Gardening in the Southwest comes with challenges – but that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome them. Concerns like which plants can thrive in the unforgiving climate and how to efficiently irrigate desert soil may arise. 


Dealing with the arid conditions, intense heat, relentless sun, and prevailing wings may seem daunting. Not to mention – the monsoons! However, we’ve outlined some tips for achieving successful harvests and creating a stunning garden. Read on to discover what the most common gardening challenges are faced by gardeners in the Southwest region – and, how to conquer them.

Challenge #1: The Soil’s pH Level

In the Southwestern region, the soil typically exhibits high alkalinity due to the limited rainfall and abundance of calcium carbonate. Soil pH levels generally range from 7 to 8.5. Water scarcity is a prevalent issue, with periods of extreme drought occurring throughout the year. 

While native plants have naturally adapted to these conditions, the alkaline nature of the soil can pose challenges for trees, plants, and crops that you may wish to grow. Most plants thrive in soils with a slightly acidic, neutral, or slightly alkaline pH range from 6 to 7.5. Soil pH is a critical factor that influences the nutrients in your garden and governs whether plants can efficiently absorb those nutrients. 


How to Conquer This Challenge: Test your garden soil, and treat it accordingly. 

Testing your garden soil is an important step in determining which plants, vegetables, or fruits will thrive in your garden. You have two testing options: using an at-home kit or submitting a soil sample o a nearby university extension office. At-home kits are also available in garden centers and are user-friendly, but their results may not be as precise as professional testing. 


Once you have the soil analysis, the next step is to learn how to enrich and boost its fertility. You’ll discover what essential elements are deficient and how to change this. For example, if the analysis reveals an iron deficiency, the three most effective ways to combat this are sulfur, aluminum sulfate, or chelated iron for foliar application. 

Challenge #2: Extreme Temperatures

The largest challenge that Southwest gardeners face is the extreme temperatures, sometimes soaring beyond 110 degrees, alongside the persistent drought conditions. This is why it is critical to use water wisely. 

When it comes to watering your garden, timing is crucial. The early morning hours or night hours are best, as prolonged intense sun exposure can lead to water evaporation. Avoid watering during the early to late afternoon. This guideline becomes particularly critical during the summer months. You can also avoid water wastage by buying retractable hoses equipped with leak-free fittings. These specialized hoses simplify the watering process, saving you time and water. 


How to Conquer This Challenge: Invest in a Drip Irrigation System

Although special hoses can minimize the problem, the best solution is to have a drip irrigation system installed. Investing in a drip irrigation system is an excellent choice because it efficiently targets the area around the plant, ensuring water reaches the roots directly. 


Additionally, adding a layer of mulch to your garden can maximize water retention. This serves the dual purpose of preventing water from evaporating and shielding the soil from sun exposure. 

Challenge #3: How to Landscape a Desert Garden

Everyone wants to grow the perfect garden, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of pairing plants that don’t work well together or adding rocks just to enhance aesthetics. Here are a few suggestions on how to create an optimal landscape for your desert garden. 


How to Conquer This Challenge: Xeriscaping

Opt for xeriscapoing. Xeriscaping is the ideal landscaping approach for arid, hot climates. This form of gardening consists of uses xerophytic plants like succulents, cacti, barbary figs, gum arabic trees, and more. These drought-tolerant plants are exceptionally well-suited for the southwest, allowing you to conserve water while growing a beautiful garden. 


In addition, be sure to strategically place rocks if you plan on incorporating them in your garden. Rocks absorb and radiate heat when exposed to extreme sunlight. This heat can have adverse effects on your plants, particularly those placed closely. 


Strategically group your plants, as well. Organize them based on their water requirements. Place plants that need frequent watering in one area and those that are capable of surviving with minimal water in another section. 


Gardening in the Southwest presents many challenges, primarily due to the soils formed in arid environments where water is scarce. Nonetheless, with a willingness to learn, these challenges can be conquered.