Microclimates in Xeriscaping – Tiny Pockets of Life

The art of desert landscaping utilizes drought tolerant plants in a way that mimics or emulates a desert environment.

Desert Landscaping

By xeriscaping – landscaping without much water – and using other moisture retaining tactics like landscaping with rocks and using mulching techniques you can make your garden a desert oasis.

The pockets of protection give plants in these sheltered spots an edge in dry gardens.

If you live in a desert climate, with dry air, cooler night temperatures and excessive heat during the day, make the most of it by means of some basic desert landscape designs.

See how nature does it; groups of plants form guilds, with taller shrubs creating a tiny scrap of shade to protect seedlings of other plants, which in turn shade the roots of the shrub.

Each plant contributes to the whole environment, aiding the survival of others.

Rock retaining walls enclose an area of pavement, clustering boulders make a sheltered nook, and a courtyard is a protected seating area.

clustering plants sheltering at the base of rocks

Some native desert landscape plants in your palette can provide a backbone for fleshing out with other drought tolerant plants such as succulents with their excellent drought smart strategies.

Use as your basis any plants that are native to your area, so are well adapted to the climate.

Choose plants that are evolved to grow well in an area slightly drier than what you garden in, and also look at plants which can adapt to changing conditions or seasonal inundation in their natural habitat.

In areas of colder winters, Saguaro cactus won’t grow, so it’s important to find plants with similar features to use in the place of some of the more tender plants.

To provide the same sense of height and scale, look for trees or large shrubs that will occupy the same niche as some of the larger cacti. These can be hardy native shrubs, or exotic species that require the same conditions.

Nature seems to know exactly which plants will look fantastic together...
Nature seems to know exactly which plants will look fantastic together…

Each climate will require different shrubs or trees, so some research is necessary.

These will form the outline of your desert landscaping, which will then be filled in with smaller shrubs or larger perennials; these can be xeric plants that have been tested over many generations in challenging conditions. Surround these with drought tolerant ground covers.

Some of my favorite plants are succulents such as Sedum and Sempervivum to fill this role.

The important thing to remember with desert landscaping is to provide sheltered spots for groupings of plants with similar requirements. The art of leaving some areas un-planted and mulching with pebble mulch or lava rock is typical in this type of xeriscaping.

Whether you view a desert as a dry desolate place, or as an ecosystem with an array of plant material that can exist in such a challenging habitat, you can adapt the lessons that deserts teach to form your own colourful and textural desert landscaping.