Description

The Colorful Desert Garden design provides the full beauty of a dry landscape, from the sculptural shapes of succulents to the gorgeous and long-flowering color of our favorite desert shrubs and trees. While our area of inland southern California is not naturally a desert climate (it is a semi-arid Mediterranean climate), many people like both the look and the very low water demand of this style of landscaping. Additionally, this plant list works very well for extremely hot microclimates, like parking lots or west-facing areas of the garden that may experience reflected heat from driveways and cinderblock, brick, or stucco walls. The plants in this palette can take the heat while serving up beautiful blooms loved by hummingbirds as well as a variety of other birds and pollinators.

The combination of succulents and colorful desert shrubs and trees truly enhances the look of a desert garden. The contrast between these plant types enhances the visual impact of each other, resulting in a far more balanced look than a garden solely focused on succulent plants.

The succulent plants we have included here were included primarily because they are beautiful, easy to grow, and widely available. However, there are many other options available, especially at nurseries that focus on waterwise plants. Most succulents and cacti have very similar care and irrigation requirements in the garden, so feel free to do some research about other options available at the nurseries you visit and mix in additional succulents as desired.

This plant palette is available as an option for the Waterwise Community Center's Landscape Design Assistance Program. Visit cbwcd.org/desgin for more details.

Plant List

Trees

Desert Museum palo verde

Botanical Name: Parkinsonia x 'Desert Museum'
Plant Type: Tree, Native
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 20 ft. - 30 ft.   Width: 20 ft. - 25 ft.

Shrubs

Apache plume

Botanical Name: Fallugia paradoxa
Plant Type: Shrub
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 4 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 4 ft. - 5 ft.

Baja fairy duster

Botanical Name: Calliandra californica
Plant Type: Shrub, Native
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 3 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 4 ft. - 6 ft.

Bladderpod

Botanical Name: Isomeris arborea
Plant Type: Shrub, Native
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 4 ft. - 6 ft.   Width: 4 ft. - 6 ft.

Desert mallow

Botanical Name: Sphaeralcea ambigua
Plant Type: Perennial, Native
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 3 ft. - 4 ft.   Width: 3 ft. - 5 ft.

Incienso, Brittlebush

Botanical Name: Encelia farinosa
Plant Type: Shrub, Native
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 3 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 3 ft. - 5 ft.

Mountain marigold

Botanical Name: Tagetes lemmonii
Plant Type: Shrub
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 3 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 6 ft.

Palmer’s mallow

Botanical Name: Abutilon palmeri
Plant Type: Shrub, Native
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 4 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 4 ft. - 5 ft.

Succulents

Aloe vera

Botanical Name: Aloe vera
Plant Type: Aloe
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun, Partial sun
Height: 18 in. - 24 in.   Width: 3' then offsets to form a larger clump - 24 in.

Blue finger

Botanical Name: Senecio talinoides ssp. mandraliscae
Plant Type: Ground cover, Succulent
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun, Partial sun
Height: 12 in. - 18 in.   Width: 3 ft. - 4 ft., can slowly spread further

Prickly pear

Botanical Name: Opuntia ficus-indica
Plant Type: Cacti
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 10 ft. - 18 ft.   Width: 10 ft. - 18 ft.

Red yucca + cvs

Botanical Name: Hesperaloe parviflora
Plant Type: Perennial
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 3 ft. - 4 ft.   Width: 4 ft. - 5 ft.

Perennials

Firecracker penstemon

Botanical Name: Penstemon eatonii
Plant Type: Perennial
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 2 ft. - 3 ft.   Width: 12 in. - 24 in.

Horticultural Preferences

Plants listed in the Colorful Desert Garden palette are well adapted to warm climate areas with sun, high summer temperatures, aridity and wind. Some species show sensitivity to winter frost. When grown in Inland Empire gardens and landscapes, most plants do very well with normal winter rains and low amounts of summer water.

All of these plants prefer sandy or rocky soils with good drainage. This also makes them well suited for raised planters and on banks and slopes. Some of these plants can tolerate heavy or clay soils as long as they are not overwatered (and in clay soils prefer to be planted a bit high so that water will never pool at the base of the plants). If you have clay soil, check the information in each individual plant profile to see if they are adapted to clay soils.

Aesthetic Character

The Colorful Desert Garden is designed to provide a dynamic balance of forms, textures, and colors of both flowers and the bold greens and blues of the succulent plants. Depending on the size of the site, plants can be used as groupings of the same plant repeated or as individual accents. Most often, the smaller succulents are visually most effectively used as groups of either three, five, or seven, although small spaces may require the use of individual plants. Be sure to utilize a balance of shrubs, flowering perennials, and succulents to achieve the best-looking results. Background areas are usually best occupied by shrubs, which create the best looking back drop for the sculptural succulent forms.

Moisture Needs

All the plants in this palette have a low need for irrigation. In most inland valley garden situations, established plantings using this group of plants will thrive with a deep watering of 1 to 1.5 inches approximately once every three to four weeks, depending weather, soil type, and sun exposure, in the months when there is no or little rain. In most situations, young plantings will thrive with a deep watering of approximately one inch per week during dry weather, until they begin to become established, usually approximately one year after planting. Then, begin to increase the time between watering events, keeping an eye on how the plants are doing, until you reach your “established” irrigation schedule.

The chart shown below provides a baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth. Several winter months noted by an asterisk (*) indicate when rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed. It is important to note that these plants can successfully grow within a range of supplemental moisture each month; the actual irrigation schedule should be adjusted to reflect specific soil, slope and exposure conditions to achieve best plant performance.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 1

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
 
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

 
0"-2"
0"-2"
0"-2"
1"
1"
1"
1"
1"
1"
1"
0"-2"
0"-2"
  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.