Desert Landscaping differs entirely from other landscape styles like Oriental, Woodland, or English Garden Style Landscaping. Where some landscaping schemes use grass and large oak or spruce trees, or the flowers and shrubbery that consist of an English Garden Style, Desert Landscaping focuses on rock, decorative grass plants, desert plants, and sand.
- Aloe Plants
- Create a Rock Path
- Ornamental Desert Grasses
- Place Boulders and Large Rocks
- Plant Large Desert Trees for Shade
- Add Desert Flowers for Color
- Include Other Small Succulents
- Build a Fire Pit
- Stone Borders Around Walkways and Patios
1. Aloe Plants
One of the best types of plants to include in your desert landscape is an Aloe plant. They come in a multitude of colors, ranging from gray to green to red.
It will be a nice contrast to the dull complexion and hard, flat edges of the rock and sand in the desert landscape.
A variety of shapes and colors keep everything from becoming muddled together. Aloe plants stand out and create a focal point.
Not all aloe plants grow in dry climates, but here are a few that can.
Prickly Aloe (Aloe aculeata)
Prickly Aloe plants are usually green or light green and bloom long pokers of pinkish-red flowers. They look similar to the traditional Aloe Vera that you’ve seen, but a Prickly Aloe has shorter, wider leaves and is a lot pricklier.
Aloe Vera can grow in most places, but they thrive the most in a tropical environment (hot and humid). They do well in desert environments as well.
You can plant these directly in the ground or in a pot. If you use a container, make sure that it drains well to prevent overwatering.
However, if it’s in the ground, surround the Aloe with rocks or a rock garden, this will also prevent the plant from having a high water intake since it’s filtered through the rocks before being soaked up by the plant.
Sand Aloe (Aloe arenicola)
A sand aloe looks different than most other species of Aloe since it can grow into almost a vine-like appearance with a long stem. Its leaves are short, dark green or red, and have white spots on them.
Small flowers bloom between July and December, which attracts bees and birds. For the best results, you’ll want to plant your Sand Aloe in a pot with potting soil.
2. Create a Rock Path
Walking paths are always a good idea to have in a garden or yard. Desert landscapes have sand that is hot and unpleasant to walk on, so a walking path built through it will keep visitors comfortable and sand-free.
It will also help to break up the empty space and make the landscape more visually appealing. You can use pretty much any type of stone, as long as it’s easy to walk on.
Flagstone works well and is at stores like Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, and some smaller hardware stores. Flagstone is flat and comes in varying thicknesses, up to 3 inches thick.
You can buy pieces that have sharp edges and have been cut intentionally into pattern shapes that fit together, which creates a cleaner look and saves you a lot of time. The alternative option is irregular cut pieces, which look more organic and natural; it takes more time to plan out the placement, but it’s worth the effort.
3. Ornamental Desert Grasses
Ornamental grasses are small bunches of long, soft-textured decorative grass that is placed throughout a garden or around the base of trees to tie everything together.
Ornamental grasses meant for desert landscapes tolerate heat and drought. Place them between other large plants and areas of sand.
If you live in a place like Arizona, you may already have ornamental grasses growing naturally in your yard to use to your advantage. Remember to be aware of plots of land that are prone to invasive grasses, since these will take over your other plants if you don’t maintain them.
Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima)
This grass is about 2 feet tall, fully grown. It’s green in the spring and then turns yellow come winter.
It looks extremely soft and fluffy from a distance. You’ll want to plant it somewhere that stays dry most of the time.
Sideoats Grama Grass (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Sideoats Grama grows a little taller than Mexican feather grass, about a foot taller, and it has small oat-shaped spikelets on the edge of the grass blades. This grass is a great food source provider for birds and will attract butterflies.
Plant in medium-textured, well-drained soil, limestone-based sand, or clay.
One of the first things people think of when it comes to a desert landscape is a cactus. They should be one of the first features you install in your landscape to create a desert look.
Use tall cacti as a staple and to give your visitors something interesting to look at; smaller ones usually have flowers that can add a decorative touch near large rocks and throughout the landscape.
Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)
This cactus has flat round pads, like a beaver’s tail. It has the common blue-green color that most cacti have. It can grow up to 6 feet wide, so it’s going to take up a decent amount of space, but you will love the cherry colored flowers that bloom during cooler months.
Candelabra Cactus (Myrtillocactus cochal)
Although its long spikes are intimidating, the Candelabra cactus acts as a simple beauty in your desert landscape.
It’s a soft green color and has pure ivory white flowers that bloom during the day. This is the best cactus for slopes since that’s where they grow in the wild.
You can also try using them in your rock garden, although they won’t stand out as well when surrounded by other plants and decorations. They usually grow to the size of a small tree, or about 10 feet tall.
Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)
It’s also called a Mojave Mound Cactus. It’s short and grows tons of amazing cup-shaped flowers in the springtime that are bright red or orange, as well as fruit that tastes delicious.
5. Place Boulders and Large Rocks
A captivating landscape has a variety of colors, textures, and heights. Large boulders can be a good in-between sized object.
Your goal is to make the garden look as unplanned as possible. Do this by getting tan rocks that match the desert sand or are at least similar in color. Partially bury the boulders too.
Embed them in the ground by digging a hole that has a depth of 25% the boulder’s height.
Depending on the size of the boulder, you may need a truck and some additional help to move it since some can be extremely heavy. Use gardening tools to make the boulder look like it belongs where it’s at.
When you are placing these rocks, take a step back, and look at where things in the landscape look empty or misplaced. Resist the temptation to randomly place single boulders in the middle of an empty space; instead, place a few rocks of different heights staggered against the side of a building or a house or near the base of a tall cactus.
6. Plant Large Desert Trees for Shade
One of the downfalls of living in a desert area is the lack of shade. The abundance of sunshine is enjoyable, but excessive heat is exhausting if you’re spending the day outside.
Adding one or a few large trees to your desert landscape provides an area of shade. Ensure that the tree’s shadow isn’t overlooking any desert plants that need a lot of sunlight.
Not all trees can survive in a dry climate, so make sure that the tree you buy is drought-tolerant.
Large Desert Trees
Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)
Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo)
Desert Willow (Chilopsis Linearis)
Ironwood (Olneya tesota
Small Desert Trees
Sweet Acacia (Acacia smallii)
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
7. Add Desert Flowers for Color
Between sand, rock, and cacti, the overall tone of your landscape can seem dull and unexciting. Colorful flowers can liven things up.
Every garden scene needs small accent flowers or thistles. There are tons of desert flowers to choose from, all of which are capable of surviving with minimal water.
You can find drought-resistant perennials or annuals. It’s essential to keep your flowers watered after initially planting them so that they can establish roots in the new ground.
After that, they will be fine with only the occasional watering and can withstand dry spells. Here are a few desert perennial and annual flowers.
Take a look.
African Lily (Agapanthus africanus)
Small white, purple, and blue flowers that grow on stalks that are about a foot high. This plant grows lots of flowers and will bloom in early summer to fall.
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)
The Blanket Flower is a brightly colored daisy with reddish-pink and yellow on its petals. They need to be planted in a spot that has full sunlight to survive and flourish. Butterflies love this flower.
Dianthus is a beautiful bright pink flower. They have small groups of flowers that look similar to Carnations, but only have one layer of petals, rather than several.
The Lobelia has blooms that are blue, white, or pink. It needs partial shade and does best when planted in a raised flower bed, a pot, or a hanging planter.
Very fragrant, large white flowers that open during nighttime and close upon sunrise. It needs lots of sunlight and has no problem with heat and dry weather.
Technically, a Verbena can be a perennial or an annual. It is another great flower for spots that get full sun coverage throughout the day.
It requires constant maintenance to keep from spreading quickly in your garden.
8. Include Other Small Succulents
Succulent plants are small and have sap inside thick leaves. They are similar to Aloe plants or cacti but are much lower in height and can be grouped to create a pleasing desert effect.
Some people choose to have a succulent garden indoors, but in a desert climate, you can include them in your landscaping.
Most succulents are either dark or pastel colors of green, brown, purple, orange, or white. They’re not as colorful or cheerful as flowers, but they give your yard a bit of variety without clashing too much.
Lots of different colors can be bad for a desert landscape and may distract the viewer from the natural desert features.
9. Build a Fire Pit
Deserts are incredibly hot during the day, but they also get cold at night.
A stone or clay fire pit is a nice feature for a backyard desert landscape. Surround it with stones that match the decorative rocks that you have already placed and use that same stone to fashion a bench for seating around the fire.
Some rock fire pits are sold at places like Lowe’s or Home Depot, but you can also make the pit yourself. Make a ring using stones and then put sand in the bottom of the pit to keep the fire from spreading.
Avoid planting flowers or bushes near it. Use other backyard patio ideas to tie everything together with the fire pit.
10. Stone Borders Around Walkways and Patios
A big aspect of desert landscapes are the stones used to emphasize walkways or patios. A line of stones won’t look naturally-occurring, but when used in the right way, it will make your landscape look more professional.
Use small rocks or stones around the edges of a concrete pad, the bottom of trees, or a succulent garden. View some of these walkways and other backyard landscaping ideas here.
Be Aware of Desert Climates
Work with the environment and climate you live in, not against it. Some plants, trees, and shrubs grow best in a specific humidity level or temperature range.
If you try to create a desert landscape in your yard, but you live in a northern area where it is cold or rainy, it will be hard to maintain since your plants will struggle to survive.
It is possible to do this; there is just a lot more hard work required. Desert landscapes thrive in regions that are naturally dry and hot.