Horticulture in the Desert: 6 Garden Musts for a Southern Climate

Southern climates offers a number of challenges for gardeners. Soil condition may not be beneficial for growing some species of plants, and the dry climate requires more attention to moisture, particularly for flowering or fruiting varieties of plants. A few tips can help to keep your garden growing in these unique conditions.



Improving Soil

Inexpensive conditioners such as dried leaves, pine needles or compost can give your garden soil greater aeration and moisture retention for good root growth. Sawdust or wood chips can also provide good conditioning. Peat moss can also be used but is more expensive for large garden areas. Lime should not be added to Utah soil, which is already heavily alkaline.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irritation is the best method of providing moisture for your garden at a low cost in South Utah’s desert environment. You can find a wide variety of equipment for drip irrigation of your garden. Any medium-priced system can give your garden the continuous watering without constant monitoring that most people need.

Black Plastic Weed Control

Because southern Utah communities have dry conditions it can create greater problems with weed control. Many gardeners find that using black plastic sheeting to cover the garden area with perforations to allow for plant growth provides a good solution to hold down weeds that compete with garden plants for water and nutrients.

Native Plants

With scarce water resources, many gardeners in Utah prefer to work with nature rather than fight it by planting water-sparing plants that are native to the region. A bit of research is needed, but you can find a variety of plants that will thrive in the southern Utah landscape, such as the sego lily, bunch-leaved buckwheat, sand verbena, small-flowered columbine and apache plume that will bring both beauty and vigor to your home landscape with the minimum of care.


Green manure is often recommended for South Utah gardens because it is rich in nutrients and provides good soil conditioning to hold water in dry climates. Green manure uses a “cover crop” which is then turned under for the growing season. Additional potassium is generally not needed to produce and set blossoms because of the Utah soil’s high potassium content.

Insect Control

Controlling garden pests can be a particular problem in desert environments where chemical insecticides can have a detrimental effect on delicate plants and beneficial insects. Garden experts recommend avoiding the use of pesticides when possible or only using organic products to protect the environment. Consult with your local regional master gardener program for recommendations on the safest products for your area.

A primary feature of smart gardening is understanding the environment and adapting to prevailing conditions. You can help your garden produce a bounty by keeping these tips for desert gardening in mind.

Erin Emanuel