beautiful plants that can add some flair to your yard.
- Saguaro – An immediately recognizable cactus for Sonoran Desert dwellers, the saguaro is found exclusively in this region of the globe. If you’re lucky, a saguaro might already live near your house. They’re some of the largest cacti in the world and can live more than 200 years old. Check out this post for more information on these giants.
- Palo Verde – The Palo Verde tree is known for its unique blue-green bark. Designated as Arizona’s official state tree, the Palo Verde is particularly accustomed to dry conditions, regarded as a “drought deciduous” species. This means that it will shed its leaves during drier periods but is still able to photosynthesize through the trunk and branches.
- Creosote – While creosote bushes are not normally found at garden supply stores, they can be grown from a seed. They offer a hardy — and fragrant — quality to any xeriscaped yard. Ever wonder what that “after-rain” smell in the desert is? You can blame the creosote. Read more about it here.
- Ocotillo – Also known as “desert coral,” the ocotillo adds a splash of red-orange to the browns and greens of an Arizona landscape. Fittingly, ocotillo translates from Spanish to “little torch.” These succulents (no, they’re not technically considered cacti) featuring tall spindly arms, can be used as a natural sort of fencing because of their intimidating spikes and towering height.
There are plentiful resources online, or at your local garden supply store, to learn more about xeriscaping. If you’re looking for some quick tips on how to get started on a drought-tolerant, water-thrifty and stunning landscape, The Arizona Municipal Water Users’ Association website can be a good place to start. And don’t forget that the best ideas can come from a walk in our own backyard; The Sonoran Desert, full of interesting and alluring plant life, provides plentiful inspiration as well.