Saving water – even in desert conditions – isn’t hard as long as you’re smart about it. You can still have a lush and lovely garden using a minimum amount of water. Here are 10 easy tips to get you started:

Penstemon 'Prairie Dusk'

Penstemons, like this ‘Prairie Dusk’, are drought-tolerant plants with striking flowers that attract butterflies.

Photo Credit: Bailey Nurseries

Sedum 'Rosy Red Glow'

Nearly any low-growing sedum, like this beautiful ‘Rosy Glow Red’, makes a great water-smart selection.

Photo Credit: Bailey Nurseries

Nepeta x faassenii 'Walkers Low'

Water wise catmints come in a variety of sizes. This ‘Walkers Low’ grows just 18-24 inches wide.

Photo Credit: Bailey Nurseries

  1. Readjust your attitudes. You can’t change your climate, but you can change the way you garden. Trying to have a landscape that looks like it’s growing in the heart of misty England when you really live in an arid climate is not only fruitless and wasteful, it’s a bit bizarre. Instead, celebrate what your region has to offer with fascinating shapes, colors and fragrances. You – and the planet – will rest easier.
  2. Choose the right drought-tolerant plants for you and your location. Natives are always a great place to start. Look for native plant displays at garden centers or check out nurseries that specialize in them. There are hundreds of great drought-tolerant selections out there. Besides all the usual cacti and succulents, consider Mexican false heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia), oleander (Nerium oleander), penstemon, santolina and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia).
  3. Group plants according to water needs. Put plants that need ample water together and close to the house, where you can keep an eye on them. Locate plants that need only moderate water together and a bit farther out from your home. And place species that need the least amount of water the farthest out, where you can basically let them be.
  4. Harvest rainwater. This gets easier every year as more garden centers carry rain barrels and other products intended to capture this precious liquid that would otherwise run through your downspout and away from your landscape. You can have one, two or even three barrels – some systems even deliver water directly to plants.
  5. Keep your automatic irrigation system in tip-top shape. Be sure to adjust it properly for the given time of year and expected rainfall. (And if you don’t already know how to adjust your timer system, it’s time to learn how.) Whatever you do, don’t overwater – learn how to keep your plants attractive with the absolute minimum amount.
  6. Mulch, mulch, mulch. This not only holds in moisture, it also keeps the soil cooler and has the added benefit of reducing weeds. Organic mulches, like wood bark, also eventually break down and feed the soil. Apply mulch about 1 inch deep around annuals, 2-3 inches deep around perennials and 3-4 inches deep around trees and shrubs. In vegetable gardens, a few layers of newspaper sheets topped with grass clippings (as long as they’re not an invasive grass like Bermudagrass) or straw make excellent mulch.
  7. Create dappled shade. This greatly reduces the water needs of many plants, especially on the south and west sides of buildings. Build lathhouses, ramadas, pergolas, arbors or other overhead shading structures. Plant vines and trees to provide shade, too – just choose species with deep roots that won’t suck moisture from the plants underneath them. Good tree choices for warm, arid regions include honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis), Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) and certain species of mesquite (Prosopis).
  8. Consider windbreaks. Wind dries out us humans, making our skin raw and our throats parched. It’s got a similar effect on plants, so shelter them from wind as much as possible. Plant a row of trees or tall shrubs (or a mix both) to help slow and diffuse winds. A rule of thumb is to plant trees that will grow 1½ times the height of the house, placed at a distance equivalent to 3-5 times the height of the house. In areas where extreme winds are common (like Las Vegas), plant your windbreak closer and at roughly twice the height of the house. Good choices for windbreaks in arid areas include pine (Pinus), cypress (Cupressus), Pittosporum, pepper tree (Schinus molle), California live oak (Quercus agrifolia), juniper (Juniperus) and evergreen species of Elaeagnus.
  9. Compost. Nothing improves any kind of soil better than adding generous amounts of compost. Make it a habit to add a spadeful or two to every planting hole. And as much is practical, spread 1 inch of compost around all your plantings early each spring. Composting not only inexpensively deals with autumn leaves, weeds and grass clippings, it helps the planet by reducing the amount of yard waste in landfills.
  10. Be smart about lawn. Keep it small and/or choose drought-tolerant grasses, like tall type turf fescue, sheep fescue, Bermudagrass, blue grama, zoysia or one of the newer varieties of wheatgrass now available. Planting groundcovers instead of lawn grass is another great option. Thyme (Thymus), low-growing sedums, marjoram and oregano (Origanum), dwarf nandinas and many others are great plants that need little water.

With a little research and a bit of work in your garden, you can have a wonderfully lush landscape in even the hottest and driest of areas. Happy water wise gardening!