In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2011
Regional Report

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Purple verbena adds a naturalistic edge to this swimming pool.

Beat the Heat!

Triple-digit temperatures may dissuade you from tackling heavy-duty gardening tasks right now, but summer is a great time for low desert gardeners to contemplate design changes and projects. Here are some random ideas to consider.

Reduce Hot Hardscape
Who says swimming pools have to be surrounded by hot-to-the-feet decking? A Master Gardener I know planted around the rim of her pool with low-water-use plants such as purple verbena. The spreading vegetation softens and hides pool edges and gives swimmers the appearance of floating in a private lagoon. The plants also reduce the amount of hardscape in the patio area that would otherwise absorb heat during the day and release it at night when folks spend time on the patio.

Another option for paths, sidewalks, and driveways is permeable hardscape that retains less heat and also allows rainwater to soak into the ground on the property rather than run off into the street. If designing new paths, set bricks, pavers, flagstone, or broken chunks of recycled concrete (from an old sidewalk or driveway) in sand, without grouting. Or use a layer of pea gravel or small sized decomposed granite to fashion walkways. (Large sized DG is more difficult to walk on.)

Do You Want Grass?
If the condition of lawns in my neighborhood is any indication, not many people enjoy maintaining their grass! If you and your family have no real need for grass (kids or doggie play areas), and you only have it because it was there when you bought the house (or fill in the excuse of your choice), consider removing it and replacing with colorful groundcovers, perennials, and ornamental clumping grasses. If you choose to use an herbicide to get rid of existing grass, Bermudagrass is most effectively removed when it is actively growing (summer) so that it will absorb the herbicide throughout its system. You can also kill most of it by solarizing with summer heat, just as you would perform soil solarization. Hand digging through the entire depth of the roots is another option. All methods typically require repeat attempts to get all of the very tenacious root system.

Track Sun Exposure and Shade
The sun angle is higher in the sky in summer, which changes the shade areas on your property. Make a sketch of your yard in each season, showing where it is sunny and shady. This can help you decide where to add trees or large blooming shrubs for shade. For example, the puffy white blossoms of Texas olive (Cordia boissieri) bloom spring to fall, lending a feeling of coolness in the heat of the day and a pleasing shimmer in an evening garden.


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