No matter if you live in an arid environment or your thumb just isn’t as green as you’d like it to be, desert plants can make a gorgeous addition to your landscaping and give you a garden you can be proud of. Usually, when the desert is mentioned, our minds automatically revert to miles of sand and nothingness. Surprisingly, there is a large variety of desert plants with different colors, textures, sizes, and features to make your yard stand out.
The top ten desert plants you can plant in your garden are:
- Texas Sage
- Mexican Feather Grass
- Pencil Plant
- Living Stone
- Zebra Cactus
- Desert Marigold
- Aloe Vera
- Fox Tail Agave
- Paddle Plant
In this article, we’ll be discussing each of the above plants in detail, as well as providing you with some desert garden inspiration.
1. Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens)
Though its thin branches and rounded, soft leaves may give this plant a dainty appearance, Texas Sage is tough and long-lasting, providing deer resistance to your garden and acting as a preventative to soil erosion thanks to its robust root system. Perfect for filling in significant gaps in your desert garden, this sage plant can grow upwards of 5 feet tall and wide.
While Texas Sage is mostly a pale green throughout the year, during summer, this shrub produces vibrant blooms of primarily lavender purple or white on each stem and continues to blossom through the fall.
Texas Sage Care
Because Texas sage is a desert plant, care is minimal and infrequent. Follow these guidelines for healthy Texas Sage:
- Texas Sage should be placed in an area of your garden that receives full sun daily (around 6 to 8 hours).
- This desert plant won’t need to be pruned. It’s best to let it be to keep it healthy and lush.
- You should water Texas Sage once every week for about three weeks until your plants are well established in your garden. Then, rainfall should suffice to keep your Texas Sage quenched. If drought persists, water once and then water again when the soil is visibly dry. Don’t overwater. Too much water can kill Texas Sage.
- Soil should drain quickly. Texas Sage is prone to root rot and should not be placed in areas that hold water for long periods.
In general, Texas Sage is a breeze to care for. You’ll barely have to water it and won’t have to water it at all during the rainy season, and it can survive pretty extreme year-round temperatures. Take care not to overwater, as these desert plants are sensitive to too much water.
Texas Sage Uses
- Place at the back of a desert garden bed as a backdrop.
- Use as a privacy screen around a patio or along the line between you and your neighbor’s property (be sure the plants are obviously on your side to avoid potential conflict).
- Plant Texas Sage as a natural border around pool areas or to separate gardens.
- Use as an outline around garden features such as dry riverbeds.
If you’re looking to add a flowy appearance to your desert garden, Mexican Feather Grass is the way to go. Hundreds of thin, long blades cluster together to create a wispy aura and are darker in color the closer you get to the roots. In the summer, this desert plant’s seed heads are a pale golden color and silky in appearance.
Mexican Feather Grass is a drought-resistant plant, as well as a deer preventative, making it great for hot climates. However, this ornamental grass is quite invasive and will readily spread to wherever it pleases. A plus side to its invasiveness is that it helps immensely with erosion, thanks to Mexican Feather Grass’ complex and deep root system.
Mexican Feather Grass Care
Like most desert plants, Mexican Feather Grass doesn’t require much babysitting. Here’s how to maintain these beautiful, dancing plants:
- Plant in an area that receives full sun each day (around 6 to 8 hours) for the best results.
- For the most part, rainfall is enough to keep Mexican Feather Grass watered sufficiently. However, for particularly hard summers, you may want to deeply water these plants once every month or two months.
- Mexican Feather Grass should be planted in an area with well-drained soil that doesn’t flood.
To prevent spreading, remove the seed heads from your Mexican Feather Grass each summer and early Fall.
Mexican Feather Grass Uses
- Along hillsides.
- In areas prone to erosion.
- Along drive and walkways.
- Near garden edging.
- As a backdrop behind shorter plants.
3. Pencil Plant
Native to Africa, the Pencil Plant is a highly drought-tolerant and interesting plant that would bring intrigue to any desert garden.
Naturally green in color, the Pencil plant will turn a coral or yellowish shade if it’s under environmental stresses such as too little water or cooler temperatures. Its branches are rounded and smooth in appearance and branch off of a central stem. In their ideal habitat, Pencil Plants can grow as tall as 30 feet and a few feet wide. In most North American habitats, it’s not unusual to see them reach heights of 6 or more feet.
Pencil Plant Care
Care for a Pencil Plant, though a little more than the previous plants on our list, is still relatively low:
- The plant should receive between6 to 8 hours of full sun each day.
- Pencil Plant should be watered once every 2 or 3 weeks in the summer. Not at all in the winter.
- Plant in soil that is gritty and well-drained.
Pencil Plant Uses
- Use as a splash of color in your desert garden. Purposefully withholding water (for example, only watering once a month) can change the color of your green Pencil Plant to coral.
- Plant on any high ground. Because Pencil Plant can grow so large, their towering figures would look beautiful on hilly landscapes.
4. Living Stone
A definite show-stopper and conversation-starter, Living Stone is a desert plant you won’t want to miss out on. A low-lying succulent (around an inch tall) with a slick-top surface, Living Stone resembles just that — a colorful, patterned desert stone. This Africa Native thrives in blistering temperatures and would make a unique addition as fillers for your desert garden.
Living Stone Care
Doing best in extreme environments, it’s important not to baby your Living Stone plants to keep them happy and healthy.
- Don’t water when dormant (fall to spring). In the summer, rainfall should suffice. If it’s particularly dry, water once a month when the ground is visibly parched.
- Plant in full sun (6 to 8 hours daily).
- Soil should be sandy and well-drained.
Take care not to overwater. These plants have adapted to harsh conditions. Too much water will kill Living Stone.
Living Stone Uses
- As filler plants. Any small space that is barren could be made green with Living Stone.
- Plant between boulders or in a rock garden.
- Plant alongside a walkway.
5. Zebra Cactus
To add a pattern to your desert garden, consider the eye-catching Zebra Cactus. With a similar appearance to Aloe Vera, one striking difference of this plant is its oddball coloring resembling the stripes of a zebra.
Though the rigid leaves are dark green, they boast bright white stripes that are enough to draw anyone’s attention right to your desert landscape. They’re generally small in size, around 5 inches tall, and slow-growing, making them great for virtually any garden.
Zebra Cactus Care
These plants aren’t one to make a fuss out of severe living conditions. Care is minimal and infrequent:
- Zebra Cactus does best in partial sun (4 to 6 hours daily).
- Watering is okay every 3 to 4 weeks. As a general rule of thumb, water thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
- Soil should be well-drained. Rocky soil is also okay.
Zebra Cactus Uses
- As a filler or anywhere that needs color.
- As a focal point in a desert garden.
- Would look beautiful in a rock garden.
For a splash of color in a neutral-toned desert garden, the Desert Marigold has your back. These dashing desert perennials can grow to two feet tall and wide and adorn themselves in bright yellow florets at the end of each stem. You can expect them to bloom in spring and continue to bloom throughout the summer. Frequent rains in the fall have even been known to encourage a few more blooms.
These colorful flowers are sturdy, seedy, and will come back year after year, providing you with an even more colorful garden as their offspring take root.
Desert Marigold Care
Caring for Desert Marigold isn’t very difficult. For the most part, these flowers can thrive just about anywhere and are practically self-sufficient.
- Desert Marigold should be planted in an area that receives full sun (around 6 to 8 hours daily).
- Generally, rainfall is enough to keep these plants happy. However, you can water whenever the soil is completely dried out to encourage more prominent blooms.
- Desert Marigolds don’t require a specific soil, as long as it’s well-drained.
Desert Marigold Uses
- A great option for color. Could be used as a focal point or for splashes of color throughout a large desert garden.
Another excellent choice for color in a desert landscape, Ocotillo is a desert-native that features red tubular flowers at the end of each spiny branch. They bloom March through June and their flowers cluster. When water is plentiful, Ocotillo will grow 2-inch leaves along the length of their stems, creating a fluffy, wispy appearance.
These beautiful plants can grow to heights as tall as 20 feet and have a lifespan similar to that of the average person. They’re also a friend to hummingbirds and finches, thanks to their bright red florals and abundant supply of nectar. Ocotillo can withstand the highest of desert temperatures and make it through winters with temperatures that drop as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Strong and adapted to harsh weather, Ocotillo won’t need a hand to hold throughout its long life. A little care here and there is all that this desert plant needs:
- Watering is few and far between. For newly planted Ocotillo, water once every couple of weeks in the summer. Once they’re established, water your Ocotillo plants once a month.
- Plant Ocotillo in full sun (6 to 8 hours daily).
- Ocotillo grows best in rocky, sandy, well-drained areas. A well-drained, sandy, or gritty soil will help your Ocotillo thrive.
- As a natural barrier. Because it grows so tall and wide, Ocotillo would make the perfect natural fence.
- For landscaping on hillsides or land that is barren. If you own acreage or have hilly land, these tall shrubs would add some color to your landscape.
8. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera isn’t only good for burns and cuts — it’s also a staple in desert gardens. With a variety of Aloe species on the market (and an even greater variety of sizes, textures, and colors), you’re bound to find one that fits your desert garden perfectly.
The size of Aloe ranges anywhere between 2 feet to the much larger 70-foot plants and consist of long, spiny, triangular leaves that spread upwards and outwards as they grow. They’re generally green in color, but can be yellow or sprout flowers of bright orange and red.
Overall, Aloe is an excellent option for desert gardens, especially gardens that are gravelly or sandy and receive lots of sun.
Aloe Vera Care
While Aloe Vera is generally drought-resistant and tolerant to bugs, its care can vary based on species. The following are general guidelines for keeping your Aloe healthy:
- Sunlight requirements vary for Aloe. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the species, the less light it needs. Small Aloe varieties usually do best in part sun (around 4 to 6 hours each day). Larger Aloe plants require full sun (6 to 8 hours per day).
- As with the majority of desert plants, Aloe Vera should only be watered when the soil is visibly dry all the way through — about once every three weeks.
- Plant in a well-drained, gravelly, or sandy soil for best results.
- Don’t plant in a low-lying area that collects water.
Take care not to overwater your Aloe Vera plant, as these desert plants are most often killed by root rot and cannot tolerate sitting in water for long periods.
Aloe Vera Uses
- Would look brilliant in a succulent desert garden.
- Place them in between low-lying, bushy desert plants for height and texture variation.
- Plant alongside walkways for a dramatic visual to the front door.
Unlike the other desert garden plants on our list, the Fox Tail Agave is an evergreen succulent, meaning that it’s green and gorgeous all-year-round. With the appearance of a flower, Fox Tail Agave consists of multiple, triangular-shaped leaves that curve upwards, creating a cupped look. This plant can reach 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall and often features a 5 to 10 feet tall flowering stalk that emerges from its rosette in the summer.
If you live in an area with plentiful fauna, you’ll be happy to know that Fox Tail Agave is deer-resistant and virtually pest and disease-free.
Fox Tail Agave Care
Though still a fantastic choice for a desert garden, Fox Tail Agave is a bit more sensitive to actual desert conditions:
- Place Fox Tail Agave in full sun (6 to 8 hours daily). If your garden doesn’t receive full sun, place in a part shade area.
- Soil should be slightly acidic, rocky, sandy, and well-drained.
- Though it tolerates drought, Fox Tail Agave should be watered whenever the soil is visibly dry.
- This plant doesn’t do well in harsh winter conditions. Be sure to cover to protect from the cold.
Though Fox Tail Agave is a Mexican desert native, it still requires a bit more care than the other desert natives on our list. Be sure to water whenever the soil looks dry.
Fox Tail Agave Uses
- Great as a focal point plant. If your desert garden consists of mainly low-lying plants and shrubs, Fox Tail Agave will serve as an eye-catching focal point.
- Plant with other large succulents, like Aloe, to create a lush desert oasis feel.
10. Paddle Plant
An increasingly popular plant for desert gardens, the Paddle Plant features bright red coloring along the edge of each of their green leaves — ideal for adding a pop of color to your desert landscaping. The texture of the Paddle Plant is smooth with rosettes of round, flat leaves, reaching 6 inches in length. Paddle Plants may grow as tall as 2 feet. During the summer, a mature Paddle Plant may sprout sweet-smelling, yellow blooms.
Paddle Plant Care
An Africa native, Paddle Plants are pleasantly drought-resistant and heat-tolerant. They require minimal care but can burn when exposed to too much sun.
- Place in an area that receivespart sun daily (around 4 to 6 hours) or in an area that receives bright, indirect full-sun.
- Water whenever the soil is visibly dry. Do not overwater, as Paddle Plants are prone to root rot.
- Plant in soil that is sandy and well-drained.
- Place in an area that doesn’t retain water. Higher elevation is best.
Take care not to water the leaves of Paddle Plants. This will help to prevent the leaves from rotting and result in a longer lifespan.
Paddle Plant Uses
- Paddle Plant would look beautiful in between large cacti or wide-spread, tall succulents.
- Perfect for adding vibrant color in areas that are dull, such as rock gardens or desert gardens with neutral-colored plants.
As you can see, desert gardens aren’t limited to cacti. Desert plants such as Fox Tail Agave, Ocotillo, and Desert Marigolds can add a splash of color and interesting textures to your landscape without increasing the amount of time you spend maintaining your garden.