Rio-Verde-Community-Center-Xeriscape

Our landscapes cradle the world between the wild and the civilized. If you are lucky enough to own or rent a little piece of land, you have a chance to create your own private paradise that marries nature with individuality. But how do you get started? And what if you need help? How do you select a landscape professional? How do you find just the right person that can help you achieve your landscape dream in the most sustainable way possible?

Start with refining your dream

You may already have a sense of what you want, but now it is time to refine it with some knowledge and inspiration. Take a walk in the Tempe Xeriscape Demonstration Garden, or one of the other Xeriscape gardens around the Valley (FREE!), or take the family out to the Desert Botanical Garden and start getting a sense of which desert-friendly plants give you good, peaceful feelings. Bring along a copy of the Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert so you can learn more about the plants you like the most. You may even want to bring along a camera or smart phone to snap photos for future reference. If you feel overwhelmed with the selection of plants, start with the trees.

"The garden must first be prepared ... English Proverb

Make a wish list and sketch out your landscape plan. Not sure how to create a plan? Take a free landscape class with your local water provider to learn from a pro. Or you can order a copy of Xeriscape: Landscaping with Style in The Arizona Desert: A step-by-step guide for planning, installing and caring for your landscape from your local water provider.

Get help from a qualified landscape professional

Once you have a good idea of what you want, it’s time to search for help for any part of the process that you don’t want to DIY. Whether you’re looking for help designing the landscape, installing irrigation, planting trees, or all of the above, selecting a highly qualified professional will be worth the cost.

At a minimum, look for Arizona Certified Landscape Professionals (ACLP). These are professionals who have taken classes and passed exams on various horticultural topics, including irrigation, tree planting and staking, tree and shrub pruning, soils and fertilizer, turf care and installation, and more. To become certified, landscapers must pass an exam on ten key topics, and then they must take a renewal exam every two years to recertify.

Consider other qualifications

Some landscape professionals have earned additional certifications to develop expertise in other areas. Depending on the complexity of your project, you may want to seek a landscape professional with a college degree or with any of the following certifications and education:

  1. ALCA: Advanced Arizona Certified Landscape Professional (ACLP II) Training – This course advances the professional’s knowledge in key areas: irrigation design troubleshooting (including isolating electrical problems), tree health care, plant identification, and plant diseases.
  2. ALCA: Sustainable Landscape Management (SLM) Training – Landscapers certified in Sustainable Landscape Management have the knowledge and skill to design and maintain landscapes that help to preserve water and reduce waste and pollution.Gardens are the result of a collaboration between art and nature. Penelope Hobhouse
  3. ALCA: Irrigation Tech Training I and II – This course helps the landscaper learn common parts of irrigation systems (how they work, why they fail, and how to fix problems). Trainees learn how to use tools needed to do irrigation work.
  4. Irrigation Association: Certified Irrigation Technicians – Technicians know how to install, maintain, and repair irrigation systems.
  5. Irrigation Association: Certified Irrigation Contractors – Contractors review the basics of installing, maintaining, and repairing irrigation systems and then advance with knowledge of preparing installation sites, good business practices, construction contracts, and licensing laws and codes.
  6. Irrigation Association: Certified Irrigation Designers – Designers have learned how to establish specifications and design drawings for landscape irrigation projects.
  7. Smartscape Training Program for Landscape Professionals – Graduates of the Smartscape Training Program learn installation and maintenance practices that can increase water use efficiency and protect the health of plants.
  8. Desert Landscape School Certificate Programs: Desert Botanical Garden offers professionals an opportunity to learn from experts about all aspects of desert landscaping and earn a credential upon completion in several categories.

"Watching something grow is good for morale. It helps us believe in life." - Myron S. KaufmanAs with any other business, always do your homework – make sure to see proof of insurance, proper licenses, and references. Remember that those who have earned these certifications, are proud to show them off.

Enjoy and maintain your investment

Sit back, enjoy, and commune with nature in the comfort of your home. Be sure to give just enough water to your plants, no more and no less. Learn more from our Landscape Care How To Topics


Tina Sleeper is a Water Conservation Coordinator with the city of Tempe, one of nineteen Water – Use It Wisely partners to offer water-saving advice and programs.

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