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Researchers classify urban residential desert landscapes

November 19, 2013
American Society for Horticultural Science
Researchers developed a method to quantitatively classify urban residential landscapes in a desert environment in New Mexico. The team studied areas around 54 homes and classified 93 percent of all the landscapes into nine common types. Results also showed that landscape types are distributed differently in front- and backyard landscapes in the desert environment. They anticipate that the study will help landscape horticulturists to design water conservation plans that are landscape-specific.

In Las Cruces, N.M., mulch is classified as a common landscape type for front yards.
Credit: Malik Al-Ajlouni

A new study contains valuable information for homeowners and horticulturalists that live and work in desert regions. The study, the first of its type to classify desert plants into nine common types, includes recommendations for helping to plan and integrate lower water-use plants into urban landscapes. Interestingly, the researchers also determined that front- and backyard environments can differ significantly.

According to the authors, urban residential landscapes can be challenging to classify. "These landscapes change with time, are multidimensional, and are heterogeneous because of human-generated plant groupings," said Malik Al-Ajlouni, the lead author of the research study published in HortTechnology. Al-Ajlouni and colleagues from New Mexico State University set out to develop a quantitative method to classify urban residential landscapes in a desert environment.

The research team studied 54 urban residential landscapes in Las Cruces, New Mexico. From each of six districts, they randomly selected three urban residential properties in each of three "vegetation density" categories (54 homes total). The landscapes of the homes were then divided into two to four zones (at least a backyard and frontyard), yielding 162 zones. "A major strength of our method is that we detected differences in front and backyard landscapes because we divided landscape area into zones," the authors wrote. The data showed that the "mulch" landscape was the dominant type in front yards, evidence that residents prefer low-maintenance and low-cost landscapes for those areas.

Research results also yielded useful information related to water use and conservation in residential desert landscapes. The scientists determined that "very low, low, low-to-moderate, and moderate water-use plants" covered 55% of common landscape types in the study. "This suggests more plants with lower water-use levels can still be accommodated in common landscape types in Las Cruces," they said.

The classification method can be pertinent for landscape planners in other regions as well. "While the percentage that is used to designate the cutoff for classification might differ, urban landscape horticulturists in other regions can use this method to find the common urban landscape types that exist in their area," the authors said.

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Journal Reference:

  1. Malik G. Al-Ajlouni et al. A Method to Quantitatively Classify Residential Urban Landscapes in a Desert Environment. HortTechnology, November 2013

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American Society for Horticultural Science. "Researchers classify urban residential desert landscapes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2013. <>.
American Society for Horticultural Science. (2013, November 19). Researchers classify urban residential desert landscapes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 27, 2017 from
American Society for Horticultural Science. "Researchers classify urban residential desert landscapes." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 27, 2017).