Bringing the Tropics Home to Your Desert Oasis

January is the perfect time to start planning a desert oasis in a new area of your  container garden. The ideas listed below will also work in areas of dry climates, reasonably mild winters and hot, dry summers. What better way to create an oasis garden than to look at our patios for the magical setting for morning coffee or afternoon cocktails.

With freezing nights typical during desert winters, we can stretch our plant choices a little further, if we provide most of the plants with heavily filtered sun, afternoon shade and cold protection starting at 45 degrees.

Many plants that we have come to know as ‘house plants” are actually tropical plants that cannot survive the cold temperatures that most of the United States experiences. We are familiar with names like Pothos, Dracaena, Crotons, Philodendrum and other common house plants. In full shade and with cold protection if the temperatures go below 40, these are tropical wonders for our patio oasis.

Pictured below are a Multi-Trunked Draceana, a Golden Xanadu and a Fiddle Leaf Ficus. All of these plants need good cold weather protection with more than just frost cloths. Heat lamps, moving into a garage, an Arizona room or even into the house for the winter will help protect these tropical plants.

Plants that will tolerate more sun (but still will want afternoon shade most of the year) are the Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus, Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta), Day Lilies offer clumps of arching sword-like leaves and can be evergreen, semi evergreen or deciduous depending on the species, Agapanthus, Butterfly Iris, Cordyline and Coleus.

Full sun plants include many of our Palm trees, the entire Yucca family, many of which are very tropical in appearance and many broad leafed agaves.

Desert Oasis Designing Tips:

  • Plan your tropical garden near your home, part of your seating area. Since most of the plants require heavily filtered light, you can make the garden be part of your outdoor living area as these are the same areas that you appreciate sitting in.
  • Plan the flooring to be as cool as possible. Non-reflective colors in earthtones or blue hues work well. You might add an outdoor carpet to the seating area.
  • Think in levels or layers of plantings as you would see in a tropical garden. Low plantings around the seating areas in low pots will do well. Also bordering walkways. Then mid-height plants in taller pots or pots up on pedestals or pots with trellises for some vines.

  • Further back towards walls or further from the patio, you can think about larger plants and trees, still trying to keep the layered effect of the three heights of plants in the landscape. Perhaps a couple citrus trees such as a Mexican Lime tree or ponytail palm tree with other pots with single plantings such as hibiscus and a blue leafed agave such as the Agave colorata.  Keep in mind a Bougainvillea (sun) and Birds of Paradise- both tropical (shade) and Mexican (sun)!!
  • Be sure to add a water feature to your garden. It will add much to your tropical paradise in the desert.

Have Fun Planning your Desert Oasis!