High Desert Landscaping Ideas


High Desert Landscaping

High Desert Landscaping | the johnsons plus dog

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – 2012.04.06_16.00.39_IMG_7110 by Andrey Zharkikh


We recently purchased this home that pretty much requires a complete reno. The home is on a 1/4 acre and almost 100% un-landscaped. We’re talking fields of weeds, folks. For the past few months I’ve been researching high desert landscaping like a mad woman. And thought I would share some of our favorites.

First of all, what is a high desert climate?

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| the johnsons plus dog

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

You may be wondering how it looks like this in the winter but 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, according to the Bend Chamber.  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:

Selecting native plans for home landscapes in Central Oregon on Oregon State’s Catalog Extension

An Introduction to Xeriscaping in the High Desert and Pictorial Plant Guide for Central & Eastern Oregon

Both resources were so helpful and informative.

We also learned a great deal by nursery hopping! We took an entire day and visited tons of the best nurseries around Bend to see what they offer (comparing it to our favorites listed below). It was so fun and a refreshing break from weekend renovation projects!

Go nursery hopping to see what plants you should plant in your area

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

Deciduous trees

Autumn Blaze Maple | High Desert Landscaping | Central Oregon Landscaping

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

Autumn Blaze Maple

We fell in love 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 she requires low maintenance, has solid structure and rapid growth. Read more here. 

Norway Maple | High Desert Landscaping | Central Oregon Landscaping

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 it’s leaves turn yellow in the fall.

Bur Oak | Central Oregon Landscaping

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 | High Desert Landscaping

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Christmas Trees by U.S. Department of Agriculture 

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 | Central Oregon Landscaping

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 rent before we purchase our home and loved it! It stays pretty all year round, didn’t require any maintenance and looks awesome with snow on it 🙂

Pine Mountain Club - Mount Pinos

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

Ponderosa Pine

Pine trees are alllll over the place in Bend and somehow we only ended up with one on our lot! We love these classic and common tree and I’m sure we’ll add one or two so we fit in better with the neighbors. 🙂

Deciduous shrubs

Central Oregon Landscaping


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


Red Twig Dogwood | the johnsons plus dog

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, but in the winter when things in the yard are usually dull and boring, she’s still sporting bright red twigs and I can’t wait to see what it looks like against the snow!

Mock Orange (Plants by Rosewoman)

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 | 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. Get educated on ’em here.


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

Greenleaf Manzanita

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 (Sagebrush steppe in the area of Value, Oregon by Matt Lavin)

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 they way they look rustic and natural.


Blue Fescue | Central Oregon

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

Fountain GrassPhoto 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.


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

Let me know what you like best in the comments.

Wanna know what we end up planting in our yard?

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