< All Topics

Growing trees in the desert

Photo by Hosni Hannoun: https://www.pexels.com/photo/green-trees-2774966/

Growing trees in desert environments can be a challenge due to the scarcity of water and harsh conditions. Here’s a list of various methods, including ancient traditions, permaculture techniques, and modern approaches, to help trees thrive in desert regions:

Ancient Traditions

  1. Waffle Gardening: This method involves creating small depressions or “waffles” around the base of a tree. When water is added, it collects in these depressions, allowing the tree to absorb moisture over a longer period.
  2. Zaï Holes: Used in Africa, zaï holes are small pits dug in the ground to capture rainfall and concentrate water around tree roots. Organic matter is often added to enhance water retention and soil fertility.
  3. Qanat System: Employed in arid regions like Iran, qanats are underground tunnels that bring water from distant sources to irrigate trees and crops. This ancient system relies on gravity to transport water.

Permaculture Methods

  1. Swales: Permaculture swales are small ditches dug along the contour of the land to catch and hold water. Planting trees along the downhill side of swales helps them access water and reduces erosion.
  2. HugelkulHugelkulturtur: This involves creating raised beds filled with organic material like logs and branches. Over time, the organic matter breaks down, providing nutrients and improving water retention for tree growth.
  3. Mulching: Applying a thick layer of organic mulch around the base of a tree helps retain soil moisture, prevent evaporation, and suppress weed growth.

Modern Techniques

  1. Drip Irrigation: This method delivers water directly to the tree’s root zone through a network of tubes and emitters. It minimizes water wastage and ensures efficient water use.
  2. Water Harvesting: Installing rainwater collection systems, like tanks or cisterns, allows you to store and use rainwater for tree irrigation during dry periods.
  3. Hydrogels: These are water-absorbing polymer materials that can be added to the soil. They absorb water and slowly release it to plant roots over time, reducing the frequency of irrigation.
  4. Arid Land Agriculture: Utilizing drought-resistant tree varieties and native species adapted to desert conditions increases the chances of successful growth.
  5. Micro-Catchment Systems: Similar to swales, these small-scale systems collect and channel rainwater toward trees, optimizing water distribution.
  6. Shade Houses: Constructing shade structures can protect young trees from intense sunlight, reducing water loss through evaporation.

Remember, successful tree growth in the desert requires a combination of methods tailored to local conditions. Prioritizing water conservation, using natural resources, and selecting tree species adapted to arid environments are key factors in establishing thriving tree ecosystems without excessive water use or financial investment.

More ways

there are several commercial products and innovative methods being used for desert restoration and afforestation. Here are a few more methods, including some of the products you mentioned, along with other Chinese methods being employed in large-scale restoration projects:

  1. Groasis Waterboxx: The Groasis Waterboxx is a commercial product designed to help young trees establish themselves in arid environments. It’s a device that collects and stores rainwater, which is then slowly released to the tree’s root zone. The Waterboxx also provides protection against harsh conditions and helps retain moisture.
  2. Chinese Afforestation Techniques: China has been implementing ambitious reforestation efforts, including the “Great Green Wall” project. Some techniques used include:
    • Sand Barrier Method: Rows of trees are planted as windbreaks to create sand barriers. These barriers slow down sand movement and promote the accumulation of soil for other vegetation to grow.
    • Tube Seeding: Small seedlings are planted within protective tubes that shield them from harsh winds and extreme temperatures, creating a microclimate that encourages growth.
    • Mulching and Drip Irrigation: Mulch is used to cover the soil, reducing evaporation and retaining moisture. Drip irrigation systems deliver water directly to tree roots, conserving water while ensuring efficient hydration.
  3. Fog Harvesting Nets: In areas where fog is prevalent, specially designed nets are used to capture moisture from fog, providing a water source for plants.
  4. Hydrogel Crystals: These superabsorbent polymer crystals are mixed into the soil. They absorb and store water, releasing it gradually to plant roots.
  5. **Biodegradable Water-Containing Gel: Chinese researchers have developed a biodegradable gel made from cellulose that holds water. This gel is placed around tree roots during planting to provide a water source as the tree establishes itself.
  6. Direct Seeding with Native Seeds: In restoration projects, direct seeding of native seeds is practiced. These seeds are often well-suited to the local environment and can withstand challenging conditions.
  7. TerraCottem Soil Conditioner: This product combines different types of hydrophilic and hydrophobic polymers with other materials to improve soil structure, enhance water retention, and promote plant growth.
  8. Trellis System: A trellis-like structure is set up around young trees to provide shade and wind protection, creating a microclimate that encourages growth.
  9. Solar-Powered Desalination: In coastal desert areas, solar-powered desalination plants are used to produce fresh water for irrigation.
  10. Mycorrhizal Fungi Application: Adding mycorrhizal fungi to the soil can improve nutrient and water uptake by tree roots, enhancing their resilience.

It’s important to note that successful desert restoration often involves a combination of techniques tailored to the specific ecological conditions of the area. Commercial products and innovative methods play a role alongside traditional and sustainable approaches in achieving large-scale restoration and afforestation goals.

Seed bombs

Seed bombs, also known as seed balls or seed grenades, are often used as a technique in various ecological restoration efforts, including drylands and desert areas. Seed bombs are small spheres made from a mixture of clay, compost, and seeds. They can be tossed or dropped onto the ground, allowing for the seeds to germinate and grow under favorable conditions.

Seed bombs are particularly useful in regions with limited water availability and challenging soil conditions. The protective outer layer of clay helps retain moisture around the seeds, and the compost provides nutrients for initial growth. Here’s how they are commonly used in dry lands:

  1. Distribution: Seed bombs can be thrown or scattered across areas that need vegetation. They can be launched by hand or using simple tools, covering a larger area with minimal effort.
  2. Diverse Seed Mixes: Seed bombs often contain a mix of native plant seeds that are well-suited to the local climate and soil conditions. These seeds are chosen to promote biodiversity and ecosystem health.
  3. Rain-Triggered Germination: In arid environments, the clay shell of the seed bomb acts as a protective barrier against harsh conditions. When rain or moisture is absorbed by the clay, it softens and eventually breaks down, allowing the seeds to germinate and establish themselves.
  4. Reduced Water Demand: Because seed bombs provide a microenvironment conducive to germination and early growth, they require less water compared to traditional methods of planting seeds directly into the soil.
  5. Erosion Control: Seed bombs can help control soil erosion in areas prone to wind or water erosion by establishing plant cover more quickly.
  6. Community Involvement: Seed bomb activities can engage local communities, schools, and volunteers in restoration efforts. It’s a fun and educational way to encourage environmental stewardship.

Also consider an alternative method, Liquid NanoClay, a soil treatment, which improves water retention and soil structure for faster establishment, needing specialized equipment and focusing on soil enhancement rather than seed germination. The choice depends on project goals, resources, and timeline, with both methods contributing to ecological restoration strategies.

While seed bombs can be effective in kickstarting vegetation in dry lands, their success depends on factors like rainfall patterns, soil quality, and the types of seeds used. They are not a one-size-fits-all solution and are often part of a broader strategy that includes careful species selection, site preparation, and ongoing management.

Seed bombing is a creative and visually impactful approach to restoration that can complement other methods, such as direct seeding, planting, and natural regeneration. However, it’s important to work with local experts and consider the specific ecological context when incorporating seed bombs into a desert restoration project.



Groasis Waterbox: The Groasis Waterbox is a innovative and sustainable planting technology designed to help conserve water and improve the survival rate of plants, especially in arid and dry regions like Namibia. This system aims to address water scarcity and reduce water consumption in agricultural and reforestation projects.

The Waterbox is essentially a container that holds a plant and a small amount of water. It is buried in the ground, and its design helps to create a microclimate around the plant. The system employs a capillary action to release water to the plant’s roots as needed, reducing water wastage through evaporation or runoff. The Waterbox’s design also protects the plant from extreme weather conditions and provides a sheltered environment for it to grow.

Cocoon Planter: The Cocoon planter is another innovative planting solution designed to promote water efficiency and plant growth. It is a biodegradable planting pot that helps retain moisture and provide a nurturing environment for plants, particularly in areas where water resources are limited or erratic.

The Cocoon planter is made from natural and renewable materials that break down over time, enriching the soil as they decompose. Its unique design allows it to retain water, reducing the frequency of watering needed. The planter also shields young plants from temperature fluctuations and external stressors, aiding in their successful establishment.

Both the Groasis Waterbox and the Cocoon planter align with sustainable and eco-friendly practices, making them valuable tools for individuals and organizations working to restore ecosystems, combat desertification, and foster agricultural productivity while minimizing water consumption.

Worthwhile videos

Growing the great green wall of Africa
You’ve heard about the re-greening in China – pro’s and con’s of their original approach. Great lessons learned and a good way forward!

Table of Contents