If you live in a dry desert climate, it can be challenging to design a desert landscape. After all, many plants simply won’t survive this climate, and you can end up with burned plants. Along with the drought and the heat, the soil composition can be sand-heavy and gritty. This further complicates your plant choices and desert landscaping ideas. However, our desert landscaping ideas will help you turn your yard into a beautiful oasis, no matter how hot or dry it gets.
Desert Landscaping Ideas 1. Succulents Add Splashes of Color
When you think of outdoor desert gardens, you probably think of browns, greens, and generally dull colors. However, this doesn’t have to be the case with this desert landscape idea. You can find these colorful succulents in a range of different shades, and they’ll help you break your pattern of having desert plants that look dull and tired.
If you can, find succulents in oranges, greens, deep purple, and blues. You’ll be able to mix and match them in your desert landscape idea to create eye-catching patterns. Since succulents have gotten so popular over the past few years, it should be relatively easy to find a large selection in most nurseries. Some even allow you to order online and ship them to you. They thrive in hot outdoor environments, and you’ll get some much-needed color into your outdoor garden.
Succulents are very slow growing plants that add splashes of color to any landscape, and they come in a large range of sizes.
Desert Landscaping Ideas 2. Small Palm Trees
If you have small areas in your front yard, it can be difficult to find a landscaping garden idea that fits well. This can lead to having bare patches, but you can easily jazz up these small spaces and tie them in with the rest of your landscape. You don’t necessarily have to stick ground-level plants with this desert landscaping idea in these small outdoor places either. Adding a small palm tree lends your landscape a modern and chic look.
Another desert landscaping idea you can add to bring some color to the space is adding colored stones to the base of your palm tree. It’ll cover up the desert soil that can look drab because of the sandy coloring. If you want a classic look, add black, gray, or white stone. Bright colors like purple and blue give the area a vibrant and young feel.
Small palm trees can add a tropical touch to any garden that is right at home in the hot and dry environment you find in the desert.
Desert Landscaping Ideas 3. Rock Gardens
If creating large areas in your landscaping seems overwhelming, use this desert landscape idea to create a small rock garden in containers. These types of gardens are ideal for this dry and arid climate, and they can add points of interest around your yard. Pick a container and fill it with a mix of cactus soil and succulent soil mix, or you can add a mix of sand, peat, and compost.
Pick our cacti or succulents to fill your container. They should be small so they don’t overcrowd the container, and you want a few different types so they create an eye-catching contrast. Put your plants into the container and add some big rocks around it to create your garden. Finish this landscape garden idea by adding pebbles to the container to fill it to the edges. You can now set this container virtually anywhere in your garden or on your patio.
The sharp angles of the rock offset the softer angles of the flowers to create a nice contrast in any yard or rock garden. These go well with drought tolerant plants.
Desert Landscaping Ideas 4. Reflection Ponds
A lot of desert gardens have a reputation of being dull, dusty, and dry. But, this desert landscaping idea will help elevate your yard with calming and stylish landscape design ideas. You can create a small reflection pond almost anywhere around your home. To add a desert flair, consider adding succulents or cacti around the pond. Cacti will give your pond height.
You can add hardscapes around it or colorful pebbles to draw your eye to it. You can choose virtually any shape or size you like, and they require very little maintenance after you set them up. Adding water plants will add an even more tranquil look, or you could consider adding fish if it doesn’t get too cold at night. The possibilities are virtually endless, and they’re a great place to have a meditation or yoga session.
A small pond is the perfect place to kick back and relax after a long day, and you can add water features like waterfalls to make it more soothing.
Desert Landscaping Ideas 5. Patterned Stones
If you have a low budget but you want to create a big impact on whoever sees it, create patterns on the ground using stones. You could get two contrasting colored stones like black and white and create a chessboard look, or you could create swirls that flow over your landscape and draw the eye from one feature to the next. This desert landscape idea won’t take you long to set up, and you can create any pattern you like.
The first thing you have to do is create your pattern. Once you have it, use garden twine to create your pattern on the ground. Garden stakes can help hold it in place. You can also use a sharp garden tool to cut the pattern into the soil. When you get the pattern like you want it, slowly fill it in with the stones. Stripes and geometric patterns are very popular in desert landscapes.
Brightly colored stones are an eye-catching way to create contrast in your garden that draws the eye and makes your area stand out.
6. Raised Beds
If you want to take advantage of the natural hardiness of cacti in this dry environment, this desert landscaping idea will help. Raised beds will help to keep cacti spikes away from your pets and kids, and they require very little maintenance to grow and thrive once you plant them. They can add a lot of height to your yard, and you can mix and match different species to create beautiful designs.
If you want to use this desert landscaping idea to create a focal point, put a raised bed in the center of your garden and lay the rest of your flowers and native plants out to lead to it. You can also use raised beds to frame in your yard or walkway while keeping the cacti out of direct reach. Raised borders using these beds can also keep pests out of your garden or create a natural fence.
Raised beds give you the chance to mix your own potting soil to create one that will feed the plants and make them thrive.
It can get very dark out in the desert once night falls, and this desert landscaping idea will help combat that. Adding rope lights or any LED lighting to your garden is a budget-friendly way to transform it. Lights can help you create different moods from lively to romantic, and you can use it all year round without a problem. Since there is so much sun in the desert during the day, solar lights are an excellent choice.
String lights are nice because they’re easy to drape around the edges of your yard, up in trees, or wind them around your patio furniture. Spotlights, hanging lanterns, or smaller globe lights can illuminate the area and ensure you have a clear walking path after dusk. If you want to add a festive touch with a desert landscape idea, consider adding different colored lights like reds, blues, and greens. White lighting is great for parties while warm lighting is better for a relaxed or romantic atmosphere.
Lighting can help you easily set the mood while allowing you to use your space well after dust.
8. Yard Ornaments
One landscaping garden idea many people overlook is adding a yard ornament or two in. This is an excellent way to inject some of your personality into your garden or yard. If you want to create a rustic look and you like antiques, pick up a few worn wagon wheels and place them around your garden. Older benches and wrought-iron gates, fencing, or sculptures add a whimsical charm to your yard.
Yard ornaments can create a statement on their own, or you can combine them into the surrounding landscape to create a multi-layered garden. You can use this desert landscaping idea to combine a few climbing plants and wagon wheels or other ornaments to give your garden height and dimension. What’s even better, you don’t have to do anything to them once you get them where you want them.
Yard ornaments are a nice way to inject your personality into your space while adding a whimsical and relaxing touch.
9. Go Big
If you have a big area to cover, it can be difficult to think of which landscape ideas will work best. You don’t want to overcrowd the space, but it seems wrong to leave a lot of space between the plants. However, it’s possible to cover a large space with bigger cacti and succulents. They can create a bold statement while being low-maintenance.
Additionally, there’s nothing wrong with having space between your plants. Using this desert landscaping idea and putting space between your larger plants makes it easier to go in and maintain them. It can save you money as well because you won’t have to buy as many. Use the space to create pathways between your plants that are perfect for taking a stroll during the day. You can even add pebbles to create loose paths that wind through your garden.
Bigger plants can be easier to maintain because you won’t need as many to fill in the space.
10. Grassy Patches
You usually don’t think of grass when you think of desert landscaping ideas, but it’s possible to maintain smaller grassy areas without skyrocketing your water bill. Maybe you have a small pathway by your patio that you want to bring some life too. If so, there are certain types of grasses that do well in hotter and drier requirements. Because it’s close to the house, it can get more shade throughout the day.
If you’re not sure about growing grass from seed in your environment, consider laying sod. You’ll get an immediate green space that you can water, cut, and maintain. You just have to be sure that you know how to take care of it. Another desert landscape idea is adding grass in the shaded areas of your yard. Small corner areas or spaces around your home are excellent places to start.
A small lawn isn’ t impossible to maintain in the desert, but it will require more care to keep it lush and green all year round.
11. Create Contrast
One fun desert landscaping idea is to create contrast using taller cacti and hanging plants. You could add reddish-orange brick behind the cacti to make the deep green pop out more. Plant your cacti against a wall in a neat row first. Let the cacti establish themselves before you think about adding in more plants to create a contrast. You’ll notice that cacti are tall, chunky, and erect. Now you have to find a few plants that will create a contrast to them.
Vines are delicate, and they can droop down the wall to extend your planter. Use this desert landscape idea to mix and match different cacti and vines against one wall. This contrast makes your garden much more interesting to look at, and you can pick out different colors to make them stand out even more. Certain ivy has a purple hue that will stand out nicely against a desert backdrop. Just make sure you pick plants that thrive in the arid, hot environment.
Cacti are excellent for adding height to your yard and drawing the eye up to other elements that you would normally miss.
12. Small Courtyard
Do you have a small space in your garden that you’re not sure what to put there? If so, this desert landscaping idea can help you create a small, chic courtyard. It’ll be a relaxing and modern area that practically maintains itself. All you have to do to revive this corner of your yard is pick out a few different plants and trees in different heights and sizes. The size difference between the trees and plants will make it look more mature.
Trees are usually more expensive to buy and add to your garden, but they can create a stunning impact, and this is especially true if you look in small spaces. Once you get your plants and trees into your space, add a light layer of pebbles around them to finish the look. This cost-effective desert landscape idea will help you create a clean look that’ll make your trees and plants stand out.
Getting creative with desert garden ideas can help you easily turn a small courtyard into a nice area to sit and relax.
13. Grasses Create Movement
If you’re not sure how to fill in your yard, this desert landscaping idea will help you. Ornamental grasses are an excellent way to go because they’re hardy, can last all year round, and they can grow up to six feet tall and wide. This ensures they’ll fill in the area with only a few plants, and you can get them in an array of colors and textures that look nice against the desert backdrop.
Another nice point with ornamental grasses is that they add movement to your desert landscape idea. Every little wind will cause the grasses to rustle and move, and this is a welcome element to any garden. They’re also elegant, and you can scatter smaller cacti and succulents in front of them either in containers or in the ground to complete your garden. Grasses are very low-maintenance, and you can prune them to shape them or let them grow as they will.
The sound and movement of ornamental grasses can be soothing during those cooler desert nights.
14. Line Walkways with Trellises
This desert landscaping idea will help you outline your walkways in your yard. You can buy or make trellises to almost any height. Once you have enough, you can use them to line your walkways. If you want to create shaded areas, get trellises with arches over the top of them. Set them up so they’re relatively close together and make sure you put them down into the ground far enough so they’re secure. When you get them secure, they’re ready for the plants.
Look for vines that you can train to grow up and over your trellises. A few different ones that thrive in the desert climate that you can incorporate into this desert landscaping idea include roses, Trumpet creeper, Hall’s Honeysuckle, Clematis, Cat’s Claw, Lilac vine, Wisteria, Bougainvillea, and some grape vines. You will need to train all of these plants and vines to go in the correct direction, and they will need routine pruning and watering to do well.
Lining your walkway with arched trellises give your plants the chance to form a natural barrier between you and the sun.
If the idea of trying to cultivate plants in your desert landscaping idea is too overwhelming, you can easily dial it back with rockscapes. Rockscapes incorporate different sizes, colors, and textures in the rocks to create a nice area in your yard that requires no maintenance to keep looking flawless. You can start by putting down large stones for a walkway and building out. Doing it this way will ensure that you end up with a balanced and complete look.
When you get your walkways in place, think about what you’d like to fill the rest of the space with. Do you want to put small pebbles down in one color? Maybe you want to create contrast with different colored pebbles scattered around. You can also add elevated plant boxes with a few cacti and sink lighting under and in the rocks to create an inviting atmosphere. This is more difficult to change once you get it set up, so think carefully about your vision before you lay out your rockscape.
Rockscapes are a low maintenance backyard landscaping option that require little to no upkeep once you get them in, but they are slightly more expensive upfront to buy and set up. Get low water, drought tolerant plants to populate these desert landscapes.
Desert Landscape Ideas 16. Container Gardens
One problem with many desert garden ideas is that they don’t take the soil itself into consideration. Desert soil is, as a general rule, very difficult to dig into and devoid of a lot of key nutrients the plants need to thrive. Trying to create an ideal growing environment can be a large challenge on your part because you need to add a lot to your garden area to make sure it nourishes your plants and keeps them healthy. This includes adding peat, compost, and rich soil.
A way around this problem is to mix your own soil and create container gardens instead. Doing this allows you the freedom to mix and match plants and cacti, decide exactly where you want to set up your garden, and move it around it will. One thing to remember is that most cacti and succulents don’t want or need large containers to grow in. The containers should be just slightly bigger than the plants themselves, and you should pay attention to the soil and water requirements to ensure they thrive.
Container gardens give you the freedom to move them around if you notice they’re getting too much sun or not enough. You also get better control over the soil.
Desert Landscape Ideas 17. Brick Hardscapes
Deserts can be fairly difficult to traverse, especially if you don’t have any hardscapes in place to guide your family and guests around. The last thing you want is to spend time creating a gorgeous garden and have people accidentally walk over it, and this is where this desert landscaping idea will help you. Brick is relatively cheap, and you can make your walkways as large or as narrow as you like with little effort.
If you have a patio, consider starting your pathways from the end of the patio and branching out. You can also have a pathway running around your house. Make sure it reaches each area of your garden, and take time to consider the natural flow of the space. Maybe you want to create sitting areas along your hardscape where you can sit and enjoy your garden, or you want them all to lead to one focal point in your yard.
Brick walkways are easy to maintain and install, and they can add a nice hue of color to your desert landscape ideas.
Desert Landscape Ideas 18. Tiered Garden Boxes
Do you have slopes in your garden? A lot of desert landscapes do, and it can be difficult to deal with them. You can’t really dig them up and level them out because the ground is so hard, and it’s difficult to plant on them because it’s easy to lose elements of your garden. However, a tiered garden box setup can help you keep everything neat and organized while taking advantage of the natural slopes in your landscape.
Depending on the size of the mound in your yard, you can create dual or single tiered garden boxes with three or four tiers. Adding a few wooden garden boxes built into the soil is one way to help ensure each plant has a space and it won’t get swallowed by the landscape. Just make sure you use treated wood that has a sealant on it so it won’t rot from the water and fertilizer you use to enrich the soil for your plants.
A tiered or stacked garden planter is a nice way to create dimension in any area, and it’s very helpful for hills or sloped areas.
Desert Landscape Ideas 19. Pick Bold Colors
Just because you’re in the desert doesn’t mean that you have to stick to green and brown hues. Instead, consider going bold with your plant color choices. We mentioned succulents earlier, but there are plenty of other plants that provide a splash of needed color that can help your garden look more vibrant and alive. They also help draw a person’s eye around your space, especially if you position them so they pop out when someone looks around.
There are several different plants that have very bold and vibrant colors that do very well in desert landscaping. They include but are not limited to things like Curve Leaf Yucca, Paddle Plant, Fox Tail Agave, Ghost Plant Succulent, Golden Barrel Cactus, Pineleaf Beardtongue, Red Texas Sage, Autumn Fire Stonecrop, and High Plains Yellow Snowcap. You will have to double-check and see what the soil and water requirements are for each plant to ensure they grow well.
Bold colors can create a sharp contrast in your garden that helps to offset the sandy soil color and the reddish hues of the landscape.
Desert Landscape Ideas 20. Artistic Flair
One final desert landscaping idea is to add an artistic flair to your garden. You can do this by getting your plants and putting them all in neat rows. This does take some planning on your part. You may want to grid out your area and ensure everything is straight by using stakes and twine before you plant anything. This will ensure you get straight rows that look nice.
When you get your plants in, you can decide what you want to fill in your garden with. You could use stones or mulch to offset your plants and make them stand out more. Cool grays and blacks are in, and mulch is going out. When you get it all set up, you’ll have a low-maintenance garden that looks nice all year round.
Adding artistic flair to your yard is one way to draw attention and create a unique look that stands out from your neighbors.
These 20 desert landscaping ideas will help you transform your yard into an oasis that you can’t wait to spend time in enjoying. Add a fire pit and you can also entertain guests with various activities over the fire pit. You can mix and match these desert landscape ideas to create a unique area that reflects your style and make your yard stand out.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.