Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

Dry Landscaping Ideas

By John Albers ; Updated September 21, 2017

Dry landscaping is commonly used in the American Southwest. Rather than having to deal with dry and dying grass, dry landscaping is a practical choice for areas that have little in the way of available water or rainfall. Still, dry landscaping is not something to be restricted to a given climate. A gravel-landscaped yard is both an unconventional and low-maintenance choice for any home.

Japanese Rock Garden

Japanese rock gardens don’t involve much in the way of foliage at all. Compose the landscape entirely of sand (fine white or volcanic black). This may involve laying down a tarp beneath so the sand doesn’t sink into the soil. Place stone lanterns at each corner of the landscape to mark boundaries. Dotting the sand, place down small patches of hardy sod or moss depending on what can thrive in your climate. In one of the patches of sod, place down a granite stone, lying sidelong.

In two other random spots, bury more granite stones half their lengths in the ground. Ideally they’re three feet long by two feet in width. Set granite stepping stones down so that the landscape can be crossed wherever needed, and then rake the sand into a series of swoops and whorls. This is all abstract representation. The sand is the sea, the sod is islands, and the stones are mountains. For a less traditional approach, set up an entire island chain across the yard, complete with miniature mountain range.

The key here is emptiness. By avoiding using much in the way of color and texture you shift focus from what is there to what is not there, which is the point of such gardens. In contrast to the intended flow, the outer boundaries of the garden are clearly discerned by cutting into the sod or using wooden slats set between sand and grass. Again, the boundaries must be rounded rather than straight-edged.

Gravel Landscaping

Gravel landscaping involves using plants reminiscent of an Asian theme rather than the normal usual American Southwest style. This largely boils down to ornamental grasses and bamboo. If you’ve got loamy soil, plow it over to get rid of any remaining plants or seeds and then lay down a thick layer of gravel. Place down groves of bissett bamboo along the sides of the house for privacy. Use Sasa palmata as a centerpiece in the front lawn. It creates a thick clump of short bamboo stalks for a good dose of greenery.

Lining the house, place clumps of miscanthus gold bar. The ornamental grass is very colorful, stays put where it’s planted, and doesn’t need much water. At all the corners of the landscape, be they facing a road, backyard, or driveway, place miscanthus ghana. Each clump will form a naturally conical shape and stand sentinel around the landscape’s perimeter.

Succulent Landscaping

Use cactus and other succulents for a desert-like Southwestern look. Start by tilling up the soil and carting six inches worth of topsoil aside, whether it’s sandy or not, as the hardest part of succulent landscaping is weed control. Once tilled, lay down a thick plastic tarp and then cover it back over with soil. This will help keep down the weeds. It will also keep the layer of white sand you’re going to lay down next from being absorbed into the soil and never seen again.

Use cinder blocks, plaster, mortar, and paint to construct a knee high wall around the front and sides of the house to mark out the planting beds to appear like a Spanish adobe building. In the bed, plant flowering succulents like aloe vera, kalanchoe, Cactus magnificaris and Cactus rotundis. Place a decorative walkway of Spanish tile along the front of the wall. In the front yard, set up a rancher’s corral of rough-cut timber. Within, place a single tall saguaro cactus as a centerpiece and use beaver tail and barrel cactus to fill in the space of the corral.


About the Author


John Albers has been a freelance writer since 2007. He's successfully published articles in the "American Psychological Association Journal" and online at Garden Guides, Title Goes Here, Mindflights Magazine and many others. He's currently expanding into creative writing and quickly gaining ground. John holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Central Florida in English literature and psychology.