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SunScape Your Landscape

Most people don't realize the importance of plants in urban settings. They don't think of plants providing benefits such as aesthetics, shading, energy conservation, air quality enhancement, wildlife support, and especially, if their use is well designed, they will help us conserve water. We now realize the trees and gardens our grandparents planted are quickly disappearing. Because of urban sprawl, vegetation is being destroyed faster than it is replaced and in the desert southwest in particular, not enough trees are included in urban development programs.

We are striving to provide the most recent information and technological advances in plant care and maintenance. Our goals in providing this information are to help people learn proper planting, irrigation and pruning methods, and provide information of which plants are best suited for the El Paso, Las Cruces, Juárez, West Texas and Southern New Mexico regions.

Principles of SunScapes

SunScape Landscaping, also known as Xeriscaping™, allows us to utilize irrigation water both efficiently and wisely. The area comprised of El Paso, Las Cruces and Ciudad Juárez receives approximately 8 inches of rainfall per year. The high summer heat and low humidity make it necessary to irrigate our landscapes. Currently almost half of the water used by residents is used for landscaping.

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Our landscapes do not have to be devoid of trees and other plants to be water smart. Indeed, the absence of trees, shrubs and lawns in the landscape can result in higher water and utility costs because of the extra cooling necessary to maintain a comfortable living environment especially in the summer. Research shows rural areas are usually five to nine degrees cooler than the Urban Heat Islands we call cities. Studies indicate that by strategically planting trees around your home, cooling costs can be reduced up to 50 percent.

Here are some guidelines to follow for energy and water savings when designing or maintaining your next landscape. With the following seven Xeriscape™ principles, plants can provide a comfortable environment with minimal additional use of water.

1. Planning and Design

Planning and design may be the most important steps in developing or renovating your landscape. By analyzing your site and making an appropriate design, plants can perform a variety of functions. Be sure to carefully consider the role of trees in your landscape. Small trees and shrubs can be used for screening, larger trees for shade and protection. Deciduous trees and shrubs, which shed their leaves in the winter, should be placed to provide shade from the afternoon summer sun while letting the winter sun provide heat. An especially important consideration is the mature size of a tree. Make sure that the tree is placed where it has space to grow and mature. This helps avoid future maintenance problems such as the severe pruning of large trees located under power lines.

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2. Appropriate Turf Areas

Design areas of turf that are functional rather than decorative. Remember turf requires constant irrigation and maintenance. In landscaping, it's important to consider the needs of both your turf and trees. Avoid planting deciduous trees in an evergreen turf area, which needs year-round irrigation, and don't plant an evergreen tree in a winter dormant turf which only needs water in the summer. These situations can result in either over or under watering of the landscape. In most areas of El Paso, trees and shrubs should be separated from turf areas.

3. Efficient Irrigation

A professionally designed and installed irrigation design can significantly reduce water use. Placing trees in areas which receive water run-off can provide most of the water an established drought tolerant tree needs. An ideal irrigation design has trees in a separate irrigation zone from the shrubs and flowers. Irrigation zones should be designed so that plants with similar water use requirements are grouped together. One example would be to place evergreen trees and deciduous trees on separate irrigation zones. This allows you to provide winter water for evergreen trees without the unnecessary watering of deciduous trees.

4. Soil Improvements

The most current planting research indicates that altering or correcting the existing soil provides no benefit and may actually be detrimental for native or adapted trees and shrubs. However, many flowers and vegetables will benefit from the addition of organic matter which provides the extra moisture holding capacity and aeration they need. Always remember that appropriate plant selections will alleviate many of the growth problems associated with soil conditions. For instance, do not place plants that require good drainage in heavy clay soils.

5. Mulches

Mulches can be organic; bark chips or wood grindings, or inorganic; rock, gravel, or chat. Mulches cover the soil and decrease evaporation, reduce weed growth, slow soil erosion, and provide landscape interest. Neutral colored mulches are preferable to either dark or light colored mulches. Dark mulches increase the upper root zone temperatures dramatically while light colored mulches cause excessive reflected light. Both of these conditions are harmful to plants especially during the establishment phase.

6. Use of Plants with Low Water Requirements

There are many low water use plants available for a variety of landscape functions. Some trees provide shade and texture, others act as screens and a few provide seasonal color. Shrubs can provide the foundation for a landscape, they can be used for screening, provide seasonal color or provide physical barriers in the landscape. Ideally, established low water use plants will need only occasional supplemental water to perform their function in your landscape.

7. Planting and Maintenance

Many maintenance problems can be avoided at planting time. The right plant for the right location will minimize future problems. This means choosing plants appropriate for your soil and avoiding those that have pest or disease problems or that cannot easily adapt to our weather conditions. And finally, after you are finished planting, follow the cultivation practices described in other sections of Desert Blooms.

Last updated: March 24, 2008