This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

July 9, 2016

Beginning your garden at a new house in Phoenix, Arizona

If you're staring out at a backyard of gravel, or as I prefer to call it, "kitty litter" in Phoenix, Arizona, and would prefer to see plants, I encourage you. In spite of people who claim otherwise, you don't have to be condemned to staring at rocks and the occasional cactus. But if you're thinking about buying plants, you won't like what I have to say: stop. Stop.

The first thing that you will need will be a watering system. If you're planning on murdering plants by putting them out there with the promise that you will lug a heavy hose over there, you have made a mistake. If you're fortunate enough to have a watering system in place, you're in luck. If not, then take a deep breath and install something. The system I have here is very inexpensive, just a black plastic tube (5/8"), hooked up to the hose bib with a drip watering system. You can buy the whole set at Home Depot. The tubing is only buried an inch or so below the soil.

The next step (no, not plants yet!) is potting soil. That beige stuff that you see out there isn't fit to grow anything except weeds and cactus. It will need a lot of amending. Luckily, all you have to do is to dump the potting soil on top of it. This will cover the tubing for the watering system, so take a few rocks to mark where it is.

The next step (no, not plants) is mulch. Cover the potting soil with a nice thick layer of mulch. And I don't mean rocks, I mean something organic. Choose any type of mulch you like, you can get it at Home Depot, but select something that is chopped up finely. It will rot away every season or two so you will need to renew it. I get free mulch continuously from my tree, so we will plan for that in your new garden.

Then you'll need access. That means a path that will allow you to access your plants. If you just plan on sprinkling plants randomly all over the yard, you're gonna have a mess. Google "Perennial Borders" to see how it's done. No, you don't have to plant perennials to use that type of design, it's just a way to organize how your plants are arranged. A perennial border is never any wider than six feet - that allows you, the gardener, to reach into it from each side (three feet) without ever stepping into the garden. If you need to step into your garden for regular maintenance, you have made a mistake. If your visitors need to step into your garden, you have made a terrible mistake. Give visitors a place to walk (I have flagstones and artificial turf), and give yourself some stepping stones as necessary for access for behind the garden.

The first thing you'll want to plant is a desert tree, like a mesquite. It should be in the center of your property, or just slightly south. Don't plant a whole bunch of them, one will do for most yards, maybe two at the most. And keep them away from corners where they're grow too big, into your neighbor's yard. And away from fences! Trees grow! Buy the biggest one you can afford. If you can afford a really, really big one, have it professionally installed.

Your grass should be artificial turf. Have it professionally installed. Don't plant real grass in Phoenix, it's a huge waste of water, Bermuda grass is the worst allergen in the valley, and it takes a huge amount of time and work to make it look even slightly presentable. And it turns brown in the winter, and you have to overseed a different grass for it to look nice then. Get artificial turf.

After that, yes, you can start getting smaller plants. And that'll be the fun part!
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