Growing desert plants in the shade can be beneficial to their growth. The vegetation will retain more moisture than they would in hot, drying direct sunlight, and the shaded soil will not dry out as readily. Many perennial desert plants will tolerate some filtered sun, but prefer shadier areas, especially in the heat of the summer. Soil with good drainage is a must for growing a desert garden in a shady area.
Silver, velvety leaves and star-shaped flowers make the lamb's ear an ornamental addition to a shaded desert garden spot. The white, pink or purple blooms need to be deadheaded to promote better plant growth. This desert plant grows 8 to 14 inches tall in any planting zone in the continental United States. In the spring or fall, the roots can be divided to propagate additional plants or to promote more vigorous growth. Lamb's ear is appropriate as a ground cover for erosion control, but do not plant on sites that will get excessively wet.
The heart-shaped leaves give this 12- to 18- inch plant its more common name; however, it is also known as pigsqueak because of the sound emitted when a leaf is rubbed between fingers. The 8- to 10-inch glossy leaves turn a deep burgundy when the weather cools in the fall. Rose-pink or white, bell-shaped flower clusters bloom in April and May. Bergenia are suited to most parts of the country excluding southern Florida and the coastline areas of the Gulf of Mexico and California. Prune dead leaves, stems and flowers and guard against slugs feeding on the leaves. Plants can be divided in the spring or fall.
Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees are attracted to the bright pink, 1-inch conical flowers and fruity aroma of the foliage of the beautiful mint. The toothed leaves can be dried and brewed as a minty herbal tea or made into a potpourri. The 1- to 2- foot tall plants spread from their root systems, making them suitable for edging or ground cover. The established beautiful mint requires little maintenance and prefers warmer climates.
Also known as the gold dust plant because of the spattering of gold in the shiny, broad, leathery leaves, the Japanese laurel is an evergreen shrub. The desert shrub can grow to heights up to 10 feet. Reddish purple flowers of the female plant mature into oval-shaped red berries in the fall. Japanese laurel can be propagated with cuttings from a mature plant. It is suited for the warmer plant zones when planted in the shadiest areas of the garden.
The fishhook cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert, where it is found growing under the protection of larger bushes. It is a cylindrical cactus with spiny hooks, growing to a height of 6 inches or less. Purplish-pink flowers appear in April and May, developing into juicy, elongated fruit from which seeds can be harvested to sow new cacti. This is strictly a desert plant, surviving only in the warmest zones.