Life in the desert is full of unique benefits and unique challenges. Plants and wildlife that have adapted to this climate over centuries have all developed methods to conserve, reduce and reuse the limited water supply available to them.

Now, it is absolutely imperative that humans to do the same. We are living in a historic period of aridification and the truth is, we need to make permanent changes to the way we approach gardening and landscaping to ensure the preservation of our most precious resource.

Whether you’re looking after an established yard or just starting to design a fresh plot, here are some great water-wise planting tips from board member, Cameron Carlson.

What to plant

The first thing to consider as you plan a garden are the types of vegetation to include. You are going to want to plant NATIVE, WATER-WISE PLANTS like desert willow, globe mallow, and penstemon. These plants are easier to care for, are adapted to our soil and seasonal weather patterns and climate, have deeper roots, greater drought tolerance, and make a positive impact on local ecology.

It’s also a great idea to plant SHADE TREES and other drought tolerant native trees (mesquite, desert willow, palo verde, etc) to cool spaces and reduce transpiration from garden plants.

When to plant

Summer and winter are the most difficult seasons for establishing new plants. Plant most new plants and trees in fall for best chance of survival and to provide time for extended root development. In summer, water deeply more frequently, and during winter water deeply occasionally if it’s been a dry month. A well-watered plant actually survives better in frost.

Planting Tips

Dig shallow BASINS AND BERMS for new gardens and new plants. Recommended 4-10+ inches deep and using excess dirt for berms to hold in water. This allows for easier watering to establish new plants, passively harvests rainwater, and helps retain moisture.

MULCH!! Lay wood chips or other organic mulch 2-4 inches deep under plants and trees and in garden beds. This will prevent weeds, retain tons of soil moisture, keep soil cool, and improve soil quality. Keep mulch a few inches away from base of plants. You can also consider a “Green Mulch” cover crop in your garden with clover, creeping thyme, or other drought tolerant ground cover that provides similar benefits.

How to water smart

The most obvious way to cut back water usage is to… use less water. Think through any extra thirsty plants or water features that you can remove from your garden. Water only at night or early morning and try to deep water your plants as much as possible. DEEP WATERING helps to make water more readily available to plants, and it allows for more efficient use of water in the event of prolonged periods without rain.

You can also look into upgrading to a smart irrigation controller (rebate available from

If you have lawn…

Seriously consider reducing or REMOVING YOUR LAWN altogether. Summer is a great time to save water and stop watering to kill off unused lawn areas and prepare to transition to waterwise landscaping. Lawns, golf courses, and other grass areas are the LARGEST WATER WASTE in the desert.

If you must keep your grass, here are a few tips to minimize your water usage:

  • Seed or overseed sparse lawns with “Thunder Turf” warm season (grows best May-Sept) native turf grass seed mix for significantly increased drought tolerance.
  • Cut lawn at highest mower height to help roots grow deeper and shade soil to preserve moisture.
  • Water 2-3x a week max. Water at night/early morning with multiple cycle and soaks. For example: run 3 cycles overnight M W F, 1 hour “soak” between cycles, 5 minutes for a fixed spray or 10 minutes for a rotating spray. Monitor and adjust as needed.