How to Create a Desert Landscape | Ask This Old House

How to Create a Desert Landscape | Ask This Old House

Ask This Old House landscape designer Jenn Nawada heads to Phoenix to recreate the desert in a homeowner’s front yard.
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Time: 1 day
Cost: $2,000 and Up

Skill Level: Moderate

Tools List for Creating a Desert Landscape:
Hand truck

Shopping List:
Variety of desert plants
_” stone
Modular pavers

1. Dig out the outline of a walkway about 3’ wide and 3-4” deep. Give the outline a slight curve to add visual interest to the walkway.
2. To mimic the hills of the desert, shovel piles of soil onto the landscape into seemingly random mounds.
3. Determine a few locations to place boulders in the landscape. Dig holes in those locations about 4” deep and roughly the width of the boulder being placed.
4. Carefully load each boulder onto a hand truck, wheel it into position, and roll the boulder into its final place. Backfill around the hole to make it look like it really belongs there.
5. Stage the variety of desert plants across the landscape. Things aren’t really clumped together in the desert, so keep the plants spread out. Be mindful of when plants bloom, if ever, to have an even spread of color across the landscape.
6. Once each plant is in its desired position, plant them all with the shovel. Dig down just about as deep as the root ball and twice as wide.
7. To plant cacti, wrap a piece of cardboard around the needles and move the cactus only by holding onto the cardboard.
8. Give everything a good watering.
9. Put down a layer of _” stone on the outlined walkway and level it.
10. Compact the walkway with a compacter.
11. Lay down the pavers over the walkway base in a running bond pattern.

In any landscape design, Jenn recommends looking for natural cues in the surrounding area to recreate in a controlled way in your yard. In this case, she identified an abundance of small stones coating the ground, plants spread far apart from each other, and undulating hills. Those cues informed the design in the homeowner’s front yard.

Jenn installed boulders, red yucca, lantana, bougainvillea, a few variety of cacti, and a Chilean mesquite tree. These can be found at nurseries, particularly in the Southwest region of the US and in zones 9 and 10.

Expert assistance for this segment was provided by Rod Pappas and Xeriscapes Unlimited, Inc. (, A-1 Materials Phoenix (, All Season Nursery (, and Horizon Irrigation (

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How to Create a Desert Landscape | Ask This Old House



Cal says:

They did a beautiful job. The pavers look awesome. The plant choices were perfect. But they blocked the window again with the tree and planted it to close to the house. Those mesquite roots can wreak havoc on a foundation. I planted mine 15 feet away from my house.

T.A. M says:

Hummingbirds love that honeysuckles! They could’ve replant it somewhere-else in the yard!

Donald Erickson says:

Seeing this makes me homesick

Jon M says:

That honeysuckle was beautiful. Why tf did they cut it out? Just TRIM it if it's too big!!

Justin Waynoka says:

Everybody has been the guy at 2:42 at least once lol

Gammareign says:

Actually, people who know anything about geography understand that mountains cause deserts via the "rain-shadow".

TrueToad says:

Excellent Learning I lived South of Tucson Arizona for many years, the desert is beautiful''

murray andru says:

Great Job Jen !

Prakash Gudimetla Gudimetla Prakash says:

Very nice natural tea

TeenaGeena Ballerina says:

I’m curious about watering this landscape, because I didn’t notice any irritation system. Did the homeowner use sprinklers, and how often?

kevin juarez says:

Just wait till things grow I always see people fucking things up and not spreading them across they are not gonna stay little just wait till the plants start to have baby’s and start spreading or that tree rooting will cause a problem to the house down the line so much for being The Professionals.

Dziadek says:

Their enthusiasm as well as the skidsteer were a little overkill for the situation

Random Stuff In Oregon says:

Why'd they kill the Honey Suckle? I love those!

Logamn1023 says:

more like this please

marbarchi says:

The homeowners response after he tells her that the plant will "go with your mailbox" is priceless. Lol

sunshine says:

Dont kill the beautiful tree

Clinton Lyle says:

Stop watering your lawn. Cover all grass and greenery with tarps for several months. Remove tarps after the city cites you.
Bingo. Desert landscape.

Zeus Boo says:

"I'm going to scrape the rocks off and you guys can DIG around the plant."
Bad back I guess……..

Teal Appeal says:

Glad they molded the ground to better fit the boulders. I'm considering doing mini gravel mounds in my front yard, I dislike the flat style. It's a shame my home has the modern appearance… I can't afford to change it so I want something to blend the modern with the natural and un-orderly.

Skimask says:

dont wanna step on a cactus or kick one no thanks

Martin Zone says:

Can't you guys there just go to a desert, dig some plants and cacti out to transplant them to your yard?

’e-ḇen says:

This is my one step process of creating a desert landscape. I have studied and researched this topic for tens of seconds. After many partial minutes of thought, I have distilled my method into a single rule:

Step 1: Stop watering

Aaron Andrews says:

Isn't concrete a natural material? What is she talking about?

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