14 Plants for Desert Gardens

These desert plants are (almost) carefree additions to gardens and homes.

Photo By: Courtesy Costa Farms

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

Photo By: Courtesy Campania International

Photo By: Courtesy Nick McCullough

Photo By: Courtesy of Pamela Crawford

Photo By: Image courtesy of American Beauties Native Plants

Photo By: Courtesy of Costa Farms

Photo By: Courtesy Costa Farms

Photo By: Courtesy Costa Farms

Photo By: Courtesy Nick McCullough

Photo By: Courtesy Nick McCullough

Photo By: Courtesy of Quinta Mazatlan

Photo By: Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

Photo By: Courtesy Costa Farms

Mixed Border

A mix of cacti and succulents with varied leaf colors and markings, and in varied shapes and silhouettes, makes a visually interesting focal point. This flowering desert rose has a thick, bonsai-like trunk that helps it hold water during periods of drought.

Succulents and Cacti

Succulents are trending, and along with cacti, gardeners are using these easy-to-grow desert plants in their landscapes and homes. These agaves come in many colors and range from small to large in size. Kalanchoes, also called flapjacks, have wide, oval leaves that offer color and interest even when the plants aren't blooming.

Water-Wise Sedums and Succulents

For a dramatic accent piece, or to add architectural interest to your landscape, plant a variety of succulents and sedums. They need little water and can take the heat. The bold greens and reds of these plants make a pleasing contrast to a Terra Nova dish by Campania.

Desert Plants Container

This low-maintenance, drought-tolerant container is filled with desert plants that include prairie dropseed grass, flapjacks (<i>Kalanchoe thyrsiflora</i>), lemon thyme, 'Echeveria 'Lola', miniature Jade plants and princess pine.

Succulent Containers

Pot up a variety of succulents in rich colors to accent your deck or a spot inside your home. Be sure to use containers with drainage holes, as these plants don't like wet feet. Most need direct sun for only a few hours each day, or they'll get sunburned, so read the tag or label for care instructions.

Santa Rita Purple Prickly Pear

Fast-growing prickly pears, with their barbed spines, have long been used in hot, dry regions as living fences. Santa Rita Purple prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita) is a beautiful ornamental that takes on a violet color in winter or during periods of drought. Its yellow flowers form fruits that can be made into jams and jellies; use it as a specimen or in a sunny border.

Cactus Garden

Accent a garden bed with an eye-catching cactus or two. To make sure these desert plants have good drainage, use them at the top of a sunny slope or in a rock garden. If you're potting cacti in containers, use terra cotta, which allows water their roots to breathe, and water to evaporate more easily, than plastic and other materials.

Coral Cactus

Exotic-looking Coral Cactus, also known as Crested Euphorbia, is actually two plants in one. The wavy fan, which resembles underwater coral, is grafted onto the top of another plant. Hardy in zone 11, this cactus can be overwintered indoors or grown as a houseplant all year long.


Echeveria, with their rosettes of beautiful leaves, are succulents that come in a variety of colors; many bear striking flowers. In frost-free areas, succulents that stay short and compact can be grown in front of taller plants or as groundcovers.

Blue Chalk Sticks

Silver-leaved plants work as a neutral in the garden or landscape, so you can pair them with other colors for a beautiful effect. Here, a succulent called Blue Chalk Sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) combines nicely with Mexican feather grass.

Echeveria and Flapjacks

Echeveria 'Afterglow' is a stunning succulent with pink-lavender leaves that form rosettes from 12 to 16 inches across. Combine it with flapjacks (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora), which tops out at 2 feet high; both are low-maintenance plants that need little water.

Cacti as a Living Border

Cacti in the gardens at Quinta Mazatlan, a Texas nature center, line a graveled bed. Use them in your landscape to keep visitors from straying from a path or walkway; avoid planting them where children or animals may encounter their dangerous spines.

Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)

An Old Man Cactus with wispy "hairs" adds a striking touch of white to other colors in your landscape or border. It's hardy in zones 9 and 10, but can also be grown indoors in a container.

Angelina sedum

For a groundcover in sunny spots, plant Angelina sedum. This desert plant with bright, chartreuse leaves stays colorful year-round, making it equally useful as a container plant. While it tops out at 4 inches tall, it can spread up to 2 feet.