Arizona Desert Landscape Design Tips

While many people think desert landscapes and drought stricken wastelands cover most of Phoenix, nothing could be further from the truth. For us Arizonans who choose to have landscapes covered in greenery we can do so without the fear of standing out like a sore thumb. However, for those of us who like the idea of a maintenance free traditional looking backyard, look no further than these basic tips to obtaining the desert landscape you've always wanted.

desert landscape in gold canyon

Gold Canyon, Arizona –  Desert Landscaped Home

Use the Shade

Arizona is hot! This should go without saying.

Your family and guests will want somewhere to get shelter from the sun while socializing outside. A roofed patio or covered deck is pretty much essential if you want to be a successful host, at least during the high summer.

Palm trees are great at creating an illusion of shade while playing up that desert aesthetic, but it’s pretty obvious that they’re not very efficient at casting large shadows, so a shade sail, awning, or some other permanent, constructed roofing area is going to be a necessity.

Placing potted plants around this deck or patio area is a great way to transition from the inside of your home to the outdoors.

roofed patio

Drought-resistant plants

Even though people tend to think of the desert as some dry, lifeless expanse of land, plants that can thrive in full sun with extremely low amounts of water are quite common in the Phoenix area and throughout Arizona. Therefore, the best desert landscapes are designed, first and foremost, to work without large amounts of water. Trees such as palms are extremely popular, as are low broad shrubs (don’t worry, plenty of these plants flower).

Cacti and succulents have become extremely trendy across the country over the past few years, with their interesting geometric structures creating a funky, modern look while requiring very little regular maintenance.

There are dozens if not hundreds of complete guides to drought-resistant plants available online to check out if you want to learn something more specific. Feel free to mix and match shapes, sizes, and colors, and don’t be fooled into thinking that the desert climate doesn’t have seasonal flora.

Desert landscaped homes in Gold Canyon, Arizona


​Maintain the plants

That’s right, plants are so important they warrant two whole sections of their own. Arranging plants in a creative way is just part of the battle! Do your research on what each species or strain of plant needs to survive, and be sure to stick to it. You might be tempted to soak your thirsty plants for a long time, but most desert plants have adapted well to the arid climate with shallow roots and-water retaining leaves, so over-watering them can result in drowning.

Additionally, it’s important to know how much space each type of plant needs so they’re not over-crowded. On a similar note, many desert plants prefer to grow in the shade rather than in full sun, so be careful.

good care of those plants

Use light natural colors

Light-colored materials not only complement the sandy landscape perfectly, but they absorb much less sunlight and are therefore much less hot to the touch than darker colors. Pavers and hardscaping are more than just pretty to look at set against a desert landscape - most hardscape materials and paving expanses stay cool by reflecting the light rays from the sun rather than absorbing them. Some popular desert paving materials include granite, concrete, travertine, and more - you’re not likely to see much black asphalt framing Arizona homes. 

Plus, paint colors on walls and other fixtures follow a similar concept, so it’s a good idea to stick to light neutrals and pastels.

Stick with a light, natural color palette

​Circulate the air

 If you have an attached patio or deck area with electric outlets, you’ll benefit from installing a ceiling fan (or even just propping up any old fan you can find). Walled-in patios and dining areas are generally not a very good idea, as they tend to box in hot air and not allow for much air flow. If you want some privacy, consider a low, loose stone wall or a slatted, vented wooden face to border your home instead of anything too closed-off. 

deck area

Swimming pools

If you can afford it, a swimming pool is the perfect touch for any Arizona home.

You can create a true oasis in the desert of your very own! Mix and match sizes, shapes, and colors of stones and decorative cactuses for a true desert feel, and be sure to incorporate plenty out of outdoor seating and cocktail tables for people to relax in the sun.

Fountains and springs, of course, are a waste of water since you can’t use them to cool off, but that shouldn’t discourage you from playing with stone around the swimming area. You can decorate the swimming pool area with stone sculptures and statues for an authentic, natural look.

Swimming pool

Outdoor feature

Non-residents of Arizona might not understand why you’d want to create heat in your home - isn’t the idea to offer shelter from the heat?

The fact is, the temperature often drops at night, and the smoke helps keep the mosquitos and other insects away!

A firepit or fireplace can be a great addition to a home and opens up many more opportunities to spend time outside together. In fact, Arizona homes with outdoor firepits are generally valued much higher than homes without theme, despite what you might think about trying to escape the heat.

outdoor fireplace

Lighting

Speaking of spending time outside during the evening, you’ll want to think about how you can illuminate your property at night.

Investing in solar-powered lights should be an obvious choice, since the desert climate provides plenty of sunlight. Large posts around seating areas and tiny lamps lining footpaths or swimming pools are pretty standard additions to any residential Arizona landscape (as are motion-detected lamps stationed by your garage or driveway, which serve a more utilitarian rather than aesthetic purpose).

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