Many traditional garden plants and landscape designs originated in the eastern United States, a region with regular rainfall and only occasional dry spells. In other areas of North America, however, dry conditions are the norm. Attempting to establish traditional garden plants there requires tremendous effort and irrigation resources, according to the North Dakota State University Extension. The Extension suggests gardening in arid climates with native plants acclimated to the dry, sandy and sometimes-salty soils.
Trees and Shrubs
Trees and shrubs form a foundation for your landscape, but most require more water than you have in an arid region and require wasteful irrigation. The Cochise Cooperative Extension in Arizona recommends several varieties, however, that survive with little to no water. Acacias grow as large shrubs to mid-sized trees with feathery deciduous foliage. Birds of paradise grow fern-like foliage but make their statement in your garden with showy yellow or red flowers that blossom in the spring. Like acacias, birds of paradise brighten your landscape, even without frequent rainfall or irrigation.
For very dry landscapes, succulents -- plants that store water in their stems and tolerate extremely dry conditions -- make a good choice for arid gardens. Succulents vary as to how much water they require, and the Parker County Master Gardener Association in Texas recommends using plant appearance to learn the water needs of each plant. Agaves and yuccas make good choices for dry gardens, and the variety of foliage shapes and colors makes choosing a succulent a matter of space and personal taste. Yuccas flower annually, adding color to your garden. Agaves include the century plant, which grows leaves up to 6 feet long and a flower stalk reaching 35 feet high.
Cacti are another form of succulents with spines on their foliage, which can take shapes very different from the stems and leaves typical of traditional garden plants. In addition to their intriguing foliage, many cacti produce large, showy flowers. According to the Parker County Master Gardener Association, succulents, which include cacti, like well-drained soil and full sun, and many can survive on no more water than that provided by infrequent rainfall. The Master Gardeners suggest prickly pears, cholla plant, hedgehog cactus and members of the Mammillaria genus for landscaping purposes.
An arid landscape doesn't mean that you can't experience the pleasure of planting spring flowers. The Cochise Cooperative Extension recommends many showy varieties adapted to growing in the desert. Among them, the yellow, daisy-like perennial Bahia spreads easily enough to serve as a groundcover, attracts butterflies and survives the driest conditions. The Extension recommends milkweed, sand sagebrush, paper flower and globemallow as good perennials for the arid garden. The yellow prairie zinnia grows as an annual and needs little to no water.