Desert landscaping is a challenge for both beginning and experienced gardeners. Soils are poor, natural sources of moisture are lacking, and extreme variations in heat and cold tax many traditional “fair weather” plants.
However, for the gardener willing to put in a little extra time and effort, desert landscaping can be so much more than gravel and cacti. For a start, consider ground cover choices, and a personal favorite, periwinkle, known botanically as vinca major, large periwinkle, and vinca minor, small periwinkle. Vinca minor, the small periwinkles, are the drought resistant species, and are thus most suitable for low moisture environments.
The benefits of periwinkle to a desert landscaping environment are numerous:
First, there are vinca minor species suitable for virtually any US climate zone, from zone 3 to zone 9.
Second, vinca is fast growing once established, the slender trailing stems which grow 3 to 6 feet long and keep low to the ground, frequently take root where they touch the soil, so you can space plants (potted or bare root) 10″ – 14″ apart.
Third, they tolerate light foot traffic well, and are perfect for those expanses that don’t see heavy use.
Fourth, they are evergreen and provide a welcoming year round verdancy when other plants and grasses have grown dormant or died off.
Fifth, vinca require virtually no care once established – no mowing, no trimming back, perhaps some supplemental watering during extreme heat (depending on the species and climate zone), and some occasional containment measures, as with most fast growing species, they don’t know what boundaries you’ve intended for them!
Sixth, the plants tolerate many soils, even heavy clay, although as with most plants, a loamy soil (equal mixture of sand, silt and clay) produces the most vigorous growth. And finally, periwinkle is beautiful. Besides the delicate green ovoid leaves, trimmed in white in some species, periwinkle produces a beautiful delicate five petal flower in purple, white or pink, depending on the species.
Now, can your high maintenance grass, or your gravel or mulch surface covers, provide as many benefits to your desert landscaping theme as can little vinca major? Time to get busy and plan a space for them!