Embrace the Desert Aesthetics: 19 Landscaping Ideas to Inspire You

Desert landscapes can be breathtaking to look at. Their unique coloration, and their native flora provide a unique visual experience. Desert dwellers often praise the beauty of their environment. Many desert dwellers also love to garden! The desert landscape can present unique gardening challenges. Here are some design ideas for desert landscaping.

Desert Landscaping Considerations
Although desert gardening requires some extra considerations, the basic principles still apply. Learn your hardiness zone, your soil and the strongest winds. Deserts are also known for their extreme temperatures. They can be very hot in the daytime but cold at night. Think about how you can enjoy your space in different seasons (a shaded pergola on sunny days or a fireplace for cooler nights). This will allow you to choose the right plants and features for your garden.


Desert Palettes
Desert garden with pale blue agave, silvery blue foliage, and grey pebbles

Desert gardens don’t have the lush greens that cottage gardens or woodland gardens have, but their unique color palettes are a result of their climate. Desert sunsets and sunrises illuminate a garden in gorgeous muted colours. You can use bright colors or subtle ones. Consider the color of the stones and containers you use in your design. Desert landscapes are characterized by earthy tones ranging from warm terracotta tones and sandy tones to cool grays, blues, greens, and purples. These colors can be found in succulents as well as cacti, desert wildflowers, and cacti. Add bright yellows or reds to catch the eye. Or, use cobalt blue glazed pots as a pop of color.


Cacti and succulents
Desert garden with pale golden gravel and a mixture of cacti, succulents and succulent plants

Cacti and succulents are the most common plants found in desert climates. Cactus and succulents are both succulents, but not always cacti. A succulent is basically a plant which can store water within its leaves and stems, allowing it to survive for a long period of time without water. Cacti store water as well, but are more easily identified by their “hairs” that grow from the cushions (areoles) and do not have leaves. Cacti can have sharp hairs! Cacti can also produce flowers out of the areoles. Cacti are available in many different sizes and shapes.


Drought-Tolerant Flowering Annuals
Small white cottage with lavender in bloom in an open landscape

Many drought-tolerant plants thrive in desert gardens. There are many drought-tolerant plants that do well in desert gardens.


Create Containers
Small house with an arbor and various planters with desert vegetation

You may choose container gardening if you have a very dry, rocky or sandy desert soil. It is a good option for desert landscaping and allows for a lot of creativity. Terracotta pots are warm and go well with greens, greys and blues in succulents. Glazed ceramic pots offer more color options and conserve water than unglazed pots. Clay pots keep soil temperatures more constant. Metal pots can get too hot in the desert sun or too cold at nights. For maximum vitality, water container plants late in the afternoon.


Dry Stream Beds
Desert landscape with dry stream bed and cactus plants

They are an attractive feature that also helps to conserve water. These beds can be dug in the landscape, but can also work for slopes and gullies that are naturally occurring.


In a mulched desert, pale blue agaves plants

The large, chunky leaves and fleshy blue leaves of these succulents are a striking combination. The pale blue and silvery shades are classic for desert gardens. They are extremely heat and dry tolerant.


Mulch or not to Mulch?
Mulched garden bed with small tree and succulents by white walls

Natural mulch can be a great alternative to traditional mulch, even though it is more common in desert gardens. It is especially important if you have small trees in your garden whose roots would benefit from natural cedar or Pine mulch. Mulch will also help to retain moisture in your soil, which is important for plantings. Mulch is less expensive than stones.


Desert Soil
Chartreuse flowers blue leaves near cactus on pebbly desert garden

Desert soils tend to be sandy and dry. The climate is still dry, so you can’t add any amendments. Find plants with shallow roots that thrive in sandy soil. Euphorbia rigida is a vibrant ground cover with a chartreuse-blue color. It is also called gopher spurge.


Gravel and Stone
Large trees and rounded river rocks in the background.

In the desert, it makes sense to use gravel or stones for walkways and beds instead of mulch. Gravel or stone allows rainwater to soak into the soil instead of causing runoff. The larger stone looks great next to the spiky and pointed shapes of succulents. The rounded river rocks in this bed provide a nice textural contrast.


Artificial Turf
Stone patio with artificial turf and terraced beds

In the desert climate it is very difficult to maintain traditional lawns, mostly because they require so much water. Artificial turf is a popular choice for desert climates if you’re looking to create a lush, green lawn. This feature is offered by many Southwest landscaping companies.


Native Wildflowers Add Color
Bright red flowers with flowering palms

You can purchase wildflowers to plant in your own garden. Coral plant, or fountainbush, is a plant that produces bright red lacy flowers for several weeks. Mexicans gold poppy, desert mallow, and desert lupine are other brightly colored Southwest natives. All of these plants can be grown from seeds purchased from vendors that specialize in native and heirloom plants.


Simple but Dramatic Shapes
In a desert landscape, a small gravel bed is covered with cacti.

A desert garden is a great way to create drama. Design elements that inspire include the unusual shapes and colors of succulents and cacti, as well as the angles and colors of desert light. Stone and sand are also present. This simple design uses only three types of plants in varying textures and shapes, as well as a harmonious mix of river rock and small rocks to create an amazing landscape for this home in Palm Springs.


Plant Closely and Save Water
Colourful desert garden with flowers closely planted together, grey-green foliage and purple flowers

Desert gardens need to be designed with water conservation in mind, as the heat of the desert evaporates water quickly and the sandy soils do not retain moisture well. It is wise to choose native plants, since they tend to grow well with rainfall. Planting plants close together will shade each other, preventing soil moisture evaporation.


Mediterranean Flowers
Desert garden with colorful warm and cool plants

Mixing warm and cool colours works well in desert zones, where the light is so dramatic at dawn and dusk. This can make them appear monochromatic for gardeners who are used to colorful temperate zones. Desert gardens can be a great place to use Mediterranean plants. They offer many colors and are easy to grow.


Raised Beds to Grow Vegetables
Raised wooden beds in enclosed garden with pavers and gravel patio.

How to grow vegetables in the desert? Raised beds are the answer! You’ll still need to water them, but you don’t have to worry about irrigation. Just water by hand as necessary. The raised beds are a lush oasis of greens in this enclosed, shady, mostly gravel and stone garden.


A wooden pergola with green plants in a garden enclosed by wood fencing

You can create a pergola to provide shade for your garden. The majority of pergolas are made of wood, but they can also be built from metal, deadfall, driftwood, or bamboo. A pergola can be used as a seating area for outdoor use and to add structure to an open patio or space. You will want to select vines that are drought resistant for desert climates, such as crossvines, Carolina jessamines, pink trumpet vines, or Lady Banks roses.


Fire Features
In a desert garden, a stone fire bowl is surrounded by four wooden chairs and green plants.

When the temperature drops on a cool desert evening, a firepit or fire-dish is incredibly useful. There are many portable fire dishes available today. A firepit requires a lot of work, and is more permanent. Others use wood while others, like this stone bowl, use propane. Some prefer the cleaner heat of propane.


A pale blue cactus stands in front of an yucca with gold and green variegated leaves in a desert garden

Although they only bloom every few years, the yucca is a great choice for desert landscaping because of its striking foliage. They come in many sizes and colors and have spiky leaves. Variety such as the gold and green “Color Guard” will add a lot of color to your desert garden.


Use the Landscape
A lush garden with rocks as edging in front of a large boulder

Use large boulders and sloping mountains in your desert landscape design. The most dynamic desert gardens are often inspired by the surrounding landscape. Use desert driftwood and rocks as edgings or accents.