At the DC Ranch development, where landscape remains mostly desert, Bob Roberts and his crew were working Thursday to make sure it still looks that way when covered in houses.
On 94th Street just north of Bell Road, large swaths of land are marked off with yellow rope. Those boundaries will eventually be filled with neighborhoods and, because of Roberts’ work, many of the native plants now growing there.
In 1981 Scottsdale became the first Arizona city to establish an ordinance requiring developers to protect the cactuses, trees and shrubs that populate the desert, said Robin Meinhart, a city spokeswoman.
The company Roberts works for, Desierto Verde, was the first to take on the job of saving native vegetation for use in the developments.
"When we started, all this was just Scottsdale. They’re the originators," Roberts said.
Phoenix, Tucson and other cities have similar ordinances now, and Desierto Verde transplants about 1,500 trees per year, Roberts said.
In addition to requiring an attempt to save plants, Scottsdale also tracks the plants’ survival rates, Meinhart said. This year, of 209 plants removed for developments, 205 were salvaged. After three months, 178 have survived.
In 2003, 186 plants were transplanted and 150 survived.
Transplanting native plants has become popular for cities because it lightens the environmental impact housing developments can bring, Roberts said. Homebuilders like it because it is cheaper than buying new landscaping plants.
"What you save out here is about half the price of what they would buy them for," he said.
Successfully moving a desert plant mostly depends on the time of year, said Ron Kincaid, owner of The Garden Gate, a Scottsdale nursery. Cactuses will survive about 90 percent of the time no matter when they are transplanted, but the same cannot be said for trees.
During the summer, desert trees will survive the shock of being moved about 80 percent of the time, Kincaid said. However, in the winter that rate is about 40 percent.
A dead mesquite tree at DC Ranch that was removed in January proves that point, Roberts said. "The key to survival is time of year. Right now you’re right at the end (of summer)."
With the number of cities instituting similar ordinances, the transplant process has gotten better.
However, it is impossible to keep every plant alive, Roberts said. "You’re still messing with Mother Nature and nobody has the ultimate solution."