Backyard Ideas

Desert Landscaping Ideas for Your Backyard: Complete Guide

Designing the landscape around your property into a desert-theme helps you celebrate the local environment, Here's some ideas for your yard.
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Do you live in the Southwestern United States? The desert landscapes of California, Nevada, and Arizona are examples of classic desert environments. This region of the U.S has the highest temperatures, and it’s dry throughout the year, with a short rainy season. In some areas like Death Valley, annual rainfall is incredibly low, and water is scarce.

Designing the landscape around your property into a desert-theme garden helps you celebrate the local environment. There are plenty of design elements that suit a desert theme. Plants with low water consumption like cacti and yuccas go well with adobe-mud walls and shade structures to provide you some relief from the beating of the sun’s harsh UV rays.

Let’s take a look at the best landscaping ideas to enhance the look of your yard by turning it to a desert motif.

Hardscaping Ideas

If you’re trying to create a classic Southwest desert look to your yard, then you’ll benefit from using hardscaping ideas that include the use of traditional building materials like gravel for your pathways and dry-stacked stone walls or adobe-mud.

There are plenty of visually impressive landscaping ideas to combine with traditional Southwest elements, such as poured concrete and Cor-Ten steel.

Stacked stone walls & Cactii
Stacked stone walls & Cactii

Softscaping Ideas

Choose your color pattern from your local environment to compliment your garden. Your color palette can include sun-bleached woods, warm sandstone colors, and the greyish-greens of native sages.

The sunsets in the desert are nothing short of spectacular, and using color in the garden to complement this time of the day is a fantastic softscaping idea.

Keep your garden flowers indigenous to the local area, and take advantage of the springtime wildflower blooms, and other native plants like the hairy desert sunflower and the native penstemon varieties.

Add color with Succulents

Choosing Your Garden Features

Let’s run through all of the design elements of a Southwestern desert landscape garden. Follow these tips on how to give your garden an authentic Southwestern feel and look.

Accent Free-standing Walls

If you have any free-standing walls in your yard, accentuate them by adding a layer of colorful paint that creates a focal point in your yard.

We recommend that you avoid bright and vibrant colors. Stick to darker “burnt” colors like dusty orange, deep reds, chocolate brown, and light tan colors. These focal walls are excellent for creating a backdrop to your flowerbeds or as a screen for specimen plants.

Eco-Friendly Water Features

Water is scarce in the desert, and if you want to create an authentic desert theme for the yard, you’ll need to create conservative water features. Water is a source of life for many animals and plants that live in desert climates.

It might be tempting to add a full-size pool to your yard, but the water loss that occurs through evaporation makes it an unsustainable and impractical option you should avoid.

Instead, stick to water features and displays like recirculating fountains. These water features lose less water from evaporation, providing your garden with an eco-friendly feature that doesn’t waste the desert’s most precious resource.

Arizona Palms & Cactii
Arizona Palms & Cactii

Dry River Beds

Take a drive through the desert, and you’re bound to see plenty of dry river beds during the summer season. The climate of the desert is dry and hot, and many rivers run dry at this time of year.

Designing a dry river bed into your yard is an excellent way to embrace the local environment, creating a visual focal point that you can use to accentuate other areas of the garden and bring an authentic Southwest look to your yard.

To create the dry river-bed look, make a subtle change to the gradient of your yard using soil. Fill the valleys of your river bed with gravel and stones, and plant the sides of the river bed with drought-resistant plants and flowers.

Shade Screens and Pergolas

The sun beats down mercilessly on the desert landscape. Make a shady spot in your yard to escape the heat of the summer. Escape the midday sun by building a pergola in your yard, or make use of shade sails and shade screens manufactured with suitable outdoor material.

Create a rustic-style arbor from sun-weathered wood or logs, and provide a shady escape for the entrance to your home.

Build a Fire Pit

While the days are blistering hot in the desert, the nights see the temperatures fall close to freezing in the wintertime. The twilight hours of the day provide you with one of the most alluring landscapes in which to enjoy your garden. However, after the sun goes down, the air temperature starts to get chilly.

Endless Summer Firepit from Amazon

Building a fire pit in your yard is a great way to enjoy evenings outdoors in the Southwestern winter. Build your fire pit from reclaimed materials, such as concrete slabs. If you’re feeling creative, get some bricks and make a seating area around the fire pit as well.

The Best Plant Choices for Desert Landscapes

Deserts are areas devoid of most forms of life. Apart from the occasional Gila monster sunbathing on a rock next to a cactus. Take this theme into landscaping your yard, and bring a taste of the desert to your home by planting these flowers.


Resilient and hardy, cactus evolved over millennia to survive in extremes. These fleshy plants come in a variety of species, and all of them are drought resistant. Plant small cactus in pots around your patio, or a rockery, and use large variations to fill in the corners of your yard.

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) grows in USDA zones 9 to 11, and upright Mexican organ-pipe cactus (Stenocereus marginatus) grows in USDA zones 9 to 11.

Shady Trees

Trees are a rare occurrence in the desert, but they do exist. Add shady trees to your garden to provide you with somewhere to cool off on hot afternoons.

Southwestern tree varieties like desert willow, Palo verde, and chitalpa, desert willow are all excellent drought-resistant trees that add shade to your yard.

Southwestern-Style Plants

Using plants with blue, gray, purple, and silver foliage provides your desert landscape with a cooling theme against the backdrop of a hot climate.

Using plants with foliage or flowers in shades of gray, blue, silver, and purple can have a cooling effect in a hot Southwestern desert landscape.

Look into plants like the common sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), which grows in USDA zones 6 to 11. Its strappy silver leaves provide a rippling effect when planting in a rockery. Shrubby germander (Teucrium fruticans), grows well in USDA zones 8 to 9, and it’s a drought-resistant option featuring lavender-colored flowers and gray leaves – and it attracts hummingbirds to the garden.

Desert Garden Props and Accessories

Bring your yard to life with authentic Southwestern accessories and props. Cowboy lassos and longhorn skulls are great props for your desert landscape and give your yard some iconic imagery. Display natural elements on walls or gates and make use of diamond-shapes from Native-American designs to add a Southwestern appeal.

Rustic Rockeries

A rockery is one of the best ways to bring your desert-themed landscape to life. Instead of planting flowers in a boring flowerbed, organize yourself some rocks from a local quarry.

Stack the rocks in a ridge-like style, and then fill in the gaps with soil. After it settles, plant indigenous cacti and other plants in the cracks. A rockery offers you excellent value for money, and it’s an impressive visual focal point for your backyard.

Create an Oasis

Creating a desert oasis in your backyard requires the intelligent use of eco-friendly water features and shady palm trees. Layout some metal garden furniture in the shade, and plant cactus and flowers around the pond or water feature to create a tranquil environment with a desert-theme.

Pebble Pathways

Lay pathways around your home using pebbles. Well-manicured pebble pathways provide the desert landscape with a sense of peace and consistency. Mix in stepping stones to the path to bring in more variety and enhance visual appeal.

When choosing colors for your pathway, stick to light or earthy tones. We like contrasting red stepping stones with white pebbles to create an outstanding desert landscape around the yard.

Play Around with Pot Plants

Desert landscapes have loose, sandy soils that drain water away quickly. Therefore, you might find it challenging to break ground in your garden if you live in the Southwest. For those gardeners with inhospitable soil conditions, plant in clay pots around your patio and rockery for a stunning visual effect.

In Closing – Be Water Conscious

Using these desert landscape ideas in your yard transforms it into a living environment that blends in with your surroundings. One of the best features of a desert landscaped garden is that it uses so little water throughout the season.

However, if you plant flowers and shrubs, you’ll need to attend to their watering needs to ensure they thrive. Adding a water reservoir system to your garden that collects rainwater, is a great way to save on your consumption of this valuable resource, and give back to the environment.


Robin owns his own Landscape Gardening company based in the UK and has over 10 years professional experience working outdoors, creating beautiful landscapes for his clients in the UK. He is also a keen garden-grower and maintains his own fruit and vegetable gardens. He also has a level 3 Certificate in Practical Horticulture from The Royal Horticultural Society and is currently working on his first book about gardening. Contact him at

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