In Arizona, we live in a very different climate, with different soil, and yes, even different plants than most of the country. Getting a landscape established without the proper information can be frustrating. There are a few factors to consider when deciding how to water a plant, both when you first get it into the ground and as it develops.
Watering after planting.
Even native plants must be watered carefully when they are first planted.
What sort of environment is this plant native to?
Not all native plants come from the same sort of environment. Not all native plants are “desert plants”. Remember we live in a region called the Sky Islands, which refers to our mountains plotted about in a desert sea. Native plant environments include dunes, desert scrub, various forms of grasslands, oak woodland, and even several forms of woodland forests. Even in a limited region like desert scrub you will find that plants occupy different niches—some spots collect more rain water, some are more moist because of the shelter of rocky crusts that allow plant roots to be sheltered from the heat.
You don’t need to be a biologist to figure this stuff out. We are here to help. But it’s important to know that some plants require more water than others, some do better with a mulch of rock or bark, and some love it out in the hottest parts of your yard.
What is your soil like?
Soil can vary from foot to foot. Part of the reason we suggest thoroughly amending your soil is that we want you to dig around and discover what’s down there. Some soil is sandy, some is full of clay. When you dig a hole and fill it with water, does the water drain right away, or does it take a lot of time to drain? If there is caliche (a rocky substrate of calcium carbonate that looks like chalk) it can block water from draining. If you plant in these sorts of areas, you will need to ensure drainage, and may need to modify how you water your plant. You can replace soil in various spots if the soil is just too terrible.
Also consider mulching. The old school way in Tucson is to use rock mulch. This is material that is mined, fairly uniform in weight, and can be purchased in various colors and sizes. Most of the time its decomposed granite. In recent years efforts to recycle landscape waste in Tucson has produced bark mulch (also available in various grades). Bark mulch eventually breaks down and must be replaced, but this is great for the soil as the process of it breaking down enriches the soil below. Bark mulch seems to attract more wildlife. Decomposing insects hang out below working on the mulch, and birds will often be found picking around the mulch for those insects. After switching to bark mulch we decided this was far better, as our goals are to increase wildlife in our landscapes.
HOW are you watering?
Most people are either watering by hand with a hose, or they have a watering system. Most people who have a watering system use drip irrigation. We definitely suggest installing some sort of automatic irrigation just because clocks are more dependable than people when it comes to consistency. But you your drip emitters should be placed correctly—not just to water your plants when they are young (with drip emitters right next to the base of the plant) but also set out where the roots of the plant will extend. Remember that most plants have roots that extend well beyond the reach of the top of the plant.
You live in an arid region. We suggest you try to learn and use the concept of passive rainwater use. This means watching your landscape when it rains and learning where the water goes. Once you understand where it goes, shape your landscape such that when it rains, the rain goes toward landscape plants instead of pooling around where it’s not being use, or running off into the street. Properly done, you can even use it exclusively to water your landscape—though this takes careful planning and implementation. Here is a general guide to passive water harvesting. We suggest you read Brad Lancaster’s Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond. You can purchase this book from us or online.