If you live in the desert, creating a garden or landscaping your yard can seem as tough as… well, growing a garden in the desert! But you can truly have a gorgeous yard if you follow just a few guidelines for desert landscaping. First tip? It is not the same as creating a garden space in any other area. But a desert garden holds it’s own charms and beauty, as long as you learn how to work with the environment, instead of working against it. So if you long for your own little oasis, and feel like you can’t have it because you live in the desert, you are in the right place! Let’s learn how anyone can design, plant and grow a desert garden.
Designing a Desert Garden
So there are a few guidelines to consider when landscaping in the desert. The first one is to erase from your mind those visions of huge green lawns, traditional flower beds and evergreen pines. If you try to force “traditional” down the throat of the desert, it will burn you like that. You must work with the desert environment to have a gorgeous desert garden! So once you can embrace the weather, the soil, and the beautiful desert plants, half the battle is won. Check out these desert landscaping ideas that will guide you to the oasis you’re dreaming of!
Determine your zone, and desert garden type.
Some people live in the dry desert of Arizona, some in places like southern California, and some in the high desert of the West. All of these places have different zones and weather patterns, a desert is not just a desert. Some areas will drop below freezing at night during certain times of year, some areas never will. Some areas have clay or rocky soil, others sandy. So get to know your area, and choose plants based on that. A great place to do that is at a local nursery. They can tell you what zone you live in, what the general soil types are like, and give you advice if you are a new gardener in the area.
For instance, when we plant at our house in Palm Springs, we have to be aware that we have much hotter summers than Joshua Tree, just an hour away. Same type of desert, totally different weather patterns. We can grow palm trees, but you cannot in the deserts of Arizona. Succulents might survive outdoors in winter in one desert area, but not in another. A desert isn’t just a desert. They are unique ecosystems.
Hardscape is everything in a desert landscape.
Desert plants are sculptural and stunning, but they need a strong foundation to show them off like they deserve. A tall columnar cactus would look lost planted in the corner of the yard, but plant it in front of a stucco wall, and it becomes the star. Paths, shade structures and walls all are integral to a desert garden that looks amazing all year round. This is really true of any well designed yard, but never more so in the desert. Photo from “Desert Gardens by Steve Martino”.
Lighting, lighting, lighting.
A desert garden is at its most dramatic at night, but only when lighted properly. Use flood and spot lights on focal point plants, walls and art in the garden. This is what makes the difference between an average yard in the desert, and a space that looks like it was designed by a pro. And it lets you enjoy your garden 24 hours a day. Photo by ‘Let There Be Light’.
Desert plants need space.
In a traditional garden, one might layer plants in drifts, and depend on the natural blending of foliage to weave a tapestry of texture and color. In a desert garden, to appreciate the texture and form of most desert plants, they look better spaced apart. Negative space around your plants gives room to appreciate those amazing features that makes these plants so special. Patterns of cactus needles, shape of a large Saguaro, and the colors of succulents shine best when they are not overwhelmed by other plants. Photo from ‘Sunset’.
Use rocks, everywhere.
Rocks are a huge part of the desert landscape, so the most natural way to design a front yard or backyard garden is to use them. Use large boulders for drama or to recreate the idea of a mountainside, use small rocks as mulch to cover the dull sandy soil. Create a dry stream bed with stones native to the area. All of these elements will help you create an oasis that blends in with it’s natural environment. This is the basis of good design, in any space. Photo by ‘Gardenista’.
Add splashes of color.
Color is not as rampant in a desert garden as it might be in a more traditional space, so use it to add punch. Choose bold colors to be able to stand up to the bold plants in the space. Orange and yellow are natural choices, as they reflect the colors of the nearby landscape, and of the famous desert sunsets. But blues and green can visually cool down the space as well. Just stick within a tight color palette. Splash color onto furniture, walls, or use blooming desert plants evenly spaced throughout the garden. Photo by ‘Houzz’.
Add water and fire.
Every desert oasis has water, right? Adding a water fountain to your space creates contrast to the apparent harshness of the desert, giving your landscape a feeling of calm and peace. Even a small table top fountain can create that sense of lushness that a garden of this type sometimes lacks. And adding fire allows you to come into your garden at night, enjoying your space at all times of the year. Photo via ‘Gardenista, via Steve Martino from his book (which we own, it’s great!) “Desert Gardens of Steve Martino’.
Nothing makes a garden feel more alive than the creatures that live in it. Many desert garden plants are adored by hummingbirds… plant them em masse. Put out feeders and bird and bat houses. Provide water year round for birds and toads to bathe in and drink from.
Use your desert garden.
During many parts of the year, your garden can provide a stunning spot to sit and observe the complexities and detail of the desert. Learn about the birds and plants, embrace those sunsets, and make sure you have a comfortable seat to learn all the secrets of your desert oasis. Entertain, read a book, set up a Bocce ball court and actually play. The desert is not a wasteland… it just requires that we take the time to stop and look just a little closer. And isn’t that a good thing? Your desert garden is a gift… start looking at it that way and you will love your yard!
Front Yard Desert Landscaping Ideas
These front yard desert landscaping ideas show you how a garden in the desert can beautifully partner with your homes’ architecture and the environment. No desert home needs to look bland and dry. Create an outdoor space that works with the challenges of planting in a harsh climate. Take these ideas and create a yard the neighbors will want to copy!
Use colorful succulents to bring attention to your front yard desert landscaping like they did at ‘Rogers Gardens’, an awesome nursery in Southern California.
This desert front yard gave the plants space, and used hardscaping and rock mulch to lead the eye. From ‘Sunset’.
This front yard uses hardscaping to create an amazing entrance to this home. Steps create a welcoming front entry, and the terraced garden echoes those steps. The stucco walls provide a backdrop to the gorgeous plants. Lots of ideas you could steal here for a smaller scale home as well. From ‘Dwell’.
Desert Backyard Ideas
Need some desert backyard ideas for both quiet contemplation and family fun? Whether its’s outdoor games, wildlife watching or playing in the pool, a desert backyard allows us to spend time outdoors all year. It also makes an amazing entertaining area, as the nights are often warm and pleasant. Check out these gorgeous desert backyards and see how they created a space for the whole family. Photo by ‘My Home Ideas’.
Ok, seriously the place you want to be, right? From ‘Dwell’.
Also from ‘Dwell’, this desert backyard in southern California has a pop of color, great hardscape, but also space to entertain.
We love desert gardens! Don’t forget, as long as you learn to appreciate and work with the environment, you can have a gorgeous garden. You might want to check out our post Palm Springs Desert Gardening, Indoor Cactus & Succulent Gardens, and also our Palm Springs Modern Patio!Image Credits: Let There Be Light, Gardenista, Houzz, Rogers Nursery, Sunset, myhomeideas, Dwell