any ideas for this yard?

hotdrysunnyApril 20, 2010

When we first moved in to our house in central AZ over ten years ago, I got excited about having a house and promptly planted three trees next to each other in the back yard. It's on the west side of the house and we really needed some shade to protect the house from the AZ summer sun. I don't think I had a plan when I planted them, just some vague idea about having trees with some color, and now they just look awkward (although they do shade the west side of the house)

(see photos)

From left to right, they are an Acacia (I think, it has yellow puffballs in the summer), a Cape Honeysuckle and a White Bark Acacia. There's also a shoestring Acacia on the other side of the chain link fence behind the willow.

The chain link is not our property line - that is about 9 feet further west and I've planted a row of Desert Hopbush along the property line to act as a screen. Ideally, they will grow to about 10 feet tall and block our view of the neighbors.

As you can see, the area has a well-traveled dog lane down the middle and this is where they do most of their "business." At some point in the future, we will put down gravel but first we have to remove the old 500 gallon water tank that is buried in the north part of the yard (looks kind of like a submarine and is a huge liability).

There are also some Brittlebush (encelia farinosa) and bursage volunteers on the north side that I'd like to leave where they are. A large saguaro is to the north of the group so I need to make sure it doesn't get too much water from anything I put near it.

Does anyone have ideas for some additional plantings I can add that will help make the trees look like they are part of a plan? or at least make them look less odd? I'd rather not tear them out as they are in great shape and do provide much-needed shade.

I should mention mention that there is a creosote growing up next to the Cape Honesuckle and a young palo verde on the other side of the fence from it. I am not as attached to these and can tear them out if need be.

In the future - which could be long after I'm gone - I envision removing the chain link and enclosing the yard with a nicer fence that goes to the property line, so I am trying to plant such that the "vision" of the yard extends beyond the fence, even if you can't walk beyond the fence - does that make sense?

Finally, obviously I'm trying to stay as water conscious as possible (altho the honeysuckle does require more than the others) as we're in the desert and our house is on a well.

There! I hope I have made this a challenging as possible! I truly appreciate any ideas, comments or criticisms!


Here is a link that might be useful: photos of my west yard

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karinl(BC Z8)

I couldn't be less familiar with your climate and flora (I was peering at your photos looking for the saguaro and actually jumped when I saw it) so I'm going to stay with principles rather than plants.

Trees have such a long life cycle that we usually think "plant, enjoy..." but no further. The next step can and often should be "replace." And so for me, the time when your trees are big enough to enjoy is the time to start planting their replacements if the landscape allows, and perhaps yours does. Especially since you're not sure you like their placement, it seems logical to me to plant new trees, maybe even closer to the house so they shade it sooner, and plan to remove the ones you have when they are no longer needed. Or another way to look at is is that you can convert your awkward row of trees to a grove by adding more of them. Then you or a future owner can thin selectively as desired.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 12:33PM
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Glad I could add to your day with my saguaro!! :-)

Thank you for that absolutely excellent advice - it's such a good way to think about planting! I have never once thought about replacement trees - and I'm probably going to be here for at least another 20 years! I guess we get into the habit of assuming our trees will be around forever.

Thinking about it that way actually makes things easier for me since the landscape is constantly in motion - even though things change so slightly and slowly around here (summer and winter look essentially the same barring a couple of flowers here and there!).
Great advice - thanks again!!!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 10:55PM
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Hi, we live in the desert too only in Nevada. Having trees on that west side is a great idea because it can be a real furnace in the afternoons here and you are probably even hotter. Our west side is in the backyard and we have only desert plants there as it is so brutal.

It can be hard to landscape without putting in a lawn like a lot of the country can do but a little trial and error has convinced me it can be done.

I think you need to take and divide this area (is it a side yard?) in to three areas with your brick or stone or recycled concrete. One area is the area under your trees, one area against your house, and the other area a broad path for you and your dogs to use to get from your front to back yard. Then you can put some great desert shrubs like cassias or your brittlebush mixed with some bolder forms like yuccas or cactus for accents in the areas around your trees and against your house and put gravel on your path area.

I'll try to get a pic of our back to show you what we did but I think you can have a very nice and very water thrifty yard even in the desert.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 8:44AM
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I'd love to see what you've done! Both you and Karin have made me think about the space differently - instead of just looking at it like one long (it's a side yard - but it's a big one!) mess, I need to think about it in terms of individual areas that are constantly changing. COMPLETELY different from how I've been thinking about gardening for the last 10 years! :-)

I love your idea about making the wide dog runway in the middle with gravel and then working on the other areas as separate areas. Thanks so much!
and don't forget to upload some pics of your place!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 11:02AM
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Immediately, you can remove those rings of rock around the trees. :) And kill that Palo Verde: the volunteers are usually weak-branched messy things. I would also get rid of the Cape Honeysuckle in favor of something that is more 'deserty', like another tree. It's a big green blob right there.

I would start by finding some books on desert landscaping and reading them (Sunset's Western Garden book ... essential and saves a lot of mistakes).

Small desert shrubs mingled with the trees, if you can keep the dogs from laying on them, will settle the trees, as will perennial wildflowers like desert marigold, brittlebrush, etc. You can harvest seeds, start them in pots and set them out when the summer rains have started to minimize water use.

I do activity-based area planning. Read the article at the link below: it's what I do to clients and have them do before we start talking about picking up a shovel. After you have the activities and how much room they will get, and where, the rest gets much easier. If you need to demolish anything, do it as early as possible.

Landscape as if the fence you plan is already there. To continue the landscape out past the chain link fence, just repeat the plant material and lines across the fence. Instead of a line of anything along the fence, have an open group of them falling across the fence line.

Beware of Cassias - some can become invasive pests. I'm still fighting Feathery Cassia seedlings from the ones we removed 5 years ago. Stick to AZ desert natives or plants that don't have a rep for running amok.

For more shade, and we AZonians do really need it, how about a trellis or arbor along the "dog walk". Check zoning and building codes, but usually an unroofed arbor is OK. shows my west-side arbor. It's growing a Queen's Wreath and some beans right now.

Here is a link that might be useful: Make your own landscape plan

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 1:15PM
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lazygardens: "zoning?? pfah, we don' need no stinkin' zoning!!"
JUST kidding - but I'm out in a county island so things are pretty lax in terms of building and I LOVE the idea of an arbor running the length of the house like you have in your photo - plus it's something I can do myself - after I get that stupid water tank dug out. what? you don't like my useless rings of bricks? :-) ok, fine - they're gone!

You've told me twice now to dig out volunteer palo verde and I guess I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and do it here. Out in my open field, a small, shrubby and messy tree will act as cover for quail and other guys, but in my yard I should try to have some control over things. Despite myself. And I have the Sunset book as well as Brookbanks' book and Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes - invaluable if I can make myself take their advice and plan something before I do it!

I only have a couple of cassia but I'll keep an eye on them. The most successful shrub seems to be the brittlebush, which is attractive and seems relatively polite so I'll leave those.

I just spent several days tearing, digging and poisoning several large desert broom and now I see that I have a row of them next to the house - all under 18 inches tall. George Brookbank says you can keep them under control with careful trimming and thinning out. . .I'm not too sure about that. . . any thoughts?

My dog, Toro will be mad at me since it's his favorite tree to lie under, but I have to agree with you about taking out that Honeysuckle - it's a water hog and it does look weird between the other two. I have two creosote bracketing the acacia on the far left so I'll leave those.

OK, you've given me homework and a lot of good (albeit a bit painful) advice. I do appreciate it - I'm going right to the landscape plan link now!
thanks mucho!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 2:02PM
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Here's a look down our main backyard path to the barn. The trees shrubs and accents are desert or desert compatable plants and we don't water much back here. The other plants do tie the trees into the landscape though and I think make them look better than they would alone. We also have side paths going off of this path, any shortcut anyone takes we just made into a path and it added structure to the yard rather than having just a bunch of plants.

Here's another pic looking the other way that shows the desert willow(chilopsis linerea), desert milkweed(asclepis subulata), texas ranger, and dalea capitata, ephedra, and stipa. I love desert plants and they love it here I hope you use them in your yard.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 9:04AM
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"desert broom (snip) I have a row of them next to the house - all under 18 inches tall."

They can take over if you let them, but they are also native and hardy and support wildlife ... if they are where you would normally plant some shrubs, I'd leave them and remove some as they grow bigger so they don't choke each other.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 1:12PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Happy to have been one of those who helped... I love those moments of paradigm shift when they happen to me and to others :-)

I'm glad Maria posted some of her photos - my memory tells me there have been others which you may find if you search this forum for her other posts.

Enjoy the process, and rest assured I won't forget that saguaro!


    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 1:20PM
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