Saturday, January 24, 2015

Can Trees Grow in the Desert?

Deserts make up about one third of the Earth's land area, an incredible amount considering that 70% of the Earth as a whole is covered by ocean. This desert area, defined as that which gets less than 10 inches of rain a year, cannot produce much of value for mankind or for wildlife.  In many of these deserts, there is sufficient rainfall for well adapted trees to grow, but that rainfall all falls over a very short period (sometimes in one monsoon rainstorm).  Most previous efforts at growing trees and other plants in the desert have focused on collecting water in large reservoirs and distributing it via canals to crops and trees.  This method is as old as civilization itself, but it is very wasteful and inefficient (as most water in open canals is subject to evaporation, and that within pipes frequently requires electricity to move).  Also, in many places (like the Sahara and increasingly in the southwest U.S.), there is not enough water to meet all demand.  So is there a way to grow trees in the desert without continuing irrigation - yes, with the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.

The Deserts of the world are tan on this map from

The Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon (called the Waterboxx for short) was invented by Pieter Hoff, a Dutch tulip exporter who retired to find a way to help green the deserts.  After copying the best concepts nature had to offer (from the lessons of bird droppings to the Lotus Effect to capillary water), Mr. Hoff had developed the Waterboxx.  This device, which is initially filled up with 4 gallons of water, with another 10 poured into the soil where the plant is to be planted, is a self refilling water battery for trees and other plants.  The tree is planted in the central opening of the Waterboxx, and its roots grow straight down to access the soil water column released by the Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx collects dew whenever present and is completely refilled by just 4 inches of rainwater.  The whole process of the Waterboxx is explained below:

The Groasis Waterboxx has been tested in several deserts around the world.  Its first large scale test was in the great Sahara Desert in Morocco.  Below you see the initial planting of Tamarix (salt cedar) trees in a land of nothing but dry sand.  This planting took place in 2010 initially.

october 2014
Setting up a Groasis Waterboxx to plant a Tamarix Tree in 2010 - From

These trees thrived.  Using the Waterboxx, tree plantings in Morocco had a 88% first year survival rate, compared to 11% with the non-Waterboxx trees, which were watered weekly.  When two trees are planted per Waterboxx (as intended) the chance that one of them survives is 99%.  The Waterboxx was left in place until the trees outgrew them, and the results are seen below.

grote afbeelding
The same Tamarix trees 4 years later in 2014 - also from Groasis

Tree plantings in the desert of Ecuador were even more impressive.  Below you see over one year's growth of a Beechwood tree planted with the Waterboxx.  Because deserts tend to be in areas with more sun (due to location and less cloud cover), once the critical shortage of water is solved by the Waterboxx, the desert can truly bloom.

14 month growth of a tree with the Waterboxx - compiled from photos at

So yes, trees can be grown in the desert with the Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx was initially designed to stop the spread of the deserts, planting trees along desertifying lands like the Sahel region in Africa.  We formed our company Dew Harvest because we saw the potential of the Waterboxx to change the American landscape, allowing many very dry areas in Western U.S. to have trees and other plants without irrigation.  You can buy the Waterboxx in the U.S. from Dew Harvest.

If we can establish enough trees throughout the world (for whatever reason - from lumber to nut and fruit production or shade or simple love of nature), we can not only improve the value of nearly worthless desert land to ourselves and wildlife, but we can sequester huge amount of carbon dioxide.  The Waterboxx was designed for this purpose.  Please send us your Waterboxx success story to

If you would like to learn how to grow plants without watering with the Waterboxx, the best resource is the book The Waterboxx Gardener: How to Mimic Nature, Stop Watering, and Start Enjoying Your Garden available here on 

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