If you live in a desert environment, you might find that it's easy to get stuck in a rut with regards to your garden landscaping. Due to the climate of the desert, you have a limited selection of plants to choose from that can withstand the temperature and the frequency of drought. Soil composition can also be problematic for people residing in the desert as it can be gritty and sand-heavy, further reducing your options in terms of plant choice and landscaping.
If you need some inspiration for ways to reinvigorate your desert garden and give it a fresh new look, check out these 15 desert landscaping ideas.
1. Cacti Contrast
While you might be limited to growing succulents and cacti in your desert garden, that’s not to say that your landscape has to be bland. This garden has contrasted the green cacti with a reddish-orange brick wall behind it. The wall really helps to set off the color of the cacti and make them pop, as well as providing an attractive rustic backdrop for the plants.
An added feature of this image is the trailing plants that have been placed at the base of the cacti. These add further contrast against the cacti, as the cacti are chunky, robust, large, and erect, while the trailing plants are delicate and drooping. The series of contrasting elements in this garden makes it much more interesting than it would have been with simply a row of cacti, proving that landscaping in deserts is about so much more than just plant choice but also about what you pair those plants with.
2. Showy Succulents
Desert gardens have a reputation for being quite dull in color, but this absolutely doesn’t have to be the case. If you find yourself falling into the pattern of always having plants that lack vibrancy and want to change things up a little, then look for colorful succulents that can be found in an array of different shades.
The succulents seen in this image are various shades of green, orange, blue, and deep purple, but there are many other succulent varieties available in all manner of colors. Succulent popularity has been soaring over the last few years, so you should find a good selection of succulents in nurseries. If you struggle to find enough colorful succulents locally, then turn to online suppliers, who can usually offer more diversity.
3. Petite Palm
Small areas of your yard can be difficult to address when it comes to landscaping, and so, often get neglected. However, this image proves that small spaces can and should be celebrated.
Compact spaces don’t necessarily need to have ground-level plants, and a dwarf palm such as the one shown in this image is the perfect way to create interest in an area that would usually get ignored. The simplicity of this design gives a modern look to the landscape, with the green of the two plants contrasting nicely against the white pebbles on the ground.
Colored pebbles are another idea to consider in your desert garden to hide the desert soil, which can look quite drab because of its sandy composition. Use white, gray, or black pebbles for a classic neutral look, or brightly colored pebbles to add a fun feel to your space.
4. Purple Paradise
While this garden features several stunning plants, what really sets off the look is the purple gravel spread all over the ground. Purple contrasts perfectly against the vibrant green of the foliage, and it adds a splash of color in a landscape that would otherwise be very flat.
If purple isn’t your color, you could select any color of gravel you like to cover the ground. Bright colors give a more playful feel, while more neutral colors will give a sophisticated look. Choose one color you like and keep everything else quite natural. Having too many colors competing for attention can look messy and confusing.
The added layer of material over the soil also has practical benefits. The gravel adds an extra layer of insulation to protect roots from extreme temperatures. It also helps keep the soil moist as it will aid in preventing moisture evaporation so that you don’t have to water your plants as frequently. This is especially important in desert landscapes, where rainfall can be rare and water comes at a premium.
5. Rocking Rock Garden
If landscaping your desert garden seems like an insurmountable task, start small by creating gardens in containers. Rock gardens are ideal for desert climates, and they can provide great aesthetic interest. Choose a pot of any size you like, and fill it will a succulent and cactus mix of soil, or make your own well-draining soil by mixing up compost, peat, and sand.
Now, select a series of succulents or cacti, which will be the star of the show in your container garden. Choose a mixture of different types to create a good contrast, but make sure they are quite small and don’t overcrowd the pot. They will need space to grow and spread out.
Bed your plants into the soil, and then add some large rocks amongst them to create an authentic rock garden look. Just a few medium to large rocks will be enough. Once these have been situated, you can surround them with pebbles or gravel to finish the look.
Container rock gardens work well almost anywhere in a desert landscape. You can place one at the corner of a terrace, or line up a row of matching pots along a wall for a modern minimalist style.
6. Reflection Retreat
Desert gardens are synonymous with being dry, dusty, and dull, but it’s time for desert landscaping to finally get the recognition it deserves as one of the most stylish and calming types of design. The desert garden in this image is far from dry and dusty, with a tranquil reflection pond being the star of the show.
The juxtaposition of the pond and the cacti is quite intriguing, as typically, you would expect to see cacti growing in a much more dehydrated setting. If your garden is some where you’d like to spend more time relaxing, then you can’t go wrong by adding a reflection pond. A square or rectangle pond evokes a mood of stillness and would be a perfect setting to perform outdoor yoga or meditation.
The great thing about reflection ponds is that they can be created in almost any sized or shaped garden. Once constructed, they require very little maintenance, so you can spend your time enjoying the presence of the water.
7. Contemporary Courtyard
This courtyard garden is a perfect example of how a small space can be used to create a modern and relaxing area that is almost maintenance-free. If you have a corner of your desert garden that needs an overhaul, imitate this garden by selecting a handful of plants and trees in different shapes and sizes. The height difference between the plants adds interest and the appearance of a mature garden.
Trees can be an expensive addition to a garden, but they create a large impact, especially in small spaces.
To complete the modern contemporary look, layer small pebbles onto the ground. Pebbles are a brilliant way to instantly transform or update the look of a garden, without spending a lot of time or money. They create a clean backdrop for the plants and help them to stand out more than they would against the background of soil.
8. Fashionable Water Features
If you have a large space to fill, then a selection of water features could be a good option. Water features can be quite an expense to purchase them and have them installed, but once complete, they don’t require the maintenance that plants do, and so can be a good way to create interest in your garden if you don’t want the hassle of caring for a yard full of plants.
A selection of small water features such as this creates a very modern style and gives you lots of options with regards to landscaping the remaining space. Small water features create a great look without dominating the space.
If you want a high-fashion look in your desert garden, choose water features that include contemporary sculptures, such as the elongated stainless steel pyramids seen in this garden.
9. Patterned Pebbles
To create a big impact with a low budget, consider laying pebbles in patterns on the ground. The chessboard pattern of the pebbles seen in this image has been created with two contrasting colored pebbles: white and dark gray. Laid out in a checkered formation, the pebbles give a uniqueness that is rarely seen in home gardens.
To create a look like this, first lay out a pattern on the ground. You can do this by setting down garden twine and fixing it in place with pegs, or use a sharp garden tool to mark out a pattern in the soil lightly. Once you are happy with the pattern, it can be filled with the colored pebbles.
This image can be used as inspiration to create your own patterned pebble floor. Potential ideas could include geometric patterns or stripes.
10. Raised Cactus Bed
If you want to make the most of your desert climate by growing cacti but are worried about the dangers of pets or children touching their spikes, then a raised bed could be the ideal solution. Cactus plants really thrive in a desert climate, as it perfectly meets their care needs, providing you do supplement the lack of rainfall with an occasional watering.
As cacti do so well in this environment, it would be a shame not to feature them in your desert garden, but some people are reluctant to have them alongside pets and small children who could get hurt if they touch them. A raised bed could alleviate your worries by keeping the cacti out of reach. As well as providing a practical solution to this problem, raised beds full of cacti also look great, so they could be a feature in any desert garden.
Create a focal point by constructing a raised bed in the center of a garden, or flank your garden with raised borders full of cacti.
11. Light It Up
Adding lighting to your garden is a cost-effective way to transform the look and feel of the space instantly. Lighting helps to create a mood, whether that be romantic or lively. In the past, outdoor lights were usually reserved for holiday festivities, but lighting is now suitable to decorate your outside space with all year round.
There are so many types of lighting available that you’re sure to find something that works for you. Solar lights are a popular option thanks to their ability to power themselves from sunlight, meaning you don't need to have access to an electric power, and you won’t incur a running cost. String lights tied around the trunks or branches of trees is a fairly common way to decorate a garden because it is so effective and easy to achieve. However, you could get as creative as you want to with your outdoor lighting, using hanging lanterns, spotlights, or lights to illuminate pathways. White lights give a very vibrant atmosphere and work well for parties, whereas yellow lights, also known as warm lights, have a softer, more romantic effect.
12. Coping with Sloping
Sloped gardens present a challenge for many homeowners. The space isn’t useful for outdoor dining, children playing, or positioning potted plants. However, one thing that sloped gardens are great for is creating flower beds, and this is true for both standard gardens as well as desert gardens.
To create a feature out of your sloped garden, you’ll need a selection of plants. For a desert climate, drought-tolerant plants work well as they are equipped to handle the environment and won’t require too much care from you. Choose a number of plants with a range of different heights. This helps to create an attractive aesthetic and give a balanced look. You will need to position the shorter plants at the lower end of the slope and the taller plants at the higher end.
Once planted, you may want to surround the plants with pebbles. This will immediately give your slope a finished look and helps to define the boundaries between what is a bed and what isn’t.
13. Bold and Beautiful
If you’re lucky enough to have a large desert garden to work with, it can be hard to decide what to do with such a massive space. One idea is to go big. A spread of large succulents and cacti make a real statement and are low-maintenance in terms of care.
Spacing the plants apart will mean you don’t have to spend so much money purchasing them, but it also gives you the opportunity to create pathways in between the plants, allowing you to access the plants to care for them but also giving you space to take walks around your property.
14. Adorn with Ornaments
An often-overlooked way to spruce up your garden is to add ornaments to it. This is a good way to style your garden and inject some of your personality into it.
If you’re a fan of antiques, then you could add some old worn objects to the garden to give it a rustic feel, or, alternatively, introduce a modern sculpture to define your garden as a contemporary space. Ornaments can stand alone in the garden and be a statement all by themselves, or you can seamlessly integrate an ornament into a garden as seen in this image of an old wagon wheel. A climbing plant has been positioned at the base of the wheel, on which it will grow and wind around as it gets longer.
15. All in a Row
If you struggle with particularly infertile soil in your desert garden, you’re not alone. Soil of poor quality is common in some areas of the desert, and if you’re not prepared to put in the work to improve its quality, then keeping potted plants is a good alternative.
Cacti grow well in containers, though be sure to choose a relatively small cactus to prevent the pot from toppling over when the plant gets tall. Potted plants can be positioned in any arrangement, and, of course, their position isn’t permanent because you can simply relocate the pot. For a uniform look, select a number of identical pots and plant them in a row. Or, for a more traditional style, group together mismatched pots in a range of shapes and sizes.
If this article has helped to inspire you, or you know someone who may enjoy it, please feel free to share it, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section. We’d love to hear other ideas you’ve come up with!