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Well-Designed, Natural Landscape in an Unusual Place

Have you noticed that landscapes around parking lots and shopping malls look somewhat lackluster? This is often due to a combination of over-pruning, over-planting, and the wrong plant in the wrong place. 

Sadly, this is so commonplace that a beautifully designed and well-maintained landscape stands out, which is where I found myself recently.

Well-Designed, Natural Landscape in an Unusual Place

My husband and I went to our local outlet mall to buy some clothes for him, and I hadn’t walked more than a couple of steps when I realized that something was wrong – actually right! The parking lot islands weren’t filled with overcrowded shrubs pruned into round balls and cupcake shapes.

Well-Designed, Natural Landscape in an Unusual Place

Most of the plants were natives and allowed to grow together and in their natural shapeswhich begs the question, who created a rule that plants can’t touch each other?

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), turpentine bush (Ericameria laricifolia), and chuparosa (Justicia californica)

Shrubs such as Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), turpentine bush (Ericameria laricifolia), and chuparosa (Justicia californica), intermingled with ornamental grasses like pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

I confess that I wasn’t a very helpful shopping companion for my husband as I kept being distracted by the attractive landscaping and stopping to take pictures.

fabulous yellow orchid vine (Callaeum macropterum)

My favorite area was where a fabulous yellow orchid vine (Callaeum macropterum) was growing up a large wall. 

Well-Designed, Natural Landscape in an Unusual Place

Due to the large scale of the wall, there were likely at least three vines planted together. Yellow orchid vine deserves to be used more in the landscape, yet is rarely seen. 

Well-Designed, Natural Landscape in an Unusual Place

I find that it does best in morning sun or filtered shade and regular water. Its yellow flowers are lovely and form a papery seed pod that resembles a butterfly. You can learn more about this vine here. While they aren’t a common vine that you’ll find at the nursery, you can usually find them at botanical garden plant sales or your local nursery may be able to order one for you.

If you live in the greater Phoenix area, and want to see some great examples of desert natives and natural landscaping, visit Phoenix Premium Outlets in Chandler. And who knows? You may even find some great deals at your favorite outlet stores.

From Grass to a ‘Natural’ Desert Landscape

Where do your plants get their water from?  

If you are like most people who live in the desert Southwest, your answer may be drip irrigation, a rain barrel and/or rainfall.  

But, what if you didn’t have drip irrigation or don’t want to install one?  Is it possible to have an attractive, established landscape that can survive on only regular rainfall in the desert?  

The answer is yes!

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

Last week, I was asked to help a client with her landscape.    

Now unlike most of my clients, she had no irrigation.  Any new plants had to be able to survive on the average 9 inches of rain that fall each year.  

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

Her existing landscape receives no supplemental irrigation and is filled with succulent plants such as agave, desert spoon, golden barrel cacti, mesquite, Mexican fence post cacti, ocotillo, prickly pear and red yucca.

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

Native desert shrubs like brittlebush, bursage and creosote filled out the rest of the landscape.  

My client was happy with how her front yard looked, but wanted some help with the backyard.  

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

The backyard was filled with cholla and saguaro.  

My goal was to add a few of the client’s favorite desert plants as well as include a few more for a welcome splash of green and colorful flowers.

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

Drought Tolerant Landscape Irrigated by Rain

I added some Argentine giant(Echinopsis candicans) cacti, which she loved.  

In addition, I also included chuparosa(Justicia californica) in areas that received filtered shade where their blooms will add welcome color.  Pink fairy duster(Calliandra eriophylla) was suggested for bare areas, intermixed with brittlebush(Encelia farinosa) for late winter to early spring color.  

I also recommended that the volunteers from several agave growing in front including cuttings from her prickly pear be utilized in the backyard as well.

All of these plants can survive on regular rainfall once established.  

Note the two underlined words above, which are important.  If rainfall amounts are lower than average, plants may need supplemental irrigation.

In addition, many of the new plants will need irrigation until they become established and grow a sufficient root system – this can take a year or even two.    

It should also be stated at this point, that fall is the best time to plant so that the new plants have time to establish a good root system before the heat arrives the following year.  

So, how often do you need to water new plants until they become established?  

If planted in fall, water native, desert shrubs deeply (1 1/2 ft.) every week for the first month.  Then every 2 weeks for the rest of the first year.   

For the cacti and succulents, water once a month for the first year, skipping the winter months.     

Thereafter, both types of plants, including other desert natives, should be able to survive on natural rainfall.  

If rainfall is absent, water once a month.   So, you may be wondering what is the best way to water without a drip irrigation system. Here is an easy way to water your plants by creating a DIY drip irrigation system.

portable drip irrigation

Yes, that is a milk jug.  You can use them to create portable drip irrigation that you can move from plant to plant.  The water is released slowly allowing it to permeate deep into the soil.  

You can learn how to make your own here.