Hard as it is to believe, the autumn equinox is drawing near, and thus fall is just around the corner. This means it is time to get ready to plant.  Fall is a great time of year for planting for a number of reasons.  From a human standpoint, it is cooler and easier to work outdoors.  From a plant standpoint, it is cooler and easier to live outdoors.  

Another excellent reason to plan now is that after all our rain this summer, you can more easily dig your holes for plants and irrigation lines.  Soil moistened by monsoon rain is much easier to dig than baked, dry soil.  (Or you could use your garden hose the day before you dig to water and soften the soil.  Depends how thrifty you are.)

Almost everyone who calls me to consult tells me that their landscape is lacking something.  Most are.  A low-water landscape need not be a sea of gravel with a few plants scattered remotely from one another.  Plants stranded alone in such a hot and rocky environment use more water than those planted in clusters.  Clusters of plants shade one another and the soil all around their roots, reducing evaporation.  That’s how they do it in the desert.

A low water landscape can be lush and luxurious --- with some planning.  A pleasing and water-efficient landscape should include layers.  Trees overhead are one layer, then tall shrubs as background, lower shrubs next, perennials as an intermediate layer, with ground cover plants to fill in the lowest layer.  Accents have their place as well.  

You don’t need, or want, all five layers everywhere in your landscape.  Rolling waves of color and cooling greenery are the way to go, with just a few accents to focus the attention and keep it from wandering all over.

So, with this in mind, what do you need in your landscape?  In most cases it is something in the middle range, a grouping of shrubs, some perennials for color, possibly some ground covers, and generally something for a focal point.  A saguaro makes an excellent focal point and helps give your yard a true sense of the Southwest.

The final reason to start your fall planting process now is that a good landscape plan will need a little research on your part.  First, decide on the overall “look” you want.  Peruse a stack of gardening magazines or books (the local library has many useful volumes).  Use sticky notes to tag the pages you like, and think about the style you are seeing.  Formal, informal or natural?  Entirely orderly, sedate with some color, or colorful and exuberant?

Next step is to match the plants with the look you want.  Page through desert landscaping books and visit a few nurseries for a three dimensional look at the plants in the books.  Sure, lantana looks great now, but remember that you will use your yard more often in the cooler months, about the time most lantana freezes back and looks bedraggled.  Verbena might be a better choice.

Planning your planting is ideal during this hot month before fall.  Daydreams are fun, and they will help you create the yard of your dreams.

(Editor’s Note: As well as writing about plants, Jacqueline makes house calls to help you with your plants or landscape design.  For a private consultation, call 909-3474.  Please leave a voice message.)

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