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Topics Covered


Read the descriptions of our classes and imagine the solid understanding of desert landscaping you will learn. Our teachers integrate the latest information into their classes providing you, our student, with the current best practices in desert plant care.

Desert Environment

Success with an urban landscape hinges on how well landscapers understand the environment in which they work. Many factors create the realities landscapers must deal with: seasonal patterns of weather, soil characteristics, plant adaptations, and plant responses to the environment. This class creates a foundation of learning for the entire course, a perspective that may be new to many people.

Plant Biology for Desert Landscapes

An urban desert landscape without plants is not really a landscape at all. Therefore, a basic understanding of what plants are, how they differ from one another, what their structural components are, and how they function is essential in order to properly care for them. Desert plants have many fascinating adaptations to their unique environment. These adaptations often confuse people who are not familiar with the way these plants sustain themselves. Once these concepts are understood, people can derive strategies for effective management of desert landscaping situations.

Desert Soils and Fertilization

Desert soils are very different from soils of temperate regions of the United States. Understanding our soil is important because it is the home of the plant’s essential, yet largely unnoticed roots. Because the roots and stems of plants are wholly dependent upon each other for survival, if you keep the roots healthy it follows that the above-ground stems will flourish. This class serves as an introduction to the complexities of our soil and the means of managing it to grow the healthiest plants possible.

Landscape Processes – Design/Construction/Management

Did you know over 75% of the cost of a landscape is spent during the maintenance phase. Decisions made during the design and construction phases have a lasting impact. They can either create cost savings or increase expenses during the 15-30 year lifespan of the typical urban landscape. This class will introduce students to the basics of each phase. Students will study examples of construction and landscape management schedules and leave with a plant palette for the Salt River Valley.

Desert Trees

Trees are the mainstay of any desert landscape because they are available in such a wide range of forms and colors. Desert trees provide much appreciated shade and give form to a landscape. Additionally, desert trees need less water to remain healthy and attractive than traditional exotic plants. Selecting the right tree has lasting impact on many areas of the landscape. In this class, students will learn the keys to successful tree selection for healthy and beautiful landscapes that require less maintenance.

Planting and Staking Trees

To the experienced landscaper, planting and staking trees may seem like second nature; however, many may not be aware of the current standards for planting trees or fully understand the importance of proper staking for the sustained health and value of a tree. Many factors contribute to the success of a plant installation before the plant is placed in the ground. This class is critical as a basic foundation for wise plant management, because this is the point where most problems begin or are avoided.

Pruning Principles for Trees

Pruning a plant properly requires knowledge of the anatomy of a plant, how it grows, how it creates its own food, how it reacts to stress, and how it heals itself. Students become familiar with these plant basics as well as basic pruning techniques both in the classroom and as hands-on experiences. A student's ability to remove limbs properly will be refined using a "3-cut method" that involves removing the weight of a branch first, then making the correct final finish cut. After completing this simple operation, each tree will have a clean, professional look and heal very quickly.

The goal of this class is to enhance students' understanding of proper pruning techniques and elevate their confidence to the point where they feel comfortable approaching new pruning situations. Students will combine their new skills and the pruning principles they have learned, and apply them to pruning an entire tree.

Pests and Pesticide Safety

With a little prevention most plant pest problems can be avoided. This class is intended to aid students in understanding pest and disease problems and provide simple, effective approaches to controlling them. The second focus is on working safely with pesticides. These chemicals can be dangerous to people, animals, wildlife, and the environment if used incorrectly. We will learn safe handling and application of pesticides.

Plant Health Management

The key to healthy landscapes is to know the plants and their potential pests and diseases. With a little prevention most problems can be avoided or managed. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, desert plants do encounter occasional problems. With proper knowledge, most problems can be solved without the use of toxic chemicals or expensive remedies! Students will learn the concepts and techniques of Integrated Pest Management and how to apply thi understanding to plant problems and effective approaches to managing them. 

Creating Sustainable Landscapes

This class explores the concepts and techniques necessary to create a more sustainable urban landscape. Our goal is to create a functional landscape that  is aesthetically pleasing. We will explore harvesting rainfall water for landscape use, designing to reduce cooling needs, and learn to maximize the site’s beneficial qualities. We will explore current topics in design and conservation and how they can be applied to an urban landscape.

Irrigation Systems

Despite the fact that desert plants do not require large amounts of water, all good landscape designs must include an efficient irrigation system. Irrigation systems require extra effort to install; however, they will reward their owners with less work and less water use over time. In this class we discuss the most efficient irrigation systems available, and learn which systems are the most appropriate for each landscape situation.

Shrubs and Ornamental Grasses

Shrubs perform vital roles in landscapes. They tie buildings to the landscape and provide backgrounds, borders, barriers, and screens. Desert adapted and native shrubs do these jobs nicely and with wonderful color, form, and texture. With so many uses in a landscape, it is beneficial if these essential plants require little water and maintenance. Desert adapted shrubs offer these benefits. Ornamental grasses are popular additions to a landscape, and so their selection and care will be explored. Selecting the right species, along with the proper planting and care of the shrubs and ornamental grasses in a landscape can save time and money.

Desert Annuals, Perennials, Ground Covers and Vines

Desert annuals have few problems with pests and diseases because they are well adapted to our harsh desert climate. Desert annuals thrive here despite conditions of poor soil, extreme heat and intense sunlight. Not all flowering plants are annuals; in this class, we will also learn how native and desert-adapted perennials, ground covers and vines add beauty to the landscape with less maintenance.

Agaves and Yuccas

Agaves and yuccas are unique plants that are leaf succulents. They store large amounts of water in their leaves, making them very well adapted to our Sonoran Desert climate. When provided with the correct amount of shade, and the proper soil, they require little water and are low maintenance. 

Traditionally, the creative use of agaves, yuccas, and related plants in landscapes has been limited. One way to change that is to educate people about their landscape potential. In the landscape, agaves offer a sculptural, elegant, and graceful appearance that is unmatched by many other plants. Agaves are low water-use, low maintenance plants that are available in many sizes and colors to match various landscape needs.  Yuccas can be used as spectacular specimen plants that will provide many years of seasonal blooms. 


Cacti are particularly useful and well-adapted plants for desert landscaping. They are able to endure dry conditions for long periods of time . However, their drought tolerance depends on the species and size of the cacti. Cacti require less water than non-succulent plants of similar size. It is a myth that cacti need no water; in fact they may benefit from water being applied to nearby plantings.

Succulent Plants

Do you ever drive by xeriscaped landscapes and think to yourself: "That's a pretty yard, but it looks like all the others"? Sure, everyone uses cacti and agaves, but there is a great variety of other succulents available that can add renewed interest to a landscape design by increasing the choices of textures and forms it will have. This class will show you some species suitable for use in low desert areas and demonstrate how they can fit into a xeriscape design.

Landscape Design

Becoming a professional landscape designer takes years of training and practice; however, people can learn the basic steps used to create a low maintenance desert landscape. This series of four classes emphasizes the importance of conducting an initial site analysis, interviewing clients, and finally selecting the plants to be placed within the landscape. As part of any desert landscape design, an efficient irrigation system is essential, along with mounding, boulder placement, and a final covering of the area with decomposed granite.

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