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High Desert Landscaping Ideas

Do you live in a high desert climate? If you're wondering what plants are native to the high desert area, you've got to see these high desert landscaping ideas.

We recently purchased this home that pretty much requires a complete reno. The home is on a 1/4 acre and is almost 100% unlandscaped. We’re talking fields of weeds, folks.

For the past few months, I’ve been researching high desert landscaping ideas like a madwoman as we make our backyard plans. And I thought I would share some of our favorites.

[UPDATE: Check out how our exterior turned out after renovating in this post all about exterior picture tour

First of all, what is a high desert climate?

The high desert is defined as inland & high-elevation deserts. We live in the high desert of Oregon, which is located east of the Cascade Range and south of the Blue Mountains.

Deschutes River in Winter - snow covered weeds and high grass with a semi-frozen river in the background and gorgeous crisp blue cloudy skies.

Photo via: Flickr Creative Commons – Deschutes River – by Lucas Jan

You may be wondering how it looks like this in the winter but is still considered a desert?

Well, technically we’re considered a desert only in relation to Western Oregon…if you’ve ever been to Portland, you’ll understand what I mean.

Bend averages less than 12 inches of rainfall per year (whereas Portland is closer to 40 inches per year) and about 34 inches of snowfall per year (source).  

And if you’re still interested in getting technical, the high desert of Oregon is classified as a shrub-land or steppe, not a desert per se.

The best two places where I brushed up most on my high desert landscaping were:

We also learned a great deal about high desert landscaping ideas by nursery hopping! We took an entire day and visited tons of the best nurseries around Bend to see what they offer.

We compared it to our favorite high desert plants from our research, listed below. It was so fun and a refreshing break from weekend renovation projects!

A local nursery in Bend, Oregon helped us pick which plants and greenery were best for our landscaping in a high desert environment.

Now let’s get right to it. Here are my favorite high desert landscaping ideas.

Deciduous trees for high desert landscaping

Autumn Blaze Maple - a gorgeous, full tree with blazing orange leaves. A common tree in high desert landscaping.

Photo via: Flickr Creative Commons – Serious Fall Color by lettawren

Autumn Blaze Maple

We fell in love with the awesome color that the Autumn Blaze Maple produces in the fall. It’s a hybrid between red maple (A. rubrum) and silver maple (A. saccharinum).

Also, the Autumn Blaze Maple requires low maintenance, has a solid structure, and rapid growth. Read more here. 

Norway Maple trees are often found in high desert landscaping. These trees are full, tall trees with stunning yellow and green leaves.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Autumn – Acer Platanoides by Tero Laakso

Norway Maple Emerald Queen

We loved the Emerald Queen. It’s an easy-to-maintain flowering tree and its leaves turn yellow in the fall.

Bur Oak trees are often found in Central Oregon, in high desert landscaping. These trees are large, spread out trees with full branches and green leaves in the summer.

Photo via Flick Creative Commons – Bur Oak by Justin Melssen

Bur Oak

I just love the way the Bur Oak looks and spreads out. Learn more about it here.

Douglas fir trees thrives in high desert landscaping, like central Oregon.

Conifers that do well in the high desert landscaping

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Rocky Mountains Douglas-fir Tree by Paul Sableman

Douglas Fir

If I could just have a field of Christmas trees in my backyard, I would probably be happy and just pretend it was Christmas all year round.

We love this classic tree and they are very common in Bend. Read more about your very own Christmas tree here. 

Blue Spruce trees are common in high desert landscaping - this fir is full and healthy, with stunning blueish green pines.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Blue Spruce by daryl_mitchell

Blue Spruce

We had a Blue Spruce in our backyard at the house we were renting before we purchased our home and loved it!

It stays pretty all year round, didn’t require any maintenance, and looks awesome with snow on it 🙂

Gorgeous Ponderosa Pine trees grow on the mountainside of Mount Pinos.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Pine Mountain Club – Mount Pinos by David Prasad

Ponderosa Pine

Pine trees are all over the place in Bend and somehow we only ended up with one on our lot!

We love these classic and common trees. I’m sure we’ll add one or two so we fit in better with the neighbors. 🙂

Deciduous shrubs for high desert landscaping

Redtwigdog plants - small white flowers surrounded by green leaves, are common plants found in high desert landscaping.

“Redtwigdog” by Paul Henjum – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

Red Twig Dogwood are red bark-covered branched often found in high desert landscaping in places like central Oregon.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Red Twig Dogwood by InAweOfGod’sCreation

Red Osier Dogwood or Red Twig Dogwood

I kind of fell in love with this shrub when I was doing my research. She’s great in the summer with the pretty little white flowers and green leaves.

However, in the winter when things in the yard are usually dull and boring, she’s still sporting bright red twigs.

I can’t wait to see what it looks like against the snow, which happens a lot in our high desert area!

Mock Orange plants - small white flowers with yellow centers, surrounded by green leaves - are common plants found in high desert landscaping, like in Central Oregon.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Plants by Rosewoman

Mock Orange

I love the simplicity of this shrub. The flowers are so cute and I hear that it smells AMAZING. Read more here.

Douglas Spirea plants are bunches of pink spores that grow from branches. These plants are commonly found in high desert landscaping.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Douglas Spirea by born1945

Douglas Spirea

Aren’t these just to die for?!  I love the color and the fuzzy look.

Greenleaf Manzanita often grows in high desert environments. The full green leaves grow from branches covered in detailed bark, in unique shapes.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Manzanita on rock Mt Diablo 3-4-13 by Paul Sullivan

Greenleaf Manzanita

You had to know that I was going to throw this one in the mix, right? After all, IT IS the namesake of the blog after all. I can’t tell you how much these bushes remind me of my childhood.

I built many-a forts in these shrubs! They were all over the place in our backyard and surrounding area growing up.

Besides the simple fact that they remind me of being a kid, I love the cool bark and the intricate way that they grow.

Big Sagebrush bushes are often found in high desert environments and landscaping in areas like Bend, Oregon.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Sagebrush steppe in the area of Vale, Oregon by Matt Lavin

Big Sagebrush

These are everywhere you look in Bend, so I know they do well up here. I like the way they look rustic and natural.

Grasses that are native to high desert environments

Blue Fescue plants have long, thin strands of leaves and are common in high desert locations.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Festuca Glauca by Peggy A. Lopipero-Langmo

Blue Fescue

We’ve already planted some of these in our front yard by the front door and they are doing great.

I love the way they look – they are one of those plants that are just cute, right? Get some good growing tips here.

Fountain Grass plants are quite common in high desert environments and seed freely in most landscaping.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Fountain Grass by Allan Hack

Fountain Grass

I pretty much love all ornamental grasses, but this may be one of my faves. It does self-seed freely, per BHG, so be sure you give it enough room. Read more here.

Perennials for high desert landscaping

I’ve done enough talking! I want to know what your favorite perennials are! Take a look at this and let me know what you like best, the perennials start on about page 27…

Come on, there are tons to choose from! Is it the Black-Eyed Susan? Oriental Poppy? What about the fun Globe Thistle?

Which of these high desert landscaping ideas is your favorite?

Let me know what you like best in the comments below!!

Click here to see how we transformed this planter bed in the front of our house! 

The Dark Mulch Miracle - How We Transformed This Flower Bed

Click here to read how to plant succulents! 

Learn how to make these DIY raised garden beds!

How to build DIY raised garden beds

Learn how to make this vertical garden with a pallet!

Learn how to make this garden tool storage with an old mailbox!

12 thoughts on “High Desert Landscaping Ideas

  1. Don’t forget to check out what fruit trees may grow in your area too! I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to watch the different fruits develop and grow to the stage of going out to pick your very own apple or peach or?? And I LOVE our grapevines and berries. You have room enough to make that back triangle area into a little mini orchard of a variety of fruit trees with little or low maintenance……what grows well there?

  2. Watch out for those pine trees! We had the top snap off one next to our house in Sunriver on Saturday during that wind storm. It speared the roof of the house and came through the dining room ceiling. I was staying there with 5 of my friends, but we were in Bend shopping at the time (thank goodness). It looked like a healthy tree that simply snapped at a weak point during a high gust.

    1. Oh no! The wind was pretty nuts! Ya we’re thinking about putting a pine tree in the far corner of our lot, far away from the house. So sorry to hear about your roof! 🙁

    1. I can’t wait to see it too! Haha, we probably won’t be able to plant anything more until next Spring… I think we’ll be getting an early winter here this year and don’t want to risk it! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I am originally from California and we used to travel to Bend each year to ski so I am sort of familiar with your area. I love the grasses. They are so fun to watch blowing in the wind and they always look great. Good luck on your research and your landscaping. You are off to a great start! Thanks for sharing at #HomeMattersParty

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