6 Low-Water Landscape Designs

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated February 2, 2022
A house with a stunning yard and pond
Photo: LICreate / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Your dry location doesn’t limit you to just dead grass or a yard full of gravel

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Even if you live in a dry climate, you can have a thriving and even colorful landscape that requires minimal water. Plenty of cacti and various flowers work well for xeriscape backyard design, meaning you can design a lush landscape of plants that don’t need much tending to, including watering. Skeptical? Just take a look at these six low-water backyard landscape design ideas that will have you rethinking your grassy or gravel-filled yard.

1. Play With Cacti Height in Your Xeriscape Backyard Design

A landscaping with cactus and rocks
Photo: Courtesy of Luke Fladzinski

A variety of cacti at varying heights creates a blue-green sea in this low-water backyard design. The differing heights help move the eyes around the landscape, despite the plants being similar colors. Anchored by rocks rather than grass, the area needs little water, yet it looks lush in its California desert location.

2. Be Bold With Color

A low water backyard with succulents and cactus
Photo: Courtesy of Saxon Holt / PhotoBotanic and The Summer-Dry Project

When you think of low-water backyard design, images of green succulents or yards full of rocks might come to mind. While we’ve seen that cacti and succulents can make a landscape look lush, you can also achieve a colorful haven that even attracts pollinators. Here, California Fuschia, willowherb native to California, adds pops of red and is popular with hummingbirds. Salvia brings in hints of purple, and native grasses create a contrasting green backdrop without the need for frequent watering than conventional grass lawns have.

3. Create an Eye-Catching Landscape

A landscaping with succulents
Photo: Courtesy of Natalie Marshall / Twice the Style, Inc.

For this project, a client commissioned Twice the Style, Inc. to design a landscape that will make people stop and smell the succulents.

“This is one of my favorite projects, precisely because it is a real low maintenance garden, done with native plants and drought-resistant ones,” Natalie Marshall, creative director for Twice The Style, Inc., said.

A short, leafy Canary Island Date Palm tree serves as the focal point, complementing other green, drought-resistant plants. New River Bougainvillea, the small trees with purple flowers, pop against the yellow home.

4. Edge Out Weeds With Native Plants

A xeriscape backyard design
Photo: Courtesy of Outdoor Design Group

This xeriscape backyard design naturally fights off weeds—and does so in style. Local plants with purple, red, blue, and yellow flowers bring in a lot of color alongside the greens of the cacti and native grasses. You or a landscaping pro should plant them close together, and according to Outdoor Design Group, this arrangement is better at preventing weeds than filling an area with gravel.

5. Confine Your Cacti

A backyard with cactus
Photo: Courtesy of Juan Gonzalez / @littleazprickles on Instagram

Many people designate certain spots of their yard for flower or vegetable gardens. In a dry climate, why not confine drought-resistant plants within a specific area instead? As a kid growing up in the Midwest, hobby gardener Juan Gonzalez used to tend to vegetable and flower gardens. Then, Gonzalez relocated to Arizona in 2015 for work and found that growing these plants was more challenging.

“Rather than continuing to struggle with plants that require a lot of irrigation, I decided to try a style of landscape requiring little or no irrigation, and using plants that are native to arid regions: cacti,” Gonzalez said. “Growing cacti quickly became a hobby, and some would even call it an obsession of mine; I now have hundreds of cacti as part of my collection. I like to collect oddities and have recently enjoyed buying cacti for their flowers; trying to find the cactus with the biggest, most colorful, and unique flowers that I can find.”

6. Make the Most of a Small Space

A low-water garden
Photo: Courtesy of Elm Tree Living

Like creating a low-water garden in a designated space, you can also turn even the most narrow or smallest landscapes into plant-filled oases. This property offers minimal space for planting. Rather than fill it with just rocks or a few cacti, the designers at Elm Tree Living packed a punch with several types of native plants and trees in the narrow planter. 

Against the white house, the plants become the main attraction despite the landscape’s small footprint. That’s why it’s key to consider landscape design plans when updating your home; the landscape is the first thing you, guests, and passersby will see of your home every day.

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