When we think of the desert landscape, we think of sand as far as the eye can see with some cacti here and there. But there is so much more to the desert than just sand and dry heat; with a wide variety of drought-resistant plants and natural stone formations, desert landscaping might be the best option for your backyard.
However, this landscape design takes a lot more consideration, knowledge, and experience to put together compared to other styles like country or modern landscape. Therefore, you need to make sure you’re working with expert designers and contractors who know what they’re doing if desert landscape design is what you’re looking for.
As a company based In Katy, Texas, our team here at 3D Pools and Landscape is full of qualified and experienced individuals who are familiar with this type of landscape.
In this post, we will shed more light on different elements and options in desert landscaping, look into some dos and don’ts, and show you how beautiful, charming, and functional this type of landscape can be if you work with the right people.
What is Desert Landscaping?
One of the most common misconceptions about the desert is that it’s just barren sand dunes, pale cacti, and the occasional tumbleweed rolling across the endless yellow. But there is so much more to it. With the right irrigation installation, you can have a desert garden that is full of vibrant colors and various plants and trees.
Desert landscaping can be most commonly seen in southern and southwestern states like California, New Mexico, Arizona, and some parts of Texas.
Common Elements, Plants, and Décor
Hardscape and Softscape
For the hardscape of a desert landscape design, it is very common to use traditional building materials like gravel pathways, Arizona flagstone, stacked stone, red clay pavers, plaster. Dry-stacked stone or adobe-mud walls are also a very popular choice in building accent buildings and structures in this type of landscape, giving it a more natural and rustic look. Traditional elements can also be combined with modern materials like steel or concrete for a more accentuating effect. Warm sandstones and sun-bleached wood can also be added in to create a wider variety of colors in your palette.
Accent walls are a very popular choice in this landscape type, as they can create shade for your sitting area and be painted to add a dash of vibrancy and color to the profile. They can also be utilized as backdrops for your plants, and space for your wall hangings, decals, or even lighting.
Desert landscape designs are more suitable for smaller water features like recirculating fountains rather than large pools and artificial waterfalls. Small fountains will not require as much maintenance as pools and waterfalls, and will be more sustainable as they will lose less water to evaporation and won’t require much work to keep them algae free.
As staying outside in the dry heat and direct sunlight of the southwest desert can be hard, pergolas and shade screens are widely used in this type of landscape design. Wooden pergolas, shade screens, shade sails made out of durable outdoor fabric, and patio umbrellas are much needed elements to protect yourself, your family, and guests from the intense heat of the midday sun.
One of the most beautiful and comfortable time of the day to be outside in the Southwest is twilight. Watching the sun set in the distance can be very enjoyable, but it also means that the hard drop in temperature is upon you. This is where fire pits and outdoor fireplaces can come in handy as they provide a source of heat and create a warm and welcoming gathering space.
When picking plants for your landscape, it is important to choose drought-resistant plants that can survive naturally in the type of ecosystem you’re building in your outdoor space. Best plant options for desert landscaping are cacti, succulents, shrubs and grasses, shade trees, agave, and sage. Cacti are amazing for this type of landscape because they can survive in extreme conditions, whether it’s freezing cold or burning hot. Cacti come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so depending on where and how you want to use it in your landscape design, you can find a type of cactus that will look the best.
Finding shrubs and grass to create a more luscious look in your landscape is easy as there are many drought-tolerant plants that can be chosen for this. Little-leaf cordia (cordia parvifolia) is a nice choice for someone who wants a flowery look, as this plant comes adorned with papery white flowers; and despite its delicate looks, this plant is very low-maintenance and can handle heat and sun very well. Texas ranger is another bushy plant that can be utilized to add color and volume to your landscape; it comes with purple flowers that commonly bloom during periods of high humidity, mostly after heavy rain. Bougainvillea is a vibrant colored, bushy plant with ivy-like characteristics, which means it is ideal for arches and doorways. And if you want more color and less volume, there are plants like pink fairy duster (calliandra eriophylla), a feather-duster looking plant that is very popular with hummingbirds.
If you want to create a sitting area or a general living space in your backyard while still maintaining a desert aesthetic, you might want to create natural shade with trees that are native to the region you’re in. Palo verde, chitalpa, desert willow and other kinds of mesquite trees are the best option for the climate as they are low-maintenance and don’t require much watering.
While using desert plants that are native to the region you’re in is going to make maintenance and irrigation a lot easier, you can still add more diversity to your landscape by choosing plants from other arid regions in the world. There are many options in plants from Middle East, North Africa, and Australia. The most important thing is to conduct a soil test to determine how nutritious your soil is, and how it can be supplemented for optimum growing conditions depending on the type of plants you choose, and building the best type of irrigation and drainage system to keep your landscape alive and thriving.
The most dominant colors in desert landscape designs are shades of brown, orange, red, and yellow with soft pinks and blues here and there for contrast and a more native look. The Southwest has a very rich history, which means there are many different historical and native symbols that can be used for decorative purposes.
Native American elements are one of the most popular choices for this landscape design with geometrical shapes, colorful lines, pottery of all shapes and sizes, art, fabrics, and many more. Another option is the Old West culture with lassos, animal skulls, barrels and wagon wheels, giving it a more rustic and aged look.
No matter what theme you choose for your landscape, it is important there is harmony and a sense of unity in your area. As long as it is designed well and professionally, it is possible to mix and match multiple themes and create a beautiful and charming space.
Dos and Don’ts of Desert Landscapes
- Do select plants, flowers, and herbs native to the region you live in; or make sure to pick ones that are drought-tolerant and can survive under the hot Southwestern sun.
- Do place your selected plants in groups based on their water needs; this will make the irrigation system planning easier and less costly.
- Do test your soil to determine what kind of plants can survive in it and what supplements you would need to make it more hospitable; this will also be a determining factor in how much mulch you should and could use.
- Do plan your irrigation and drainage system well; both overwatering and underwatering can be fatal to your plants, and without proper drainage, your yard can turn into a swamp.
- Do make sure you have enough room for growth if you decide to plant trees; trees have bigger and deeper roots than other plants, and require more water.
- Do plant your trees in lower areas; water flows downwards and since trees require more water than most other plants, planting them in lower areas can help with your drainage system.
- Do establish shaded areas, either with a pergola, trees, or shade screens; direct sunlight in the desert can cause discomfort, skin problems, dehydration, etc. which can lead to bigger health issues.
- Don’t use just rocks for your landscape; they might be low maintenance, but they get very hot under the son and you will have a very limited color palette.
- Don’t overcrowd your yard with human-made elements like pots, furniture, and other decorative items; there should be a balance of natural/unnatural to create harmony.
- Don’t use colors that are too similar or too dark; darker shades tend to absorb light and heat, and can create an uncomfortable feel, so if you want to use dark shades of brown, orange, and red, be sure to balance it out with beiges, whites, and blues.
- Don’t marry different styles and themes in a way they’ll clash; it’s possible to use more than one theme, but the balance and harmony between them is important.
- Don’t dismiss functionality for the sake of beauty, or vice versa; a good landscape design should be as useful as it is charming, and meet all your needs at the end of the day.