Plant Care in the Desert


Choosing the Right Tree

What is the best tree? The best tree is the tree that most closely fits your particular site, personal preferences and maintenance expectations. Asking a few questions before visiting the nursery will help you choose the tree that is just right for your yard.

  • Litter – How much litter is too much? Living plants create litter, some significantly more than others. Deciduous trees lose leaves seasonally, usually during winter, growing new ones in early spring. Even evergreen trees shed leaves, though at a more constant rate. Flowers and seeds can also contribute to litter.
  • Size – How big is the space for a tree? What are the dimensions of the space? Are there limitations such as power lines?
  • Purpose – How will the tree work in the landscape? For shade? Simply adding shade can also increase energy efficiency in the home. To attract wildlife? Trees that are native to a region will provide food and nesting sites that attract and support native birds.
  • Preference – how do you envision your tree? Do you like green or gray leaves? Colorful flowers? Easy care? Desert trees offer a wide array of colors, shapes, and attributes to meet your landscaping needs.

The Best Tree Picks

palo verdePalo Verde - With a wide variety of species in the family, the all-around versatility of palo verde trees can’t be beat. Ranging from small to large, slow growing to fast, thorny to thornless, palo verdes offer the choices to fit your site, preferences, and maintenance expectations.

Native to our region, they are well adapted to life in the desert. Green bark is not only a striking feature of palo verdes, but an amazing trait that allows this family of trees to drop all leaves in times of drought and still perform photosynthesis to manufacture food.

desert willowDesert Willow – Colorful and long flowering, few trees can match the prolific bloom of the desert willow. Branches are leafless through the winter (a plus for energy efficiency) and heavy with fragrant pink to purple flowers from spring to fall. A thornless, medium-size tree, desert willow is attractive to wildlife and a good choice for shade and screening.


palo blancoPalo blanco – Graceful and small-stature are traits that combine to form an uncommon and lovely tree and allow the palo blanco to fit into tight spaces. Peeling, paper-thin white bark is unusual and interesting, and slender branches with delicate leaves belie its sturdy character.



kidneywoodKidneywood – Fragrant white flower spikes adorn the tips of branches, attracting tiny blue butterflies. Small and lacy, the multitrunked kidneywood is ideally suited for use as a small shade tree. You may need to ask for it at local nurseries or request a special order from a local grower, but you’ll find it worth the wait. With its popularity on the rise, availability should soon meet the demand.


How to Remove Bermuda Grass

Step 1 Purchase Herbicide

Read the Label: Look for the active ingredient GLYPHOSATE. That is all that is necessary. Be aware that other chemicals are often added - they will be separately listed. The only chemical recommended for the removal of bermuda grass is glyphosate.

Step 2 Green Up Grass

Water. Fertilize if necessary. Grass must be green and actively growing to transport the herbicide down to the root zone.

Step 3 Apply Herbicide

Follow directions on the product label for mixing and spraying to obtain best results. Note that Precautionary Statements are on the label for your protection.

Step 4 Wait Several Weeks and Repeat

Allow several weeks for the initial grass kill, and repeat the process a second time.

Step 5 Remove Grass

Allow two weeks after the second grass kill before removing the grass.

Begin at the perimeter of the conversion area. Using a string trimmer, scalp grass around edges, hardscapes, and other areas where a mower cannot scalp grass to the ground.

Next is the big scalp. If grass is very thick and the mower stalls, you will need a power rake (a sod cutter can also be used). Typically, beginning at the highest setting on the mower and working through to the lowest setting will get the job done. Remove as much grass as possible. It is not necessary to remove remaining grass stubble.

Prevent crushed rock from spilling onto walkways with a shallow 3- to 4-inch deep trench next to sidewalks, driveways, and other hardscapes. Taper the trench out 1 foot to meet the elevation of the grass stubble (see illustration).

Now you’re ready to install your irrigation, new plants, and crushed rock!


Frost Damage

Chance of frost - Weather forecasts in December often warn of frost danger. Average lowest temperatures of the year typically hit during December, making it the coldest month of the year.

Plants at the garden vary in cold hardiness, and you may see signs of frost damage, such as withered or dead leaves and blackened flowers or foliage, when temperatures dip below freezing. Damage increases as time below freezing lengthens. A stroll along the garden’s main path chronicles damage to frost tender plants such as Lantana and Red Bird of Paradise.

fall plant          summer plant

These colorful heat-loving favorites will be back as temperatures climb in the spring.

The most effective strategy to avoid frost damage is to choose frost-tolerant plants and consider the plant's cold hardiness when placing it in the landscape. Like water, cold air flows downhill and collects in low spots. These low-lying microclimates are prone to frost. Microclimates can also offer protection. Block walls, patios, and overhanging eaves absorb or trap heat that will radiate back at night when temperatures drop. Placing plants in these sheltered areas reduces the chance of frost damage. You can see many examples of microclimates throughout the garden and find sturdy cold hardy plants that remain attractive even in the coldest of our desert winters.

deer grass 

Deer Grass, hardy to 0 degrees, puts on a show fall through winter.

When plants are damaged by frost, pruning should be delayed until new foliage begins to emerge in the spring. Frost damaged foliage left on the plant can offer some protection against recurring freezing temperatures. You can learn about pruning desert plants by registering to attend a pruning workshop.

Visit the garden now and enjoy the Glorious Grasses.


Overseeding with Ryegrass

Some believe year-round green grass is beneficial. In the desert, Bermuda grass grows from spring through fall and becomes dormant in winter. Some residents choose to overseed with ryegrass in the late fall to produce a temporary winter lawn. Much time, effort, and money goes into establishing and maintaining winter lawns. There are many benefits to forgoing winter lawns while giving your Bermuda grass the rest it needs.

Overseeding with ryegrass prevents Bermuda grass from completing its life cycle of storing energy prior to its winter dormancy. When temperatures begin to rise in springtime, the Bermuda grass lacks energy and therefore has difficulting reestablishing itself.

If Bermuda Grass Is Not Overseeded with Ryegrass

Bermuda grass can remain green until the mid-November at which time it becomes dormant. You can expect Bermuda grass to start actively growing when the weather warms sometime during mid-March. Without competition from ryegrass, Bermuda grass can more quickly and efficiently recover from winter dormancy.

Overseed Only Specific Areas

Overseeding does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Winter overseeding can be limited to high-traffic or high-visibility areas while allowing low-use areas to become dormant.

Mushrooms are a sign of overwatering. If you choose to overseed, our Landscape Watering by the Numbers brochure will help you become water-efficient.

Costs and Benefits

Winter lawn dormancy will result in significant cost savings on labor, seed, fertilizer and water. Check with your landscaper to determine which costs are associated with winter overseeding. An estimated 1,000 square feet of winter grass takes about 8,000 gallons of water each season. Please see water Rates & Fees to estimate potential dollar savings.

Additionally, your sewer fees may increase as a result of winter ryegrass irrigation if you do not have a dedicated landscape water meter. Scottsdale determines sewer fees from water usage during the months of December, January and February.

Beyond the Wallet

Forgo overseeding and enjoy the benefit of cleaner air, less noise pollution from mowers and blowers, reduced fertilizer runoff and less green-waste to the landfill. Deciding to skip winter lawns demonstrates your commitment to the environment and is easier on the wallet.