Desert Landscape Ideas

Desert regions, such as those found in the southwestern United States, experience little rainfall. The air is dry and the soil clay like and clumps when wet. Indigenous plants include cacti and succulents, ironwood, mesquite and fruit trees, and such perennials as sage, coneflower, foxwood and yarrow. A successful desert landscape utilizes indigenous plants to minimize water usage and requires a minimum of maintenance.

Rock and Cacti

Though such a landscape may appear sparse to those used to lush lawns and heavily foliaged shrubbery and trees, the lean rock and cacti scenery provides a more textural style of landscaping. Select a rich-colored, multi-toned decorative rock for your front yard. Sculpt the soil to include three to five sloping mounds, depending on the size of your property. Plant an ironwood or mesquite tree on the mound at the far end of the yard. For the other mounds, plant flowering cacti and succulents, grouping them together to create oases of color within the rocky landscape. Include one or two large boulders for visual impact. Use a small area in the backyard for turf, preferably Bermuda grass in the summer, and over seed with rye grass in the winter. Add ash trees or evergreens to provide shade. This type of landscape reflects natural growth in the desert regions. The front yard, once established, requires almost no extra water other than natural rainfall. The back yard requires only minimal watering to maintain the turf area.

Turf and Hardscape

Combining grassy areas with paved walkways creates an open feeling, one that can highlight specific gardens within the landscape. Plant a fruit tree just off center in your front yard. Wall in the tree with a 2-foot high planter constructed from concrete blocks. Create a garden around the outside of the planter using both annual and perennial flowers and herbs. Lay a path of pavers from the garden to the driveway. Fill in the remaining yard area with sod or Bermuda grass. This allows you to water the grass, the garden and the tree using water-efficient drip and sprinkler systems.

Open Landscape

As an alternative to fruit trees, which require regular, deep waterings, use ocotillo, ironwood and mesquite trees in place of the fruit trees. Forego the planters and surround the trees with gravel or decorative rock. This eliminates the flower gardens and creates a more sculptural effect for your desert landscape. Include small areas of turf and paved pathways to complete the landscape.

Keywords: desert landscape design, indigenous desert plants, rock and cacti landscape

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 hydropoinc gardening.