Plant selection and layout ideas
Creating a pollinator garden in the low desert can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, but it requires careful planning and consideration of plant layout. A well-designed layout can help attract and support a wide variety of pollinators, while also providing an aesthetically pleasing and functional space. In this article, we will discuss some key considerations for plant layout in a low desert pollinator garden.
- Group plants with similar water and sun requirements
One of the most important considerations when planning a pollinator garden is grouping plants with similar water and sun requirements. In the low desert, water is a precious resource, and it is important to use it wisely. By grouping plants with similar water needs together, you can ensure that you are not overwatering or underwatering any particular plant, and you can also conserve water by using drip irrigation or other efficient watering methods.
Similarly, grouping plants with similar sun requirements can help ensure that each plant is getting the appropriate amount of sunlight. Some plants, such as desert marigold and brittlebush, prefer full sun, while others, such as penstemon and desert willow, prefer partial shade. By grouping plants with similar sun requirements, you can ensure that each plant is getting the right amount of sunlight, which can help promote healthy growth and flowering.
- Consider plant height and spacing
Another important consideration when planning a pollinator garden is plant height and spacing. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, need room to move around and access the nectar and pollen of different plants. By spacing plants appropriately and choosing plants of different heights, you can create a garden that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Taller plants, such as desert willow and penstemon, can be placed towards the back of the garden, while shorter plants, such as desert marigold and globe mallow, can be placed towards the front. This allows pollinators to easily access the flowers of all plants without having to navigate around tall stems and leaves.
- Incorporate native plants
Incorporating native plants into your pollinator garden is an important consideration, as native plants are adapted to the specific growing conditions of the low desert and can provide important food and habitat for pollinators. Native plants, such as brittlebush and bursage, also require less water and maintenance than non-native plants, making them a more sustainable choice.
When selecting native plants for your pollinator garden, it is important to consider their growth habit and sun and water requirements, as well as their flowering time. By selecting plants that flower at different times throughout the year, you can provide a consistent source of nectar and pollen for pollinators year-round.
- Incorporate a variety of flower shapes and colors
Finally, when planning a pollinator garden, it is important to incorporate a variety of flower shapes and colors. Different pollinators are attracted to different types of flowers, and by providing a variety of shapes and colors, you can attract a wide range of pollinators to your garden.
For example, bees are attracted to blue, purple, and yellow flowers with tubular shapes, while butterflies are attracted to brightly colored, flat-topped flowers. By incorporating a variety of flower shapes and colors, you can create a garden that is not only functional but also visually appealing.
Designing a plant layout for a low desert pollinator garden requires careful consideration of water and sun requirements, plant height and spacing, native plants, and flower shapes and colors. By taking these factors into account and creating a well-designed layout, you can create a garden that attracts and supports a wide variety of pollinators while also providing an aesthetically pleasing and functional space.
- Provide at least 4-6 hours of sunlight per day to satisfy pollinator and plant needs.
- Only disturb the soil if you are planting; disturbing the soil can damage native bee nesting sites, and many invasive species thrive in disturbed soil.
- Provide a sunny, sparsely planted area of bare ground for nesting habitat
- Provide at least one other type of nesting habitat, like plant basins, stem cuttings, dead trees, stacked bricks or a brush pile for those pollinators that don’t nest in the ground.
- Use non-pesticide means for controlling pests since pollinators can be directly, or indirectly harmed by the chemicals.
- Be accepting of plant damage caused by caterpillars since they are the larval stage of our great butterfly and moth pollinators.
- Remove invasive species from your landscape
For additional detail, see the Maricopa County Pollinator Pathway pages.
Types of Garden Layouts
There are many different ways to design a plant layout for a low desert pollinator garden, and the best layout will depend on the specific site conditions and the goals of the garden. However, here are a few examples of plant layouts that may work well in a low desert pollinator garden:
- The tiered garden:
A tiered garden is a great option for a small space or a garden with limited sun exposure. This type of layout involves planting tall plants at the back of the garden, medium-sized plants in the middle, and short plants at the front. For example, you might plant desert willow or penstemon at the back of the garden, followed by globe mallow or desert marigold in the middle, and then low-growing plants like trailing lantana or desert lavender at the front.
- The mixed border:
A mixed border is a great option for a larger garden or a garden with lots of sun exposure. This type of layout involves planting a mix of perennials, shrubs, and sub-shrubs in a border around the garden. For example, you might plant Mexican bird of paradise, fairy duster, and yellow bells in the back of the border, followed by desert marigold, globe mallow, and penstemon in the middle, and then low-growing plants like ground morning glory or desert zinnia at the front.
- The island bed:
An island bed is a great option for a garden that is visible from all sides, as it creates a focal point in the center of the garden. This type of layout involves planting tall plants in the center of the bed and then gradually tapering down to shorter plants at the edges. For example, you might plant desert willow or ocotillo in the center of the bed, followed by globe mallow or penstemon, and then low-growing plants like creeping sage or desert marigold at the edges.
- The meadow garden:
A meadow garden is a great option for a garden with a naturalistic feel or a garden that is located in a more rural area. This type of layout involves planting a mix of grasses and wildflowers in a naturalistic pattern. For example, you might plant blue grama grass, curly mesquite, and Indian ricegrass, followed by wildflowers like desert lupine, orange globe mallow, and desert marigold. This type of garden can provide important habitat for pollinators and other wildlife, as well as a beautiful and low-maintenance landscape.
There are many different options for designing a plant layout for a low desert pollinator garden, and the best layout will depend on the specific site conditions and the goals of the garden. By carefully considering water and sun requirements, plant height and spacing, native plants, and flower shapes and colors, you can create a garden that is both functional and visually appealing, and that provides important habitat and food for pollinators.
Plants for a Low Desert Pollinator Garden
Not every landscape plant qualifies for the Recommended Plant list, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in your landscape. Some common low desert landscape plants have aesthetic value, but perhaps not so many benefits to native bees or pollinators – these plants are organized under this page.
The list of plants that grow in the Southwest and can serve as host or nectar plants can be overwhelming. Selecting plants for your garden is made even more difficult by the dizzying array of plants sold at box stores.
If you’re serious about supporting pollinators, you can whittle down the list by removing plants that have been hybridized for color, plants that take a lot of water to make it through the summer heat, and plants that have been treated with pesticides to increase their beauty and shelf life.
Here is our list of low desert pollinator garden plants.
Here’s the Maricopa Pollinator Pathway plant list.
And if you’re interested in starting plants from seed, here’s the Maricopa Native Seed Library page (seeds are free).
Starter Nectar Palette of plants.
Larval Host Starter Palette of plants.
A Visual Guide for a Southwestern Butterfly Garden.
Learn More about Our Pollinators
Flies (you may be surprised!)
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