Desert Gardening: Plants for Hot Climates

Success in a tough climate

Bird of paradise

Planning a landscape design in a hot desert climate can be very different from gardening in more temperate climates. The weather is different, the soil can be difficult, and the plants can often seem alien, especially if you aren't accustomed to working with them. Water usage is a constant concern in regions where it doesn't rain much. Geographically, hot deserts are primarily located in the southwestern United States and range from the Mohave desert in Southern California, the Sonoran in Arizona, and the Chihuahuan desert in New Mexico.

Which plants work in each desert depends on soil, altitude, and rainfall. North American hot deserts have long summers. In Phoenix, for example, the temperature hits 100 degrees by the end of April and remains in the triple digits until late September. Rain is typically light with the majority falling in the summer months when torrential downpours occur. Soils in river valleys may be extremely rich, but with the summer heat nothing but natives grow without abundant prayer and extra water.

Nevertheless, hot deserts are home to some striking plants and a fragile and beautiful ecosystem. The following are a few of the most popular:

There are thousands of interesting plants that are well adapted to arid, desert landscapes. Probably the single goofiest idea new residents have when moving to the desert is to attempt growing the plants they had back home. It's mostly an exercise in futility, requires constant vigilance, and ridiculous amounts of water. Avoid the frustration, plant what grows naturally, and enjoy the variety and beauty that is the North American desert.


The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona is a wonderful resource even if you have to travel some distance to enjoy it. It is spectacular during years when early spring rains have allowed desert ephemeral wildflowers to germinate and bloom. The surrounding areas are awash in the delicate and beautiful colors that are rare and transient. Once enjoyed, you'll never forget the sight.


Plants for Dry Climates: How to Select, Grow and Enjoy is the type of book Arizona residents give new neighbors from other climates. It has hundreds of plants to choose from and excellent "to the point" articles.

Gardening in the Desert: A Guide to Plant Selection & Care is a useful guide to desert plants and non-natives that are well suited to the Southwest desert.

Once the garden is in, NextStep Remodeling may be able to help you with landscape maintenance services.

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