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How to Design a Desert Garden

By Hollan Johnson ; Updated September 21, 2017

A desert garden is not a thing of fiction. You can achieve one easily with a little design ingenuity. If you want to design your own desert garden, you must understand the harsh conditions in which plants must survive. The key to the perfectly designed desert garden is not to work against the natural environment, but with it. Design a smart desert garden and you will be able to sit back and enjoy it for many years to come with minimal work.

Measure your gardening space. Make sure you have the correct measurements and write them down. Draw a picture of the space you have to work with.

Draw your desert garden. Partition it into areas for different types of plants such as those with higher water needs, like grass, and those with lower water needs, like plants native to your desert.

Designate microclimates, such as areas against a north wall that are cooler and areas that will be protected by trees or shrubs.

Choose plants for your desert garden. Choose a variety of succulents, cacti, trees and flowers that thrive in your specific desert. Cacti that thrive in the Sonoran desert cannot survive winters in the Chihuahuan desert.

Good plants for desert gardens are: marigolds, geraniums, lavender, purple sage, rosemary, yucca, mesquite trees, Joshua trees and drought-resistant grasses such as bermuda grass.

Divide the garden space with rocks or other dividers. Prepare the soil in each space for the appropriate plants. Most desert soil is clay and might have a layer of caliche that needs to be broken up before planting can occur. Add compost or manure to the soil and work it in.

Install a drip irrigation system. This will save water and is the most efficient way to water a desert garden.

Prepare your garden. Plant each plant 1 to 2 feet apart. Fill in empty spaces with rocks, either rugged or river bed rocks. A large sandstone slab is also handsome in desert gardens.


Things You Will Need

  • Drought-resistant plants
  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil


  • Choose drought resistant plants only. Water is precious in the desert and should not be wasted if it can be helped.


  • Cacti can be dangerous to young children. If you have young children, avoid planting cacti where they might fall on it or touch it.

About the Author


Hollan Johnson is a freelance writer and contributing editor for many online publications. She has been writing professionally since 2008 and her interests are travel, gardening, sewing and Mac computers. Prior to freelance writing, Johnson taught English in Japan. She has a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics from the University of Las Vegas, Nevada.