A Guide to Arizona Desert Plants

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When you think of the desert, you likely imagine a dry, dusty landscape that’s barren of plant life except for a few cacti. However, desert settings like Arizona have far more life and plant variety than many people ever consider. These plants are generally hardy and require little water, which allows them to grow and thrive in such a harsh environment. These desert plants make a beautiful addition to home gardens and landscaping plans throughout the state and offer a low-water, low-maintenance boost to curb appeal.

Landscape design in Arizona offers unique challenges due to the arid and hot conditions, but by choosing the right combination of plants, you can create a beautiful plan that will last for years.

Ideally, your choices for Arizona desert plants should be low-maintenance in terms of irrigation and should be able to withstand full sun conditions.

Mesquite Landscaping can help you determine which plants are best suited to the needs of your property and your personal aesthetic preferences.


Amazing desert cactus garden with multiple types of cactus

Succulents are a mainstay of desert landscaping and are excellent for accent purposes. Many of them have sharp edges or spikes, so they should ideally be placed in areas away from the main thoroughfares and walkways.

These plants are immediately noteworthy due to their interesting sculptural shapes and often bright accent colors. They may be used sparingly throughout a landscape design plan to draw the eye but can begin to overwhelm other elements of your landscaping design if too many are included in one area. These beautiful plants are among the easiest landscaping additions to care for. Succulents can withstand harsh conditions, such as poor soil quality, direct sunlight, and drought, meaning that once you’ve chosen and planted your succulent, it’s a mostly hands-off addition that you can simply sit back and enjoy.

Although there are many succulent species, some of the most popular choices for Arizona include the Agave plant and the Aloe plant.

Because they require so little irrigation, succulents are considered ecologically friendly plants, especially when choosing outdoor plants in the arid Phoenix area. Succulents, like various forms of cacti, retain water quite well for extended periods. This means that, despite the harsh conditions, they rarely need to be watered. While saving water, they also provide clean, fresh oxygen, making them a crucial part of the global movement to “go green,” particularly in desert biomes.

Shrubs, Grasses and Groundcover


If you’re looking for a way to fill out a sparse design or highlight the presence of walkways or other features in your yard, shrubs, grasses, and ground cover might be the way to go. Small bushes and shrubs can provide hedging and borders, while other plants can cover larger areas.

These types of desert landscaping plants vary from flowering shrubs to types of decorative grasses.


  • Texas Sage – Often used as wind barriers, these shrubs require little supplemental watering or pruning maintenance.
  • Muhlenbergia – An ornamental grass, this low-maintenance plant can soften the look of typical hard desert landscaping.
  • Verbena – This plant provides both excellent groundcover and beautiful aesthetics with purple blooms.
  • Dalea – These plants come in various species, including shrubs and groundcover with tiny flowers that attract wildlife.


In the wild, shrubs, grasses, and ground cover all provide crucial services to wildlife in the form of food, shelter, and protection from predators. In a more tame landscape setting, they still serve an important purpose: preventing soil erosion. The roots of established desert shrubs, grasses, and groundcover are woodier than the roots of a typical leafy annual plant. These roots not only use less water, but they’re more effective at holding soil in place, ensuring that the soil in your landscaping design stays in place and full of nutrients.

Desert Trees


Desert trees can be some of the most striking additions to your landscaping plans simply because they’re by far the largest. Many of them offer a plash of extra colors in the form of flowers and seed pods, some of which may be spotted year-round. Others offer eye-catching sculptural leaf shapes, while still others simply offer your yard a touch of deep green and an expanse of shade. There is a wide range of desert trees to choose from for new homeowners in Arizona, and finding the right ones is simply a matter of knowing what you want to achieve with your landscaping plans. Some trees are better for offering a pop of color, while some are ideal for shade.

If you want to include trees in your landscaping plan, choosing hardy and tolerant options such as the Texas Ebony, Desert Willow, or Mesquite tree can provide shade and unique beauty to your landscaping.

The Evergreen Elm can be an option for larger areas that can handle larger trees with complicated root systems.

Like shrubs and grasses, trees prevent soil erosion with their woody roots. Additionally, they provide shade, food, and shelter for local birds and other forms of wildlife. Leafier varieties of desert trees may also be strategically placed to provide shade to your home to lower your monthly energy costs during Phoenix’s warmest seasons. Planting shady desert trees on the east and west sides of your home provides a low-maintenance, low-water way to save on your energy bills and make your home a bit more eco-friendly. However, when laying these plans, always be sure to work with a landscaping professional to ensure fully-grown trees won’t interfere with your roof, nearby power lines, or other obstacles.

Flowering Plants


While you can certainly build a beautiful landscape with succulents, shrubs, cacti, and desert trees, most homeowners desire to have at least a few flowering plants in their yard, simply to embrace the beautiful colors that these plants can contribute to the landscape. Despite the heat and dry weather, homeowners can choose from many perennials and annuals to fill out their gardens and create an eye-catching, colorful curbside appeal like no other.

Many flowering plants will require more water and more care in this environment, but desert conditions don’t exclude the option for beautiful flowers. Depending on the look you want to achieve, you could include Birds of Paradise, Yellow Bells, Angelita Daisies, or Evening Primrose plants to provide ongoing color and softness to your landscaping.

Perennials provide a somewhat less hands-on experience because these flowers reseed themselves after a flowering season, meaning they can regrow again and again without having to be replanted, usually for 2 to 4 years after you’ve planted the first plant. However, others live much longer, and proper care can become a permanent part of your landscape.

Annuals, on the other hand, are planted annually and will need to be replanted each year. Seeds are sown in the fall and usually sprout and become mature in the spring months before dying off in mid to late summer. These can require more work than other landscaping options, but their vibrant colors are hard to beat.

When planting either annuals or perennials, it’s best to choose plants that you might find growing locally – wildflowers. While still beautiful, these plants are designed to withstand the desert heat and give you the best colors and most reliable seasonal growth. Some of these might include:

  • Mexican gold poppies
  • Maximilian sunflowers
  • Arroyo lupine
  • Rock Penstemons
  • Paper Flowers
  • Moss verbena

When you choose to plant wildflowers local to your area, you’re also helping the surrounding ecosystem. Important pollinators such as bees, hornets, ants, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, and birds are attracted to these plants and use them as an important source of nutrition. By helping to feed and support your local pollinators, you’re helping to keep the Phoenix area alive with vibrant plant life.

Contact Mesquite Landscaping Near Gilbert, AZ Today!

If you are looking for landscape design services that can provide practical benefits and beauty to your home, contact the experts at Mesquite Landscaping.

They can help you design a plan that works well with your property and provides the look and maintenance level you want to achieve.

Contact us in Gilbert, AZ at (480) 238-2943 today to schedule your free landscape consultation.




Photo Credits:

Getty Images – Sara Edwards, 

Shutterstock – Ikhwan Ameer, Jewelzz, Nikolay Kurzenko

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