Grass Yard Alternatives for Desert Climates

Grass Yard Alternatives

Being a homeowner in hot climates has its own set of unique challenges, especially when it comes to lawn care. To reduce the amount of water you need to use and blend with the desert environment, it is a good idea to avoid a grass lawn. Not only do grass lawns consume a lot of water, but the extra time and maintenance they require to still dry out or die anyways can get really frustrating. However, you will want more than just dirt. With the ideas below, you can create a yard with plenty of variety and visual interest without putting in grass that needs a lot of TLC.


These days, gravel is for more than just roads. For example, you could put down a pale limestone edging and fill walkways with dark gravel, or you could use dark timbers to frame beds in your yard and fill them with white stones.

If you want plants that take more water near your patio or front door, consider adding pots that you can easily move indoors before winter gets too cold. Because flowering annuals can have a tough time in extreme heat, you could also put your favourite plants in small pots and bring them in for July and August.

For those who love flowers near the door, make sure you get out and water them early. A good soaking will get many annual plants through the most intense heat of the day, especially if they get some afternoon shade.


If you are just starting your yard layout, consider using mulch instead of gravel to define your beds and fill in borders. Mulch is much lighter than gravel. If you change your mind, you can stack organic mulch on top of soil that you actually want to cultivate and put gravel down on your permanent landscape choices.

Be aware that dyed mulch may not be the best choice for soil breakdown. If you have a stretch of ground that you are hoping to plant with anything edible, do not put down dyed mulch. However, if you intend to put in anything deciduous or fruiting, do make sure there is mulch below the drop area. Any fruit that falls will break down on mulch without making a sticky mess on a concrete pad or a gravel bed.

Faux Grass

In small spaces, adding a bit of faux grass can give you a nice bit of greenery. Be aware that this product can get quite hot to walk on, and in a large patch it may be more of an investment than you want to make. However, if you have a bit of yard art and want to make it pop, some bright green faux grass underneath it can be quite eye-catching.

Like anything left in the desert sun, faux grass will break down over time and show signs of wear. Be ready to replace it regularly, or be ready to put down something else when it starts to get ratty.

Create a Riverbed

You do not need a water feature to add a wide variety of height to your yard. If you live in an area that has heavy rainfall, consider creating a dry riverbed in a bigger yard. This can include a bridge, a gravelled trench, and larger rocks around the edges.

Make sure that you talk to a drainage expert before you place your riverbed. You do not want to funnel rainwater up against your home. Because rains in the desert can be quite intense, your riverbed may actually be a pond for a time after heavy rain. Make sure it is far from your house.

Add a Few Artistic Touches

If your home has Southwest style, consider adding a few touches specific to the desert. You could add an old wagon wheel, or even an old metal cart to your landscape.

Other Southwest touches include cattle skulls, Native American patterns and symbology, and old ladders. Do your best to secure any features that might tempt children to climb around on them.

Finally, consider using more Southwest color than kitsch. Instead of overloading your yard with too many pieces, use the traditional colors of the Southwest to build your theme. If you want flower pots, look for deep turquoise or rich terra cotta pieces to use as accents in an existing bed.

Create Focus with Bigger Plants

Carry this unique color theme into your plant choices. Look for flowering plants in fire colors, from bright orange to bold yellow. Consider setting up an ornamental grass garden with colors from deepest green to pale sage.

When putting out plants, do make sure to create an easy watering routine. Water is about eight pounds per gallon, and when the temperature is high it will feel even heavier. Invest in good quality hoses that will tolerate sunlight and use a timer if you need to cover a large planting area so you can water your plants early in the day.

A desert landscape can be quite beautiful. When you do not have to worry about a green lawn, your options actually expand. This is particularly useful if you are looking to buy or sell a home in a dry climate. Keeping your lawn/yard manageable is a good thing to know how to do whether you have a home in southern Utah, New Mexico, or have some Arizona real estate. Use plants for focus and create a soil covering that needs little to no maintenance, and you’ll be enjoying the yard more, saving yourself some money, and staying a bit cooler in the summer heat.