Desert Landscape Plants for Unique Gardening

When planning desert landscape plants, be inspired by nature. In nature, groups of desert plants form families with tall trees shading taller shrubs that do the same to protect seedlings of other plants. Those plants, in turn, shade the roots of the shrubs. Each plant contributes to the whole environment assisting the survival of the others.

In this article, we’ll be discussing some of our favorite desert landscape plants that would fit right into your desert landscape ideas.

Trees, Ground Covers And Vines

Forming the backbone of desert landscape plants, trees are large, permanent, and visible year-round and bring a variety of seed pods, flowers, and colors. Desert trees shelter and feed birds and wildlife. Search out deciduous trees to shade the east and west-facing exposures of your home during summer months and let light in during winter months when branches are bare of leaves.

Desert ground covers cut glare, suppress dust, and prevent evaporative water loss in the garden. These desert plants help unify and blend separate elements of the desert landscape and add color and texture to bare soil or large rock expanses. They also shade bare surfaces, create visual interest, and soften hardscape features like low walls, walkways, and patio areas. 

Vines require very little water and often create a natural arbor of shade 10 degrees Fahrenheit below the surrounding garden landscape. Many have gorgeous flowers that add color and aroma and take up little ground space. They also add an interesting vertical line in the landscape. 

Cacti And Succulents

All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Many cacti have extraordinary flowers and are incredibly versatile and adaptable desert plants in a wide range of growing conditions, including containers. Due to their ability to store water, cacti require much less watering than most desert plants, but even they require occasional irrigation. Cactus specimens with spines need to be handled carefully. Wear thick gardening gloves

Desert succulents are the modern gardener’s friends. Due to their ease of care, and a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, designing your garden with these trendy plants gives you an endless choice. You can grow succulents almost anywhere. As long as you provide these drought-tolerant plants with good drainage, sandy soil, and sunshine, they will thrive for many years. There are many varieties to choose from. Ranging from the popular ghost plant to the architectural marvel of the crassula plant.

Grasses, Perennials, And Annuals

Grasses come in perennial and annual varieties. Ornamental grasses are great for adding a softening element and motion to your landscape. The color and form of grasses change through the year, creating seasonal interest, and birds are attracted to seed-laden spikes after the bloom period.

Perennials are perfect for adding pops of color to your garden. Some perennials live two to four years by reseeding, so new desert plants grow and liven up year after year. Others that live much longer can become a permanent feature of the landscape. Perennial and annual wildflowers can be combined, ensuring that there is color all year long. Remove flower heads after the bloom period to keep plants looking fresh, and give them an occasional light prune to encourage new growth.

Many wildflower annuals are grown from seeds sown in the fall, though some species can be found in containers at nurseries in spring. Search for quality, locally grown seeds. Discover what you like, and gain experience, by starting your wildflower garden by seeding small areas. Your garden will take on its own character as desert plants reseed, spread, and mature over the years.

Easy Desert Plants

Below are some easy desert plants to use in your drought-tolerant garden. 

  1. The Curve Leaf Yucca has over 40 known varieties. Their visual appeal begins with their lively bundle of bright green spears. As a member of the agave family, their leaves will curl under as the plants grow, and they’ll bloom fragrant flowers. These cacti can appear in multiple shades of green with needles in different yellow shades as the occasional bright yellow blooms sprout from their tops.
  2. Chances are you’ve seen Ghost Plants in the succulent gardens that have become so popular in desert landscaping. It is one of the easiest succulents to care for. Depending on the level of sunlight it receives, these plants can take on various colors, ranging from blue-gray to pinkish-yellow. When new rosettes form at the tips of its stems, it’s old leaves fall off. During springtime, you can witness the ghost plant producing bright yellow flowers. Ghost plants are great for rock gardens, along pathways, as garden borders, or arranged in planters.
  3. Paddle Plant, also known as ‘red pancakes’, makes a striking addition to any desert garden. The red in red pancakes refers to the color around the edges of each leaf, which spreads and intensifies under full-sun exposure. Thanks to their color-changing capabilities, paddle plants can add dramatic splashes of red to any desert landscape design. These low-water desert plants are also low-maintenance, requiring minimal care to thrive. When mature, it forms a single flowering stalk from its center. To replenish, snip off the stalk and replant.
  4. Foxtail Agave, also known as Agave attenuata, is commonly found in desert gardens and popular amongst garden landscapers. It has a centrally curved spear, from which large green leaves emerge and curve back, resulting in a shape that looks like a large green flower or fireworks. Its leaves are smooth and pliable, and unlike its other agave cousins, the leaves are completely spineless, making it a safe choice for planting in gardens. This perennial generally maintains its looks year-round.
  5. Mexican Feather Grass has delicate blades and is great for creating a magical beach-like atmosphere. This desert plant is one of the secret weapons of landscape design. Since it’s a grass, plant with caution, as it will readily grow and spread. Plus, Mexican Feather Grass is considered an ‘ornamental’ grass. The plant has a much more complex root structure than regular lawn grass, meaning it’s not easy to get rid of. 
  6. Jade Plant, or friendship tree, falls somewhere between a tree, flower, and a shrub. They’re usually the size and shape of a small bush. During the fall and winter months, the jade plants’ waxy green leaves are temporarily eclipsed by an abundance of slightly pink-white flowers in bloom. As drought-resistant plants, jade doesn’t require much water, but it loves sunshine.
  7. Flaming Katy, affectionately known as a ‘flaming Katy’, is a cousin to the Paddle Plant that exists in numerous colors and provides bright, puffy, long-lasting flowers when in bloom. It’s a great desert plant for adding bursts of color to your desert landscape. When not in bloom, this plant has flat, curved green leaves similar to, but larger than, a paddle plant’s. When they do bloom, their dense, packed flowers open with a giant splash of color.
  8. Aloe Vera, with its myriad of medieval uses, is a fantastically versatile addition to any drought-tolerant landscape design. Though often mistaken for a cactus, Aloe Vera belongs to an entirely different family of succulent. It just happens to grow into a cactus-like shape from time to time. The required care can vary based on the size and type of your aloe plant. Aloe Vera plants need to be watered sparingly.
  9. The lavender-colored blooms on Texas Sage may be small, but they’re sturdy. For most of the year, Texas Sage seems to be an unassuming green shrub, but come summertime, and tiny flowers in shades of lavender, periwinkle, and blue cover its branches, and they’ll remain through the fall. Like other desert sage, Texas Sage won’t need pruning, and the plant fares best in full sun exposure.
  10. Yellow Bells are bright, sunny flowers that grow quickly and bloom abundantly in the desert. Appropriately named for their shape and color, yellow bells are wildflowers with vibrant yellow, bell-shaped blooms. Care considerations for yellow bells (such as watering and pruning) will vary by climate, but all require full-sun exposure.
  11. The Bottlebrush yields unique flowers whose blooms bear a striking resemblance to kitchen bottle brushes. The unusual bloom of a bottlebrush plant (which also grows in shrub form) immediately catches the eye – and attracts hummingbirds – with the brightly colored needles that form the flower. The variety of Bottlebrush that’s most often used for desert landscaping has bright red flowers; however, other species of the Bottlebrush do exist in different hues.
  12. Bougainvilleas are a frequent sight throughout the Mediterranean. The fast-growing desert plant comes in a range of colors, the most popular of which are magentas. Bougainvillea grows in beautifully wild configurations – sometimes as bushes, vines, or even groundcover. With patience and training, it’s also possible to create a bougainvillea tree.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, the trick to desert landscaping is using drought-tolerant plants in a way that imitates a desert environment. With a little research into moisture-retaining tactics, like mulching, and learning which plants will work together, you can create a desert oasis in your backyard. Desert plants that live in the desert are particularly drought resistant/tolerant landscape plants.