For those of us who live in the desert Southwest, we know that geography plays a huge part in what we can grow in our garden. Today’s post is by Alex, who talks about the different factors that affect our gardening practices.

If you’ve ever planned a garden or fretted over the health of one of your plants, you’ve probably heard of hardiness zones. A plant’s growing or hardiness zone is a measurement by the US Department of Agriculture that determines what plants will grow well in a certain area’s region. It looks at average temperatures as well as other climate information to give a general recommendation of what plants will grow within the zone.

A region’s temperature is the most obvious factor, but there are plenty of other aspects of your geographical location that can help or harm your plants. Here are some of the conditions that you ought to keep in mind when planting this Spring.

Amount and Frequency of Rainfall

Despite similar temperatures, the plant life growing in Arizona will look completely different than the Southern states that receive much more rainfall. Plants have adapted to thrive in their native habitat; that means the plants flourishing in a wet climate may not be cut out for a location that receives less rain or experiences times of drought.

If you’re hoping to grow a plant outside of its normal climate, you’ll be forced to plan for the amount of water it will need. That means staying on top of weather reports and keeping a close watch of the plant’s health on a daily basis.

And even then, some plants live in misty areas. Those conditions are nearly impossible to replicate outdoors.

Quality and Type of Soil

In a broad sense, there are different types of soil that hold water differently and offer unique challenges. Sandier soils have a difficult time retaining water, giving little time for the plants to absorb what they need. Siltier soils hold water perhaps too well; these areas can seem muddy after heavy rainfall. Clay drains well and handles water effectively, but it can cause troubles for your garden if it gets too dry.

Different regions will have a predominant soil type, affecting which plants will work best for your garden. From a more localized prospective, however, there will be changes in nutrients and soil composition. The bacteria and fungi that reside in the soil will be different. Everything from the soil type to these microorganisms can influence how plants will grow. 

Cloud Coverage

In their native climates, plants have adapted to their conditions by needing the conditions that they are exposed to. This is especially true with the conditions of light.

Many plants nowadays are described as “full sun,” “part sun,” or “shade.” These descriptors explain how much sunlight the plant needs or can tolerate, but this can be flexible depending on your location.

Places closer to the equator are perpendicular with the sun’s rays and receive much stronger bursts of sunlight. The higher you get in latitude, the more intense changes there are in sunlight exposure; the light available is less direct and the length of the days vary more throughout the year.

These sorts of guidelines provide a general standard for what your plants can handle, but your personal location can vary even more when you consider general cloud coverage. If you’re living in a place that sees a lot of clouds even when it’s not raining, your plants will be less likely to suffer from too much sunlight exposure. On the other hand, there are plants that require direct, intense sunlight to thrive.

Variables like tree coverage and neighborhood density – how near houses are to each other – can also affect your plants’ sunlight situation.


Some geographic locations are very windy. These plants generally have stronger root systems and thicker foliage to resist the elements. On the other end of the spectrum, forested plants are used to growing with tree coverage to block the wind. If you live in a windy place with not much cover – like a beach, for example, plants that are delicate and unused to the area will not fare well.

When it comes to choosing plants for your garden, start with those hardiness zones; they’ll go a long way in informing your choices. However, don’t neglect your own situation. By considering your location – and even the location your plants will be facing – you can prepare a garden that thrives during all seasons.

Alex Briggs is a contributing author for Cascade Tree Works.


**There are two days left to enter the giveaway for the ‘The Colorful Dry Garden’. So, if you haven’t entered, now is your chance. 

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."