The Best Plants for the Desert
Even in the desert, a wide variety of plants can thrive. Whether you choose wildflowers, cacti, succulents or an artful combination of the three, it's important to understand how plants thrive in the desert and what the best plants for the desert have in common. A xeric garden landscape can make a remarkable impression, with rugged plants that possess their own brand of beauty.
Best Wildflowers for the Desert
Desert wildflowers adapt by opening in the cool of the night, or by having sparse, waxy leaves. the California poppy, desert lily, Mojave aster, Arizona poppy, desert marigold, chia, cave primrose, Spanish needles, western wallflower, wooly daisy, devil's claw, moon flower, sand verbena, desert chicory, dogbane, Apache plume and popcorn flower are all native to desert regions and do well in arid areas. Depending upon the winter temperatures, these wildflowers may be annual or perennial. Desert flowers are notoriously prolific reseeders.
- Even in the desert, a wide variety of plants can thrive.
Best Cactus to Plant in the Desert
Some cactus plants take a long time to grow, or are difficult to establish. Barrel cactus, saguaro, prickly pear and hedgehog are easy to grow, once they're established, as are the agave cacti--octopus agave, holly agave, huachuca agave and twin-flowered agave. the native cacti in your area will also thrive. Consider using native plants wherever possible. It's the placement and grooming of a native plant garden that sets it apart from the vacant lot.
Best Trees for the Desert
Drought-resistant shrubs and trees that grow in the desert provide shade and create nesting areas for migrating birds. Depending upon which desert you're in, acacia, juniper, cottonwood, smoke tree, ocotillo, palo verde tree, Mormon tea, ponderosa pine, desert willow, creosote bush, Joshua tree and the California fan palm are all known for tolerating arid conditions and extreme weather.
- Some cactus plants take a long time to grow, or are difficult to establish.
- Drought-resistant shrubs and trees that grow in the desert provide shade and create nesting areas for migrating birds.
Desert Plants And Grasses
Over 2,000 species make up the cactus family, perennial herbs that are drought-tolerant and resistant to moisture evaporation due to their thick, waxy exteriors. Most cacti have tapering taproots that anchor the plant and lateral roots that extend out for several feet near the soil surface. Young saguaro, smaller prickly pear and barrel cacti are often used in landscapes as accents. Succulents, which have fleshy exteriors similar to cacti, have a similar usage. Native grasses, some growing as high as 4 feet, are common on many desert plateau and mountainside areas. Examples of native grasses include varieties of grama, arrowgrass, wheatgrass, cheatgrass, vine and curly mesquite, burrograss, bristlegrass and tanglehead. Do not substitute turf grasses for ground cover as they will use significantly more water than low-growing desert plants.
- Over 2,000 species make up the cactus family, perennial herbs that are drought-tolerant and resistant to moisture evaporation due to their thick, waxy exteriors.
- Native grasses, some growing as high as 4 feet, are common on many desert plateau and mountainside areas.
- Gardening Tips for Desert Plants
- Plants at the Living Desert
- Desert Plants & Wildflowers
- Utah State University Extension: Desert Plants of Utah
- University of Arizona: Desert-Adapted and Native Plants
- University of Nevada Cooperative Extension: Turfgrasses for Urban Mojave Dessert Landscapes
- Arizona Cooperative Extension: Our State Tree Puts on a Show in April
Lisa Russell has been a writer since 1998. She's been published in Rethinking Everything Magazine, Playdate, AERO and Home Educator's Family Times. She has a Bachelor of Science in business marketing management and a professional background in marketing, education, cosmetology and hospitality.