Designing for Dust and Water

violetwestJuly 3, 2014

I've become convinced my front landscaping is not workable for me, and need your suggestions on what I could do to for a fix. I bought my house in a new development a year and a half ago, with the front already "landscaped." It think it's dumb they way they did it (dry stream goes uphill, boulders plunked down in a stupid way, etc.) but at least I have a drip irrigation system installed so I have some healthy plants. I live in the desert Southwest, so water conservation is a MUST!

My main problem is I live in a dust bowl and the rock mulch that is there (and ubiquitous here) and dry stream are quickly smothered with dust. In order to fix this, you have to laboriously screen the rock with a shovel, screen, and wheelbarrow. This was done for me in Spring, and it was quickly smothered back up. I am not physically capable or willing to do this every month, nor am I willing to pay hundreds of dollars every few months to have it done. The dust is not going away anytime soon, because development is still going on, and there's desert land which isn't being developed.

I feel this is not a workable landscape as is for me and I cannot physically or monetarily capable of keeping it nice looking, so I'm looking for solutions.

This first picture is for Yaardvark -- it's as "straight on" as I can get and showing the whole property. The house is sited due north south, and the prevailing winds for most of the year come from the West (or Southwest), which is to the left in the picture.

I'm thinking some combination of low rock wall, tall grasses or other plants for a hedge on the West side to block as much of the dust as I can, and possibly some ground cover. Lawn or turf is kind of objectionable in my climate, but something drought tolerant might work. I know that nothing I can do will eliminate the problem totally -- just looking to minimize my aggravation here.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

A closer look. I don't know how to draw on the pictures, but to the left is where I might put a barrier. It's an awkward space because of the small angled walkway to the front door.

You can see my dry "stream" is supposed to carry water from the roof runoff to the street. I'm thinking of making a rain garden of sorts to soak up the water in the depression just to the right of the tree, in order to harvest some of the rain that would run off to the street.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 8:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is what's under there! (looking toward the West). This was taken in April shortly after rescreening.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 8:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Why can't everyone start with a decent picture like that?? It explains the overall layout right off the bat and the follow up pictures add meaningful details. What direction should you take?

You may be concerned about other details (which can be dealt with) but I think increasing/adding screening between your house and those flanking it would make the biggest overall difference. The green blobs in the picture don't represent anything specific. They're just showing how blocking out the neighbors' houses are better than not blocking them out. They're not saying anything about HOW to do it.

I like the drystream idea. I think the problem with it is that the stones are so small, and therefore easily covered up. In the second picture, where the stones are half buried, they look natural and realistic. In the third picture, they look artificially just dumped within the riverbed. The key to solving this will be to add some larger stones and rework it a bit differently. I can say more later when I have more time.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 11:45AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lol, Yaardvark -- I'm just wise to your ways! And thank you for responding.

I will definitely be planting on the strip to the left of my driveway. I have already planted a chaste/vitex tree on the right to block out some of the neighbors truck, but it's only 3 feet tall right now. I was going to plant another one on the left strip, but it may not be enough; will probably need a more effective wind dust/screen. It's also too hot now to plant -- we have more success here with planting in fall and late spring.

I'm not actually looking for specific plant advice right now. Please keep in mind that most desert trees don't grow all that tall (your green blogs would be giant!) and I have limited space. I don't want to be a bad neighbor and plant something too big for the space that will encroach on neighbors.

I don't know how much I can afford to do right now -- anything substantial will require heavy equipment, especially to move Larry, Moe & Curley (the boulders). I may want to plan in stages. I was going to do further hardscape in my back (aka "Violet's hot garden") but the front is beginning to bug the hell out of me!

This post was edited by Violet.West on Fri, Jul 4, 14 at 14:21

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 2:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't see anything wrong with the location of the boulders, but they should either be set a little lower or their bottom portion should be hidden with low growing plant material. In order to read as natural, one shouldn't see the undercut portion of them.

The green blobs are nothing but screening. We don't know if they are formed of something round shaped, or of a hedge of needle shaped junipers, or of a combination of things like a small tree and lower shrubs, or small tree and man-made structure, or what. We couldn't assume they are anything that encroaches into the neighbor's yard. We only know that they HIDE it. They are only questioning if you wish to screen those things they are screening, or not.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 2:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

screening. gotcha. I'll definitely need something tallish on the left strip, not only for a wind/dust screen, but to screen out my neighbor's trash cans. yuck.

But I was thinking more about the area just to the right of my driveway, in the front corner -- that area gets the brunt of the dirt.

This post was edited by Violet.West on Fri, Jul 4, 14 at 15:03

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 2:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Can you use a leaf blower to dust the bed?

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 4:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

For smaller quantities of dust and sand, yes. Other areas of my town use this kind of landscaping with little problem.

But I have had regular twice monthly maintenance with a blower since April and you can see it has made no difference. There's just too much of it and it gets too deep too fast. Very, very fierce windstorms blowing sand off the desert and cleared and undeveloped lots. It will get better eventually, but not go away totally.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 4:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Does the land out back shift this much?

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 10:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sorry but I don't think I understand your question.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 1:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"But I was thinking more about the area just to the right of my driveway, in the front corner -- that area gets the brunt of the dirt." Are you speaking about the area shown in picture number two, or where the walk and drive intersect -- near the the single shrub?

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 10:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The latter. Here's a better picture. This corner is right in the path of the prevailing winds so I'm thinking a barrier here, plus more plantings on the strip to the left of the drive might make a difference.

As much as I don't like nonpermeable surfaces in the desert, I'm almost ready to put a concrete walkway there; maybe a low wall to the right, with a hedge behind it? Kind of awkward, but at least I could sweep it. alternatively, I was thinking of a mass planting in that corner which would block or trap the dust and which I could hose off.

I'd love to do something like this pic I found on Pinterest, but can't afford it right now (see link)

Here is a link that might be useful: front yard with planters

This post was edited by Violet.West on Sat, Jul 5, 14 at 11:18

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 11:12AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

and emmarene: are you asking whether I have a similar problem in my back yard? The answer is yes, to a point. It's somewhat mitigated by a perimeter rock wall, and I have been working a lot on building the "bones" of my back yard which has helped some. It's still plain dirt now, because I'm reluctant to put rock mulch or gravel until at least some of the nearby construction is finished and people plant things up. Here's a pic of my "hot garden" for reference. My next step will be to put pavers and gravel around the porch and patio.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 11:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

OK ... I see the "better picture" but don't understand your complaint about this corner. Your entire front yard is sand. It's not heaped up or spilling across the walk at the corner. What is the exact problem? ... That you want it to be gravel instead of sand?

Be careful in placing things where blowing sand is a problem. Those "things" may cause the sand to deposit in the lee of the wind ... like snow fencing does with snow.

Per your link ... some elements are nice, but the walk is extraordinarily pinched by the flanking walls. This does not say "welcoming" to me. I can't think of a case where a walk to a home's entrance is improved if it only allows a single person to use it instead of two walking side by side. (And the visiting Jehovah's Witnesses will dish it after they leave!)

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 12:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

yes, I see your point about the linked pic -- sometimes it's so easy to be dazzled by pretty pics.

As for "your entire front yard is sand"--that's exactly my point. It isn't. It isn't supposed to be. It's supposed to be the rock mulch which is underneath all that. I cannot maintain it.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 12:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

First then, give up on wanting it to be something that it can't be ... especially if it means fighting mother nature! There is no more sure way of being perpetually dissatisfied. Instead, work with what is available and works. Let's find out what that is. In your opinion, on an artistic basis, is the gravel mulch much greater looking than the sand? If so, why? Or do you think the sand is crap because it was free while the gravel cost money? The sand and the gravel seem to be about the same color.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 1:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"give up on wanting it to be something that it can't be . . . especially if it means fighting mother nature"

--a statement I agree with 100%; which is why I'm looking for an alternative

"In your opinion, on an artistic basis, is the gravel mulch much greater looking than the sand?"

Absolutely. I'd be surprised if you don't. Keep in mind that I don't live in a vacuum here -- All my neighbors in this new subdivision have rock mulch, too; every single one (as well as almost every house in the area). Some have more plants, some have fancier little walls, and a few even have turf, but everyone knows what it's supposed to look like. It's not supposed to look like sand -- it's the equivalent of a weed infested, unmaintained lot. If I left it like that, eventually I'll run afoul of my HOA.

The pic shows my immediate neighbor's yard. Boring, but neat -- because it's the result of hours of heavy manual labor to get it that way. And it won't stay that way for long. I've talked to several of my neighbors and we're all struggling with this. The developer came and re-screened several of the lots, but I certainly can't depend on that happening again.

I understand about sand build up in the lee of barriers, but I think that would be easier to deal with; with the rock mulch, the sand gets down in the spaces between and cannot be blown, swept, or hosed away.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 1:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

this ,pdf "A Homeowners Guide to Controlling Windblown Sand and Dust" has a picture on page 15 (sorry couldn't extract it) with sort of what I was thinking, with a berm and barrier on the southwest side.

It's hard to translate their ideas (build a berm, stabilize soil with wood chips) into something that's workable and would look nice for my tiny residential lot, though.

Here is a link that might be useful: controlling windblown sand

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 4:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Question: it is noted that some neighbors have installed "fancier little walls". Where constructed do these walls control the situation?

Also, is the development almost fully built or is the developer still in complete control? What is your HOA board doing to twist the developer's arm to provide homeowners permanent relief at a reasonable cost?

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 7:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

the developer is still in control, and houses are still being built and sold.

the walls are purely decorative. I venture to say no one has really thought of doing anything different.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 8:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you'all would truck in a few hundred-thousand square miles of compost and run irrigation statewide, you would not have this problem!!!

It is uniformity that determines if a surface is appealing or unsightly. Your sand looks good (think clean sand dune) but the bits of gravel irregularly scattered about seem like contaminants within it. Likewise, the clean gravel mulched area in the picture directly above seem uniformly even, and therefore, look good. (Is the picture from a time back? Or how is it that the area has remained free of blowing sand?) It is the two disparate aggregates mixing together erratically that make it seem messy.

Since the sand is blowing in from off-site, it's a quandary how you will really be able to control it successfully as long as the source is still active ... since it is not the least practical to construct a berm across your front yard! A wall and some paving may stop and deposit some of the sand, but that is only making the clean-up more organized. The good thing is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Are you permitted to have some sand in the yard? Or, in the end, are all yards supposed to be free of sand? (Which seems kind of ridiculous for a requirement of desert living!) What I would do would depend on that.

And why do there seem to be few or no palm trees in any of the pictures? Do people there not like them?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 3:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

yes, it is a conundrum. It will get somewhat better over the course of several years, but there are 500 new home sites being carved out of the desert within a mile of my house, so blame it on sprawl I guess.

I get what you mean about uniformity. The even surface of the immediately above picture is due, again, to hours of laborious work recently undertaken because the homeowners there held a wedding at their house and wanted it to look good for the event.

One idea is to replace some of the inch rock mulch there with a smaller crushed mulch which looks like native soil, but can be easily raked. (Trail chat?)

For now, I'm just going to plan more plantings for this fall; on the west side strip, on the "hell strip" in front; on the perimeter corner. Native and hardy adapted. I'm also going to convert most of the low part of the rock stream into a rain garden -- that's what it wants to be, and it will help infiltrate and control rain water. Probably stuff like an Arizona Rosewood hedge (similar to oleander) on the side, perhaps a row of Desert Willow on the hell strip. Native plants in the rain garden, and possibly grasses in the corner where most of the sand is now. (I'd love to do a mass planting of pink muhly grass, although not native.) We'll see how it goes.

We do have palm trees, but it gets pretty cold here in the winter, and many die if we have real cold snaps as we had in 2009. I'm in a high desert valley, and it gets down into the teens here for short periods most every winter. Mexican blue palms do well.

thank you for responding; it's help me put things into perspective and think about what I could put there.

This post was edited by Violet.West on Sun, Jul 6, 14 at 17:32

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 4:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I wonder if Pindo palm would survive. It's supposed to tolerate 14* F.

I wanted to comment on your dry stream. Per the third picture in the thread, it gives the impression of being a feature like one might see at a mini golf course ... "tight" (due to the distinct, unnatural edge) and artificial ... the way the rocks are dumped onto other rocks. It seems to be only the larger rocks that survive the onslaught of blowing sand. Actually, the way the larger of the dome-shaped river rocks appear embedded into the sand -- as if carefully mortared in -- seems quite handsome ... cobblestone-ish. If I lived there, I would be considering and experimenting with vastly expanding the dry stream with many more of these these larger turtle-backed rocks (as they look by the time they are properly embedded.) I think I would do it to the point that the majority of the front yard was the dry stream. It wouldn't have a distinct linear edge, but instead a linear zone simulating the edge, where there was a concentration of stones. Maybe even add a couple more boulders, but not as large as the ones you already have. At the central path of the stream it would be fewer of the dome stones and probably mostly sand, or a mix of sand and gravel in some kind of wind formed solution such as what's there now. I would be trying to invite the sand to come and do as much free simulated "mortarwork" as it could. If it blew the sand off enough to expose the larger stones, I'd be happy. It's a bit hard to explain and a bit hard to draw. Hopefully, between the two you can get the idea. (I had to throw in the sidewalk, trees and bougainvillea.)

The large boulders would look better if embedded further into the ground, so that undercut areas did not show. It should not be difficult to do, gravity being in favor of it.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 8:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I see what you mean -- that's a very interesting idea and I'll have to think about it. I'm not sure I've ever seen it done that way, and I must have viewed thousands of desert landscape pictures by now. Would be unique!

I just took a walk around my neighborhood. Mine isn't the worst yard by far. I'm very fortunate that i have the drip irrigation system installed -- almost the only plants that are alive are at the houses with drip systems -- a small minority. But everyone on my end of the subd is struggling with the sand.

This post was edited by Violet.West on Sun, Jul 6, 14 at 21:04

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 9:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am thinking living on the beach is a good thing!! Embrace the sand!! The other thought I had is why would they be encouraging your run off out to the street? I would absolutely re-work that so once the water is safely away from the foundation it would soak into my yard long before it got to the street. In my childhood we lived in NM. We had lawns and plantings much like anywhere else I have ever lived. I am glad to see people are embracing the idea we don't all live in England and lush green lawns are counter intuitive to sustaining our planet in many areas.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:16AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

...I also wanted to add I too thought of the leaf blower and perhaps like many of us mow lawns once a week or more you would have to use the blower as often, to keep the look you desire.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I agree with you arcy about lawns in the desert (although it actually may be a decent solution in this case, and I'm planning a postage stamp size lawn in the back.)

Your other statement, about the run off the street is also absolutely correct. As I think I stated, I'm going to make the spot in the stream that's the lowest and water collects into a rain garden, with plantings that will take advantage of the water there. Directing the water towards plantings, and making depressions instead of mounds is all part of this. Brad Lancaster, author of "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond" is the guru of this. He has some fantastic YouTube videos too if you're interested.

However, it's the EXCESS storm water that needs to drain to the street -- we get monsoon floods here occasionally, and that water needs a place to go.

This post was edited by Violet.West on Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 11:02

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 10:00AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Over the weekend I noticed this pile of torn up concrete (aka "urbanite") a couple of houses down from me. I was so tempted to abscond with it and use it as a temp border along the sand leading edge. Unfortunately ( or perhaps fortunately! ) it's all too heavy for me to move.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

In time, when things get built up around you, your dust problems will be much better.

We used to live in the low dessert in Southern California and endured some pretty stiff dust storms.

A drip system is great! We had one, and we grew wine grapes in our side yard. There are varieties that crave heat and wind. Touriga National is one. They do go dormant in winter.

I was going to suggest a tree for you. Moringa Stenopetala. It's an edible tree but can grow very tall. It has a bulb like trunk that stores water, so it's drought resistant. Moringa Oleifera is in the same family and is more cold tolerant, but it grows fast and can be treated as an annual where it gets too cold. We no longer live in the low desert. We are close to the high desert, but in a micro-climate, and it rarely freezes here.

We planted Moringa Oliefera last September, and the cold set them back a lot, but in March, they popped right back and one is over 7 feet tall now, loaded with blossoms and edible pods.

Here is a link to the difference in the two. I find it a little conflicting, but it's really hot here and 2 of our trees are thriving. I got seeds on Ebay. We planted 6, but one part of the garden plot dirt is just bad, and we are finding nothing will grow there. Could be contaminated by a previous owner. We lost 2 trees, but they grow so fast, we don't really need six.

It's just fun to go out and clip the leaves for a delicious, healthy salad. Plus they are pretty!

I wish I had suggestions for your front yard. Olive and Fig trees grow well in the low desert, but probably not the high one. We had river rock down our side yards put in by the developer. You could lose your life on that stuff! We finally installed stepping flagstones to help.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Moringa Trees Compared

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 4:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Violet what is the tree in your yard? I hope nothing gets built behind your wall. I like the view.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 4:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

the tree is a builder tree -- a hybrid oak called "Empire."

I like the view too ! in the back there's a major highway, and many more homesites going up on the other side of it. Sad, but it shouldn't impact my best view too much because there are mountains and night lights to the east not shown in the pic.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 6:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I continue to think about this problem. A young neighbor of mine offered to screen my rock for $250, which is a bargain I'm taking advantage of next week.

I might just decide to put up a temporary silt screen for a year, while the construction continues around me, and until I can get some more things planted. Maybe with some black "iron" look garden edging around the worst corner from the big box store and some clear plastic sheeting. My HOA may not like it, but tough.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 12:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

now I want to put up walls. I can't quite get my head around what I want, so I might make a little 3-D mock up. I'm sure you guys think I'm crazy, lol!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 2:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thought you might want to see the "water" part of the equation. This was taken August 10 during a hailstorm/cloudburst which caused a flash flood down my street. I'm glad to report the water on my property went exactly where it was supposed to. My parkway got trashed though, along with everyone else's.

I should have a update soon-- I have a consultation set up with a landscape architect. Not for a full out plan but a consult with a mini plan. Should be interesting!

This post was edited by Violet.West on Wed, Aug 13, 14 at 16:44

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 4:42PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
light green leaf tree
Looking for a bright green leaf small/medium sized...
quick screen
I'm zone 7 and the spot is full sun. I had a 12' photinia...
Mary Bright
Landscape design assistance
Hello, Our home is in Connecticut (Zone 6A) and we've...
Front yard design help
Looking to finally put some plants in the front yard....
Matt Johnston
tall hedge or tress for privacy screen.
I have posted this before in older forums. Not able...
Sponsored Products
Accent Rug: Jef Designs Dark Khaki 2' x 3'
$60.00 | Home Depot
Aris Outdoor Ceiling Fan by Casablanca Fan Company
$339.00 | Lumens
Le Corbusier LC2 Style Loveseat-Chocolate - 100% Italian Leather
IFN Modern
Hawthorne Chair-side Cabinet
Windsor Fleece Throw - PLATINUM
$98.00 | Horchow
Union Mid Size Sectional
Opulent Items
Corbett Riviera 2-Light Pendant Chandelier
Lamps Plus
Baron Vintage Linen Dining Side Chair - Set of 2 - SUNP215
$999.98 | Hayneedle
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™