Landscaping Ideas for the Perfect Desert Garden

Landscaping Ideas for the Perfect Desert Garden

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A desert garden is anything but barren. The dramatic landscape that creates and inspires it offers much inspiration to create a haven of bold shapes, bright colors, and interesting design features. With the cool tones of succulents, the warmth of terracotta soil, and the impressive shapes of rock formations and boulders, desert gardens are a landscaper’s dream.

Here, we’ll talk you through the most important elements that make up a stunning desert garden that you can recreate in your back or front yard. Let’s dive in.

Considerations for desert garden designs

One thing you should keep at the forefront of your mind when looking at desert home landscaping ideas is the climate, temperatures and soil conditions you are working with. This landscape is one of extremity, facing intense heat during the day and then enduring a steep drop in temperatures at night time. 

This is important to consider for a modern desert landscape backyard as not only will it affect the kind of plants that can withstand these extreme temperatures, it also will impact how and when you can enjoy your desert theme landscape.

After all, putting in the effort to create a beautiful garden, we want to be able to enjoy it throughout the day and night, regardless of how hot or cold it gets. Considering landscape features that will protect you from the sun during the day (like a pergola or gazebo, for example) and keep you warm at night (fire pit, anyone) will ensure this is possible.

Secondly, this landscape’s soil isn’t suited to most plants and flowers. Dry, sandy, rocky, it’s important to know what kind of soil you’re dealing with so you can plot your desert garden accordingly and get the most from your space.

Do some research and find plants that are happy in sandy soil and have shallow root systems.

Colors to consider for desert theme backyard

Color is important in desert landscape ideas and plans as the right palette can accentuate and heighten the natural palette of this unusual landscape. Typically, you’ll want to consider using earthy colors, beginning with sandy hues and terracotta and extending out to include the cooler tones of grays, blues, greens, and purples found in the flora of desert landscapes such as succulents, cacti, and desert wildflowers.

Building from this base, you can then add some flashes of bright color to create added drama. Grab attention with vivid red and yellow flowers which reflect the sun’s colors or, for a dramatic contrast, add splashes of blue throughout.

Best plants for desert landscaping ideas

Now you know what colors to choose and what conditions to look out for in your garden, all that’s left is to choose the plants! There are lots of drought-tolerant and resilient plants that can thrive in desert landscapes.

Related post: How to Care for Cactus in Winter


For a statement plant, look no further than the large and plump blue leaves of the imposing agave. Agaves are the perfect example of a drought- and heat-tolerant plant that can transform a desert garden into an art installation with its silvery blue coloring and statement foliage.


Yucca is another statement plant that will captivate and crown any garden with its spiky and variegated foliage. The drama of its leaves – with so many varieties to choose from – make it worth including in any desert garden landscaping ideas, even if it only flowers every few years.

Desert wildflowers

Using native flowers in your garden is important to honor and preserve our ecosystems. It’s also a way to bring authentic color and symbolic vigor into your garden. Planting desert wildflowers such as fountainbush, desert lupine, and Mexican gold poppies achieves this in a desert garden. It also gives you sprays of bright color that enliven your yard and add a naturalistic touch.

How to arrange plants in a desert garden landscape

Similar to theprinciples that underpin Japanese gardening, desert gardens favor a less is more approach and so use a lot of xeriscaping in their design. This is the style of using minimal vegetation surrounded by swathes of rock or pebble foundations.

This is because of the dramatic form and texture of plants like cacti and succulents. So majestic and unusual is their beauty that they need adequate space around them to be truly appreciated.

Be sure to space these plants apart when planting, interspersing them with pebble foundations or even a dry stream bed. The bonus of these rocky features is that they help to conserve water and require less maintenance – music to every desert gardener’s ears!

Small desert backyard ideas

For smaller gardens or desert courtyard ideas, there are lots of ways to create a showstopping outdoor landscape. In fact, many modern desert landscape designs are primed for smaller spaces so no matter how compact your area, you can still create a sophisticated and attention-grabbing garden.

One of the best ideas for small desert gardens is to ditch traditional gardening – which is already tricky in arid and rocky desert soil – in favor of container gardening. This allows you to maximize a smaller space with vertical planter options as well as giving a greater level of creative control.

Related Post: Balcony Planter Ideas

Use glazed clay pots to keep your soil at a more even temperature – and to incorporate more terracotta tones into your landscape – and fill them with succulents, cacti, and fragrant, drought-tolerant herbs like lavender and rosemary.

For more ideas on how to maximize small backyard spaces, read our ultimate guide to landscaping small gardens here.

Or find the perfect succulent for your indoor or outdoor desert landscape here.

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