How to Plan Desert Landscaping


Landscaping in the desert requires careful planning. Water conservation and soil quality are reasons for concern, as is the extended summer heat. Using plants and grasses indigenous to your area will reduce the amount of soil preparation needed to accommodate your new landscape. A well-planned desert landscape addresses these problems to provide an appealing space that encourages water conservation, the growth of native plants and shade in the summer months. One tenet of desert landscape planning is to incorporate the principles of xeriscaping--water-conservative landscaping for arid climates.

Step 1

Create a map or sketch of your property. Note the orientation of your home on the property, as well as any features such as sidewalks, patios, porches and driveways. Mark the location of existing trees and plants you wish to keep and permanent outdoor structures such as sheds.

Step 2

Make several copies of this sketch. This enables you to create several options before making any final decisions.

Step 3

Determine the most practical position for shade trees. The shade trees should be native to the region and positioned to provide shade in the yard as well as to reduce solar heat gain to the interior of your home during the summer months.

Step 4

Determine an area for your turf lawn. Keep this area to a minimum, since lawns require a great deal of water. Devoting a reduced amount of your landscape to lawn area will conserve water while still providing a place for relaxation. Place the lawn within the shade of the trees.

Step 5

Make a list of the amenities you require, such as barbeque area or outdoor dining area, fire pit, children's play area and swimming pool. Note possible locations for these on your sketch.

Step 6

Make a note on your sketch of the locations of hardscape features such as sidewalks, pathways, decks and fences you wish to include in your new landscape.

Step 7

Visit the local garden center and create a list of drought-tolerant trees and shrubs for your landscape. On your sketch, group your potential selections according to water and shade requirements. Group sun-loving desert plants that require little water together and position them throughout the landscape, creating vignettes of natural landscapes.

Step 8

Include perennial flowers for flowerbeds and borders in your landscape plan. Position these to enhance your amenities and soften the hardscape features in the plan.

Step 9

Design a layout for an irrigation drip system for the flowerbeds and border plants, and a separate one for the larger landscaping plants such as the trees and shrubs. The flowers will require more water than the other plants; separate irrigation systems will conserve water.

Step 10

Review your sketch. Look for ideas that work well and draw them onto one of the copies of the sketch of the existing landscape. Continue to adjust, using the sketches, until you reach a plan that meets your needs.

Things You'll Need

  • Sketch of existing landscape
  • Copies of the sketch


  • Landscaping Ideas Online: Basic Desert Landscaping Ideas for Beginners
  • Texas Agricultural Extension Service: Landscape Water Conservation Xeriscape
  • Colorado Water Wise: Xeriscape Plan and Design

Who Can Help

  • Concrete Network: Design Tips for Planning Your Outdoor Room
Keywords: desert landscape planning, xeriscape landscaping plan, landscape plan desert

About this Author

Shelly McRae resides in Phoenix, Ariz. Having earned her associate's degree from Glendale Community College with a major in graphic design and technical writing, she turned to online writing. Her credits include articles for, and several non-commercial sites. Her work background also includes experience in the home improvement industry and hydroponic gardening.