This study conducts a comparative analysis of the effects of irrigation scheduling at two urban residential sites in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area: a xeriscaped site (gravel base with low water use plants) and a mesiscaped site (turf grass and shade trees). A model of soil moisture dynamics was calibrated to observed soil moisture data from irrigated and non-irrigated sensors at the xeric site and an irrigated sensor at the mesic site. Model simulations were conducted at both irrigated sites to investigate effects of irrigation scheduling; plant stress parameters; and precipitation variability on soil moisture dynamics, water balance partitioning, and plant water stress. Results indicated a substantial difference in soil water storage capacity at the two sites. At the xeric site, seasonal variation of irrigation input was shown to be critical in avoiding losses from the rooting zone, while reducing plant water stress. At the mesic site, sensitivity to irrigation scenarios was lower, though small amounts of water savings were achieved with seasonal applications. The model was then used to determine the minimum annual irrigation required to achieve specified levels of plant stress using long-term meteorological records. A bimodal schedule consisting of low winter and summer irrigation was identified as a means to conserve water while keeping moderate levels of dynamic water stress. Results from the quantitative model can potentially assist water and landscape managers in desert urban areas by identifying opportunities for water savings, while providing a deeper understanding of the ecohydrological differences between the two types of landscape designs. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.