If you have looked around the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community lately, especially around the Two Waters government complex, you might have noticed a little change going on with the exterior landscaping. Public Works, in cooperation with the Community Development Department (CDD), has adopted new landscape maintenance practices: decrease trimming and pruning and let the trees and shrubs take their natural forms.
The new practice will result in healthier, natural-looking plants and will save time and money as plants are not trimmed unnecessarily. Both departments want to get the word out in case Community members and employees are wondering why the plants around government facilities have an untrimmed appearance.
Ed Del Duca, senior planner of the Planning Services Division of CDD, came up with the different philosophy of landscape plant care about two years ago, when plants were being pruned too short and many had flowers that were never able to bloom.
“We finally took a look at his idea and implemented it,” said Ron Moll, assistant director, Public Works.
As a former landscape company owner and gardener, Del Duca noticed when he started working for the Community many years ago that the plants were not being pruned correctly and were being overwatered.
“We walked around the tribal complex and talked about each plant we had growing and its purpose. [We came up with a plan for] how to prune it and when to do it,” said Del Duca.
Cubes and Gumdrops
When you look at the landscapes around the government complex, you see neatly trimmed trees and shrubs in cube or gumdrop shapes. This style came from the landscapes of Europe, where gardeners would transform trees and shrubs into artistic objects for the grounds of castles and palaces.
But only some types of plants like to be pruned that way. Many plants on the Two Waters campus were being pruned to the ground when they are meant to be 15 feet tall, and some trees that look like trees are really shrubs.
Del Duca explained about the medusa plant, which is grown in the complex. “When you cut it incorrectly, that stub where it was cut will grow five other stems going in every direction because it wasn’t cut properly. Then we would have to cut the plants down almost to the gravel to restart the growing process,” said Del Duca. “So my presentation showed staff how to maintain the plants and trees.”
“We had a lot of ball shrubs that were being cut every other day and the plants were not reaching their potential,” said Cole Morris, senior facilities manager. A survey had been done to ask people whether they wanted to see plants trimmed neatly and cleanly or allowed to grow wild and bushy.
Previous guidelines kept landscapes neat and never allowed desert plants to bloom. It was always browns and grays throughout the Community. “When the plants were left untouched, they were able to display color that we never knew they had and were able to look like the desert,” added Moll. This new landscaping philosophy will also cut water and labor expenses.
New Approach to Landscaping
The departments will be letting the plants overgrow with trimming where needed around the governmental areas, such as parking lots, buildings and around the substations.
Currently this practice has been taking place along Pima Road from Chaparral through Via de Ventura. The landscapers are letting the plants “do their own thing.” It will take under two years for the plants to fully mature back into their original size. The plants in the north lot of the Two Waters Complex provide a lot of shade and screening.
Moll explained in the desert the plants do not fall over as much as they do in parking lots and homes, because we’re not letting them grow properly; overwatering was the cause also for the plants that were dying.
Moll said they will be working with staff to educate them on different plants and trees and how to best maintain them.
The grounds leads and supervisors at Public Works have been taking training with the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association, which they will pass down to staff to help keep the plants growing properly. Staff are learning about the Community’s approved plant list, irrigation systems, what each tree and plant should look like, and their water usage, which mostly is minimal.
“It makes sense to use less water and let the plants be themselves as they would in the wild,” said Moll. “And a lot of this was the Community who wanted to see it this way.”
“And it’s hard especially for guys who have been doing real neat landscaping in this style for 10 or 20 years,” said Morris. “But over time, we will see the outcome of the project.”
Desert plants can be very beautiful, and we need them to grow to display their beauty and color, especially to the guests who want to see what the desert really looks like while visiting the Two Waters Complex.