Tips on Living and Gardening in the Southwestern Desert
Have you ever wondered what it is like to live in the desert in the summer heat and winter dryness? Or even, perhaps, what it is like to garden in the desert?
After writing about Texas-based JM Dry Goods owners Michelle Teague and Jon Davidson’s garden shop, Hijo, and landscape designer Mark Word’s nursery, Jardineros, Remodelista editor Alexa turned to them for expert advice on how to survive the extreme elements of the desert. Here is what she sourced for Gardenista.
Photography by Michael A. Muller for Gardenista.
Gardenista: What should a Southwest gardener know about first starting a plot in the region?
Jardineros: In the beginning stages of establishing a garden, make sure you can identify and commit to the removal of bermuda grass and nutsedge. Also, soil should be amended with water-holding compost before planting. Many sites will be full of weed seeds just waiting for you to add water—try to be patient and consistent about weeding. It could take several seasons before your new beds are truly free and clear.
GD: How do you protect yourself from the elements?
Michelle Teague: I’m never without a hat! I love my old Persol sunglasses and I also have been addicted to Kiehl’s Super Fluid SPF 50+ since I’ve been at the nursery out in the sun. It’s very lightweight, perfect for the Texas heat. And you’ll always find us at Jardineros under the Hijo porch shade sipping Topo Chicos.
GD: From local pests and desert animals?
Michelle Teague: I just discovered JAO Patio Oil, a botanical plant-based bug repellant—highly effective in Texas where mosquitoes are pretty serious. And it smells insane.
GD: How and when do you water your garden in Texas?
Jardineros: It’s best to choose your plants carefully and water them only as needed. In the summer, a bit of late afternoon wilting is normal but if plants don’t perk up after sundown, it’s a sure sign they need a drink. Here in Austin and other parts of Texas, we’ve experienced record temperatures and severe drought several years running. To protect the water supply, our city and others have implemented irrigation restrictions. We find that the best way to water less is to do it more efficiently, such as by installing more drip irrigation systems and avoiding spray heads. Always water in the early morning or evening to reduce water loss by evaporation.
Above: Jon Davidson of Hijo Shed reads up on native Southwest gardening.
GD: Favorite hardy, drought-resistant plant?
Jardineros: We like Mexican Olive, as well as a variety of tall grasses including Blue Grama, Alkali Sacaton and Blonde Ambition.
GD: What’s your take on container gardening versus planting directly into soil?
Jardineros: In most cases, it’s better to plant directly into the soil; the temperatures can be extreme and containers can dry out or freeze quickly.
For a deeper look at desert gardening, Southwestern style, visit Gardenista’s post Hijo in Austin: A Garden Shop in a Shed at Jardineros Nursery.
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