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How to Build a Desert Landscape

By Tracy Morris ; Updated September 21, 2017

When you hear the word desert, you may think of arid rock or sand, and no plants at all. But a desert landscaping is far from a giant sandbox. Deserts are some of the most biologically diverse ecologies in the world. In the home yard or garden, desert landscaping is popular for gardens that face challenges of poor soil and little water. Landscapers can incorporate a wide variety of drought-tolerant desert plants including succulents, shrubs and trees into their landscape.

Determine your budget for your landscaping project. This will determine the types of plants that you purchase, as well as the type of desert landscape that you install. Look at plant nursery prices to help you decide what plants are available for your garden.

Consider the final possible size of a plant before incorporating it into your garden. Plants such as aloe grow well in small gardens, but a spiny plant such as a prickly pear cactus must grow in areas well outside of foot traffic, making it unsuitable for small gardens. Additionally, plants that grow very tall such as yucca can overwhelm a small garden.

Draw your landscaping plan based on plants that are available. Plants should be positioned based on height, and grouped together based on water requirements. Pleasing arrangements of plants are generally grouped in odd numbers, such as clumps of three or five.

Remove all vegetation in your garden area. Plants should be pulled up or dug out, and roots should be dug up to prevent their return. Then the soil should be plowed to further prevent the return of vegetation.

Cover landscape with landscaping cloth to prevent the return of grass and stop unwanted plants, known as volunteers, to become established.

Cut back landscape plastic over planting holes. Dig planting holes for new plants. Place the new plant root balls in place and cover with soil. Lay landscaping plastic over the roots.

Mulch around the landscaping plastic with gravel to cover it and to minimize evaporation of water from soil.

Place large features such as rocks into your landscape to serve as focal points or accents.

Place drip irrigation hose around the base of plants. Drip irrigation is superior to sprinklers for a desert environment because it conserves water that may be lost to evaporation.


Things You Will Need

  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Shovel
  • Rototiller
  • Landscaping cloth
  • Utility knife
  • Landscaping plants
  • Gravel mulch
  • Landscaping rocks
  • Drip irrigation hose

About the Author


Tracy Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Arkansas.