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Best Plants for Desert Landscaping

Living in Arizona, we know all too well how hot and dry the summers can be. That’s why it’s important to choose plants that are well suited for our desert climate. By using plants that are desert-friendly, you can have a beautiful yard while still conserving water. This type of landscaping is called xeriscaping. You can xeriscape your entire yard or just a portion of it. Either way, you will save on water while still having a beautiful yard.

There are many desert-friendly plants to choose from. In this post, we’ll talk about the different types of plants that are ideal for an attractive, drought-tolerant Arizona landscape.

The best plants for desert landscaping

There are seven categories of plants to consider when creating your desert front or backyard landscape: cacti, succulents, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, grasses, and ground covers.


Cacti are a desert-landscaping staple. Not only are they low-maintenance and drought-tolerant, but they also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes which can be fun to work with. Adding cacti that have different heights and textures will add interest and visual appeal to your yard.

Cactus plants are some of the toughest, most low-maintenance plants out there which makes them relatively easy to care for. They require very little water and can survive well in Arizona’s hot, dry climate. But even these hardy plants need a little care now and then. The three main factors for keeping your outdoor cactus plants looking their best are:

Plenty of sunlight – Cacti and other desert plants love sunlight, so make sure they’re getting at least six hours of direct sun each day.

The right amount of water – It’s easy to forget to water desert plants since they don’t need much, but too much water can be harmful. Only water when the soil is dry to the touch.

Protection from extreme heat – If your cacti aren’t in a spot that gets afternoon shade you may want to consider draping a light cloth over them if the temperatures get extremely high.

Some popular cacti for Arizona landscapes:

  • Prickly Pear
  • Barrel Cactus
  • Argentine Giant
  • Englemann’s Hedgehog
  • Totem Pole Cactus


Succulents are drought-resistant plants that store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. This means they don’t require much watering and can thrive in hot, dry climates. In addition to being low-maintenance, succulents come in a wide variety of colors and shapes, making them a versatile and stylish plant for any desert landscape.

When caring for your succulents it’s important not to overwater. Overwatering will cause your plant to rot and eventually die. On the other hand, if you see your succulent leaves start to wrinkle, that’s a sign the plant needs more water.

Many times when people think of succulents they think of the small planter-size varieties, but succulents can also be quite large. Larger succulents come in a variety of shapes—some with color or blooms—and can be used as focal points in your landscape.

Some examples of larger succulents include:


Desert landscapes can be beautiful places full of color and life, even in dry conditions. One way to bring this color and life into your front or backyard landscape is by adding desert wildflowers. These flowers have adapted to arid climates and extreme temperatures which makes them ideal for our high Arizona temperatures.

When planting wildflowers, wet the soil properly, but don’t overwater it. Many desert wildflowers require some rainfall throughout the winter to germinate, however, too much moisture may wash away their seeds. Desert wildflowers require little water once they have been established. They are light feeders and require no fertilizer.

Planning is the first step toward creating a beautiful wildflower-infused landscape. Choose the flowers you want, and decide whether they should be mixed, in drifts, or little clusters. After the first year, the wildflowers will grow and proliferate, determining for themselves where they want to be!

Wildflowers that grow well in the Arizona sun:

  • Arizona Poppy
  • Desert Marigold
  • Red Flax
  • Desert Blue Bell
  • Desert Lily


When choosing trees for a desert yard, it is important to consider the tree’s water needs. Some desert trees are more drought-tolerant than others.

In general, native plants are more likely to be drought-tolerant than non-natives. It is also important to consider the tree’s size at maturity and its growth rate. A fast-growing tree will require more water than a slow-growing tree.

Trees are important for desert landscaping because they provide shade and help cool the air. They can also help reduce dust and windblown sand. Trees can provide homes for wildlife and can help screen out unwanted views.

Ideal trees for a desert landscape include:

  • Mesquite
  • Palo Verde
  • Desert Sweet Acacia
  • Desert Willow
  • African Sumac


Shrubs can be a valuable addition to a desert landscape, providing beauty, privacy, and wind protection. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some bloom with flowers or produce berries, and many are drought-tolerant.

When selecting desert shrubs for your landscape, consider the size and shape of the plant, its water needs, and whether it will provide the desired function in your landscape.

Shrubs serve as a medium height design element for your yard and can help blend the height difference between trees and shorter plants.

Here are a few of our favorite desert shrubs:

  • Silver cloud sage
  • Bougainvillea
  • Lantana Camara
  • Mexican Bird of Paradise
  • Yellow Bells


As the category implies, ground covers are plants that grow close to the ground. They can be vines, herbs, grasses, or even shrubs that have a low-growing habit.

Ground covers can be beneficial to an Arizona landscape because they help protect the desert soil from erosion and can help conserve moisture. Not only that but they can add beauty and color to your desert landscape.

When picking ground covers it’s important to consider how much sun and shade the area gets as well as if the area is dry or has good drainage.

Some popular ground-cover options include:

  • Purple lantana
  • Trailing verbena
  • Star Jasmine
  • Myopurum
  • Ice plant


Grasses help to reduce heat and water run-off in arid regions by absorbing heat and moisture. If you’re concerned about typical lawn grasses being too water-greedy, consider planting native desert grasses. Native grasses are low-maintenance and have deep root systems that help them to be more drought-tolerant.

In addition to being tough and low-maintenance, desert grasses are beautiful! They come in a variety of colors including blue, green, yellow, and even purple.

Some desert grasses perfect for your Arizona landscape include:

  • Mexican Thread Grass
  • Pink Muhly
  • Bamboo Muhly
  • Little Bluestem
  • Arizona Cotton Top

Final thoughts

Whether you’re doing your own landscaping or hiring a company like AMS to do it for you, choosing plants that work well in the harsh Arizona climate will save you time and money.

Desert landscaping can be beautiful and low-maintenance if you choose the right plants. With a little planning, you can have a yard that looks amazing and doesn’t require a lot of work to keep it looking that way!

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